Many people seem to view environmentalists as being more concerned about polar bears than about people. I think this is just a case of bad marketing.
Several months ago, the images accompanying articles about the federal government’s plans to expand offshore oil and gas exploration on the outer continental shelf surrounding the United States and on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge got me thinking about polar bears.
I admire polar bears as magnificent fellow Earth inhabitants, but I do not think that the polar bear is a good symbol for environmentalism.
I was pondering writing about polar bears when Impakter approached me asking if I would be interested in writing an article for them. The timing was perfect. I pitched three ideas of which two were accepted. I choose to write a piece about polar bears.
Being an environmentalist is just one aspect of who a person is. I believe first, and foremost, many, if not most environmentalists are doing what they do because of the people in their lives. Environmentalists work on all kinds of people related issues including clean water, clean air, toxin-free homes and workplaces, safe and nutritious food, and clean renewable energy.
You have the power to change your shopping and buying habits.
Your spouse or partner returns from getting the mail carrying a cardboard box and says, “Delivery for the minimalist.”
No, you are not a failure as a minimalist. Acquiring less stuff in our consumerist society can be challenging but you can do it and so can your significant other (if he or she chooses to).
At some point, months or years from now, you will have divested yourself of the things that do not fit in your life as a minimalist and hopefully your spouse or partner will have participated. If you do not want to end up back where you started, you need to plug the incoming stuff pipeline into your home or at least reduce its diameter.
The two main sources of incoming material goods are things that you and your spouse or partner buy, those that you give each other, and gifts from other people.
Unless you and your spouse or partner were able to immediately cease acquiring stuff once you decided to minimize you will likely need to change your shopping and buying habits and at least evaluate your gift exchanging philosophy.
This is the second post of a two-part post. The first post Minimalism for Couples – Getting Rid of Stuff dealt with minimizing even in the face of apathy from your spouse or partner while attempting to engage him or her in the process. This post addresses acquiring fewer possessions now and forever after, a formidable yet rewarding undertaking.
I hope these two posts will help you feel empowered to be a minimalist making your own choices and changing your own behavior even if your spouse or partner is not on board, yet.
Consumerism Takes a Holiday
Even though I did not recognize it at the time, our minimalist journey got a jump-start in 2013 just as the Christmas shopping season was getting underway. Any enjoyment I used to get from shopping and wrapping gifts was crushed under the rampant display of consumerism everywhere and my concern about the enormous environmental impact that our society’s constant quest for more stuff is having on Earth.
My spouse was feeling the same way so we agreed to opt out of exchanging gifts. We told our family and friends that we loved them but we did not intend to give gifts and did not wish to receive gifts either. We do still give to Toys for Tots and occasionally give or receive gifts. This feels right for us.
I am not saying that minimalists do not exchange gifts. What I am suggesting, is that you and your spouse or partner at least discuss your views about exchanging gifts and perhaps consider making a change.
If this seems like a draconic approach to minimalism, consider asking yourself the ten questions I raised in the Free Yourself from Christmas Consumerism post. If you still do not want to address gift giving and receiving or if talking about it is distressing your spouse or partner, then do not do it, at least not now.
Repair Instead of Replace
Repairing things to extend their useful life used to be routine until inexpensive and often low-quality consumer goods became ubiquitous encouraging you to buy new things instead of fixing them. For instance, why take the time to stitch up a fallen hemline on your t-shirt when you can toss it in the trash and buy a new for under $10.
Everything you use in your daily life has an environmental footprint. When you treat material goods as disposable, you end up wasting a lot of the energy, water, resources and people power that went into making and transporting it. The cost of harming people and the planet is not included in the purchase price of the products you buy.
Focusing on the environmental consequences of acquiring new things changed the way my spouse and I evaluate damaged or broken items. Now, we determine if we can repair it ourselves, pay someone else to fix it, live without it, or if we want to buy a replacement for it.
For example, after at least two decades of use, our card table with four matching folding chairs was pretty beat up. When the foam in the seats started deteriorating, we decided to have the tabletop and chairs reupholstered and my spouse painted the frames.
From the narrow perspective of dollars and cents, this solution was more expensive than buying a new table and chairs. However, we felt good about refurbishing our table and chairs instead of buying a new set because a lot of the original materials were reused and we supported a local craftsman who owns the upholstery shop about a mile from our house.
Fortunately, for you and us, repair is making a comeback. Organizations like iFixit empower people to repair their own stuff (especially electronic devices) and repair cafes are popping up where you can go to get help repairing things.
To Buy or Not to Buy
Overcoming the gravitational force of consumerism has been difficult for both me and my spouse but we are making progress on buying less stuff. You can only change yourself so that is what I have been working on.
In 2017, to get a grip on my own shopping and buying habits, I thought it would be fun and informative to track my purchases for a year. I shared how I did it and some insights I gained about my own behavior in the post entitled Living Happily with Less Stuff – To Buy or Not to Buy.
Below are a few examples of things my spouse and I have bought or did not buy recently and why we made the choices we did. Minimalists are not immune to advertising and the desire to buy stuff.
Last year just before going on a trip, I saw a Waterpik that came with a mini travel-size unit on a store shelf and stood there for several minutes considering buying it even though I had a Waterpik sitting on my bathroom counter at home. I felt very virtuous when I did not buy it. However, the story did not end there.
A month or so ago, when the water tube broke inside the wand of my Waterpik, the travel-size version flashed through my mind but my spouse fixed the old one so I still did not buy a new one.
A week later, the repaired tube broke spraying water all over my face and the bathroom. I had had enough. I went online and bought the Waterpik model that came with the travel-size unit I had been coveting. Hmm, it is small but I might have to leave something else out to fit it in my luggage. Oh, why did I buy an extra thing I do not need?
My spouse repaired the old one and is now using it.
Olive Oil Dispenser
A couple of days ago, my spouse accidentally knocked over the ceramic olive oil dispenser we kept next to the stove and the top broke off in a way that was not repairable. We discussed buying a replacement but fortunately, our inner minimalists whispered that we could just pour olive oil out of the bottle (duh).
Today, our minimalist selves would not have bought this item in the first place.
Eight years ago, when I began composting fruit and vegetable scraps, I bought a 1-gallon stainless steel pail that we keep on our kitchen counter and empty into the composter bin outside every day or so. I did not realize that stainless steel is not an ideal choice for a compost pail because it eventually gets little rust pits and starts leaking.
My spouse prolonged its life with some epoxy on the bottom but eventually smells began to adhere to the pail. Strictly speaking, the compost pail still works and making stainless steel has a significant environmental impact so it seemed wasteful to buy a new one.
The thing is that the pail smells mostly of bananas, which I ate a lot of when I was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Now I cannot stand to eat bananas. Every time I lift the compost pail lid the smell reminds me of that terrible time in my life. A few days ago, I decided that the old pail had served us well but it was time for a new one. My spouse agreed.
After doing some research, I selected a ceramic model with a removable plastic liner and ordered it online. When the new compost pail arrives, I am putting the old one in the recycle bin.
The above examples may seem minor to you. But chances are these kinds of day-to-day buy or no buy decisions will help you and your spouse or partner live happily, with fewer possessions that add value to your life, or will lead, you right back to where you started.
If there is one thing I hope you take away from this post, it is that reflecting on why you are trying to live happily with less stuff is the greatest deterrent to acquiring more stuff and later regretting it.
I leave you with this final thought.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” —Mahatma Gandhi
(I used to have a wall hanging with that quote on it, sigh.)
Featured Image at Top: Internet Shopping – Keyboard, Miniature Truck Filled with Boxes, Earth Globe – Photo Credit iStock/cybrain