At this time of year, it is a tradition for many of us to make a resolution to improve some aspect of our lives for the better. Here's what we encourage you to do this year: minimize your stuff, and maximize its value.

Minimalism: What It Is & Why It Can Work for Anyone

Many of you may already know that this approach is often referred to as minimalism. It's been around for centuries, and it seems to resurge in society every so often as a sort of counter-cultural response to consumerism. Whatever you'd like to call it, this lifestyle is about reducing the clutter - i.e., the things that don't bring you happiness or serve a vital purpose - so you have the time and peace of mind to focus on the things that really matter to you, like family and friends, community service, or a favorite hobby of yours.

Sound like an early jump on spring cleaning? The difference is that minimalism is a more permanent approach - it's a lifestyle. Unlike spring cleaning, the goal isn't to have to spend an entire weekend cleaning out the garage or your closet each year; it's more of a one-time deal, with smaller clean-outs here and there. Why? Because the process of minimizing is about learning what is valuable to you and not allowing anything else into your house that doesn't fit the bill.

Don't let that scare you off, because 1) you can go at any pace you wish, and 2) the end result is incredibly rewarding. When I first started this process a year ago, I couldn't see myself getting rid of nearly anything. I had just started reading blog posts by The Minimalists and was only starting to look into Bea Johnson's zero waste lifestyle as well as reading Lauren Singer's Trash is for Tossers blog. It seemed to me like getting rid of stuff would be incredibly difficult, and making smarter purchases would require a ton of extra work.

These things are true. However, the joy it has brought into my life is unprecedented! I did not realize how much of my mental clutter was due to the physical clutter around me, or how much money I was spending on things that didn't really matter to me. I didn't realize how much waste I was creating, nor the fact that a lot of the products I had weren't designed, manufactured, or distributed in a way that fit my views. I had no idea just how much of an impact I had on this world till I took the time to go through all of my stuff. (Picture at left is an example of the beauty of decluttering!)

Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed at this point just thinking about going through your own clutter. You may like the idea, but you can't see yourself putting so much work into the process when you are already busy with work, kids, and other obligations. But the beauty of this process is that YOU decide how to apply it to your own life. There is no rule that you need to have a certain amount possessions or an empty, black and white apartment. You do not have to produce just an 8 oz. jar of trash each year or give up a certain beauty product you love and use every day just because it's tough to recycle (there is always a way if you're not ready to give something up or replace it yet). The process of decluttering can take you a week, six months, or a year. You can tackle it all at once, or you can go thing by thing. The rules are up to you.

Make a Difference: How Minimizing Your Stuff Reduces Your Impact

As I mentioned, decluttering this past year has been incredibly rewarding for me, as well as for others on the Sustainable Contra Costa team who have also been going through the process. I have less to keep track of, I am more aware of the amount and type of waste I create, and I have more time to dedicate to the people and movements that matter most to me. It allows more room for me to be a better 'me'.

However, the true beauty of genuinely following through with this resolution is that you are likely making life better for others! With more time, relationships will be strengthened, and you'll be able to help improve your community. You'll also be able to spend more time working on things you're passionate about, and quality work is always valuable to others.

One huge benefit we'd like to highlight here is the fact that you'll have reduced your environmental impact by decluttering and minimizing. If you truly evaluated the worth of your stuff as you went through it, then you'll not be prompted to fill those spaces with clutter again as time passes. You'll naturally consume less, which is more important than ever. Consider how many resources you demand based on your current lifestyle. Remember: life can be lived happily without much.

When we aren't aware of what we have and how it serves us a purpose, it's easy to make one-dimensional purchases: "I like that. I'll buy it." What we want to be saying are things like, "Do I need this to live? Will this bring me happiness? Will I use this often? Can I borrow this from someone? How was this product made? What values does the company uphold? Do I like the ingredients in this product?" Not only will this provoke you to make smarter purchases, but it will also make you purchase less. Talk about saving money! (Below are labels that you want to be looking for when making purchases, as they indicate the company/product has been looked into by a third party and verified as a reliable, safe product.)

It may feel good in the moment to get something new and not have to think hard about whether or not this is the right product to buy. But we must remember that every dollar we spend is like a vote. What do you believe? Do your purchases reflect those views? Consider how often you walk the talk. If you haven't thought about it before, I think you'll be surprised by how often you don't (and that's okay; this hit me hard this past year as I minimized!)

Resources: Get Inspired with Blogs & Videos!

As mentioned earlier, minimalism becomes popular every now and then, and now is definitely one of those times. There's an endless list of bloggers, vloggers (blogging with videos), and authors who have produced meaningful content about minimalism, zero waste living, making smarter purchases, increasing value, and other things of the like. Here is a list of some of my favorites:

Minimalism

  1. The Minimalists by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus: two friends who ditched Chicago "high life" for modest, minimalistic living in Helena, Montana; considered pioneers of current minimalism resurgence
  2. Becoming Minimalist by Joshua Becker: former minister, husband, and dad of two kids that lives minimalist lifestyle in suburban Arizona; great resource for those with kids
  3. "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" by Marie Kondo: haven't read it myself, but simply laid out to help you approach decluttering process
  4. Project 333 by Courtney Carver: help with creating capsule wardrobe; very popular approach at the moment
  5. Melissa Alexandria's YouTube Channel: link to videos on minimalism; helpful insights on topic; also helpful for those looking to go vegan

Waste

  1. Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson: wife and mom to two teenage boys living zero waste lifestyle in Marin County; considered pioneer of movement
  2. Trash is for Tossers by Lauren Singer: 20-something living zero waste lifestyle in NYC; useful resource for younger singles and/or those in more urban areas
  3. My Plastic-Free Life by Beth Terry: Oakland-based woman who has set out to live plastic-free; great discussions about what we buy and the stuff we have

Online Stores (Only If You Really NEED Something ;) )

  1. Life Without Plastic: online store that offers carefully curated selection of mostly plastic-free, durable products for around the house
  2. BuyGreen: online store that offers huge selection of environmentally friendly products; ship in reused packaging (I can confirm, as I have ordered from them before!)

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As always, please leave your comments below! Best of luck to those who choose to embark on the decluttering process. :)

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