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Practical Minimalism: Change Your Mindset To Reduce Your Waste

IMG_3228Minimalism is an inherent component of any low waste journey.  I have never directly addressed it on this blog because in my mind the two are inseparable, but I think it is valuable to focus on this one subject, especially today, which is Black Friday.

I would not describe myself as a Minimalist per se.  I am not a writer with a pristine grey-scale only blog, a pristine house with 2 pieces of furniture, and a crisp wardrobe of mostly black basics.  The image of minimalism in most of our heads is a product of marketing, and is an aspirational aesthetic with the usual subliminal messaging: minimalism is morally superior; you are not minimalist enough (and, therefore, not good enough); minimalism is the answer to everything.

To me, minimalism is a way of operating that shifts how you view your possessions and relationships.  In the words of The Minimalists, it is placing importance on the things that “add value” to your life, and letting go of the things that don’t.

So what does this have to do with waste?  We produce and consume an unbelievable amount of stuff every year, much of which is made to be tossed immediately after use.

Is it ethical to bring something into your life with the intention of discarding it?

The key word here is intention.  To live with intention is to live deliberately–to choose to bring things into your life that add value to you, to pursue relationships with people that make you feel like you can be your true self.

Low waste minimalism takes this intention in a new direction, to consider the materials in our homes.  How does plastic waste add value to your life?  What is more important to you: the convenience of packaged goods, or the damage they do the your health and the environment?  I am increasingly concerned with the latter, but for certain things, like medication, I still find it valuable to go with traditional packaging, even though it creates waste.

Identifying what is important to you is what drives a shift in mindset toward minimalism.  If having a brand new phone is not important to you, then don’t buy one.  Here’s a personal example: it’s important to me to eat healthy and fresh foods, so I am willing to shell out a little extra cash for them each week.

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Healthy food, like the groceries in the picture, is important to me, so I am willing to pay a little extra for it.

Being deliberate about your consumption is the first step toward reducing waste.

Teach yourself to turn a critical eye toward advertising and societal messaging.  Why do you feel like you have to buy something?  Who profits off of your purchase?  Who suffers from it?  Are you going to throw it out after a month? A few minutes?  More so than buying fancy reusables or shopping at expensive bulk stores, being intentional about your purchases is the the most effective and accessible way to reduce your waste.

This takes a bit of practice, but after a while it becomes second nature.  One question I ask myself when making major purchases is this: if I wait a month, will I still want this item?  After a month, if I still believe the item will add value to my life, I start considering my options for buying it.

I am willing to wait and think about potential purchases because I believe happiness cannot be derived from buying new things.  It’s like a sugar high.  You feel great for a while, but then crash back down to the place you started.  A minimalist mindset asks you to look past this initial excitement and see the truth of what you do or do not need.  Experiences, making memories with the people you love, learning new things, doing things that bring you joy–these are the keys to long lasting happiness.

The other side of minimalism is letting go of the things that do not serve you.  And to be clear, I do not condone throwing things out because you don’t want them anymore.  That pile of clothes in the back of your closet that you never wear is a great example.  Donating them makes them available to someone in need.  If they are too damaged to be donated, find a drop off location for textile recycling so they can be made into insulation or even new clothes.  Whenever possible, avoid the landfill and find avenues to give your old possessions a new life.

Letting go is about creating an environment for yourself in which you can thrive.  If you feel clutter creeping up around your house and stressing you out, it’s time for a garage sale.  If your friends make you feel terrible, seek out more supportive people.  In the wise words of Marie Kondo, it’s about keeping the things that “bring you joy” close.

Paring down your possessions also has an effect on how you interact with them.  If you only have a few pairs of shoes, you are more likely to invest in shoe polish, clean them when they get dirty, and take them to a cobbler to get repaired.  Going through this extra effort to care for your possessions increases their longevity, which keeps you from a) buying new things, and b) sending them to the landfill.

So, this Black Friday, consider a minimalist approach.  Resist the sales and promotions for just a moment, and discern what you truly need.  To have the greatest impact this holiday season, and throughout the year, be a deliberate rather than impulsive consumer.  Your wallet, and the planet, will thank you.

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