Spark Joy, but at What Cost?

Unless you live under a rock, then you most certainly have heard of Marie Kondo’s book (and now Netflix TV show) “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Her method, often referred to as KonMari, advises individuals to declutter their lives of things that don’t bring them joy. Possessions ranging from jewelry, clothing, shoes, paperwork, books, and other material items should be cleaned out and organized by category (not room) and in the process, those items that are no longer serving you should be discarded. By doing so, you are putting simplicity and order into your life and keeping your items at a minimalist manageable level.

Let me start by saying that I, as a whole, find the method extremely effective when done efficiently. Organizing by category definitely makes more sense than clearing out one room only to find the same or similar items in another. I also don’t like hanging onto something simply for the sake of it, but I also dislike living in a cluttered environment. Now here’s where my concerns come into play. Thrift stores are receiving items at astonishing rates: One in Texas reported a 324% increase in donations, which is astonishing. However, have the buyers increased? Unless more people start secondhand shopping to buy the items, many are still unintentionally flooding landfills. There is simply too many items and not enough space or buyers to hold everything being donated. If you have items that are in good condition or that are something that could benefit others, consider one of the following instead of immediately going to a donation bin: Freecycle.org; Women’s, Men’s or Homeless Shelter; Yard Sale; or start selling on an app like Mercari or Poshmark. There will always be items you have that someone else can use.

While I believe we don’t need to keep things that just take up space and want my items to have a second use, I want to focus more emphasis on the things we bring into our homes than what we’re discarding. Constantly getting rid of things is not stopping the constant cycle of items being produced: It’s encouraging it and then discarded when we’re done with them. Buying items creates a supply and demand effect. You buy it: They will continue to make it. Prime examples are fast fashion clothing (think H&M, Zara, Topshop, etc), cheap furniture that isn’t built to last, and holiday knick knack decor that serves no purpose except to be used once or twice and then thrown away. If you think “will this item bring joy?” along with something like “what purpose does this serve?”, you’re more likely to be intentional with your purchases instead of bringing in things on a whim. The purpose could be sitting pretty on a shelf (I definitely love my Willow Tree figurines), and if that makes you happy, then go for it.

Here is a kit I have put together of some of my most recent (and intentional) purchases. While I almost always buy secondhand, a few of these meet my needs and didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

My two bags that hang by the garage door. The Rescue Strong bag was bought secondhand on Poshmark and is perfect for running errands, like a quick grocery trip. The one on the right was a wedding present from a dear friend and holds my essentials for when I’m out.
All the items in my tote that I take with me when out running errands.

The blue Rescue Strong bag was bought on Poshmark and while it may have been secondhand, it had also never been used. Win win! The tote on the right was a wedding present from my MOH and dear friend, which holds the items shown in the second picture. These bags are hung by the garage door so I try and remember to bring them with me when I leave. I don’t always remember, but the intentions are there. The To Go Ware carrying case holds bamboo chopsticks, knife, spoon, and fork: Cheap utensils will work just as well. The cloth napkins are for anytime a mess may be made. The bamboo straw will help me avoid plastic straws in public. The Stojo silicone drink cup is perfect for hot or cold beverages and even has a flexible straw inside. It is compact and fits perfectly in the bag. Last but certainly not least, the aluminum container was $1.99 at Goodwill and holds my restaurant leftovers perfectly. I couldn’t believe that good find!

If the whole concept of decluttering your life all at once seems overwhelming, step back and ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it because the new “trend” is to live with less? Are you seeking the minimalist photos of white walls and a fake plant on a wooden dresser to spruce up your Instagram feed? Maybe you really do just want to free your life from clutter and find joy in the possessions you have. Whatever the reason may be, I encourage you to take it slow. Living with less and decluttering doesn’t happen overnight. Truthfully, I regret donating many of my impulse donation purchases from when I randomly decided at 10pm that my spare closet needed to be cleaned out. If you know with 100% certainty that you’re never going to be use an item again, by all means get rid of it. If you’re on the fence, keep it for six months or so and reevaluate it at that time. If you look at it and experience involuntary excitement, it’s a keeper. You can read all the books and watch all the shows out there about how to live with less, be conscience with your purchases, create a capsule wardrobe, etc, but honestly, none of that matters if you don’t know why you’re doing with it. Start with the items you see online, on the store shelves, on Facebook Marketplace. Evaluate them and assess their value prior to them even entering your home. It will make decluttering that much simpler.

A simple thought process to bringing items in:

  • Do I like this item enough to pay my hard-earned money for it?
  • Do I need this item?
  • How is this item made? Is it cheap or appear to be long-lasting?
  • What will happen to this item when I no longer have a need for it? If it breaks or wears out, will it simply go in the landfill or can the materials be recycled, composted, etc?
  • Think about it for a week and come back to it if you just can’t get it off your mind. Find a space for it PRIOR to it coming into your home so it doesn’t go in a closet and forgotten.

