Fix What’s Broken

170 - BagThink for a moment about all the ‘stuff’ you’ve ever brought.

From when you were a kid, to the age you are now – the clothes, the books, the home items, the magazines, the shoes, the electrical goods, the furniture, the carpets, the crockery, the mobile phones, the computer games, the cushions, the kettles, the deckchairs, the cars . . . everything.

Where are they now ?

Assuming you’re home isn’t some vast Indiana Jones like warehouse full of everything you’ve ever owned (how disconcerting would that be?), it’s safe to assume the vast majority of the things you’ve bought you eventually threw away.

Why ?

All those raw materials, all that energy used in manufacture and transport, all the water used to grow the wood or cotton etc, all the chemicals, all the packaging? None of it really thrown ‘away’ of course, there’s no such place, but landfilled in some home in the ground – several hundred tons of your own personal waste.

Why ?

Sometimes we just get bored or tired of things, sometimes things go out of style, sometimes we’ve just no further use for something, but it’s more than likely that a large percentage of the stuff you’ve thrown away, you got rid of because it was broken.

Just a couple of generations ago many of these broken things would have been repaired, once, twice or even over and over again – whether tables, clothes, shoes or tools. This attitude of scarcity, of material things being limited and valuable, is now largely history. In our throwaway society stuff is cheap – it usually costs less to buy a new one than it would to fix the old one, and certainly it’s a lot less hassle. Who has time to fix stuff these days ?

But taking the time and effort to repair things is making something of a comeback – from Amsterdam’s Repair Cafes (which are now popping-up further afield), to increasing numbers of writers and bloggers discussing it – check out My Make Do and Mend Year or The Case for Working with your Hands.

Some of this is down to austerity of course – we’re all having to get by on less money than before, and so feel more inclined to patch up our coat, or re-screw the table leg, than use the excuse to buy something new. But some of the popularity stems from an increasing awareness of the connection between our own wasteful, consumerist lifestyles, and the environmental and social damage being done elsewhere in the world to support them. We increasingly understand it’s hypocritical to bemoan global warming while buying endless replacement gadgets and stuff made in Chinese coal powered factories, or to feel appalled about poor working conditions or workplace disasters elsewhere in the world, while buying endless £3 T-shirts on the High Street.

Just to be clear – I’m as much a hypocrite as anyone else – consumption is so deeply woven into our society it’s not an easy thing to avoid.

This isn’t just a personal problem – we’ve built our whole economies on a model of never ending consumption. We need to maintain ‘consumer confidence’ or GDP takes a bit of a hit. The phrase ‘planned obsolescence‘, you might be interested to learn, was first used in 1932, in a plan to help end the depression by ensuring all manufacturers produced goods that were designed to quickly break – in order to stimulate and perpetuate consumer demand! They realised even then, that if we all simply stop buying new stuff we’re going to have to face some rather difficult consequences.

On the other hand the phrase ‘waste not want not‘ dates back to at least the 1700s, and suggests that if we were to waste less in the present, then we’d have more left for ourselves in the future.

Solving this dilemma – by ensuring resources are used not just effectively, but also efficiently, but without collapsing the economy, is one of the key challenges of sustainability. To achieve it we’ll need to develop a much more circular economy, making it easier to use and reuse materials – while at the same time decoupling economic growth from consumption.

In the meantime, as policy makers and economists wrestle with how to do this, I’ll keep fixing my 10 year old bag . . . buy less, mend more.


Similar articles – Can Christmas Still Really Change the World ?, Top 10 Anti-Consumerist Must Haves, The Year of Anti-Consumerist LivingThe Art of Giving Up, What Do You Want for Christmas?,  Buy Nothing DayCleaning Out My Closet

10 Reasons Minimalism Might Be Right For You

161 - MinimalA guest post by Joshua Becker, author of the Becoming Minimalist blog, and on a journey towards rational minimalism with his family in Arizona. He is also the author of two several books on simple living, including :SimplifySimplicity Inside Out and Living with Less.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” – Wayne W. Dyer

Minimalism as a lifestyle, is a movement that seeks to pare down possessions to only the essential. Because life can be lived richer and fuller when unnecessary possessions have been removed, it is a growing trend that includes more than just young, single, 20-somethings. Many families are embracing the lifestyle as well.

