Minimalism has become a ‘buzz word’ often linked to sustainability. The minimalist lifestyle is based around the philosophy that ‘less is more’ and freeing yourself from unnecessary possessions, purchases and utilities will allow you to live happier. Less cluttered lives apparently allow for life to be rich in experiences.

How does minimalism link to sustainability? Should we be adopting the principles?

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Minimalist Lifestyle

Adopting a lifestyle that intentionally minimises possessions will naturally reduce consumption. Minimalism is more than decluttering. It is intentionally choosing to live without certain items. For example, minimalists will not buy new clothes or even purchase ‘party clothing,’ instead borrowing, or hiring dresses for those occasional weddings; the modern day world wrongly requires a brand new outfit.

Starting to list examples opens a can of worms. The list goes on and you can find some very interesting You Tube videos to get a clearer picture of: ‘things I don’t buy as a minimalist.’

Reduced Consumption

Essentially, minimalism is about gradually reconsidering everything that you buy or consume, whether daily or occasionally.

  • Do you really need them?
  • Could you purchase something once, that would replace all those multiple purchases?
  • Do you buy something because you always have, or because everyone else does?
  • Can you live without a new arm chair?
  • Could you reward your kids with experiences, rather than cheap collectable cars and toys they’ll grow out of?

Minimalism definitely reduces consumption which blesses both the environment and the bank. One of the biggest causes of waste is the idea that it’s good to renew items we own, leaving perfectly good ones redundant. Simultaneously, our consumption of disposable items is filling landfills daily. Buying loads of new toys for our children may seem kind but when they grow old, what happens to the heap of plastic? I know when I grew up, many of my toys were second hand but now consumerism has changed this.

Downfalls of Minimalism

However, as I’ve researched minimalism and begun to adopt some of the principles, I do have some disagreements. Whilst I support the refusal to consume, with minimalism comes a ‘declutter’ movement. To become a minimalist, we have to rid of a lot of possessions. Marie Kondo is famous for her decluttering programs on Netflix. Her ethos embodies the minimalist principles, stating that we must get rid of whatever doesn’t, ‘spark joy,’ – decluttering will make you happier.

Here’s the problem: we pull out all of our possessions and start to realise that 80% of what we own, is meaningless to us or completely useless. We feel guilty and decide to live without them. Where do these objects go?

Please don’t say, ‘the charity shops,’ because whilst charity shops are great for sustainability, if we as society continue to inundate them, without adopting the principles of actually buying things second hand, these shops will become land fills themselves. We can’t expect charity shops to just shift our junk for us. Give to charity by all means, but also consider other uses.

Selfish Minimalism?

Perhaps, the process of becoming minimalist is a selfish one. We selfishly feel guilty about the items in our possession, and instantly ‘get rid.’ It would be much harder to accept that you have more than enough; living responsibly should mean intentionally deciding to keep, reuse or up cycle the objects we aquire.

I would also argue that minimalism doesn’t allow you to possess occasional use items which I massively struggle with. For example, I recently went completely paperless now doing everything (including reading books and digitalising all notebooks) on an iPad but I still enjoy painting. I don’t need to paint – I could do a Digital painting. But I occasionally feel like pulling out a sketchbook and painting. Why should I get rid of the drawer filled with artist materials?

I have 6 dearly loved children’s novels on my bookshelf that I will probably never read again. But in the future (if I have children) I’d love to share these and I feel its more responsible to clutter my own life by keeping hold of them, than give them away and later repurchase them.

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The Truth About Minimalist Philosophy

Besides sustainability, I also want to warn you about the philosophy of minimalism. Yes in theory, having less does allow you to be more grateful and able to control finances. But as with anything, having less stuff can not make us happy forever – just as consuming more can’t. Long term happiness is not dependent on adopting a set of rules about what we own. Minimalism even bans sentimental objects which I would argue to some degree is healthy – those who have boxes and boxes of things they have attachment to, really should part with some of it. But to not keep anything, would also be a little sad. Memories are life-giving!

What then, should we adopt?

In conclusion, as I’ve attempted to do my research and adopt some minimalist principles, I think that looking ahead, a minimalist attitude towards consumption is incredibly beneficial. However, the process of decluttering can be dangerous unless we responsibly rehome what we remove.

Kickstarting the Goal

In my own life over the years I have made conscious resolutions and I’ll list some of these for you. I hope to continue to build on this and reduce consumption. The goal is to not buy anything new for a very long time (hopefully for 2021 but I don’t want to pressure myself to keep this).

I do this reasonably, not to feel ‘happy,’ and without feeling pressured. Some of these are things I have succeeded in, whilst others are aims I hope to adopt from now on.

  • Clothes* – I rarely buy clothes. I store ones I’m not loving and bring them out again a season or two later. Those that I don’t love, I sell or put away for when I get that ‘I want new clothes’ feeling. I do give some to the occasional charity shop and I also buy from charity shops or swap things with friends. I have now got way too many clothes and so have told myself that I will not be adding anything until at least 2022. From then on it will be one in one out, when things wear out.
  • Feminine Hygiene – I haven’t bought a tampon in almost 4 years. Menstrual cups are the way forward people – cleaner, zero waste and it saves you £25 a month.
  • Disposable cloths – no kitchen roll, dish sponges or cleaning cloths. I bought 2 reusable dish clothes and 3 cleaning cloths. I wash them and reuse. Easy.
  • Notebooks – just no. I don’t need to feel nice about a pretty wad of paper that can’t be recycled easily. I use Bamboo ‘Paper’ on the iPad for handwritten notes (which feels like a notebook) and keep multiple notepads all on a nice ‘shelf.’
  • Books – I buy kindle, or (because I love paper books) charity shop books / swap with friends. Any new books I’m gifted, I always pass on.
  • Old school work – whatever was necessary, I scanned and stored on my laptop. Then I recycled all paper, and passed the folders on to people who needed them / other students / charity shops.
  • Gifts / rewards – I never treat myself with a purchase or possession. If I want to celebrate, I do so over dinner with a friend, or I buy myself flowers. I also only ask for gifts at Christmas that I need or have wanted for more than 3 months. Otherwise, I ask for a dinner voucher or nothing at all. Any birthday money gets stored for a few months and used to do something nice with a friend.
  • Artwork – I love artwork. For me, this is my joy. I do regularly paint and hang artwork. But now I’ve run out of wall space, I still paint. Instead of hoarding it all, I enjoy it for a moment, before then gifting it. It brings a lot of joy to someone when you gift them something like that!
  • Old electricals – I recently fixed something that was destined for the bin, just by reading up online. It made me realise how much we bin and deem to be worthless when after a repair, I managed to rehome it. I felt good after persevering to fix it too!
  • Running shoes – this is my issue! I run 10-15miles a week and so get through shoes like crazy. They are no good for running but can still be used for walking and other low maintenance activities. I can’t keep collecting my runs. I guess with everything, reduced consumption is about balance and for me new running shoes are a necessity. All I can do is try to recycle the materials and buy less of other things.

These are just a few ideas, to give a clearer picture. I’m by no means perfect, or a minimalist! But I do encourage you to start to reduce your consumption. Question everything you dispose of, and question everything you buy.

What are you resolving to reduce?

*for more on clothes and sustainability, check out my previous blog: sustainable struggles. But, do read with gracious eyes – I wrote this long before my ‘charity shop dump’ realisation.

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