I have a dream…

Today, I received in my inbox a challenge from Joshua Becker on Becoming Minimalist to share my story. Any of you who are reading this blog have been following my minimalist journey for the past 4 years, so I’m not going to repeat myself. But as my journey shows; it’s no small thing to empower ordinary people to dream decent and good dreams. If we all made these small changes to our lifestyles, then our world starts to look very different. Minimalism is counter-cultural and far from being restrictive it is actually liberating. I am sure that this stems from the fact that setting good boundaries is a healthy and useful life skill.

You may not think that these small changes can really have a great impact. But let’s just look at some examples here:

Minimalism leads to less spending, which in turn leads to greater financial security, which in turns leads to greater peace of mind. That could directly lead to better mental health which means less reliance on the over-burdened NHS. Improved finances could mean families no longer relying on benefits. Imagine having spare money left over, that could be donated to help those less fortunate – every single month. Imagine how good that would make you feel and the positive impact that could have on your mental health. So, you can see that a small changes leads to several different cycles of change and a ripple effect – outwards.

Minimalism leads to less buying, which means that more of the earth’s resources are left intact for future generations to enjoy. Less buying means that less workers in poorer countries are being exploited to make stuff we don’t need. Less buying and manufacturing leads to less pollution which improves everyone’s health and slows down global warming. That in turn, means that more animals are around for us and future generations to enjoy. Less shopping means that we all start spending more time outdoors or with family, which improves all of our mental health and again, reduces the burden on the NHS. Less buying stuff on credit means that we are independent and have greater peace of mind. This relieves the pressure on debt counselling agencies, the benefits system and the NHS.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. What small change can you make today?

Overwhelmed by change

I’ve taken a little break from writing here because I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed by change. Now it’s time to write and reflect on this. There has been a very stark difference between Minimalism and Zero Waste for me. Minimalism was a much smoother, easier journey. I had familiar channels that already existed through which I could get rid of stuff- eBay, charity shops, Freecycle and so on. Getting rid of stuff was beneficial to my mental health – I felt freer and less burdened.

Zero Waste on the other hand, has been a much bigger step- not being able to shop in familiar stores, having to seek out stores that sell things in suitable formats, thereby driving much longer distances or having to visit different towns. I also live with 2 chronic health conditions and I’ll admit that this has not been entirely helpful. I feel that Zero Waste has raised my anxiety levels because I feel guilty about buying the wrong stuff, now I know that I could be making better choices. Now this also says something about my perfectionist streak! But honestly, it currently feels like a really big weight to be carrying. Knowledge is power so they say, but to me- it has been more of a frustration in this case.

I am trying to learn and accept that I can’t change everything. It’s great to read about all these bloggers in other countries achieving Zero Waste but the reality here in Britain is that we don’t have the facilities to be like this. Try as I might, I can’t buy food sans packaging because we don’t have bulk stores anymore. I remember them from my childhood, but they simply don’t exist now. Maybe they do in the big cities and in some years, it might filter down to us. I have to eat a gluten-free diet and that means a lot of the food I eat has to be packaged and sealed in plastic to prevent cross contamination. I don’t see a way around that currently. My health conditions mean I sometimes need to have pre-packaged foods in the cupboard because I am not well enough to prepare something from scratch.

I do want to be a pioneer, but I have to accept that I have limited time and energy to achieve that because my health tends to dictate. It’s also important to have a balance in your life and that means, some of my energy needs to be directed to other places or to more relaxing ventures!

However, we have made some small changes- here are some things that worked for us;

  1. We are sticking with solid shampoo and conditioner, they are brilliant! We are just trialling ‘Copperhead’ solid shampoo and ‘Big’ solid conditioner by Lush.
  2. ‘Tiny Hands’ solid hand cream by Lush didn’t work at all for me and now Lush are discontinuing it, so it can’t have been good for anyone! But, I found a Cath Kidston Rose Hand Balm in a tin in TK Maxx and that is much better and still plastic free!
  3. We have switched to solid bar soap and won’t be going back- I found some massive vegan bar soaps, again in TK Maxx that have been fab and real value for money! We’re also currently trying out the various fragrances in the Dr Bronner’s range.
  4. We’re sticking with the gingham cloths to line the microwave and cake tins. We’ve tried using cloth napkins to wrap sandwiches, but they are so hard to clean afterwards that we’ve stopped. 3 turns in the washing machine and still the crumbs stuck!
  5. I made washable cloth pads and I’m sticking with them for 75% of my cycle. I’ve yet to try making thicker ones, but I have  plans when I have time.
  6. We have a compost bin in the kitchen and one in the garden too!
  7. We now have washable scouring cloths in the kitchen rather than disposable plastic scourers. We do still use disposable metal ones for the tough stuff, but they disintegrate largely and I don’t think they would be problematic.
  8. We have many more re-usable containers which do cut down on the need to use plastic freezer bags or clingfilm in lunch boxes.
  9. Always carrying re-usable cloth bags to the supermarket. We manage this 99% of the time!