And more and more are being introduced to the lifestyle every day. Perhaps, even, this is your first introduction.

Some people get nervous when they hear the term “minimalist.” For them, it conjures up images of destitution, barren walls, and empty cupboards. Rightly so, they decide that is no way to enjoy life. Believe me, I agree – that is no way to enjoy life. And since deciding to become minimalist years ago, we have been on a journey to define what it means for us and how it fits into our unique lifestyle.

We live in the suburbs of Arizona. We have two small children. We are active in our community. We love to entertain and show hospitality. While not exceptional, our life is not identical to anybody else. It is our life – nobody else’s. Minimalism, for us, would have to be unique. It would require us to determine the most important pursuits in our life and remove everything that was distracting us from it. And in so doing, we would find a new way to live life that adds richness and fullness around life’s most essential elements.

To determine if minimalism may indeed be the right lifestyle for you consider some of these questions:

1. Do you spend too much time cleaning?

If you enjoy clean, tidy rooms but don’t like to clean, minimalism just may be your answer. After all, the easiest way to reduce your cleaning time is to simply own less things. It works every time.

2. Are you trying to get out of debt?

Debt holds our life in bondage and weighs heavily on our shoulders. Getting a handle on it by buying less things is one of the most life-giving actions you can take.

3. Is there too much stress in your life?

Physical clutter results in extra stress on our lives. Minimalism removes the clutter and limits the distraction that it causes. Minimalism may be just the breath of fresh air that your home needs to help you relax and unwind.

4. Would you like more time in your day?

Consider for just a moment the amount of time that our belongings drain from our life. Whether we are cleaning, organizing, maintaining, repairing, removing, or shopping, our possessions demand a large percentage of our time. Owning fewer of them results in less time spent maintaining them.

5. Are you environmentally conscious?

Minimalism reduces our impact on the environment by requiring less resources on the front end for production and reducing the amount of waste on the back end.

6. Are you frugal?

While becoming minimalist doesn’t mean that you have to spend less money, it certainly provides the opportunity. And because you are buying less things, you also have the option to make higher-quality purchases that last longer.

7. Do you enjoy financially supporting other causes?

Minimalism provides an opportunity to not just save money for the sake of keeping it, but for using it to further causes that we believe in. After all, once you become content with your belongings and have been rescued from the race of accumulating possessions, you have no need to hoard money. You find new freedom to support the causes that you hold most dear. Currently, the Becoming Minimalist community is raising $10,000 for Charity:Water.

8. Are there things you value more than material possessions?

Minimalism seeks to intentionally promote the things in life that we most value and remove anything that distracts us from it. It allows our life to center around our deepest heart desires rather than the items on sale at the department store.

9. Are you not afraid of change?

Minimalism is a counter-cultural lifestyle that will force changes in the way you spend your time, energy, and money. Of course, almost every change is for the better… so it’s definitely worth the effort.

10. Is your life too valuable to live like everyone else?

Our heart, soul, and passions makes us valuable and unique. Don’t sacrifice your important role in this world by settling for the same temporal possessions that everyone else in your neighborhood is chasing. Your life is far too important… and short.

Your particular practice of minimalism is going to look different from anyone else. It must! After all, you live a different life than anyone else. So find a style of minimalism that works for you. One that is not cumbersome, but freeing based on your values, desires, passions, and rational thinking.

Ultimately, you will begin to remove the unneeded things from your life. As a result, you will find space to intentionally promote the things you most value and remove anything that distracts you from it.

Photo by jlz, via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – The Heart Impact of Choosing Less, The Art of Giving Up10 Ways to Have Enough Money and Stuff10 Ways to Simplify Your Life

Choice is Voluntary

We all have busy lives – having to make decisions how best to juggle the various demands on us from jobs, family and friends.

Barack Obama’s day is busier than most, and typically involves an endless stream of decisions and choices.

