Note – I don’t pretend to know everything about sustainable living, far from it. However, I do know that living a clutter-free lifestyle has elements of sustainability. This post is just my take on how and why reducing clutter and keeping it out of your home can benefit our world.
The recent fashion for sustainability is oddly familiar to me. Using a cloth bag or basket to carry shopping. Keeping glass jars to preserve or store food. Buying the best quality linen one can afford because it has to last a long time.
This is how our parents and grandparents lived, because they had to. It was expensive to buy things, even if they were available, and many things we take for granted now, either hadn’t been invented or were really hard to find. Most people didn’t have a lot of money. So they made their belongings last and made what they could themselves.
My darling Aunt laughs at new fashions like re-useable paper towels, she has never stopped using freshly washed tea towels to wrap veggies and baking. Her cleaning cloth collection is made of old towels she’s cut to size and overlocked.
Their impact on the earth was far less than ours. From the 1950’s to now, consumerism has exploded. Of course in some ways our lives are so much easier now, no scrubbing or washing by hand, but we are so much busier. We are so incredibly lucky to be able to choose to live simply and to select from the comparatively luxurious products and services that make our lives easier.
Minimalism too is itself an ecologically sustainable way of living. Making these choices with sustainability, the ecology, or a calmer, simpler life in mind is how modern minimalism has evolved. There are no rules about how it should look, it can be cosy, compact, expansive, colourful or plain.
Owning only your necessities, valuing your belongings, choosing them wisely, making them last and appreciating experiences over objects are the keys to this lifestyle.
But how do we get there from here?
Donate. There has been a huge amount of attention on a decluttering method which recommends throwing things away. Fortunately most Kiwi’s know to donate their good quality decluttered things to charities.
Recycle. Regular recycling is a problem, it’s still using tremendous amounts of resources and some things still can’t be recycled effectively. However, a one-off removal of all items that can be recycled during a declutter is far better than keeping everything and feeling overwhelmed.
The goal is …
Not buying things.
Literally. Stop and think before you click that Pay Now button, before you tap your card on the reader. Before you wander into that store with your bored kids. Break free from the dopamine rush of snagging a bargain for something that you might need. One day. But all it does is clutter up your living space.
Your children will learn that acquiring things is not a hobby, it’s not essential to a happy life and it’s not a competition to see who has the most or the biggest toys.
Then there’s the impact on the environment of Not Buying Things, there’s lots on this subject on the web.
You’ll be astounded at how much money you save and how much more you have to spend on doing things together.
Taking care of your belongings means of course, that they last longer. The old glasses case that is still perfectly fine? Use that and decline the one that comes with your new specs. Keep your mobile phone as long as you possibly can. Redecorate that lunchbox, mend that school bag, use a pillow protector to keep your pillows clean and fresh.
Having less stuff also means that everything is easier to find. You won’t find yourself running out to buy that thing that you’re sure you have somewhere, only to come across it later.
It can be fun, (truly!) to take on the challenge of Making Do. I love this concept, it relies on our ability to think inventively. From a simple thing like reusing lidless plastic storage or takeaway containers to organise your junk drawer, to making a kids halloween costume with crafty skills (there’s loads of ideas on the web).
Challenge yourself! Next time you grab your keys to pop out to buy that thing, stop a moment and think about what you already have. Try it, it might just work.
Own quality, multipurpose things.
Shop mindfully. If you feel terrible about recycling and keep every single glass jar you have ever bought… consider bulk buying. Refill your favourite containers. Invest in quality, sustainably produced products and reduce the need to get rid of packaging.
First, borrow! Ask family and friends if they can lend you (or give you) a thing you need. Then share. Offer things you no longer need to those who do.
If your life changes and you find you have a need for something, research your best options. If you need a much bigger serving dish now your children are eating the same food as you, buy a dish that goes from oven to table and can be used to bake lasagne, kale chips AND brownies.
Buy a sofa bed if you have visitors who stay over regularly, a picnic blanket that can also protect the back seat from wear & tear and can keep you warm during a Movies In Parks event.
Ask your elderly relatives and friends how they did things, you’ll learn some really useful tips and they will so happy to share what they know.
Read my journey to a more minimalist way of life here – How I Failed At The Konmari Method & Learnt To Relax.