Minimalism, zero waste, and gratitude are terms that seem to show up everywhere these days but, did you know they are all connected?
Living with less? Having an empty bin as a goal? Practicing gratitude daily? They may not seem like they are connected but I will show you that not only are they connected but they are dependent on each other. If you leave one out, you risk not getting the full benefit of a slower lifestyle and worse, risk a relapse to the status quo.
In a nutshell, all three are tools to get you off the consumerist hamster wheel and live a simpler more fulfilled life.
“Too many people spend money they earned…to buy things they don’t want…to impress people they don’t like.” -Will Rogers
Minimalism is a lifestyle choice to live with less. Less things. Less space. Less time commitments. And even less debt.
You live with the things you truly enjoy having and decide that keeping up with the Joneses is not only a waste of money, but a waste of energy, too.
Minimalism tends to be portrayed as white, clean, and bare aesthetics. But the truth is minimalism will look however you want it to look in your home. If you want jewel-toned walls with a couple of posters from your favourite bands, that’s fine. If you decide to paint your walls Wise Owl and have a gallery wall with photos displayed of your family, that’s ok, too.
The idea is that you keep things that you enjoy and want to display. If you have keepsakes from loved ones or certificates of your achievements then you should be decorating your home with those things. If it’s something that you would rather put in a box, in the loft then it’s probably time to part with that item.
What sets minimalists apart from non-minimalists is they have less things. The things they do have all have a place to be stored away in leaving clear worktops, tables, desks, etc.
Cleaning a minimalist home takes less time because there is less stuff to manipulate or work around.
A minimalist home is a relaxing space. When you aren’t worried about finding stuff or the daunting task of cleaning and maintaining a bunch of stuff a weight is lifted from your shoulders.
Capsule wardrobes tend to be all the rage. Pinterest is filled with tons of capsule wardrobes for work, for holidays, for every season, and this may seem like a minimalist wardrobe.
There’s plenty out there who will give you an exact number of items you should own and lead you to believe that’s a minimalist wardobe.
But, it’s not.
Your wardrobe should contain clothes that you love wearing. Chances are you know what those items are already. They are the ones that always seem to end up in the washing pile. It’s not a set number and it doesn’t need to be.
Your other clothes (the ones that don’t end up in the wash) seem to sit inflicting guilt because you never wear them, or hope to get back into them, or they still have tags on them or whatever the reason are the ones that shouldn’t be there.
A minimalist would let those clothes go and not worry about guilt and “maybe somedays.”
Joshua Fields Millburn said in The Minimalists, that everything in his closet is his favourite and this should be the approach you take. Even when it comes to your I-don’t-have-anywhere-to-be-today-and-I-didn’t-have-time-to-shower-anyway clothes should still be your favourite sweatshirt and trackie bottoms.
If you have a top or a dress that you like, but always choose something else when given the choice. That’s the stuff that should go.
Steve Jobs aside from being the co-founder and CEO of both Apple and Pixar, he was also known for wearing the same clothes every day. Why? Decision fatigue.
Every decision from what to have for breakfast, to what you are wearing, to what order to get ready all takes brain power. We use so much of our freshest hours making so many little decisions that it’s no wonder we are dragging by the afternoon. So instead of staring into the wardrobe thinking, I have nothing to wear or What should I wear? you can pare down your clothes. Not only will you own just your favourites, you are giving yourself more energy or brain power in the morning because choosing what to wear isn’t a tedious task.
Once you have reduced what you have, you may also find that you take better care of your clothes, shoes and accessories as well since you don’t have “backups” or other alternatives lying around taking up space.
A minimalist would look not only at her home but at her schedule as well. Are we trying to create the smartest, well-rounded kids in the world? Jamming the family’s schedule so full of extra-curricular activities beyond school and work will also take a toll.
Rushing around to get to appointments or lessons or practices or rehearsals leaves little down time for you or your family to decompress and just be. Weekends suddenly revolve around activities and family meals are eaten on the run.
