Stuff — Less is More

It doesn’t make sense economically or environmentally to use resources and materials to manufacture, transport, use, and dispose of stuff we don’t really need. After completing spring cleaning and donating our family’s excess stuff last fall, I thought about all the stuff we still had and how to minimize acquiring more stuff. A phrase from a college architecture class came to mind that became my motto.

“Less is More”

—Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (architect)

Shopping — Less is Less

Shopping CartsThe less one shops, the less likely one is to buy. I enjoy shopping just as much as the next person and have done my fair share over the years. Like many others, I eagerly embraced online shopping. But my favorite place to shop is still a brick and mortar bookstore. Mail order catalogues from companies I have never heard of arrive unsolicited in my mailbox along with a few from companies I do buy from. The American marketing machine is very powerful and I had to learn new shopping strategies in order to try to live up to my new motto of less is more.

Mail Order Catalogues

  • Interesting how I didn’t need a new t-shirt or shoes or thingamajig until I saw it in a catalogue. My strategy is to recycle mail order catalogues without looking at them. 
  • Better yet, request to be removed from catalog mailing lists.

Online Retailer E-mail Lists and Notices

  • Don’t subscribe or unsubscribe from e-mail notices about new products and sales. If I need something, I can always go to the retailer website.
  • Avoid browsing retailer “recommendations”. If one didn’t think of it oneself one probably doesn’t need it.

Habits to Break or not Acquire in the First Place

  • Think twice before going window shopping. I generally shop when I need to buy something but I am not totally immune to the “impulse buy” urge. I admit to shopping for fun or to see what’s new. Not going in the store (including virtual ones) in the first place is a good strategy for me.
  • Buy ButtonBeware the credit card. Sliding a credit card through the machine at the check out stand is so easy. Many online retailers make it even easier by storing credit card information and offering “1-click” purchasing.
  • Be cautious of coupons, special offers, and sales. One doesn’t really save any money if one buys something one doesn’t need just because it was on sale.
  • Shopping for emotional reasons can result in unneeded purchases and credit card debt. “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping” and “retail therapy”, are phrases probably coined by the America marketers to get us to buy more stuff.

A Beginning

My less is more approach to shopping does not mean I haven’t bought anything or acquired more stuff, but at least now I think twice before buying something.

I enjoy buying things for other people. Perhaps that is a way of justifying shopping, by saying to myself, “it’s a gift”. 

We still have a lot of stuff, but at least we’re acquiring less stuff and at a slower pace. It’s a beginning…

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Spring Cleaning is a Green Thing to Do

Spring cleaning is a green thing to do. A thorough house cleaning and eliminating unnecessary stuff contribute to a healthy living environment.

In our household, it doesn’t necessarily take place annually or in the spring. That doesn’t mean we don’t clean, we do, but not always in the traditional spring cleaning sense. My announcement “I’m starting spring cleaning,” is often met with fear and dismay by my family. Will they be asked to do more chores or to give away a cherished computer game or tool that hasn’t been used in 3 years?

The Process

Review and Negotiation

Last year, I started spring cleaning in July. My oldest son was moving, my youngest was going away to college, and two of my dear friends from out of state were visiting in the fall. My sons were uninterested in going through their stuff but they did. I knew my friends wouldn’t care if I cleaned house or not, but I didn’t think they would object to a clean house either. My spouse bore the brunt of it and was constantly being asked if we really needed that serving bowl or 5 shovels.

The kitchen seems to be the room with the most stuff, so that is where I started. Eventually, I ended in the garage. I would open a drawer or cupboard, take everything out, clean it, and then evaluate the items to see if there was anything we didn’t need. I would consult the appropriate family member(s) as to whether it was needed or not, always being careful to say they could keep whatever they wanted. But then I would ask if they/we really really needed it. If it was released I would put it in a pile in the kitchen.


The pile started getting big so we needed to start making decisions about what to do with specific items.

  • Trash: Broken, worn out, un-repairable, un-recyclable, or items that it seemed unlikely anyone would want or use went in the trash. If they were toxic (paint) or electronic waste (ancient computer monitor) we set them aside.
  • Recycle Bin: Broken, worn out, un-repairable but recyclable items went in the recycle bin.
  • Donation: unwanted and unneeded items in gently used good condition were sorted for donation. Minor repairs were made, like sewing a missing button on a pair of shorts that had been outgrown.

Donation BoxThe donation items were packed up in various boxes and I made a list for tax return purposes (I’m not opposed to a deduction). I searched on the Internet and found an organization that accepted the wide variety of items we had amassed including Christmas decorations (I found that to be rare in our area).

We had so many boxes we had to rent a trailer to transport our donations to the collection center. They seemed happy to see us and accepted everything except…an older model TV in perfect working condition. They said too many people tried to slough off broken TV’s on them so they had stopped taking them. Luckily we found our farmer’s market offered a monthly electronic recycle program (unfortunately we haven’t gotten around to taking our TV to it yet).

The Aftermath

The whole process took several months. At the end, our house had been cleaned top to bottom, and we had relieved ourselves of a lot of unnecessary items some of which hopefully found happy homes with people who did need/want them.

This process started me thinking more about stuff and one thing led to the next…but that is another story.

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