Start Your Minimalist Journey on the First Day of Spring

Spring is a time for new beginnings.

This spring consider turning over a new leaf by choosing to become a minimalist living happily with less stuff.

As spring approaches I realize that I do not need to declutter this year. Plus I may never need to declutter again. “Really, how so?” you ask. The short answer is that I am now reaping the benefits of deciding to become a minimalist in November 2016.

If you are interested, you can read about decluttering vs. minimizing and why you might want to become a minimalist in the posts Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing Your Stuff – Part 1 and Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing Your Stuff – Part 2.

During the first three years of my lifelong quest to live happily with fewer belongings, I divested myself of stuff I do not need, use, or want, changed my shopping and buying habits, and organized the stuff that I still own.

“Minimalism is about intentionality, not deprivation.”

Dejan Stojanović

You can choose to begin your minimalist journey this spring. If you do, next year you will have less to declutter and perhaps you can give up decluttering forever. More importantly, Mother Nature smiles every time you, me, or anyone else chooses to live more lightly on Earth with less stuff.

Photo credit – Dreamstime/Sashahaltam.

There is no one-size-fits-all or “right” approach to minimalism so go about it in a way that works for you. If you are looking for ideas to help you get started, continue reading this post.

Three Years of Minimalism

Initially, my spouse was not enthusiastic when I announced my intention to become a minimalist. I was probably too pushy in the beginning, however, once she realized that I did not intend to get rid of our joint stuff without her say-so she agreed to participate.

In the first two years, we focused on divesting ourselves of excess stuff including items that we owned individually and as a couple. Last year was more about reinforcing our new not shopping and not buying habits.

As you will see, that does not mean I did not buy anything.

Below are some of the challenges we faced during the first three years of our minimalist journey and how we addressed them.

Your Stuff vs. Our Stuff

If you live with at least one other person, your desire to minimize your possessions will likely affect the other person or persons sharing your home. A good way to begin the process is by talking with your spouse, partner, or family. Explain why you want to be a minimalist and ask them if they want to participate or not. Listen to them and respect their ideas and concerns.

Do not be deterred by a lack of support from others. You probably have plenty of stuff that belongs to only you so start with that. Your spouse or family may get on board at some point or maybe not.

Orange and Green Apple
Photo credit – iStock/Simone Capozzi.

I began by divesting myself of stuff that I owned. The first joint divestment project my spouse and I tackled together was the kitchen which is more my spouse’s domain than mine because she is the family chef. I recounted this experience in Minimalism for Couples – Getting Rid of Stuff.

Depending on how much stuff you have amassed, who else is involved, and how much time you are willing to devote to the process, the divestment phase could last a couple of months, several years, or indefinitely.

One benefit of owning less stuff is that space opens up in your home allowing you to organize your things so that they are easy to find and access. Your spouse or other family members may notice this and be encouraged to join the effort.

To Buy or Not to Buy

While you are divesting yourself of stuff, you will also need to figure out how to plug the acquisition pipeline or you will end up back where you started.

When I decided to become a minimalist, I did not magically morph into a different person and you probably will not either. Consumerism is heavily ingrained in our society. Removing yourself from its gravitational force may prove to be more difficult than you anticipate but once you do it you will be free.

Early on, I realized that being a careful and mindful shopper was not enough. I would need to radically change my shopping and buying habits. But before I could do that I needed to understand what they were.

Photo credit – iStock/cybrain.

I decided to track what I bought for myself and my family and why I bought it for a year using a simple spreadsheet as my journal.

In the post entitled, Living Happily with Less Stuff – To Buy or Not to Buy, I shared what I learned during my yearlong assessment and provided some ideas to help spreadsheet averse readers evaluate their habits. Minimalism for Couples – Buying Less Stuff and Minimalism – Living More Lightly on the Planet cover repairing things and deciding when to buy or not buy new items.

I know I said I was not going to tell you what you should do but I do want to mention one thing. If you find yourself justifying buying new things by getting rid of older things, you may be keeping the number of your possessions in check but do not kid yourself that you are living more lightly on the planet.

Letting Go of Gifts

Initially, I felt guilty and stressed out about divesting myself of things that people had given me as gifts.

For me, learning to live happily with the less stuff means divesting myself of things that I do not need, want, or use regardless of whether I bought the item myself, someone gave it to me, or I inherited it.

I got over the guilt and wrote about it in Minimalism – Letting Go of Gifts.

My philosophy is that a gift is something freely given with no strings attached. The receiver may choose to keep it or not. It is their choice. I have shared my feelings about exchanging gifts with my family and friends. Occasionally I give gifts and sometimes I receive them. When someone gives me a gift, I thank them and then decide if the gift fits in my life or not. If it does not, I donate it or give it away.

Is this talk about letting go of gifts making you feel anxious? If so, take a breath. You are the guide of your minimalist journey so if you do not want to deal with gifts or inherited items, then don’t.

