The Greenest Valentine’s Day Gift Ever

Valentine's Day Red Heart in Shopping Basket

The greenest Valentine’s Day gift is the one you do not buy. Helping to keep Earth habitable by saying no to consumerism is an act of love.

Imagine the world we could live in if we showed our affection for the people we love year round without feeling obligated to prove it with material goods on a specific day.

Why pick on Valentine’s Day?

Because instead of a day for celebrating our love for one another, Valentine’s Day has become an occasion for compulsory shopping and promoting the idea that buying and giving the right things will bring you love and happiness.

Nowadays, Valentine’s Day is just another retail event aimed at keeping Americans shopping and spending between Christmas and Easter.

For Valentine’s Day 2017 the National Retail Federation predicts that Americans will spend $18.2 billion giving jewelry, evenings out, flowers, clothing, candy, gift certificates, and greeting cards to significant others and spouses, family members, friends, children’s classmates and teachers, pets, and co-workers.1

Think about that.

Nothing says “I love you” like a gift certificate and your cat is sure to appreciate a red heart-shaped food dish.

So how did it all begin?

Valentine’s Day History in Brief

There is little historical documentation available about how Valentine’s Day actually got its start, but it appears that one or more 3rd century Saint Valentines were involved. Some historians believe that the first person to write about Valentine’s Day in connection with romantic love was Geoffrey Chaucer in his 1382 book Parlement of Foules.

During the Renaissance (14th-17th centuries), writing valentine poetry and exchanging handmade valentines and tokens of affection gained popularity in Europe. In the 1800s, mass-produced valentines became available in Europe and the United States and some historians suggest that low postage rates contributed to the rise in the popularity of giving valentine greeting cards.

By the 20th century, Valentine’s Day was entrenched in the United States and well on the way to becoming the consumerism event it is today.

Valentine’s Day Environmental Impact

Several of the most popular Valentine’s Day gifts have significant environmental footprints including roses grown in South America and then flown to the U.S., diamonds mined in Russia and Africa, and chocolate made from cacao grown in equatorial rainforests around the world. The people who grow, mine, and process these products often work in hazardous conditions for low wages.

The environmental footprint of Valentine’s Day pales in comparison with a shopping extravaganza like Christmas, but inflicting harm on other people and the environment to celebrate love strikes a discordant note with me.

This Valentine’s Day, show your affection by being kind, considerate, appreciative, compassionate, and caring.  Love is free and does not harm the planet or other people.

The greenest Valentine’s Day gift is the one you do not buy.

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References

  1. NRF Says Consumers will Spend $18.2 Billion on Valentine’s Day, National Retail Federation, 02/01/17

Resources

Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing Your Stuff – Part 2

Zen Garden with Sand Swirl and Balance Stones

Moving beyond decluttering your stuff to adopting a minimalist philosophy can lift your spirit, free up your time and money, and help keep Earth habitable.

Decluttering is about paring down your stuff and organizing what remains. Minimizing is that and more. It is a way of life. Becoming a minimalist entails shifting your attitude about owning things and enjoying living your life with fewer material goods.

In part one of this post, I attempted to explain how my worry about Christmas consumerism and the health of our planet disrupted my decluttering project resulting in a change of direction from just decluttering to minimizing.

We will be exploring ideas about decluttering and minimizing in part two. I hope that this will help you in evaluating your own situation and deciding if you are ready to embark upon a minimalist journey.

Decluttering

Generally, decluttering involves going through the rooms in your house or apartment and your garage if you have one, tidying up and organizing your things. Often, it also includes getting rid of unwanted stuff by donating, giving, selling, recycling, or throwing it away.

Decluttering is a cathartic process for many people. Divesting yourself of stuff that you do not use or want anymore can be a liberating experience. By putting the things you do want and need in order, you can easily find and get to them.

Minimizing

Minimizing begins with an extreme version of decluttering involving reducing your stuff to the items you really, really need, use, or love. Once you complete the initial process, which could take you several months or more, the hard part begins. Living with fewer belongings means adding less stuff to your home and life in the future. Like eating a healthy diet, minimalism is something you strive to do, forever.

Becoming a minimalist usually requires making a substantial shift in your relationship with possessions.

Moving Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing

People’s reasons for taking a minimalist approach to stuff are variable just like people. My motive is to reduce environmental harm and keep Earth habitable for my children, your children, other people’s children, and future people. You may feel owning less stuff would free up your time for family activities, charitable work, or traveling. Maybe having fewer things, from clothes to pots and pans, would make your life feel less chaotic and more peaceful. Perhaps you would appreciate having more money to invest, save, or donate to a worthy cause.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to minimalism. If you are a parent with young children living in a suburb in California, your life is different from a forty-something unmarried New York City dweller. Older people have had more years to accumulate things, but younger people who have done a lot of shopping and buying might have amassed as much or more stuff. One person may be satisfied with holding onto a few keepsakes, or books, or fill in the blank ______, while another person needs more of these things to feel content.

I believe the common theme is a mindset of desiring to own less stuff and being willing to change.

Getting Started on Your Minimalist Journey

So, you made the decision to move beyond decluttering to minimizing your stuff. Congratulations! I can hear the planet sighing in relief.