By cutting back on the scheduling, we find out what is the most important to keep in your schedule, but more importantly you gain free time. Time to have a family game night, time to go to the park for an impromptu picnic, time to just do nothing.
Minimalism allows you to take life a little slower. It gives you time to notice little things. It gives you time to spend with your friends and family.
So how does zero waste fit in to all of this?
“The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change.” -Greta Thunberg
Zero waste is a form of minimalism with the focus being on reducing or eliminating waste.
Waste comes in many forms and not just what ends up in our bins, but that’s where most tend to start.
With the plastic problem and climate crisis at the front of many of our minds the zero waste movement is gaining a lot of traction. You may notice shops trialling bulk buy schemes, eliminating plastic from the produce section, and even stores eliminating plastic carrier bags all together.
You may see bamboo being used more widely as a disposable alternative and suddenly companies are using green in their products’ colour-schemes.
The problem with this is that while bamboo is a sustainable material, the disposable part of these and other “green products” are not. Replacing plastic with bamboo is a step in the right direction, but the fact is bamboo needs to be disposed of properly to break down or it will still contribute to landfill space and greenhouse gas production.
Tossing bamboo items in the bin prevents the breakdown process from happening because it’s in a plastic bin liner. Instead of being a solution, bamboo replacements can become part of the problem quickly.
So what do zero waste minimalists do?
Zero Waste is about reducing first.
You may remember the 3 Rs of recycling- recycle, reduce, reuse? Well this has since been updated to the 5 Rs of recycling- refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose or repair, and lastly, recycle.
Recycling is not a bad thing but it’s clear that it’s not a solution to the world’s overconsumption.
A zero waste minimalist is a minimalist in the sense that they do not fall into the trap of buying happiness- hence both groups know how to refuse.
What happens with minimalists though, even though they are doing the right thing in refusing to buy more, more, more, for many the underlying motivation is purely aesthetics.
Zero wasters are living closer to our grandparents’ lifestyles when single-use plastic didn’t exist.
So, instead of accepting the bamboo cutlery as a replacement for plastic, the zero waster carries her own reusable set. Instead of replacing plastic water bottles with glass or water in a can, he carries his own bottle wherever he goes. It means carrying the same bag week in and week out during her weekly shop and avoiding the plastic “forever” bags. He is also more likely to make snacks or food from scratch to avoid single-use plastic.
Reduce and reuse are the first steps to zero waste.
Zero waste is about repurposing and repairing.
Sure, there are so many lovely, zero waste products made from cottons, bamboo, metals, wood, but chances are there is a replacement in your home already so you don’t need to buy anything new, eco-friendly or not.
For example a zero waster will cut an old towel to make cleaning rags instead of buying new, pretty, eco-friendly ones. He will wash an empty jar of passata and use it to store dry foods. If your clock accidentally tips over and the glass cover comes off (me) she gets some gorilla glue and takes the time to fix it.
When a zero waste minimalist does make a purchase, it’s about quality not quantity. She buys with the expectation that it will last forever and like other minimalists will take better care of said purchase if the goal is to not have to replace it. She is also going to try to source the needed item second hand without hesitation because that is what zero waste is about.
And just like minimalism when you have less and don’t intend to constantly replace items, you take better care of your things. This is an important habit to pass on to your kids. As well as teaching them to be responsible with their things you show them that running out and buying a replacement is not a sustainable option.
And ultimately zero waste means just that-zero waste.
When all is said and done the goal of a zero waster is to have an empty bin and not just the rubbish bin, but the recycling bin as well. This was a huge “ah-ha” for me.
The U.K. alone ships and average of 800,000 tons of plastic away to other countries (countries that don’t have the capacity to handle it) to deal with so having an empty rubbish bin and a full recycling bin is still waste at the end of the day. The recycling also has a carbon footprint when created and must undergo a process to be reused creating a further footprint.
So a zero waster will reuse the recyclables as many times as she can before tossing them in the recycling bin.
