Living with less

Green Lifestyle magazine

Does your stuff own you, rather than the other way around? Reduce clutter and buy less for a healthier and happier life.


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Is your life dependent on stuff? Perhaps your stuff is stuffed into your wardrobe, kitchen cupboards, bathroom vanity and even under the bed. But you need your stuff to look good, eat well, stay informed and for that ‘what if’ moment right? Cue 10 pairs of high heels, four different sized fry pans and a TV in more than one room of your house.

According to American philosopher George Carlin, rather than a place of sanctuary and solitude, our homes have become “piles of stuff with a cover on it”. After all, he says, we need a place to keep our stuff while we go out to buy more stuff. Or earn money to fund our pursuit of stuff. Sometimes we take holidays – but we need stuff for that too.

Carlin muses boldly that if we had less stuff, we wouldn’t need homes – “we could just walk around all the time”. Taking a slightly more moderate approach – as it’s safe to say you might want to break up all that walking with some sleep – owning less stuff offers significant environmental and health benefits.

Tamara DiMattina from Buy Nothing New Month says less stuff equals more freedom. “How awesome is chucking a few things into a bag and hitting the road?” she says. “The more stuff in our closets, the longer we take to get dressed. The more stuff in our houses, the more time we spend cleaning, maintaining and moving it around. Or, what I think is the most ridiculous thing, paying someone to store our stuff somewhere else.”

Live small

Ever moved into a larger house and needed to buy more stuff to fill in all the extra space? Take it down a notch. Research suggests Australians have the largest homes in the world, with an average of 215 m2 per dwelling – higher than even the average American home.

Next time you move house, think about how much space you really need. Additional rooms and storage space may encourage you to accumulate more stuff. If you’re happy in your abode but don’t need so much space, consider renting out a spare room.

“One of the best things we can do for the environment is make use of existing resources instead of building more,” says eco-blogger Anna Minns, founder of www.dailylime.com.au. “And one of the most abundant resources we all have in our homes is empty space.”

Buy nothing new

For inspiration, commit to Buy Nothing New Month (www.buynothingnew.com.au) in October. It’s a global movement that encourages us to practice buying no new items for one month, aside from essentials like food, hygiene products and medicine.

“Buy Nothing New Month is about encouraging us all to reassess how much we really need. To think about where our stuff comes from (finite resources and human labour) and where it goes (landfill),” says DiMattina. "It’s not about going without, it’s about realising when we have enough."

Stock down

Chances are there’s loads of stuff lurking at the back of your fridge, pantry or bathroom vanity. Alarmingly, research shows that up to 40 per cent of the average garbage bin is filled with food. Before you buy more, try to use up what you already have. Use up all those cosmetics and skin care items you haven’t touched in a while. Experiment with dinner recipes. When you do need to flip the equation and stock up, only buy goods that will help you use up what you already have. "How silly is it having stuff in our cupboards we don’t need,
so we end up throwing them out? What a waste."

“Right now, I’m actively stocking down and using up everything I have in my bathroom and kitchen so I can beat them to their used by dates,” says DiMattina.

Write a shopping list

A spot of retail therapy may work wonders for your mood, but it can result in a heap of unnecessary purchases. Not to mention the burden on your credit card. At the supermarket, shopping without purpose often leads to a trolley full of not-so-healthy snacks. “Don’t just go to the shops – you’ll often end up making unnecessary purchases,” says DiMattina. The solution? Make a list. Shop with purpose.

Love the phone you have

Resisting the marketing push to upgrade to a newer, shinier handset at the beginning of a new mobile phone plan is great way to reduce your electronic footprint. “The average person replaces their mobile phone every 12 to 24 months,” says Minns. “There are an estimated 10 million mobile phones stockpiled in Australia, which, if put in landfill, will result in toxic chemicals leaching into soil and polluting the environment.”

Use the good stuff

We bring out the ‘good’ crockery and cutlery at Christmas and put fancy sheets on the bed when guests come to stay. But at other times of the year all this good stuff sits in the cupboard taking up space. Have just one set of ‘good’ stuff that you and your guests can enjoy. “Use the stuff you are keeping for a special occasion – linen, cutlery and china,” says Debra Jarvis, a feng shui expert specialising in home organisation. "Subconsciously, you are telling yourself you matter and are worthy of enjoying the good things life has to offer."

Rent a bag

A girl can never have too many handbags … or can she? According to Minns, the average Australian woman owns 10 handbags – more than one for every day of the week. Instead of purchasing a new bag for every season – and finding the requisite wardrobe space – she recommends making fewer purchases on better quality bags or renting designer handbags from sites such as www.somethingborrowedboutique.com.au and www.strawberryhandbags.com.au.

"Love the one you’re with. Re-use your handbags or rent them from designer handbag sites. This extends the life of the handbag and reduces waste."

Cull the clutter

The ultimate way to edit your life is to reduce the amount of stuff in your house. Sounds easy, but sometimes there’s just so much clutter you don’t know where to start. Professional organiser Susanne Thiebe suggests starting with a drawer or cupboard that isn’t too crowded and cleaning out your home one room at
a time.

“For example, the second drawer in the kitchen,” she says. “Take everything out and categorise. Kitchen tongs with kitchen tongs on one pile. Wooden spoons with wooden spoons. This way you’ll realise when you have too many of one item. When putting items back, ask yourself: is it useful, is it broken, does it belong here?”

Give less stuff

Think birthdays, Christmas or the often forgotten anniversary, and gifts immediately spring to mind. Inadvertently, however, this just means more stuff. Consider giving intangible gifts like a massage or donation to charity, and if you simply can’t go to the party without a present, give something the recipient can eat or use.

“When buying gifts, consider consumable items such as flowers, plants, chocolates and wine,” says Jarvis.
"These are things that can be appreciated for a short time rather than items that the receiver feels obligated to keep."