Minimalism by Attrition: A Method to Help the Environment and Your Finances

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?

References

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

Can A Person Leave Minimalism Behind?

Not too long ago in the grand scheme of things I decided to leave the minimalist lifestyle behind. I felt that it was fine for someone who traveled a lot (or perhaps didn’t have a family) but that it no longer suited my needs.

Here lately though I’ve found myself looking around my home and wondering how in the world I managed to acquire so much stuff. While the majority of it is stuff I can use, it is far too much to use up in a reasonable amount of time.

For instance, thanks to the generosity of family and friends I have acquired a wardrobe that rivals the size of my original wardrobe when I started traveling down the minimalist path. Now that I’ve acquired a small washer I have no need for so many clothes.

My library has blossomed in the same way. I’ve collected books that I doubt I’ll ever read again but I’ve yet to let them go so I have to shift and dust them occasionally.

Throughout my home I can see little things that have started to collect in my life. There is nothing wrong with the individual items but as a collective they are beginning to feel a bit overwhelming in this tiny house.

So what does a former minimalist do when she realizes that she’s went a bit too far in the opposite direction?

This woman admits her mistake and begins to correct it.

Tonight I tossed several items that would be useless to others around me. The satisfaction I felt was immense. While I have no desire to toss perfectly useful items (or items I know I will use up in time), the act of eliminating a few of the useless ones was liberating.

Heading in the opposite direction has shown me that I was on the right path when I became a minimalist over a decade ago. While I’m not sure if I ever want to be as extreme as I was in the past, I’ve realized that life was simpler when I owned less.

I want to regain that simplicity as I narrow my focus to my immediate path.

I intend to contemplate this subject when I go to bed tonight. I want to think well on my next step before I move forward.

Before I leave I would like to ask you a question: can a minimalist truly leave the lifestyle behind or does it continue to affect them in ways they never imagined?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

It’s Okay to Own Things

It’s become fashionable to throw things away. Out with the old, to make room for the new. There are even groups out there that will help you get rid of your things and encourage you to eliminate as much of your stuff as you want.

I know. I was one of them.

In time I realized that the Minimalist movement had devolved into little more than a pissing contest; a competition to the bottom. “I’m better than you, because all I own fits into my backpack.”

“Tough,” someone might respond. “I got rid of my backpack last week.”

There is some good to be had in the Minimalist movement. If you find yourself overwhelmed with possessions, especially if you have reached the point that you are tripping over stuff, you might need to thin down.

However, unless you’re preparing to move house or backpack around the globe it’s not really beneficial to get rid of all of your things, especially if you use and enjoy them.

The trick is in the using. If you have a cabinet full of dishes that you’ve not touched in years, you might want to pass them on to someone who will enjoy and actually use them. It doesn’t make any sense to clutter up your life with a bunch of stuff you don’t actually use.

Now that I’ve decided to settle down in this little town I’ve allowed my possessions to increase as a result of my revelation. I enjoy reading so I collect interesting books when I stumble upon them for free or cheap. I keep a decent-sized collection of unread material now but as I read them, the ones that I know I won’t need for future reference are passed on to friends or donated to the local library.

When I stumble across a clothing stash that someone is giving away that actually fits (and is something I will wear) I add the items to my wardrobe. I discard the pieces as they wear out.

I don’t go crazy buying things but I do make room for things that come into my life that I will actually use. Since I have no intentions of moving in the near future (and I am nowhere near the point where I’m tripping over things), this allows me to increase my comfort level while saving money as well.

You should start doing this as well. Once you eliminate the things you really, truly, do not use, don’t hesitate to add something you will use to your collection of possessions if the price is right (preferably free, of course!).

Just remember that this isn’t an excuse to start buying everything in sight. If you have something that does what you need, use it instead of buying new. Just because you can own it doesn’t mean that you should.