For many of us, the idea of possessing and owning things, mostly material objects, seems comforting. It gives us the reassuring feeling that we can avoid those unfortunate circumstances and moments when we really need something and we do not have it. We just like the idea of having stuff in our homes, in our closets and cupboards, on our shelves, desks and tables or in our garages, basements and attics. So, we start accumulating and collecting more and more things, waiting for the days when we might use them.
But, what if, these days never come and we just consume our energy rearranging and organising our stuff over and over? As a result, most of us end up with many more things than we actually need or want. We think the more we buy, the happier we will be, when in reality we get used to things so quickly and less enamoured with our new products so easily. The main problem is that our un-sustainable lives, day-to-day purchases and our tendency for having too much stuff have a destructive impact on the environment.
Buying as if it’s the end of the world
Can we look back and find that moment when we became accidentally unsustainable? How many of us actually start reflecting on how much influence our consuming activities have on the environment? Or about the social side effect of our possessing culture? Have the things you consume made you any happier in reality or have they ended up consuming and stressing you? Are the things we possess reflecting our values and beliefs?
The British documentary director Martin Hampton shows in his award winning movie Possessed how people’s lives can actually be dominated by their possessions. You can watch the movie here, in case you are curious and wonder “when does collecting become hoarding and why do possessions exert such an influence on our lives?”
One of the top ten ways to reduce our ecological footprint proposed in one of WWF’s guides, is to borrow or buy second-hand things, instead of new ones. This is because there are many things we don’t use very often or because we can live without having them. On average 10% of our carbon footprint consists of the stuff we buy. Just to better understand the magnitude of the problem, “the average drill is used for just 15 minutes in its lifetime”. Londoners consume “three times more their share of the earth’s resources”, so this means that we have to definitely reconsider the way we consume.
I guess that in a world with 24 hours online shopping possibilities, accumulating ‘must have’ items and goodies can become addictive. In one of our previous articles regarding facts about phones and smartphones, we highlighted that 85 million phones are lying unused in the UK. So, I am wondering how many new or old things Londoners have at home, forgotten in one corner of their house, which they have never used, or how many clothes that were not worn for years are stuffed in their closets?
It is only when we move houses or when we run out of any space to store our things that we realise how many items we have collected over the years and how cluttered our homes are. But how do we know if we have a stuff problem? Is it when all the drawers and closets are stacked to the top and the storage places are full of boxes?
In the last one year and a half I moved three times, not only houses, but also countries and towns. The first time was the ‘lightest’ move, as I had practically to fit all my life in two suitcases which could be sufficient enough for one year. When I was younger, I used to get attached to things and most certainly this was the reason why it was really hard to get rid of them, but then I realised how easy it was to adapt to new circumstances and to learn how to live with less. However, for the third move, I was surprised how many things I had accumulated since the first time I came to London and how I managed to fit most of them in just one room. I guess the idea of living this time in a slightly bigger place stopped me from recycling some of the papers I haven’t yet got the chance to read in the last 7 months. But, apparently, this was a “one of the light moves in London” for the guy who transported our things. So, how many things do Londoners have then? If I look back, I know that I am definitely living at the moment with a lot less than I used to some years ago.
Living with less
So, can we simplify our lives? The choice is definitely in our hands but is it possible to resist shopping? I read some time ago about No Impact Man Project ran by Colin Beaven and his family from New York, who for one year unplugged from the electrical grid, produced no trash, travel by foot or bike and bought nothing but food that was all locally grown. Then, I read about Graham Mill, founder of treehugger.com, who decided to switch from a four-story, 3,600-square-foot house in Seattle, to a 420-square-foot studio in New York, where he came up with the idea to fit 8 different rooms. So, if it was possible to have a ‘zero carbon lifestyle’ in a city like New York, where people consume more than here, why wouldn’t it be possible in London, as well?
De-clutter our homes
If others were able, why wouldn’t we be as well? Well, maybe instead of shrugging our shoulders, it will be worth trying to stop buying as if it’s the end of the world. Or, we can start thinking before deciding to buy something how all the products we deposit in our homes to meet our needs and wants are produced, transported and disposed.
Probably the best exercise would be to think of the most unsustainable pieces of junk you own and to separate them from the things you really need. It might be revealing. I remember the confessions made by some of the participants of a CSR Summer School I attended some time ago: “We had to move from a two room apartment to a four room apartment, just because we didn’t have space to store my wife’s bags and shoes” or “I collect glossy magazines from everywhere I ago, especially airports, but I do not have time to read them”.
What about you? Do you have any stories to share with us? I would be curious to see how many Londoners have the resolve to stop accumulating unsustainable stuff.