All of us, Barack included, can become tired and jaded by the mental and emotional effort of having to make so many choices, affecting our judgement, mood, and happiness. Psychologists use the phrases ‘choice fatigue’ or decision fatigue to describe this effect, and studies have shown we all tend to make poorer, less logical decisions when overburdened by choices and options, or when we are mentally exhausted from having made too many.

It’s a condition that can have significant consequences when applied to doctors, High Court Judges or stock-market traders, but equally affects us all – shoppers and dieters included !

Barack Obama limits his decision fatigue by delegating the more mundane decisions to other people. In an interview he recently said “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make”.

We all like the freedom to make choices, but sometimes all these choices combine to make life draining. Endless possibility can easily seem a bit daunting, as any writer (or blogger) faced with a blank screen knows !

Sometimes we just want the relief of being told what to do . . . sound familiar ?

We can make life easier on ourselves by automating many of the routine decisions of daily life (from shopping lists to meal planning), taking decisions in batches, and just not ‘sweating the small stuff’ (spending energy worrying about things that don’t really matter). You never know, by only worrying about the big decisions you might enough emotional energy to do some more of all that good stuff you keep putting off.

If you’re someone who is full of good intentions, but never gets round to them because you’re bogged down in other stuff, or is always planning the next big thing, but somehow gets sidetracked and never gets started, then feel free to treat the rest of this post as a FIRM TO-DO LIST for the week, rather than a list of possible options.

1 - Visit the Give Blood website, type in your postcode and a few details and arrange an appointment to donate blood. It’ll take just a couple of minutes and you can do it now sat in your chair, and you will help save someone’s life.

2 - Visit the They Work for You website, type in your postcode to find your MP’s contact details and email address. Take ten minutes to participate in our democracy and send a short few line email to your MP to let them know you’re thoughts on whatever’s on your mind – from energy policy and climate commitments, the overseas aid budget, sustainable development and the green belt, the badger cull, the economy, or any pressing local issues.

3 - Next time your out shopping, make an effort to drop into a few charity shops and look through the clothes, rather than your usual stores. If you’re not already in the habit of buying used clothes from charity shops, try giving it a go, even if just once, and see how you get on – it benefits the charity, recycles unwanted items, avoids the production of so much ‘new stuff’, and saves  you money you can put to other use.

4 - Give something to a stranger today. It might be a few pounds online to a charity, a few dollars lent to a developing world entrepreneur, or a few cans of food to your local food bank.

5 - When you get chance make a list of DVDs, CDs, books, tools or anything else that you would be willing to lend to someone, and take it into work. Encourage your colleagues to add their ‘stuff’ to the list, and develop a mini-sharing co-operative. It’s might avoid having to buy quite so much stuff, and you’ll get to know all your colleagues a lot better in the process.

The video on the left is the serious stuff, the one on the right just a bit of fun.

I know, it’s another choice . . . sorry.


Photo by o5com via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – Be Your Own Choice ArchitectGood BehaviourThe Art of Giving Up,  It IS the Winning and Losing that Matters

In Pursuit of the ‘Holiday Experience’

A guest post by The Happy Hippy.

Holidays are very important to me.

All my holidaying life I have very rarely travelled to the same location, except to visit friends in foreign places, and my husband and I attempt to give our children ‘experiences’ which they will remember – and also hopefully ones which shape and change how they view the world.

Every year we have the same dilemma, where and when to go and how much to spend.

With three growing kids it’s hard to balance the cost with the right experience for us all, and in an attempt to match my ‘green credentials’, I’ve also always tried to ‘do the right thing’ – buying local products, using public transport, being responsible etc. It can often be difficult to balance these green aspirations within the mix.

But last year we found that rare thing – a holiday experience which met all of our expectations and more !

I’ve always tried to book destinations which are a little off the beaten track, offer some kind of engagement with the locals – avoiding at all cost the high-rise, the fight for the beach beds, the noise and glitter of a ‘resort’ . . . much to my kids’ disappointment. I hear them now . . . ‘ please mum can we just go into one arcade for candy floss and kiss me quick hats’ . . . ‘NO’ I say, ‘we must have an experience !’

The destination that managed to make us all happy last year was Transylvania.

