Lessening how much stuff you have can bring you joy. But it can also protect our planet.



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Have you ever thought about how much stuff you have?

Think about everything — from furniture to appliances all the way to that shirt you bought on sale that one time that you swear you’re going to wear one day. How much do you estimate it adds up to? (Don’t worry, we’ll wait.)

Well? GIF via “Coming to America.”

Have that number in mind? Hold on to it.

Now get this: The number of things in the average American home by one projection is 300,000.

Yes, that’s a huge number. (Although when you consider all the little knickknacks we have lying around, 300,000 might not be that bad? I mean, my kitchen drawer alone probably has a thousand things in it right now.)

Story of my life.

But when you compare that number to people living a minimalist lifestyle, 300,000 things can seem astronomical.

For instance, one man from Japan, Fumio Sasaki, has only 150 items to his name. That’s it! Yet he’s perfectly content and feels that having less stuff has allowed him to hone in on what really matters in life.

He told Reuters, “Spending less time on cleaning or shopping means I have more time to spend with friends, go out, or travel on my days off. I have become a lot more active.”

Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus sum it up perfectly on their website, aptly titled The Minimalists, by saying: “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important — so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

Granted, owning only 150 things may be a bit more on the extreme side of minimalism, but New York Times best-selling author Marie Kondo presents a slightly different approach.

In her world-renowned book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Kondo writes about getting rid of stuff that doesn’t bring you joy so as to maximize your own happiness. You can own as little or as much as you like, but if that DVD collection of “Dawson’s Creek” you’ve had lying around for years doesn’t really make you feel anything anymore, chuck it!

Don’t worry, Dawson. It’ll be OK. GIF via “Dawson’s Creek.”

Now, whichever side of the spectrum you gravitate more toward, the same idea seems to come out — clearing away clutter can actually change your life for the better.

That being said, do a lot of us have too much stuff?

Back in 2007, Annie Leonard answered that question with her revolutionary documentary, “The Story of Stuff.” She brought to light how people’s desire for more was severely hurting our planet’s resources and the health of many.

The life cycle of stuff: extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Image via The Story of Stuff Project/YouTube.

As more and more people buy and consume more things, big businesses are compelled to produce more products at a quicker rate to ensure a profit. But in the process, they pay little attention to the depletion of natural resources and, of course, the accumulation of waste. It’s a vicious cycle.

That’s where The Story of Stuff Project comes in.

It’s a community of changemakers all working toward continuing the mission that the original documentary set in motion.

“The Story of Stuff Project exists to look at the system of the materials in our lives and the economies that support them — from extraction to disposal,” Stiv Wilson, director of campaigns, explained. “We’re really concerned with how we make use and dispose of the stuff in our lives and ultimately, what we do with the project is create stories about different points in the system and mobilize citizens to then take action towards metric outcomes that benefit both the environment and people.”

When stages in the life cycle work together, great things can happen. GIF via The Story of Stuff Project/YouTube.

Through different methods of storytelling — from podcasts to books to mini-movies — The Story of Stuff Project is zeroing in on important issues that have a global impact. Whether it’s their tell-all on the hazards of plastic water bottles or their movement to ban plastic microbeads in toiletries from wreaking havoc on the ecosystem, there is no doubt these changemakers are telling the stories that can help make the world a better place.

Remember that number from the beginning? Think about it again.

A lot us can get caught up in wanting more stuff. But with a little reevaluation, keeping our numbers down makes it possible to improve our own well-being, the well-being of others, and the planet.

And should you decide to start lessening the things that don’t bring you joy, keep in mind that donating it could spark some joy in someone else. Maybe it’s just a matter of finding a creative way to reuse it.

In fact, a little creativity can go a long way. One study found that if 300 million Americans reused just one shirt, that would save 210 billion gallons of water and 1 billion pounds of CO2. Imagine that.

So next time you think about throwing away some stuff, just remember all the other factors that come along with it. Yes, it might seem pretty small at first — but trust us — the impact is monumental.

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