Minimalism Can Make People & the Planet Happier: Full Article

Updated: Jan 9

How to Stop Constantly Filling our Homes and Minds with Stuff #minimalism

By Sinéad Houlihan.


We are all constantly filling our homes, and minds, with stuff.


It’s such an overwhelming amount of stuff in fact, that an increasing number of people are being inspired by the philosophy of minimalism to try a different approach: the revolutionary idea of living with less.


Contrary to popular belief, minimalism is not about owning nothing, living out of a backpack, or having a home with no decorations except a single houseplant - I definitely like my home comforts.


Minimalism is a tool that can help break the often exhausting cycle of habitual consumption, shifting our time and energy to what is truly important to us, makes us happy and brings us a sense of purpose.


Practising a less materialistic and simpler life can also play a role in helping to combat the climate crisis. Win-win!


Our possession obsession

In the UK and much of the rest of the developed world, we are consuming at a rapidly increasing rate. Whether we are following hundreds of accounts on Instagram; binge-watching shows on Netflix, being bombarded by advertising; following fashion trends or eyeing up new gadgets, our interconnected world keeps us busy.



The widespread development of factories in the 18th century meant products could be produced on a mass scale, quickly and cheaply. In the consumerist ‘golden age’ of the 1950s/60s we gained access to a dizzying variety of material things and shopping became part of everyday life.


In today’s competitive landscape, brands design campaigns to make us feel like we need to buy their products to be happy, beautiful or successful, and social-media shows us endless new trends and potential purchases to keep up with. By placing our happiness on physical possessions, we are constantly wanting - which by definition means ‘lacking’. New things temporarily make us feel good, but the euphoria doesn't last long before we feel like we need something new again. Exhausting, right?


As well as making us feel overwhelmed and unsatisfied, our mass consumerist habits are playing a huge role in the climate crisis, too.


Just one example is the £32 billion fashion industry, thriving on the creation of ‘trends’ and ‘must-haves’, which accounts for a whopping 10% of global carbon emissions[1], which contribute to our current climate crisis. This year, a European Parliament report revealed that the amount of clothes bought in the EU per person has increased by 40% in just a few decades[3]. It is estimated that more than half of the fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year [2] and when throwing them away, clothes pollute the Earth in landfill and as plastics entering our oceans.


A different way of living

Until a few years ago, I hadn’t stopped to think about the stuff I was accumulating as I mindlessly browsed racks of clothing and scrolled on social media, or as I digested the endless noise of information I was consuming via our digital world.


A minimalist approach isn’t only about physical possessions, it can help us to feel lighter by cutting out anything which does not add value to our lives.


For me, minimalism is an empowering lens to look at the world with so I can focus on experiences that make me happy (hanging out with friends and family, time in nature, exploring a new part of where I live, or getting lost in a good book) while giving less value and energy being distracted and stressed by things like shopping or social media - and in turn being kinder to the planet.



4 steps to start your minimalist lifestyle


1: Consider your intentions

Minimalism is a powerful mindset which can bring a joyous sense of freedom, but you don’t have to follow a rigid path. You can pick and choose which aspects of minimalist living help you focus on what is important to you.


The first thing to help you on your personal minimalist journey is to take some time to think about your goals. Maybe you want to save money, feel calmer, or downsize your home (or a combination of reasons)?


Keeping your goals in mind will help as you make small, practical and realistic changes to your consumption habits. Experiment to see what works for you.


2: Wait before you buy

You can begin living more minimally by being more intentional about bringing new stuff into your life. So next time you want to buy something new (besides the essentials, of course), give yourself a few days to really consider it.


When you return to the idea (and get over the initial rush of adrenaline which accompanies buying a new thing) you will know for sure whether it’s something you really need. Or, you might find you forget about it entirely!


Over time as you identify which items you definitely don’t need more of, you can reduce your overall consumption plus the amount of time, money and energy spent doing so.

3: Simplify one area at a time

Pick just one area of your life at a time you want to declutter, e.g. your wardrobe, shoe collection or that kitchen drawer mess - and systematically consider each item’s value to you.


If it doesn’t have a purpose anymore or make you happy, get rid of it by giving to friends or on places like Freecycle, Depop and local charity shops.


Minimalism isn’t about getting rid of things for the sake of it, but if your instinct is you won’t miss something, you may find calm in saying goodbye. This is also true of ridding your phone of apps which use up time you’d rather spend doing something else, and other digital clutter like accounts you follow on social media.


Remember though that not everything others might consider ‘clutter’ needs to be banished, as long as it is meaningful to you.



4: Choose experiences over things

A core part of minimalist living is creating space to prioritise your valued experiences and relationships over physical possessions.


So when giving someone a gift, instead of a physical gift why not treat your loved one to a home-cooked meal or a fun day spent together doing something you enjoy (which doesn’t have to cost you a thing either)?


You will both probably treasure those memories a lot more than another unwanted cookbook or a novelty pair of pyjamas.


Some resources to get you started:

theminimalists.com

becomingminimalist.com

● Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix

@lowimpactmovement

@blueollis


Sinéad Houlihan can be found on Instagram


References:

[3] European Parliament Think Tank, Environmental impact of the textile and clothing industry: What consumers need to know, (2019)


[2] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, (2017)

[1] United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), UN Alliance aims to put fashion on the path to sustainability, (2018)


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