Ok, so maybe the connection between those two was pretty obvious but connecting gratitude is what makes any type of minimalism successful in the long run.
“If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never have enough.” Oprah Winfrey
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Gratitude is simply being thankful for what you have. It can be expressed in different ways like being thankful for past experiences, not taking good things (no matter how small or trivial) for granted or, feeling hopeful and optimistic about things to come.
However you choose to express your gratitude, it’s an important piece of the minimalist lifestyle.
Gratitude is a great way to fight advertising and consumerism.
You see around 3500 advertisements a day. Your child is exposed to about 40,000 a year. Companies spend millions upon million of pounds trying to figure out how to get you to buy. They play on your fears; fear of missing out, fear of being out of the loop, fear of not looking good or appearing clever, rich, or cool, fear of not being like everyone else.
Gratitude can change your outlook on what you buy and suddenly keeping up with the Jonses’ seems silly.
Gratitude allows you to live your best life doing, buying, and wearing things that make you happy because you like it.
When you are happy with what you have things like “this season’s trends” and “Panetone’s colour of the year” don’t make you bat an eye because you know what you like and don’t need someone else to tell you what to do.
When you combine gratitude with minimalism and zero waste, you then pare everything down to your favourites and you are happy about it and the drive to buy something for the little rush of dopamine you get isn’t there anymore. Shopping no longer becomes a recreational activity.
Gratitude makes the transition to minimalist lifestyles easier.
If you are grateful for what you have, having less isn’t a punishment. Researchers from UC Davis and the University of Miami found that practicing gratitude daily leads to more optimism and contentment in our lives. They found that those who show gratitude exercise more and go to the doctor’s less than people who focus on the negatives.
So often we assume that minimalism is like self-imposed austerity and you aren’t allowed to buy anything and that’s just not true. At the end of the day when your home and life are decluttered you are grateful for the space and grateful for the time that has been created with your choice of less. When you chose to buy something, your criteria will have changed. You will buy quality; you will make sure you need the item before allowing it to occupy your space and time and if you are more eco-minded you will have no problem looking for alternatives in your home or second-hand before you buy new.
Gratitude Helps with the Eco-Anxiety Caused by Going Zero Waste
Eco-anxiety? Yes. When you spend a lot of time reading negative news stories about the planet, the countdown timer of irreversible climate change, the uphill battle fighting plastic, and hundreds of other stories demonstrating humans causing our own extinction can leave you feeling helpless and depressed.
You may start to think things like, What’s the point? I bought my fruit without plastic this week but everyone else around me could care less and the shops are still filled to the brim with single-use plastic. It’s easy to feel like your efforts don’t matter. It’s easy to be overwhelmed at the world your kids are growing up in. It’s tempting to just give up.
Gratitude can help. By looking for the good things in your day, you are making your days more about the positives and not letting the negatives be the highlights of your day.
I have been battling post-partum anxiety for almost a year now and have found practicing gratitude has been a helpful addition to my Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and for good reason. According to researchers at UC Berkley, practicing gratitude on top of counselling leads to greater benefits than when counselling alone and that’s even if gratitude doesn’t ultimately become a habit because it has a lasting effect on your brain.
So much of your time, money and energy is spent pursuing the things you don’t have. Gratitude changes your priorities to appreciating what you do have.
Once you have gratitude ingrained as a habit, suddenly you look around and realise you do have enough and now being minimalist (and sticking to it) is easy.
When you put gratitude together with minimalism and zero waste it’s like opening your eyes and seeing the world a different way (and it’s not always rosy). You see how fast the world is moving and how much waste is everywhere-whether it’s rubbish in the streets, the aisle after aisle of single use plastic, the hundreds of shops peddling the latest trends at the lowest prices, or families spending less and less time together as a family.
And suddenly it’s easier to not be a part of it.
You may start to feel like you are doing a good thing making the switch and know that you are making a difference.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” -Dr. Suess, The Lorax
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