Where do you start? It does not matter just start. If you need help or inspiration, try reading a post or two or checking out the resources in the sections below.

Your journey and mine will likely be filled with both supportive and unenthusiastic family members, unexpected challenges and benefits, and unyielding pressure to buy more stuff. Keep trying and make a u-turn if you need to.

Making Minimalism U-Turns

If you are like me, you have had decades to perfect your shopping and buying habits and are probably holding a “good consumer” certificate. Transforming your relationship with stuff may not go smoothly, at least at first.

My transformation hit a bump in the road the first week.

I was packing a box in the kitchen when I noticed a pile of muddy shoes belonging to various family members in the corner by the laundry room. We have received a lot of much-needed rain recently and it makes sense not to put muddy shoes in your closet, but it was making a mess on the kitchen floor.

My first impulse was to buy a plastic tub for each person to put dirty shoes in. I even made a note on my shopping list. Fortunately, I stopped myself from making the purchases by realizing that I could solve the problem using cardboard shoeboxes, an old towel, or occasionally wiping up the floor.

Sigh, I wonder how many times this type of scenario will occur before my first instinct is to use something I already have versus buying something new.

For fun and as means of evaluating my progress this year, I am keeping of list of the things that I buy and things I think about buying but do not. In the future, I plan to write a post sharing my results and any wisdom I acquire along the way to living a minimalist life.

Please share your ideas about minimizing your stuff and making u-turns with other readers.

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Resources

Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing Your Stuff – Part 1

Footprint on Earth Globe - Carbon Footprint

Is your stuff overflowing your closets and weighing down your spirit? Mine is. Let’s redefine our relationship with belongings and live more lightly on Earth.

Generally, I am a serial declutterer undertaking decluttering campaigns regularly, although not necessarily at regular intervals. Usually, a new wave of decluttering begins when our household disorderliness level crosses an invisible yet variable threshold. Somehow, I just know when it is time.

If you have ever completed a decluttering project, big or small, you probably understand what I am saying. Your process might be different from mine, but something triggers you begin it whether it is a jam-packed kitchen cabinet or frustration because you can no longer park your car in the garage.

My current decluttering and divestment project began late last year, but it was not because we had crossed the household messiness line. Somehow, my concerns about Christmas consumerism and the harm we are inflicting on our planet’s environment came together forcing me to look at our stuff in a new light

This is how it happened.

Christmas Consumerism

As the holiday season got under way last year, I was feeling relieved knowing that we would not be involved in the Christmas shopping frenzy. A few years ago, my spouse and I had opted out of exchanging Christmas gifts so there was no need to shop. We had also seriously pared down our Christmas tree and home decor collection.

Nowadays, we enjoy giving to Toys for Tots, putting up a Christmas tree, and spending time with our family.

In December, we bought and decorated a Christmas tree, hung LED Christmas lights outside on the railings of our deck, and placed a few Christmasy items about the house. To me, we had just the right amount of holiday spirit on display and I did not mind that our Christmas tree had not one gift package beneath it.

We had our Christmas stuff under control.

Then I started looking at the rest of the stuff in our home. That is when the trouble began and an uneasy feeling crept over me.

Owning Stuff Environmental Impact

I found myself peering into cupboards and closets and pondering the items filling our television entertainment center. Standing in front of my clothes closet, I wondered why I still had work outfits suitable for the corporate world that I had left in 2011. Looking in the garage was just overwhelming.

Thoughts began swirling in my head. Where did all the stuff come from? Sure, we received some items as gifts and inherited others, but we had bought most of them ourselves. Do we really need all this stuff? How much money have we spent on all these things over the years?

How many tons of raw materials were used, how many gallons of water were consumed, and how much coal, oil, and natural gas were burned to make these things? How much pollution went into the air, water, and land during mining for materials, manufacturing, and transporting these products? How many people toiled under poor working conditions or received exposure to toxic substances while making this stuff?

I was only dealing with the belongings of a family of four. Yet, there are hundreds of millions of other people who own similar kinds and amounts of stuff and billions more that aspire to it.

These thoughts and more joined the ideas that had been percolating in the back of my consciousness for several years and formed a conclusion that is hard to deny.

Earth is already struggling to survive. We cannot sustain our current level of consumerism and destruction. I have to stop. We have to stop.

Moving Beyond Decluttering

I realized that I needed to transform my relationship with possessions by moving beyond decluttering and organizing my stuff to substantially reducing the things I own and minimizing the acquisition of more stuff in the future.

Once I had made this decision, I could feel my spirit lifting even though I believe it will be difficult for me to overcome the decades of training I received on shopping, buying, and consuming courtesy of product manufacturers, stores, the U.S. government, the advertising industry, and more lately the Internet.

Even though your reasons could be completely different from mine, you might be feeling uneasy or unhappy about your relationship with your belongings, too. Is your stuff out of control or weighing down your spirit? Changing your philosophy about owning things could benefit you and the planet.

In part two of this post, we will explore ideas about moving beyond decluttering to minimizing and I will share some of the ups and downs I experienced at the beginning the transformation.

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