And some things that didn’t;

  1. We purchased a second-hand wooden 3 piece suite with the intention of recovering for years to come, but it was too uncomfortable and incompatible with my health conditions because of the poor posture it created. So, we’re buying new.
  2. Homemade mouthwash really didn’t cut it, nor did homemade cleaning solution for my mouthguard- so I’ve gone back to using denture tablets which are unfortunately packaged in plastic.
  3. Toothy tabs were OK, but my husband had big concerns about the lack of fluoride and they did nothing to ease my sensitive teeth. So, we’ve gone back to toothpaste.
  4. We didn’t find a successful alternative to using antibacterial spray on the kitchen counters. When you have pets and not much time in the mornings, you really do need a quick and safe solution.

Some thing that we plan to change as we use things up etc;

  1. We’ve nearly come to the end of our plastic bag store and as we’re not intentionally taking them anymore, we plan to buy paper bin liners. (As we’re not newspaper readers and we couldn’t find anyone who wanted to donate there old ones to us, we have no choice but to buy recycled ones currently).
  2. We may still change from tissues to handkerchiefs. However it’s hard enough managing to regularly wash the re-usable items mentioned above and all these kinds of things need hot washes. Probably easier if you’re a family and do more loads. I refuse to do half-loads.
  3. We may still try to switch to milk in glass bottles from the milkman. However- it’s very expensive and we know they’ve already agreed to close the bottling plant down for the whole of the UK, so it feels futile.
  4. I am about to switch from facial cleanser in a plastic tube to a solid bar of face wash from Lush. I hope it’s as good as their solid shampoos and conditioners, so that it becomes a permanent change!

So, it seems that they positive changes are double the negatives, so that’s nice to see! Sometimes it has felt like a real uphill battle- it really does help to write things down. I’d love to hear how you’re getting on.

Remembering Priorities

It’s important to have time to reflect on life. This unexpectedly occurred for me, this evening- whilst reading Waitrose Weekend- 4th September 2014 edition. There were numerous articles within the paper which rang bells for me. Most notably, a series on Organic farming.

Did you know that the Soil Association was formed way back in 1946? I had no idea it was that early, just as the tide was turning in favour of more intensive farming methods. It was founded by a group of doctors, scientist and farmers who were concerned about these changes. That point also struck me because I had just assumed it was farmers who had formed the group. The fact that doctors and scientists were also concerned adds weight to the argument in favour of organic methods, for me. Not that I’m belittling farmers in anyway, they are all their own disciplines with their own merits. What struck me is that all those different professions recognised the same truth. Even in 1946, when presumably they had less knowledge of the implications- they foresaw a negative impact. Still others, like chefs are proponents of buying the best quality ingredients you can for reasons of taste. And yet others will tell you to buy local, not only to support your local economy but also to reduce food miles and therefore, your carbon footprint.

Reading the articles made me remember back to when I studied Food and Nutrition, over 16 years ago. I was struck by the information I learned from books and my teachers around organic vs. non-organic farming methods. On top of that, over recent years- having watched programmes by the like of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall- I thought I would always go for the organic and free-range options. At my core, I still want that- I just got caught up in trying to save money, the realities of a budget and rising food costs.

However, pursuit of money is an empty thing in itself. Surely it should be guided by ethics and principles? I read too many other blogs, where that’s all their about- making/ saving money by whatever means possible- regardless of the provenance of the food they are eating or the working conditions of the person who made their knife which was sold to them for 99 pence.

Still, there are other minimalists who are using the cash and time they have freed up to pursue better and more noble ambitions. Like the things we have just been pondering; buying organic, locally produced food. So upon reflection, it’s time for me to start moving towards making those changes too. Maybe it means eating less crisps, chocolate and fizzy pop in order to afford great quality, locally produced, organic food? Maybe it means you stop having ready-meals? Maybe it just means you are going to allocate a greater portion of your budget to food and forgo some leisure activities or unnecessary luxuries?

These are just my short-term thoughts. Longer term, I hope that our minimalist lifestyle enables us to support children in developing countries to have the basic necessities for life- like food, water and an education. I hope that it means we can lend or give to friends and family to help them in times of need. Overall, I hope that these small decisions we make in the here and now, will have globally positive implications. Enabling producers to earn a fair wage, enabling the planet’s resources to be saved and only used where necessary, helping people to stay out of debt and enabling people to spend time on the things they need or want to spend time on. Fundamentally I still believe that minimalism has the power to change the world.

Could Minimalism change the world?

I really think it could/ can! It’s not like it’s a new concept. It’s that we all need to learn something that we once knew. We need to recognise that we’re being seduced by consumerism for a start. If you’re reading this, then I reckon you’re probably there already!

Imagine this….if we consume less….we waste less. Let’s take a few examples here- this means that some poor person in the third world doesn’t have to dispose of your old computers and be exposed to the toxic effects of this. If you’re not sending so much stuff to landfill, that’s better for the environment. You’re better off because you have more money in your pocket. You have less stuff in your house, so you feel better- physically and emotionally. You can give away more- stuff, money, time because you’ve freed up these aspects of your life.

If we eat seasonally, we don’t pollute the planet with carbon etc from air miles. We support producers local to us or forage for free. This should mean that fairtrade is in operation, instead of some poor person in another country not getting paid enough. If you buy reduced food from supermarkets, you’re stopping it being put in the bin.

If you employ the principle of buying quality items, rather than cheap- hopefully children aren’t working in sweat shops in India making your clothes. Maybe it will even bring industry back to the UK? Your clothes will last longer and you no longer believe in the invention that is ‘fashion’.

I’d love to hear your comments about any other benefits of minimalism you can think of.