There is something I’ve come across quite a lot during the last years – I’ve heard it in real life and online. People, especially bloggers talk about “decluttering” their life to feel better, have a cleaner home and live more minimal. They do it in different ways. By selling, donating, gifting, or throwing away clothes, shoes, cosmetic products, electronic goods or other little things laying around in their flat or house, they create more physical space and get a happier feeling after the work is done. While I understand the idea of getting rid of material products that “don’t serve you anymore” and “don’t bring happiness to your live anymore”, I do take a critical stance on this concept.
We live in excess
Let’s be honest. We have a massive amount of material goods in our lives and have the means to buy more in the future. We are constantly buying something. We are living in this world where purchasing a product is easy, accessible in a few minutes and is thought to add value to our lives. And even if you are thinking “I am an exception. I don’t buy as much as other people.” (I am definitely guilty of thinking that myself from time to time) Here’s a thought for you: Think about how much your grandparents are buying. Is it more or less? And if it is more – imagine how much products your great-grandparents were buying in their everyday lives. Your great-grandmother had 5 dresses she wore from age 25-95 and passed them on to your grandmother? Well, maybe not exactly like that but you get the point, right?
It is a new phenomenon that our society is constantly buying (food being an exception, of course). There are so many products out there that are not just made entirely out of plastic but where I am thinking to myself “Does our economy really need to invent useless products that are supposed to make our lives easier but are really not?!”
Do you know that “wish” commercial that I see on Youtube sometimes? Wish is an online shop where you can get different products for every aspect of your life for a shockingly cheap price or as they advertise “the lowest prices on earth”. The commercial basically shows people sitting in front of products from the online shop while trying to figure out what they are (if that isn’t shocking enough). Among other things: a banana slicer, a spring onion cutting device, a tripple bladed pair of scissors and a pineapple cutter. Another commercial of the brand shows a woman hysterically unboxing her new mermaid tail blanket.
What is your purpose, little plastic banana slicer?
I get sick to my stomach when I see something like this. Everything we manufacture and create in this world has a negative impact on the environment – some more than others. Now, since we are making so many products nowadays, this impact is skyrocketing. And if that isn’t enough, when these products are not used anymore and thrown away, they are damaging the environment even more. For what? A plastic banana slicer that takes as long to cut a banana into pieces as your regular kitchen knife would. This banana slicer is wrapped in a shiny plastic packaging that is shipped in a carton box with extra plastic protection, of course.
The circle of consumption
Now, people got that slicer as a gift or thought it would make a great addition to their kitchen equipment (along with their apple slicer, their bread slicing machine, their spatulas, their assortment of knives and baking trays, their popcorn maker, their pizza wheel and their different sized plastic colanders) and one day they notice that their home is overflowing, they don’t have space for more things and they constantly have to tidy up their rooms. So they start “decluttering”. They make “donate”, “give away” and “throw away” piles and create more space to fill up with new things. And they feel light, happy and proud of themselves and pat themselves on the shoulder for a job well done and go on with their lives. Maybe they tell themselves to be more consciously when it comes to buying new things the next couple of days/ weeks/ months but eventually they see this “cool marble design slicing board” and get back to old routines. A few months or years later they start the decluttering process all over again.
If you are part of our “normal consumption” society, you have to make space for new things so you have to declutter. Even companies understood that. H&M put recycling boxes in their stores all over the world, where you can put in your old and unwanted clothes and get a discount to buy more new and wanted clothes at their store. It’s recycling so it’s doing something for the environment (great for H&M to promote a sustainable image) and the consumer gets a reward for it – win, win! And the H&M customer pats themselves on the shoulder for a job well done and goes on with their lives. Right?
We are fooling ourselves
It’s not that easy. Truth is, the majority of the “recycled” clothes cannot be recycled because they are fabric blends (like a cotton and polyester blend for example) and they get thrown away, burned or dumped to Third World countries (where they are not needed – there is no human in the world that is in the need of clothing! Food and water, yes but clothing, no). This is harming the environment rather than achieving a sustainable future. Kristen Leo (an amazing sustainable Youtuber I respect) said something in one of her videos that was something like: “I buy so many clothes from the thrift store because I know they get thrown away by the second hand shop if they are not bought.” She further said that she has this urge to save the clothing from the landfill.
