It’s not just about getting rid of stuff, it’s about changing your mindset towards it.
Marie Kondo’s Konmari Method was a global phenomenon. After she published her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the world was gripped by decluttering fever, with advocates earnestly clutching at items around their homes to determine whether or not they ‘sparked joy’. If they did, they could stay, if not, they had to go. The result? A streamlined domestic environment that’s easier to clean, to manage and to live in.
Kondo is by no means alone in her pursuit of minimalism. Other well-known initiatives include Project 333, which invites people to dress with 33 items or less for three months, and the 100 Thing Challenge, started by David Bruno who decided to own just 100 items. Then there’s the tiny house movement, and of course, the zero waste movement. All are ideas driven by a growing backlash against consumerism, driven largely by millennials who are more interested in experiences than stuff (and who are frequently unable to afford a lot of stuff anyway).
The benefits of minimalist living are well documented, with fans consistently citing improved mental wellbeing, less time spent on chores and more money in their pockets. But what about its impact on the environment? That, too, comes with a raft of positives.
Less clutter, less carbon
According to a study entitled ‘Environmental Impact Assessment of Household Consumption’, what people consume is responsible for up to 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Not only that, production of items imported from other countries to be consumed has also increased steadily, which only adds to carbon emissions. It follows, then, that consuming less stuff will directly result in a smaller carbon footprint.
A sustainable shopping mindset
Our hectic world of fast fashion, buy-it-now consumerism and instant gratification means that we’re hoovering through the planet’s resources at an astonishing rate – and it’s absolutely unsustainable. One study even suggests that if everyone on Earth lived like those in developed western countries, we’d need four planets to survive. Living minimally, however, encourages a more conscious buying culture, which has a focus on quality, rather than quantity. Instead of buying four or five cheap jumpers throughout the winter months – only to bin them at the end of the season – minimalist thinking would encourage the purchase of just one or two good quality jumpers that can be worn for many winters to come. It’s the opposite of impulse buying.
Less goes to landfill
If we keep hold of the stuff we do buy – because it’s long-lasting and good quality, and we have a genuine use for the item instead of purchasing it for temporary enjoyment – then it’s far less likely to end up in landfill. Millions and millions of tonnes of rubbish is sent to landfills around the world every year, and within all that rubbish is the wasted energy, water and resources that went into making it in the first place. Furthermore, landfill sites are dangerous, bad for the environment and an unnecessary blight on a world that’s already quickly losing its natural spaces.
Decluttering releases valuable resources
Look around the room. How much stuff do you have here that you never use, or that you don’t even really like? While it’s sat there gathering dust for you to deal with, someone out there could be looking for exactly that item. Selling, donating or recycling stuff you no longer need releases its resource value to someone who does need or want it, without it having to be made from new materials.
None of this is to say, of course, that buying and owning things is inherently wrong. Objects and general stuff is useful, with practical purposes, aesthetic benefits and personal significance – it only becomes a problem when we start consuming it at an unsustainable rate, which is the complete antithesis of minimalism.
You needn’t completely commit to a minimalist lifestyle to make a difference, though. Having a bit of a tidy at home and asking yourself some pertinent questions next time you’re out shopping are great ways to switch up your attitude to consumerism, and therefore have a beneficial environmental impact. Try these tips to get started:
Start with the easy stuff
If you’re having a clear out, don’t start with anything particular poignant or significant, such as photos or old birthday cards – begin with things that have no emotional attachment, or that you’ll be glad to get rid of. Start in the bathroom, or with those boxes of old paperwork. By the time you get to the sentimental stuff you’ll be on a roll.
Let go of an item’s monetary value
Tempting as it may be to hang on to stuff because you ‘might get a good price for it one day’, make peace with the fact that your second-hand things are probably not worth very much. Give it away to someone who can make good use of it, rather than letting it needlessly clutter up your space (this doesn’t apply to antiques or valuable artworks, of course!).
Question your shopping choices
Next time you’re shopping, ask yourself the following questions before you make a purchase:
1) Do I need this? And if so, is this the best quality version of the item I can afford?
2) If I only want this, will it bring me enjoyment for a long time, or only temporarily?
3) If this is a temporary item, can I be sure it can have a useful purpose after it’s left my possession, and am I willing to make sure that happens?
For some, minimalist living may seem like a sacrifice, but that’s really only the case if you believe the consumerist message that more is better. Having less stuff can be incredibly freeing, and making the right shopping choices means you won’t have to go without, either. Minimalism alone won’t solve climate change, but it can help to shift the perspectives that are contributing to it.
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