Is Minimalism the Answer to Sustainability?

Now that September has come to an end and I have participated in my own version of the 100 Thing Challenge, I feel some weight lifted with fewer craft projects, books, and toiletries, and I look forward to cutting down on my wardrobe over the coming year. Reducing what I own has definitely made me think differently about what I own and why I continue to keep it year after year. I’m beginning to see that not everything in my life needs to be perfect and that acquiring more things does not make my life better. I see how minimalism means I consume less and leads to a more sustainable life. But, is minimalism the best choice to live a more sustainable life? Is minimalism the answer and most effective way to reach sustainability?

Minimalism does have its benefits and we all can enjoy life with fewer things. In The 100 Thing Challenge, Dave Bruno illustrates how a nearly perfect day required very few things, and thinking back on my happiest days, I don’t remember any of the things I had. What I do recall is the moments of those days. I recall looking into a box on my front porch to find a puppy inside. I recall hugging my sister after she got married. I recall submitting my last final of every semester of graduate school and giving a sigh of relief. I don’t recall having things or owning anything. I don’t recall needing or requiring much, maybe a computer to submit my finals or the box that held a puppy inside, but I don’t recall specific things or objects making the situation better.

I do agree that having less makes you focus on what’s more important and what matters. However, minimalism does have its limits. If, for example, you only have a few things to wear and you continually wash them, it would wear the clothing items out and then you would have to replace them more often. If you only live with a few items and then tire of them, do you toss them out and replace them on a regular basis? How is that sustainable if you are always replacing items and throwing things out?

Sustainable fashion blogger Summer Edwards of Tortoise and Lady Grey takes this one step further by showing how decluttering is often misguided if you are not mindful of certain aspects. If you do not ask yourself why you are giving something away and why you are attached to certain items, chances are you will continue to reorganize and declutter and then accumulate the same items because you haven’t addressed why you acquire what you acquire.

I found this tip to be useful recently when I found two beautiful dresses on sale at a department store. I began fantasizing where I could wear these dresses to and what I would look like. Rather than purchase them on a whim, I decided to carry them through the store and as I looked through more items, I began to think about my current collection of dresses. Unfortunately, I don’t wear them as much as I would like and I find I buy dresses thinking I’ll wear them for a “someday” occasion. I realized that “someday” doesn’t happen very often. I also realized that I will be finishing graduate school soon and having these dresses won’t really help me determine what I’ll be doing after school. It would be nice to own something so lovely and wear it to future job events, but those future job events are no guarantee. How do I know I’ll have a job right away? What kind of job will it be? Will it require fancy dresses? I have no answers to these questions, so it seemed unnecessary to purchase anything right now.

I began to see I wanted those dresses to obtain a specific lifestyle, but I began to see that it was more effective to focus on the present. I began to ask myself, “Do I think my current lifestyle is not enough and therefore I need more things to make it complete? Why is it not enough?” Although I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, I thought about it and came to the conclusion that I was working towards a career that I finally feel is giving me direction, I have a solid group of friends I can trust, and I have moments in life that give me meaning. What more could I want?

As a final thought, Summer discusses the importance of not only addressing your connection to material objects but also finding effective ways of disposing of your items. Getting rid of clothing specifically, can lead to it being sent to developing nations where it is resold. This can undermine the local industry and its artisans. She also points out that a minimalist wardrobe doesn’t mean you can only have the bare minimum. Perhaps you have more in your wardrobe, but the point is that you invest in quality items you will wear many times. So, perhaps the message shouldn’t merely be minimalism, it should be that you purchase items to invest in long-term and you don’t let them weigh down your choices and future. Perhaps I’ll need a fancy dress for my future, but the reality is that I already have many options in my wardrobe.

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