I can honestly say that Transylvania was by far one of our best experiences to date. Our initial concerns about vampires and dark dangerous forests were soon dispelled upon arrival. Apart from the usual ‘what a beautiful country’, ‘great views’ etc – what made it special was seeing how sustainably many of the locals live.

Romania joined the EU in 2007 and you would think that they would have embraced all the EUness of their neighbouring countries. While the rest of Romania, leaving behind its communist history, may be on this route, hopefully Transylvania will remain one of the hidden gems of the world.

The first thing I have to mention was the food – divine ! Everything was handmade, the jam, the yoghurt, the elderflower and raspberry juice and not a plastic bottle in sight. The wine was produced in the neighbouring valley and was perhaps the best wine I have had anywhere – and it was organic. There is something quite special about seeing the food being grown on site and watching the cook hand picking fruits and vegetables from the plot for that evening’s taste sensation. All the villages had gardens full of fruits, vegetables and flowers.

We stayed in the small village of Miclosva for a few nights, then moving further into the Carpathian Mountains, to an even smaller village. There was no TV, no mobile phone signal, occasionally no electricity and there was no phone, as the copper had been stolen from the overhead cables. . . and where were all the cars ? How would my husband and kids survive ? I was worried, I wanted us all to have that ‘experience’, but I didn’t want us to be bored! I needn’t have worried.

Usually one of my children would do anything to avoid the ‘countryside’ but even they were excited by the nature walk. Our guide, Garbor (fantastic name and fantastic guy) was very knowledgeable and engaged with the children, showing them a multitude of wildlife, exploding plants, fields of butterflies and bear trails, including their ‘poo’. We all shared a scary moment in the graveyard late that night when Garbor took us bear watching. We had to remain as quiet as possible lying on a bank and listening and focusing on the clearing in the woods. I couldn’t believe the children were able to remain quiet for so long, not a sound, us all waiting in anticipation.  We heard grunts, gruffs and heavy breathing getting closer . . . then all of a sudden Garbor jumped up shouting and screaming, the bear had approached from the side and in fact was worryingly too close! Thankfully the bear was sent on his way and the kids thought this was one of the highlights of the whole holiday and told the story many times of how we were nearly caught by a bear !

We spent our days on horse and cart visiting the charcoalers, the sheep and goat farmers who had to milk their 200 strong herd twice a day every day, the Ferrier and their work horses, the farmer who worked the land by hand with the help of their children, the baker who baked real bread, the shopkeeper who sold nothing which the kids could relate to – all working together as part of their village community.

Perhaps as close to a truly sustainable way of life as perhaps it’s possible to get these days ?

Early one evening my daughter and I were taking a gentle stroll along the dirt track through the village; all the villagers were sitting out in front of their houses chatting with neighbours, their children playing with the dogs, puppies and ducklings. Everybody we passed spoke to us and smiled, many inviting us to chat and offering us drinks. On our way back my daughter, who was then 12 – and like all 12 year olds loves her shopping – said, ‘these people don’t have much money do they, they don’t really appear to have anything?’ ‘No’ I said pondering on her remark. We walked in silence for a few seconds and then she said something which put all the rights and wrongs of the world into perspective . . . ’but they are all so happy and friendly’.

How meaningful I thought from a 12 year old but how true. It’s sparked many a meaningful conversation since and when she asks for a new designer sweatshirt, I remind her of this experience.

I hope for their sake the EU, with its regulations and policies, does not change them too much . . . . . unless they want to be changed of course.

A number of companies offer eco-holidays to Transylvania, including Responsible TravelGreen Mountain Holidays and Transylvanian Eco-Holidays.

RELATED ARTICLES –  Nature Deficit DisorderReconnecting

I Lost Everything in a Fire – and I’m Glad

Guest post by Rachel Papworth – decluttering coach and blogger at Green & Tidy, helping people all over the world declutter and create homes they love, homes that support them to lives the lives they want to live.

In 2001, Jim* moved from Bristol to Brighton to be nearer some good friends and his sister, who was ill.

