Some claim that minimalism can help the environment (Becker, n.d.) but is this really the case?
When we first discover minimalism, we are excited. We feel overwhelmed and we just want the excess gone. So what do we do?
We sell some.
We donate some.
We toss the rest in the trash.
While many people do decide to actively sell their items or give them away to a friend or family member that can use them, many people decide to donate their excess stuff instead. Due to the large amount of donations currently being received from an overwhelmed populace, thrift stores are becoming overwhelmed (Martinko, 2019). There are a few thrift shops in this area that have stopped accepting donations as a result. Just the other day I walked past a closed-off donation bin; people had dumped their discards on the ground beside of it rather than locate a place that would accept their donations.
Is this good for the environment?
Due to the limited number of thrift shops accepting donations (and sometimes simply due to impatience), many simply decide to toss their discards into the trash. Mountains of unwanted items go straight to a landfill.
Is this good for the environment?
Think about it.
Now consider this: you spent good money to acquire your stuff. Unless you decide to sell it, that money is lost to you if you donate your excess items or send them to a landfill. All of the hours you worked to purchase those items are wasted.
Your discarded stuff equals hours of your life that you can never replace.
There Is A Better Way
Yes, you have too much stuff. I get it. I’m going through that now. Due to the purchase of a washing machine I now have far too many clothes. Due to a shift in how I write and keep records, I have an abundance of office supplies. Due to my love of knowledge (and the kindness of friends and family), I have far too many books for this tiny house.
What happens if I accept the fact that I own too many of these items and toss them in the trash, or find a place that is accepting donations and pass them on?
I learned part of the answer to that question the last time I became overwhelmed and pursued minimalism in earnest. I eventually wore out the items that I kept and had to replace them.
When I began thinning out my possessions in 2009, I had a closet full of clothing. By 2011, I was scouring thrift shops in search of pants after my last pair died.
If I had kept the excess clothing I would still have items that I could use today. Tee shirts and jeans don’t go out of style, after all.
This time around, I have chosen to do things differently. Instead of discarding my excess and literally throwing money away, I have decided to use it up completely. I placed my surplus in storage totes, leaving several items out to use. As those items wear out, I replace them with items from my surplus instead of shopping for more.
I cut up the worn out items and use them for rags until they completely die. Only then do I discard them.
This not only benefits me financially by practically eliminating my clothing budget at present, it benefits the environment by reducing the items that end up in a landfill before their proper time.
This is how we take responsibility for the excess stuff we have accumulated in our lives.
Instead of just passing the problem down the line to thrift shops, donation centers, and landfill managers, we should use the items we have purchased. When we refuse to buy more until our excess is depleted, we teach ourselves how to be responsible stewards of our possessions and we improve our finances in the process.
It is okay to want a new appliance. Keep your old one as a spare or pass it on to someone less fortunate who actually needs it. Even better, use your current appliance until it dies before you replace it with new. Stick the money for the replacement into savings so that you can earn a bit of money while you wait and you won’t have to worry about being broke if the appliance decides to die before payday.
It is okay to want a new car. Sell your old one to someone who will use it and acquire another.
It is okay to want a new computer or phone; just make it a rule to use the one you already have until it dies. Better yet, repair it when economically feasible to delay replacement for as long as you possibly can. Technology isn’t changing fast enough for it to matter much any longer.
And it is okay to want new clothes if you use up what you already have hanging in your closet first.
Since I’ve shifted my personal mindset I’ve had to cut up a small stack of shirts for rags. Several of those rags were used to clean some nasty items around the house and then discarded. When I ran out of tiny notebooks for use at work, I cut up some of my excess paper and used a stapler to make more. When we ran low on ink pens at my workplace, I donated some of my excess to the cause.
When a friend of mine revealed a fondness for romance novels, I gifted her with my surplus. She was delighted.
Bit by bit the surplus is fading in my tiny home. Bit by bit the items are being used up completely or passed on to someone who can use them. Bit by bit I am learning to take responsibility for the excess I have acquired.
And bit by bit I am easing the burden on the thrift shops and landfills by not adding to their problems by discarding useful items.
Will you join me on this journey?
Becker, J. Good for the Environment. Retrieved from https://www.becomingminimalist.com/benefit-good-for-the-environment/
Martinko, K. (2019). Thrift stores are overwhelmed with donations, thanks to Marie Kondo. Retrieved 7 August 2019, from https://www.treehugger.com/cleaning-organizing/thrift-stores-are-overwhelmed-donations-thanks-marie-kondo.html
6 thoughts on “Minimalism by Attrition: A Method to Help the Environment and Your Finances”
I remember my grandmother using old clothes to make rugs or crazy quilts. I think that being wise about how to dispose our used up belongings is a lost art. Your post hopefully will remind us to be mindful of how we use our belongings.
Using up our old fabrics IS a lost art, Deb. While time limits me to what I can currently re-purpose, I think of that every time I encounter a clothing item that would look gorgeous in a quilt.
Great post! Every time I have recklessly purged my belongings in the past I’ve ended up wishing I had kept some things.
I have done the exact same thing, Karen. I went too far when I purged for the move here. While I don’t regret the experience, it caused me to acquire more than I needed as a result of the emotional backlash. This is why I’m going a lot slower with this round.
I SO agree with this. I guess at the outset, you have to have a good declutter to get real to how much excess you have bought. Beyond that though you have to deal with the influx more than the outflux, and coming down off the fun of shopping is an ongoing process for me. One place I couldn’t seem to make much progress was with clothes – then I took up sewing (using mostly fabric bought in charity shops). I’ve discovered why I’ve found it so hard to get clothes that really fit me, which explains why most ready to wear is a compromise . I’m much more excited by the prospect of creating my own new clothes that are long enough, fit me at the bust and don’t fall off my shoulders which has made me pretty nearly stop buying compromises, and also I am now tackling my existing wardrobe – refitting, remodelling and upcycling where possible. Plus size clothes are hard to find secondhand here, so I make sure I finish everything so that even if it doesn’t work for me, I can donate it. You make such a good point about using up your own excess if possible – I haven’t bought hand cream or body lotion for three years, as I’ve still got plenty from the oversupply around my house when I first decluttered. I’ve found I use everything much more slowly than I thought, so no need to shop so often! Thanksfor your blog, I always enjoy your unique perspective.
Deborah, you are a genius for altering the clothing you currently own! I believe that it is also immensely kind of you to think of others on the items you decide you do not wish to keep. You are an inspiration.
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