Annual Assessment

Each year, I do a review of the previous year determining what went well and deciding if I want and/or need to do anything differently going forward.

This year I am sharing my evaluation with you to demonstrate that minimalism (at least for me) is not a game and does not require specific or perfect behavior. I am doing the best that I can to live happily and more lightly on Earth with less stuff and you can, too.

Earth Shaped like a Heart - Original
Photo credit – iStock/pearleye.

Back in 2017, I wrote Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing – Clothes and Shoes describing the agonizing and cathartic process of minimizing your wardrobe. In that post, I admitted that as an inspiration to lose weight I was keeping two pairs of jeans that did not fit my heavier post-breast cancer body. Last year, I decided to donate the jeans so someone else can enjoy wearing them while I attempt to return to my more slender self.

We have not sorted through our eight boxes of photos residing in the master bedroom closet or the several plastic tubs filled with our kid’s artwork and toys that are stored in the garage. There does not seem to be a compelling reason to tackle this stuff so it may be a while before we get to it.

The only item I regret buying last year is a pair of dress shoes that I do not currently need. I bought them for insurance when the only store in our area that carried shoes for my narrow feet was holding a going-out-of-business sale.

Christmas 2019 came and went without me buying any new decorations. I am proud of this accomplishment because I used to be a decoration churner meaning I would give away decorations to justify buying new ones.

Two big-ticket items joined my belongings last year. A mini iPad and an electric bicycle. I could write several paragraphs defending these items but I won’t. Let’s just leave it at I believe these things enhance my life.

I feel satisfied with what my spouse and I have accomplished during the first three years of our minimalist journey. And the cool thing is that I have zero decluttering to do this spring.

Minimalist Spring Challenge

Now that you have had a chance to read part of my story, are you considering starting a minimalist journey yourself?

Coffee Cup, Pen, Piece of Paper with Begin Saying on Wood Table Top
Photo credit – iStock/marekuliasz.

If you are, here is a 15-minute challenge to help you decide. You can easily accomplish this in the morning while drinking a cup of coffee, during a break at work, or in the evening after the dinner dishes are done.

If you like jotting down your thoughts, grab something to take notes or doodle on. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Spend the next fifteen minutes contemplating how you could benefit from owning less stuff. 

When the timer goes off, ask yourself this question “Do I want to try living happily with less stuff?” If the answer is yes, then pick one of the tasks below (or come up with your own) and make an appointment with yourself to do it in the next seven days.

  • Talk with your spouse, partner, or family about why you want to become a minimalist and ask for their support.
  • Click on the links within this post or the “Related Posts” section below for information, ideas, and perhaps a little inspiration.
  • Clear a staging space in your home and obtain some boxes.
  • Call a friend and tell them you are going to become a minimalist and why.
  • Minimize or eliminate your kitchen junk drawer.

If you start now, on the first day of spring next year, you will be able to look back and admire how far you have come on your minimalist journey.

Featured Image at Top

A strip of blue paper is rolled back revealing the words “A year from now you’ll wish you had started today.” – photo credit iStock/IvelinRadkov.

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Toilet Paper – Green Alternatives

Sometimes change is easy.

Reasonably priced environmentally-friendly toilet paper not made from cut down trees is widely available. Anyone, meaning you and me, can choose to buy it.

Toilet paper has been on my mind recently. This is probably because I had been pondering and writing last week’s post about why your individual climate actions matter in which I suggested that even seemingly inconsequential actions are important.

Changing to an eco-friendly toilet paper or another option is one of those small choices that matter.

But if you had not thought about it, I understand.

Unless your roommate, kids, or spouse leave an empty cardboard tube or nothing on the toilet paper holder in the bathroom you probably do not give much thought to toilet paper and neither does anyone else. Chances are you buy the same brand of toilet paper you have been buying for years, the brand your parents bought when you were a kid, or perhaps whatever is on sale.

Are you thinking something like “So, what?” or “Why should I expend any mental energy thinking about toilet paper?”

The simple answer is that toilet paper made from trees (virgin wood) is contributing to the destruction of the world’s forests which are essential ecosystems that both people and non-humans rely on for life.

This post will provide a brief overview of toilet paper’s environmental impact and then we will discuss greener alternatives to virgin wood toilet paper.

Environmental Impact of Toilet Paper

Americans managed to get along without toilet paper until 1857 when Joseph Gayetty began selling boxes of individual toilet paper sheets. A major advancement occurred in the late 1870s when Seth Wheeler began making and marketing rolled toilet paper with perforated sheets.

150 years later we are still using basically the same product and cutting down trees to make it.

Forests are Important

Besides being beautiful trees absorb CO2, produce oxygen, influence rainfall, filter water, manage stormwater, keep soil intact and feed it, provide habitat, and give us food, medicine, and wood.

Trees are major constituents of the world’s forests which house about 80% of the biodiversity that exists on land. Hundreds of millions of people live in forests (including me).

