I first began to explore the concept of minimalism when I became old enough (and strong enough) to move my bedroom furniture around. I must have been somewhere around 8 years old.
I would flip through the pages of the Sears and JC Penny catalogs (remember those?) and be inspired by the endless photographs of bedrooms. Of course, the photos were hawking wares like bedroom linens and draperies, but I admired the rooms for another quality: sparseness.
I regularly removed everything from my room that didn't have purpose or beauty. I was trying to achieve that clean, open space so effortlessly displayed in those department store catalogs. I would raid the utility room where my mother stored her fabrics (she was and still is a master seamstress and designer) and experiment with different textiles - colors, textures...I would remove dressers and nightstands and instead find little round tables that held my bedside items - but no room for clutter or junk or extra stuff.
The point is - I wanted a space where my body, mind, and spirit had plenty of room to ramble freely without tripping over unnecessary or unsightly objects - like dirty laundry or extra furniture.
Even at 8 years old, I could appreciate the energetic, physical, and psychological liberation that getting rid of clutter and living with less brings. I still practice SIMPLIFYING my existence today.
Today I am sharing 10 ways I keep my mind and spirit fresh and free from clutter. But most importantly - in cluttering our lives and planet LESS - and keeping our footprint SMALL - then we can have an active role in ensuring our children own a BRIGHTER, GREENER FUTURE.
10 Eco-Habits for Living Happily with Less & Giving Our Children A (cleaner, greener) Planet & Brighter Future (this date represents the year I began to practice this habit, in my best memory)
1. Say no to paper towels. Switch to cloth napkins/towels/cleaning rags. (1998)
40% of the waste in America's landfills consists of paper products.1 One of the largest segments of the paper industry is bathroom tissue and paper towels. You could easily save more than $100 a year by simply switching to cloth napkins, tea towels, and micro-fiber cleaning towels. I also save my children's old worn out clothing in a big bin I designate just for cleaning rags. I put the bin in a place my children can reach them when they need to clean up a spill. I also keep my cloth napkins in a low drawer so that even my 2 year old gets his own napkin when he sits down for a meal.
2. Get rid of your gas hog SUV. (2003)
Before you panic - all you SUV drivers - don't get me wrong. I drove a vintage 1981 FJ55 (for you Land Cruiser fanatics) Toyota Land Cruiser for the better part of my 20's and early 30's. The Land Cruiser is the epitome of cool in SUV land - it is the original off road, indestructible, longest lasting vehicle. Mine is still running (my brothers own it now) and I would bet that it easily has 500,000 miles on it. It had around 300+ when I sold it to them. However, it took $20 just to back the thing out of the driveway everyday (well, almost). Driving an average SUV puts six tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually; a small hybrid gives off one and one-half tons, and biking gives off none.2 So if you don't go off road - get rid of your SUV. I sold my Land Cruiser in 2003 and purchased my first and only new car - a 2003 Prius. Since then, we have been a Prius and mini-van family - boasting 55 MPG and close to 25 MPG, respectively.
3. Go BPA free and use glass, stainless, or BPA free storage containers. (2001)
I use to be teased constantly for my "no plastic" policy - back in the days when you could not find a non-plastic sippy cup anywhere (except under remote rocks and websites). To my relief, after years of scouring obscure websites, there are a bevy of storage containers for babies, kids, and adults alike.
- Carry your own grocery bags. Use organic cotton totes when available.About 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals are killed by plastic bags each year worldwide, according to Planet Ark, an international environmental group. The average American uses 900 grocery bags per year. Less than 1% are recycled.2
- If you breastfeed and must store milk OR if you use formula - use safety glass or stainless bottles with BPA free nipples.
- Limit use of zip lock/plastic bags (it's tough, but we work hard to avoid it)
- Don't buy bottled water or buy Styrofoam. Carry reusable canteens. Get your schools, churches, and other organizations to stop buying paper products, bottled water, and Styrofoam products. Americans throw away enough plastic bottles each year to circle the earth four times. We also throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year.2
Once I did this - my allergies mysteriously vanished (after a 30 year plus history with them). Go figure. "Green" cleaning products are available anywhere and everywhere now. But buyer beware - read your labels and support businesses who are dedicated to the environment, not big box manufacturers who are capitalizing on the big wave of the "green trend."
- Laundry - Charlie's Soap - The packaging is 100% no waste. I reuse the cloth bag it comes in for storing small kids items or toys.