Things seem to disappear from your life and you feel good about it when “decluttering” but they don’t disappear and they are over-saturating second hand shops, land fills and our oceans. And since so many people are following this practice, it is getting worse and worse.
The truth is, there are hardly situations where we get rid of a thing because it is “used up/ broken/ at the end of it’s life” and if this happens, it is because we bought such a cheap, low quality thing that it was destined to last under a year. Think about it, when you get rid of “old” clothes, is it because they are broken and falling apart? Or are they not fashionable anymore and you haven’t worn them that much. When was the last time you went to the tailor and let them sew up that tear or make that dress bigger/ smaller? Did you ever dye that shirt a different colour after realising “light blue is not your thing”. We are going in the wrong direction where buying something new replaces fixing existing things we already own. During an interesting discussion about sustainability in the fashion industry I’ve been invited to, Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, said (or passionately shouted) something that stuck in my head: “We are too impatient to wear out our jeans that we buy distressed jeans from the store!”
It is absurd. A lot of distressed jeans trends can be made easily at home (I am thinking about those trendy minimal slits on the knee parts, those slits under the butt cheeks or those “rustically” cut up jeans shorts) yet we still buy them new. And if you don’t want to cut up your favourite pair of jeans – is this trend something you really like? I remember that about 1 or 2 years ago Jay Alvarrez and other Social Media famous boys started wearing those black jeans with slits on the knee parts. Max (my boyfriend) thought it looked cool and he wanted those jeans too. Since I knew how hard it was to find ethically made, sustainable jeans, I suggested him to make them on his own. He had (still has) only one pair of black jeans and finally came to the conclusion that he’d rather have a simple un-distressed black pair of jeans than those with the trendy slits.
Going back to the roots – with a twist
We value shopping so much, while our own things have no value to us anymore. Throwing it away is easier to us than making the effort to repair and preserve it.
You’ll be wasting your time organising your home, decluttering to make space and shopping for new things if you don’t realise that this is not a good habit of our society. We need to remember how generations before us consumed and modernise it to create a more sustainable and positive way of consumption. We need to spend more money on a single item that has better quality, is more eco-frienldy and ethically-made and that will last us a longer time. We need to keep this item for years and years and repair it until falls apart because it is no longer fixable. We need to keep in mind that we don’t have to own all of the things we find beautiful but rather admire them from afar. We need to think twice, thrice and ten times before buying something and allow us to think for some weeks, months or even years. We need to accept that not being able to buy something because it is not available anymore, is only making us upset for a few seconds before moving on with our lives. We also need to rewire our thinking and realise that NOT buying something and having a minimal, empty home because of it is a better feeling (especially longterm) than those 20 seconds of shopping joy and lifetime of stress we have because of material goods.
And on a final note, yes, it is totally okay to declutter your home once in a while. But learn something from it! Your closet is full of clothes you don’t like anymore? Work on consciously buying less clothing and learn what your style is. You have boxes full of electronic gadgets you think are cool but you hardly use them? Work on that. Stop impulse buying and learn what kind of products you actually use and like and which ones will be cluttering up your home before thrown out unused.
My tip for transitioning to a more minimal life: Choose something you can buy when you have that urge to buy something, that you’ll actually use up and that you KNOW you’ll like. My example: Whenever I was on “shopping sprees” with my “in-laws” or walking through the city when traveling, I would decide on 1 or 2 things I would buy IN CASE I see it. This was and still is natural, vegan soap bars. If there is no natural and vegan soap, I would go home empty handed and feel really good about it. If there was a small handmade soap shop I would go home with my natural, vegan soap and feel good about it too. Plus, the soap is a product I can use up so it never cluttered up my home and I never regretted buying zero waste, handmade, vegan, natural soap bars.