A simple thought process to getting items out:

  • Why am I getting rid of this item (no longer use, doesn’t fit, etc)?
  • Can someone near me benefit from this item before I donate it to a thrift shop or Goodwill? Try selling it or posting it online. Freecycle.org is a great way to spread the wealth of items you no longer want with neighbors who may have been wanting that exact (or similar) thing.
  • Can the materials from this item be used for something else, like art or a craft project? How about recycled materials?
  • Does this item bring you joy?

There’s no science or rhyme and reason to those lists. They’re simply what thoughts run through my head when I’m either 1) about to make a purchase or 2) giving something up. While in graduate school, I owned so much clothing that it took two closets, two under the bed storage containers, a five-drawer dresser, and a shoe carousel to fit everything I owned. I would buy everything I liked no matter the material, season, style, or even if I thought I’d wear it a lot. I can say with honesty that five years later, the thought of owning so much makes me cringe at how much money (even though 85% of the pieces were secondhand) was wasted. If only I had taken my own advice years ago!!

I wish you all the best as you work to spark joy in your life. Take a walk, clean, have a coffee date with a friend, go out to dinner, or even declutter your home bit-by-bit. What works for me may not work for you: That’s totally normal! Once you are comfortable with what you have, then I honestly believe you will be just fine.

Advertisements

Earth Day 2017-Five Ways to Go Green!

Earth Day is in two days, so let’s talk about some ways you can up your green game. Some are pretty straight forward, but still are some of the simplest (and best!) ways to save the environment and help your wallet.

  • Reusable Napkins. Ignore the pet hair on mine. We have two dogs and three cats, so pet hair is a permanent part of our home, no matter how often we vacuum! The conventional disposable napkin is chlorinated to make it white. Not only is the process extremely toxic to our environment, but do you really want chlorine around the food you eat? Reusable napkins can be neat patterns, are more durable than paper, and last way longer. Purchasing reusable napkins, no matter if you make them or buy a cheap set at Walmart, will save you money in the long run as well because you aren’t buying them so often. fullsizeoutput_3665
  • Reusable Bags. Save those free bags you get at conferences and use them for your grocery trips. Plastic bags are one of the top contributors to pollution in the world (approximately 1 trillion are used and discarded each year with only a small fraction of them being recycled). Did you know plastic is not biodegradable? There are no properties in it that benefit the earth, so any plastic that is used will just sit there. It is easy enough to leave extra reusable bags in your trunk as well for those spontaneous shopping trips we all know happen now and then. If you do get plastic bags, consider taking them to your local grocery store or Walmart for proper disposal. I know ours has a bin at the front of the store to put them. Mine pictured is an insulated Trader Joe’s bag, but I have at least 6-7 I use on a regular basis.

fullsizeoutput_3666

  • Reusable Water Bottles. This one is a no-brainer. Although it may be convenient to buy a 24 pack of water and grab one as needed, the amount of plastic, both for the bottles and the packaging, is outrageous. Also, the plastic is #1, which should never be refilled due to chemicals leaching from the material. Invest in a stylish water bottle that will make you want to drink water each day. I have the one pictured that I got for $3 at TJ-Maxx and has reusable “ice cubes” in it; they’re BPA free, in case you’re curious. I have a stainless steel one that has served me well in the six years I have had it. Glass it fantastic, but do keep in mind it has a higher chance of breaking. Mine fell off a table and shattered 😦 Some excellent high-quality water bottle brands include Hydroflask, Contigo, Nalgene, Clean Kanteen, and S’Well. Other bottles have filters built-in (Brita makes a good one that can be bought at CVS) in case your tap water may not be the best for drinking. Add some fruit to your water for flavor as well!

fullsizeoutput_3667

  • Wool Dryer Balls. Typical dryer sheets consist of nothing but chemicals that wreak havoc on your body and are actually flammable. Plus, they are ridiculously expensive. Wool dryer balls work just as well as dryer sheets and are non-toxic. If you like the scent of dryer scents, I highly suggest purchasing a high quality essential oil of your choice (lavender is great) and putting a couple drops on the balls before throwing them in the dryer. I use three balls per load, but when I have more laundry at a time, I will certainly invest in some more. My mom bought these for me years ago, and they have held up to hundreds of washings. I experience minimal static afterwards and feel better knowing I’m not simply throwing away something else to add to the landfill. Not mine, but here is a set in case you’re interested. I wish I knew how much money I have saved by not buying dryer sheets since graduate school!

fullsizeoutput_3668

  • Storage Ideas. This Star Wars container is PERFECT to store the dryer balls. For Christmas last year, a pair of pajama pants for my husband came in it, and I hated to throw it away. Lo’ and behold, a dryer ball holder came out of it! It adds character to our laundry room too. Reusing items you already own is an excellent way to go green. I feel like every single child learned “Reduce Reuse Recycle” in elementary school, and that phrase holds true well into adulthood. Reusing helps your environmental impact because you’re simply not purchasing as much, which is less that you’ll put in the landfill. Be creative with your ideas; it can be fun to use your imagination!

fullsizeoutput_3669

These ideas barely scrape the surface of ways to reduce your environmental waste, but are extremely beneficial. What are some of your favorite ways to go green? I’d love to hear them!