Hey folks, how’s it hanging? Do me a wee favour and have a look around you right now. Where are you? Bedroom? Office? Bathroom (because you’re reading this while on the toilet (no judge))? Take a moment to notice the things that surround you. Start with the big stuff then work down: House, room, couches, bookshelf, DVDs, pens, etc, etc. I’m going to estimate that around 85% of you can spot a rogue bobby pin from where you are. They defy logic and are mysteriously everywhere. I think they have magical powers. Anyway, it’s likely that there are a lot of different things within a 3 metre radius of you, and today I want to talk about Stuff. More specifically, the existence of The Stuff in your life and why it might be better to have Less Stuff in general. Yes, I know this blog happens to be about Using Good Stuff, but I also think it’s important to consider whether we should actually Use The Stuff at all. Ok, I’m going to stop capitalising now.
Reductionism, minimalism, simplicity, austerity… I’m going to be honest and say that I’m not that good at living by these terms. It’s no secret that us western affluent types buy a lot of stuff to put on the shelves in our houses. I would go so far as to call it a shit tonne of stuff. We go even crazier during holidays, where we spend a shitload of money on a shit tonne of stuff for other people to put on the shelves in their houses. It’s another not-secret that many other people around the world not only have no stuff but also no shelves or even houses. The concept of owning a sonic screwdriver-shaped pizza cutter (which I do) must seem bizarre to these people. And fair enough, too.
Consumerism and the role it plays in our society is a big fish to fry, and many could wax lyrical about it from anthropological, psychological, and economical angles. I, of course, want to address it from an environmental and waste perspective. How does this stuff come to exist? What real purpose or point does it play in our lives? Where does it go once we no longer want it? Let’s take my pizza cutter for example. I bought (or was gifted?) this during a Doctor Who phase a couple of years ago. It makes the sonic screwdriver buzzing noise when you use it. It’s good fun and a great novelty. It is made primarily from plastic that is non-recyclable, but it also has a metal rolling blade, and some sort of electric speaker system inside for the sound effects. It exists as the only pizza cutter that I own, however due to my lack of pizza making (I should change this) and my habit of using a knife to cut my occasional pizzas, it mainly sits in my flat’s kitchen drawer. A drawer that is filled with kitchen utensils we don’t really use. You know the one. If this pizza cutter breaks or is re-gifted and then chucked out, it will end up in the landfill, like most of the other stuff we accumulate over our lives. Just another story of an item bought to fill some perceived (sonic screwdriver shaped) gap in our lives, and then discarded.
Q: So what do we do about it?
A: Just be mindful.
Like I said, I’m not a minimalist, but there are ways you can reduce the amount of junk in your life. Mindfulness is a concept bandied about a lot these days, but it really and truly is important in relation to our urge to consume. Consider asking yourself these questions when you want to get something new:
- What purpose does this item serve in my life?
- Will I use it often?
- Is there something that I already own which will do the same job?
- Does this thing have multiple uses or is it a ‘one job’ item? If so, is it actually worth owning?
- Is this item made in a sustainable way and with sustainable materials?
- Are the people involved in its production paid and treated fairly?
- Will it last, and if not, how can it be repurposed or recycled?
- Can I buy this item second hand instead of new?
- Is this something I find beautiful or meaningful?
This last question is an important one. It is the question that when applied to my life, marks the difference between reductionism and minimalism. Personally, I want to own books that inform or inspire me; art that I will always love looking at; trinkets passed down through generations. I want to be able to create stuff. I want to support artists who make wonderful things. But I need to make sure that these things are important to me, and add value and colour to my life. I don’t want them to last a few weeks then end up chucked in the bin.
The first items in my life that I have started to mindfully reduce are my clothes. I took note of what I haven’t worn for months, or what didn’t fit anymore, and I either sold them or donated them to an op shop. Slowly, I am getting rid of the fast fashion that has accumulated in my wardrobe and am building a set of staple items that are either second hand or high quality lifetime pieces. Eventually (hopefully) this endeavour will be applied to all aspects of my life.
This has been a bit more of a ramble than my usual posts, but I hope it inspires some thoughts and changes. If you have any comments, suggestions, or questions then make sure them flick them my way!
Stay mindful when out shopping guys, and make mental notes about what things you don’t actually need to spend money on. After all, if life has taught me anything it’s that you never need to buy your own bobby pins.
header image via hopkinsmo.com