I figured I’d better do a post on minimalism seeing as though I have pompously dubbed myself “Minimal Sam”. I’m not sure a nickname counts if you bequeath it upon yourself but the idea is I will be practicing minimalism for the entire year in all aspects of life (minimal-sam… get it?! Ahh turns out mums can makes jokes just as bad as dads can).
Since starting the audit I have been focussing on de-cluttering clothes and stuff (knickknacks, dust collectors etc.). It’s a tough gig because I have attached myself to these inanimate objects, letting myself believe they hold value to my happiness. In her book (and website), The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard talks about how our obsession with stuff is having a massive impact on the planet. She looks at the cradle to grave concept of stuff:
- Extraction – the raw materials required to make our stuff that is extracted from the earth creates waste, emissions, deforestation and habitat destruction.
- Production – the way our stuff is produced creates more waste (often toxic) and emissions. Some of the stuff we have at home is toxic itself! Production also uses a lot of energy and in some cases a shit load of water (according to the Guardian* the production of 1kg of cotton in India needs 22, 500L of water!).
- Distribution – from the shipping of raw materials from all over the globe to then sending it off to the factory, then to the warehouse to the shop to your home, all of which is done by boats, planes and trucks – fossil fuel guzzling machines. It’s a head spin trying to fathom how much of the world our stuff has seen.
- Consumption – the magic of marketing, making us believe we need more, bigger better stuff just to be happy, or at least fit in with the rest of society. More and more stuff is getting cheaper and more accessible (why buy ink when a new printer is the same price… am-I-right?!) This also entails the energy and water required in our homes to use and clean our stuff
- Disposal – spoiler alert! It pretty much all ends up in landfill.
- But that’s not all! On top of all this, there is also the social side of the equation. You’ve heard it all before, indigenous people losing land to the big corporations and sweat shops (not for a second do I believe someone somewhere isn’t being ripped off by Kmart).
Source: The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard
It’s this vicious cycle of consumerism that got me started on this blog in the first place. We think we need all these new clothes and gadgets to keep us happy but all we’re really doing is trashing the planet with our vain attempts at bettering our lives. Note: I’m not anti-consumption. We all need to buy things from time to time and to some extent we all love certain stuff. Some things can bring us joy, like my photos and artwork, my walls are covered with them and I love earrings, wearing them genuinely delights me. But it’s when consumption crosses the line to unnecessary consumerism that’s the problem.
Recently I watched the documentary Minimalism directed by Matt D’Avella featuring Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. It gave me a great big boot up the arse, pushing me to go the extra step towards a more minimal, less consumer driven lifestyle. Reminding me that by needing less, I will in turn cut my own ecological impact. They talk not just about the material stuff but about creating more room in your life for the ‘important things’, such as experiences, time and personal growth. By minimising junk you’ve attached yourself to, you’re letting that little piece of yourself stuck to the inanimate object free. This aspect is less about the environment and more about mindfulness.
I love(d) having a cluttered house that told our story. I like(d) having different clothes to wear. I like(d) having a “library” of books. I love(d) all the knickknacks We’ve collected over the years from our travels. I’ve formed a very meaningful attachment with almost every piece of jewellery I own (even though I only wear 20% of them). I have(had) clothes stockpiled in my wardrobe for the ‘just in case’ events; just in case I lose 5kgs and they fit me again, just in case I go back to a job where I need a work skirt, just in case I pluck up the gumption to pull off a mini-skirt or a tropical print dress.
Bit by bit, book by book I’ve been letting go. It hasn’t been easy, I’ve thrown a shadow of doubt across many of the items that haven’t made the cut, trying to convince myself that I will miss them. Here are some of the things that I let go of:
- My book collection – I love reading and I loved having a mini library. The only thing is… I only ever read a book once (unless it is for study). I can’t see the point in a reading a book twice when instead I could be discovering new characters with an unknown twist at the end. So why have all those books that just collected dust? I liked the idea of it, that’s all. It was completely indulgent and unnecessary. I culled over 100 books from my collection and I’m now left with a handful that I am using as a resource for this blog. Moving forward I will use my Kindle or loan from the library.
- Knickknacks – ornaments, vases and souvenirs. These were all given as gifts (even from me to me). I held sentimental attachment to them because in that moment someone had been thinking of me and purchased the item to remind me of them or because it would remind me of some far off land I had once visited. This is not to say I don’t appreciate gifts I have received over the years, however, many of them were no longer adding value to my life. Rather they were taking up more of my time dusting them.
- Peanut’s toys – a toddler only has a certain amount of capacity for toy based play. All the whizz bang toys with buttons and lights entertain them for about 3 minutes… well our toddler anyway. Peanut loves to be creative – building blocks, drawing, making things with play-dough. When I realised this, I boxed up half her toys and put them away. This gives us the opportunity to give her “new” toys when she is bored of the current ones.
- DVD’s – this was one of the hardest to let go of – Ace Ventura Pet Detective and Ace Ventura When Nature Calls in particular. It was like parting with a little bit of my soul. I had them for almost 20 years, carted them from house to house (mind you I probably haven’t watched them for 15 years).
- Clothes (shoes/jewellery and bags) – since deciding not to buy myself any new clothes as of last year I had an overwhelming amount donated to me by dear friends and family. I’d put stuff away for a rainy day and for all the ‘just in cases’ mentioned above. My drawers were vomiting clothes, my wardrobe was leaching into husband’s side and I was holding onto shoes that I could only wear for 2 hours at a time before I’d start hobbling like a peg-leg pirate. I would say I’ve expunged at least 10 shopping bags worth of clothes, jewellery and shoes since January.
This shelf used to be all books, now it’s progressed to mostly kid’s toys. We still have a lot of stuff, I don’t know if we will ever be true minimalists.
I know going though all of our stuff and giving it “away” is not an environmental solution. I’m just shifting our stuff from home to op-shop to someone elses home or even worse, landfill. In attempting minimalism, I’m trying to create a mindset and behaviour for future behaviour patterns. By learning to live with less for now, I’m teaching myself that I don’t need all that stuff for later. I hope I won’t find the need for souvenirs that will just collect dust, gadgets promising to make my life easier or clothes for ‘just in case’. This will change our buying habits beyond this challenge (eff you consumerism!). We will (hopefully) no longer want for things and in doing so cut back on the resources required by us for everyday living – minimising our impact on the planet. I still have a long way to go and I don’t even know where or if there is an end destination to minimalism or if I will ever be a true minimalist (a part of me is thinking future me will look back at this and say “remember that phase you went through, you know where you went mad as a cut snake and gave away all our possessions?”).
Audit Challenge – Project 333
Project 333 was started by Courtney Carver in which she created a capsule wardrobe that included 33 items that were worn for 3 months. This included bags, shoes and accessories. I’ve accepted this challenge to prove to myself that I can live with less stuff and in doing so change the way I consume products in the future.
Stay tuned for an update!
Thanks again for reading,
*Leahy, S ‘World water day: the cost of cotton in water-challenged India’, http://www.theguardian.com, 21/03/2015