Forest Degradation

Clear cutting trees degrade forests by leaving dead zones in the midst of them or along their edges. This wipes out what was once healthy, functioning forest ecosystems.

Technically, trees are considered a renewable resource meaning that one or more tree seedlings can be planted for every tree that is cut down. Even if that was being done, which it is not, trees are slow-growing taking decades to reach maturity.

Sometimes cleared forests are replaced with tree plantations consisting of rows and rows of a single species of tree, in other words, a monocrop. A plantation cannot replace a forest.

Making Toilet Paper

Toilet paper is made of lightweight paper called tissue paper. Other tissue paper products include facial tissues, napkins, paper towels, wipes, and hygiene products.

Converting a tree into wood pulp and then tissue paper products is an industrial process that uses an enormous amount of water. That is why paper mills are located beside lakes and rivers.

This short video from the Idaho Forest Products Commission provides a good overview of what happens at a plant that makes toilet paper from trees (the greenwashing is pretty mild).

Fortunately, some manufacturers produce toilet paper made with recycled paper and other materials besides wood.

Our Toilet Paper Study

Back in early 2015, I set out to try to understand why so many Americans seem intent on buying toilet paper made from virgin wood even though toilet paper made from recycled paper is widely available. Was it because virgin wood toilet paper was less expensive or performed better or what?

I roped my spouse into participating in an informal test of virgin wood toilet paper versus toilet paper made from recycled paper. We tested the toilet papers shown below and rated attributes like tearability, flushability, cleanliness, softness, and purchase price.

Toilet Paper Rolls Stacked in a Tower

Overall we found that all the toilet paper we tested performed adequately. Some of the virgin wood brands were the softest and most expensive.

I did not start the toilet paper post I had planned on writing because I learned that I had breast cancer. All my energy was diverted to surviving treatment. I am very grateful that I did survive.

Four years later, when I decided to take up the topic of toilet paper again, I discovered that a few additional products had come on the market and I realized that some of my data was outdated. However, the toilet paper industry remains relatively unchanged.

Toilet paper companies spend tens of millions of dollars each year trying to convince Americans that toilet paper must be bright white and pillowy soft.

Trees and water are cheap and the cost of environmental harm is not included in the price you pay at the checkout counter so many if not most major toilet paper manufacturers are just continuing with business as usual.

This is ridiculous.

Eco-Friendly Toilet Paper and Other Options

There are green alternatives to toilet paper made from virgin wood pulp. Let’s look at a few examples.

Recycled Paper

A somewhat better option than toilet paper made directly from a tree is toilet paper that is made with recycled paper that has performed another use since it was a tree. There are a number of brands of toilet paper made from 100% recycled paper (the higher the post-consumer content the better).

We buy Natural Value toilet paper made with 100% recycled paper (80% post-consumer) by the case from SLO Food Co-Op. Each cardboard box contains 12 plastic-wrapped 4-packs. I keep a small squirt bottle filled with water next to my toilet.

With so many reasonably priced, effective, and more environmentally-friendly options available in stores and online, I cannot imagine why any person would continue to buy toilet paper made from virgin wood pulp.

Water

One option is to skip using toilet paper or to use very little of it by either installing a bidet in your bathroom, retrofitting your existing toilet with a bidet component, or attaching a specialized spray wand next to the toilet.

You use water to clean yourself and then dry off with a small amount of toilet paper or better yet a reusable washable towel (like after a shower).

Several years ago, during the height of the most recent California drought, we replaced our old toilets with new high-efficiency toilets. I did not even consider a bidet component because we were trying to reduce water usage in our home.

Now, I think that was short-sighted as the increase in water usage would have been slight and we could have hugely reduced the amount of toilet paper we use and maybe even eliminated it.

We are toying with the idea of installing a spray wand to try out.

Bamboo and Other Materials

Treeless toilet paper is possible.

Bamboo is a grass that can be harvested after five years and then will quickly grow again. It can be used in place of wood for many products and can be made into pulp for toilet paper and other tissue paper items. Toilet paper made from bamboo is readily available for a reasonable price.

The thing is, for those of us living in the United States, bamboo toilet paper comes from China or other countries overseas. Shipping rolls of toilet paper across the ocean on hugely polluting container ships detracts substantially from its eco-friendly attributes.

Other potential sources of fiber for treeless toilet paper include agricultural residues left after harvesting crops like sugarcane and wheat. I have yet to find a brand in any of our local stores but it may be available online (skip the 2-day shipping on an airplane).

The idea of treeless toilet paper appeals to me warranting further investigation of these options.

If you change, the toilet paper manufacturers will change, too.

Featured Image at Top: Toilet paper roll character pushing a shopping cart – photo credit iStock/Talaj.

Reader Note: When I mention a specific product in a post, it is because I think you and other readers may find the information useful. I do not accept product review solicitations and I do not receive compensation of any kind for mentioning a product in a post.

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