In the span of three years I moved across the country to the west coast and back and moved within NYC three times. Basically I’ve moved a lot, and I’ve learned the painful truth: I’m a hoarder.
Not in a keep-newspapers-until-they-become-garbage-piles way, but I keep everything. I think some of it comes from my practical nature and my incessant need to always be prepared. My roommates laughed when they needed a tool and realized I had a hammer or staple gun stored underneath my bed, or when I happened to have a roll of duct tape stored in my closet. I always had spare mittens, an extra hat, a blanket for the park. You name it: if you need it I have it.
This superpower was great until I realized I was moving from NYC back to California and I would have to really think about what I would need to take with me. I wanted to save money on moving costs and after moving several times to different yet small apartments in New York, I knew I needed to let go of some things.
In the past, I have given a lot of though to my impact on the environment and my carbon footprint in the past, but other than turning out lights when I leave the room, being careful with water usage when I shower or wash dishes, and recycling, I didn’t see how else I could help. That’s when I came across the Zero Waste Movement and was given a new way to think about how I use things, and what happens to the things I throw away.
Essentially, the Zero Waste lifestyle is a minimalistic lifestyle focused on the environmental impact one has in his or her lifetime. I came across a blog called Trash is for Tossers and learned a lot from Lauren about how I can make small adjustments that have big impacts. Even just carrying extra tote bags in your bag or in your car can help minimize how many plastic grocery bags end up in tucked under your kitchen sink or floating across the highway destined to drift into a landfill.
As I packed up my apartment, I learned about this movement and took a good hard look at my lifestyle. I am by no means living a completely Zero Waste life, but I’ve made some big changes to how I think about the effect my actions have and how I can help make a change or difference. For starters, I switched my family from using paper napkins at dinner to cloth napkins that we throw in the wash every few days. I always have a spare canvas bag handy when I’m out and about to carry any purchase, and I try to make sure I carry a reusable refillable water bottle with me everywhere, including the airport. I try to stay hydrated and found that was my biggest offense: disposable water bottles and coffee cups. No more! Last month I took a refillable water bottle with me to the airport for the first time, and found that not only were there water fountains with bottle stations where I could fill my water bottle with fresh, cold, water, but restaurants were willing to refill my water bottle for me.
You don’t need to start with zero as the movement name suggests, the goal can just be less.
A few years ago, I wrote about a six-month-shopping-ban to help myself figure out what I was really spending my money on and how I could budget better. If you aren’t sure how to get started with minimizing the clutter in your life, or how you can have a more positive impact on the environment, start with putting a ban on yourself. Whether it’s two weeks, a month, six months, a year, challenge yourself to refrain from buying coffee without using a reusable cup, or challenge yourself to stop buying new clothes every season. Chances are, you have some adorable-yet-forgotten pieces tucked in the back of your closets dying to have their chance to shine. If you are itching for new things, try buying second hand, or having a clothing swap (or book swap, or shoe swap, or jewelry swap) with friends!
In fifty years, or maybe in the next five months, you won’t want to have to go through your stuff only to realize you’ve been carting around things you don’t want or need, and it feels good to know you’re doing good for the earth rather than causing more trouble. If you want to minimize your clutter, or simplify your life, check out the Zero Waste lifestyle and try adding different things (or taking away!) to your routine.
For more inspiration about how you can make small changes or a small start, check out this video with Lucie Fink, a Refinery29 video producer who has a YouTube series dedicated to testing things out for five days. Here, she tries living a minimalist life for five days, and it really inspired me!