- Multi-Purpose Surface Cleaning - Good old vinegar and baking soda - I use for laundry, tubs, toilets, and other areas that need a good scrubbing. I occasionally use a bleach/water solution for mold control and for disinfecting tubs/shower floors/outdoor patios. For floors and surfaces, I use multi-purpose solution of vinegar, distilled water, and essential oil blends* I custom blend - in a handy $2 spray bottle.
- Dishes - Look for phosphate free products - safe for animals, marine life, and kinder to your glassware. Many larger manufacturers sell phosphate free products now.
5. Put up drapes or blinds.
You can save 25% on your heat in the winter and A/C in the summer by simply drawing your blinds or curtains, says Thomas Kostigen, environmental author.3 I use to be "anti-drapery" (from my hyper allergen sensitive days) until I had my first child - and the only way he would sleep was to be in a dark room. You better believe I quickly sprinted to the nearest store (actually I bought them online and also handmade other drapes) for blinds and drapes. I made the discovery that his room was much cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Now I have drapes in almost every room in our house. And for the allergy naysayers - it did not create an allergy frenzy. We are still breathing just fine.
6. Use a reel push mower. (2002)
The quickest way to be fuel free and reduce your carbon footprint is to buy a reel mower! The newer models are much easier to use than your grandpa's model - so go out and shop for a new one. (around $150) Plus, you can knock out your lawn care AND your cardiovascular exercise at the same time. Now that's efficiency!
7. Adopt a "No Shoes in the House" Policy. (2003)
I really got strict about this in 2005, when my first child was born. I did not want my infant learning how to crawl and wiggle (so cute, mind you) across a floor that someone had just trod across a pesticide laden yard or walked through a dog park in. The "no shoes" policy cut my cleaning in half. I live at the beach - so I no longer had to sweep pounds of sand off the floor everyday. I also did not have to mop or vacuum as often - because there were no strange dark crusty pieces of unidentifiable material on the floor. Pesticides, yard fertilizers, pet excrement, sand, dirt, dust, and other industrial chemicals - can all stay outside - if you adopt a "no shoes" in the house policy.
8. Say No to toxic and other plastic toys. (2005)
Of course, toy buying did not apply to me until I became pregnant (hence the 2005 date). But I knew the dangers were there - and also the potential for having a house full of cheap, potentially dangerous toys. My vision was and still is - to have a measured, small number of toys for my children to play with that focuses on quality, not quantity. Wooden trains & puzzles are a favorite among our boys, and there are plenty of toy manufacturers now - online and in stores - so avoiding a plethora of plastic toys does not have to be such tortuous chore now. This Anatex play cube is also a durable crowd pleaser. It does have a small amount of plastic on it, but is mostly metal and wood. There are also plenty of BPA-free toys now, and we have also invested in a small animal and dinosaur collection and enjoy other BPA-free toys.
9. Install a programmable thermostat in your home (2006)
Doing this will prevent about 1,800 lbs of air-polluting CO2 per year and save about $150 per year on energy bills (at least). We installed one because of our frequent travel schedule. But even if you do not travel, setting your thermostat to come on less during the work day is enough reason to install one.
10. Pare down your belongings. (somewhere around 1979)
Even if you don't share a passion for minimalism, everyone wants to leave future generations, our children, with a healthier planet. You can teach your children the joys of being less materialistic - and less dependent on owning "stuff" (or the stuff owning you) - by paring down your (and their) closets. Recruit them to help you determine what they no longer want in their closet -and give it away to charity, consign it, or yard "sell" it. In my own closet, I allow myself somewhere between 40-60 pieces of clothing. Any more clothing than that - and I have enough clothes to wear for a month or more without ever washing any. Hmm - do you ever wait a month before washing clothes? Wait. Don't answer that. The point is - we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. Since I implemented the "40 pieces in my closet" principle - I now wear 100% of my clothes.
Tips on paring down:
- Have nothing in your house that you do not consider to be beautiful or that serves a purpose. ~ William Morris, architect and designer
- Get rid of anything you have not worn or used in 1 season. (i.e. if you didn't wear it last summer or use it last Christmas, get rid of it)
- For every 1 item you buy and bring into the house, get rid of 1 item in your house. (i.e. If I buy a new pair of shoes or a new French press coffee pot, I need to get rid of an old item of footwear, article of clothing, or kitchen item)
1. Green Seal Report 2004.
2. A Lighter Footprint Film.com
3. Thomas Kostigen, author of environmental books The Green Book, The Green-Blue Book, and You Are Here.
*top photo of my husband. bottom photo is our son. more than 4 decades later, and we're striving for more clean, green space...for our sons & for everyone.