Minimalism is conceived as ‘owning less’ in a consumerist culture. People adopt this aim for several reasons; to save money, to reduce clutter, or to streamline. One of the most important offshoots, however, is the reduction of waste.
When I started investigating minimalism, I was returning from a large city & a culture of ‘more’. More culture says ‘you can’t wear that twice’, ‘it has to be brand name’, ‘new is better’, ‘more expensive is better’. When I returned to my small home town, these conceptions were turned on their head. No one cared what the ‘right brand’ was. No one was interested in ‘fashion’ or ‘high end’. In such light, I came to realize how I had foolishly buried thousands of dollars in More.
I worked to overcome the values of More culture using minimalism. I restricted my wardrobe to 50 items. I created a ‘uniform’ look. I sold my designer clothes.
The problem is this: its not just about getting rid of things, it is about changing our minds. From that place of ‘more is more’, it is impossible to imagine owning 3 tee shirts.
Shifting to Less culture takes time and an education. We have to relearn how to engage with our possessions; how to shop, what to value, what to do when something is old. Where we buy distinct clothing, instead we can choose simple and universal. Where we buy new, we can repair. Where we buy a brand name, we can instead choose quality. Where we opt for ease, we can put in the effort of maintenance and skill.
Rules of Less:
Rule 1: Opt for simple. When we own simple clothes, they have greater utility. You can wear a plain black tee shirt for 30 years. It will never go out of style. It is impossible to tell if it is the same or new shirt. Further, it will go with everything else you own. Bonus, you will never look back at a photo of yourself and wonder ‘what was I thinking?’
Another pro of simple? It’s longer wearing. I owned a jacket with sequins, rhinestones and complicated buttons (poor life choice I know). In short order, some of the rhinestones had fallen off, and I lost about 3 of the one-of-a-kind buttons. My plain blazer? In perfect shape. Nothing to fall off there!
Rule 2: Opt for longevity over disposible. Get out of your disposable mindset. We are so accustomed to short or single use products designed solely for convenience. Instead, focus on shifting to items that you can reuse and that will last years instead of weeks.
Good quality items last. Notice I didn’t say expensive. Quality is not always synonymous with cost. The goal is longevity. Check that an item is well made. The less often you need a new one, the better. The less disposable, the better.
Examples include shifting from disposable razors to a straight razor; buying goods in bulk and storing in glass jars; using a good old-fashioned French press instead of pods; use pens that take ink refills; use a diva cup instead of tampons; using hand-dryers and reusable handkerchiefs.
Rule 3: Maintain & repair. Maintain your items. Wash wool in cold water. Hang your clothing to dry. Learn how to do basic repairs to buttons, zippers, and holes. When purchasing an item, check whether a company will do repairs. Find your local tailor and cobbler, they are likely adorable and about 103.
Rule 4: New is not always better. My mother has a parka from the 1970’s. It cost her $500 at the time, but it still looks beautiful. The one she bought 2 years ago for $70 is already down 2 snaps and is no longer wearable. I wear my great-grandmother’s watch from the 1940’s. It has been running for 80 years. The new watch I bought is already in the garbage (along with 5 batteries).
Rule 5: Cost is relative. Buying a straight razor will set you back about $200. Spending $10 every 3 months on a disposable razor will cost you $2000 over your lifetime. Further, a straight razor has exactly zero waste. No plastic. No packaging. Nothing ever goes in the garbage. Disposable razors are plastic surrounded in plastic. Thus, the environmental cost is vastly different.
Rule 6: Effort is okay. It’s okay that you have to learn how to sew (and relearn how to shave). It’s okay that it will take an extra 5 minutes to get your coffee. It’s okay to go without when you send out your watch or jacket or shoes for repairs. It’s okay it took 7 months to find the perfect backpack (since you only own one!) It actually feels good. I honestly love everything I own. I spent time picking these things. They perfectly meet my needs. Moreover, I actually enjoy the act of caring for my things. It is a kind of stewardship. Every season I repair and do maintenance on my last season items. That means in the 35C heat I am putting wax on my Barbour jacket and mending the holes. In the winter I repair and polish my summer footwear.
Less means more skills. More deliberate choices. More time considering the impact of our actions. These are all good things.