As he drove down the M4 with all his belongings in a hired lorry, ready to move into the place he’d been doing up, he noticed smoke coming from the front of the van, so he pulled onto the hard shoulder and got out.

A couple of minutes later the cabin where he’d been sitting was full of smoke and flames.

The keys to the back of the lorry were in the cabin and, despite bashing at the doors, he was unable to open the lorry to pull anything out. Within a few minutes, the police arrived and told him to move away and, seemingly no time later, the whole lorry was engulfed in 60 foot flames. The M4 was closed in the direction he was travelling, as was one lane of the opposite carriageway.

In shock and not fully processing what was going on, Jim found himself “almost smiling at the situation. It seemed insane”.

Having been dropped off at the nearest tube station by the police, Jim headed for his new home with little more than the clothes on his back, his phone and the money in his pockets. He didn’t even have a front door key, though luckily he’d given one to a friend.

Over the next few days and weeks, his initial ‘crazy anger’ was compounded by the discovery that his insurance policy didn’t cover him because his belongings hadn’t been in either of his properties when they were destroyed.

Though his insurance company eventually recovered a proportion of the value of his goods from the van hire company,  for many months Jim didn’t know whether he would receive any compensation.

He had to face life with almost no possessions.

To his surprise, his fury quickly faded to being ‘pissed off’ and then gradually disappeared until, only a month later, he began to feel ‘cleansed and freed up’.

Suddenly, all the physical ties to his past had disappeared. ‘All those drawers of photos and letters that you open, see and are suddenly drawn back into the past, are gone. And then you can only move forward. You’re no longer pulled back into the past’.

We accumulate stuff as we move through life and it can be hard to part with it, even though it can weigh us down. The fire took the decision-making process out of Jim’s hands.

In an instant, he was free of physical attachments to his past.

Strangely, the fire happened at a time in Jim’s life when he was already on an emotional and spiritual journey. Personal relationships and his work were changing and he’d been studying meditation and Tai Chi, and bringing stillness into his life.

He laughs at the language he still uses to describe the fire. “I always say ‘I lost everything’. No I didn’t! I lost nothing. I lost the smallest, least important things in life. They were just possessions. I realised I don’t actually need anything. We’ve all got everything we need”.

Jim says that, before the fire, his life was restricted by him being a ‘disorganised, messy hoarder’.  With everything lying around anyhow, he couldn’t be productive.

While he has accumulated stuff since (particularly since he had children!), he didn’t seek to replace everything and is more organised now. He’s picky about what he acquires. “I’ll only buy something if I really like it and I’m never tempted to spend for the sake of it”.

He’s always happy to get rid of things. He and his family, particularly his seven year old, love to do car boot sales. Of his current possessions, the only thing he’d feel desperate to save from a fire would be the family photos stored on his laptop though he also thinks, “We all take too many photos anyway”.

When he reflects on what he lost, he can think of only four items he misses: cine film his parents took of him and his siblings when they were young; a chair of his father’s; some photographs; and a painting by his Granny. It’s the cine film he regrets losing most because, “It wasn’t mine to lose and I feel sad for my family. We used to enjoy watching it when we met up once a year and now our children won’t have that experience”.

The thought of losing all his stuff again doesn’t fill him with dread. “If you lose everything, so what?” In fact, he finds the idea liberating. “Suddenly you’re no longer responsible for all that stuff. It’s brilliant. Genius. Everyone should get rid of everything every ten years. Or maybe there should be a limit on the number of possessions each person can own,” he laughs. “If you hold onto something for years and then chuck it out, you can guarantee you’ll need it the following week. Better to get rid of it sooner and forget about it”.

Even despite losing the precious family cine film, he says that overall he’s delighted it happened. “I was lucky”.

(*Jim is a pseudonym. This blog post is based on an interview undertaken on Friday 10th February 2012).

How would you feel if this happened to you?

Maybe something similar already has – how did you feel?

Rachel Papworth runs Green and Tidy. She helps people with WAY too much stuff declutter, and create homes they love, homes that support them in the lives they want to live. Rachel is a trained coach, with a degree in psychology, and self-obsessed decluttering and organising geek, she loves the way decluttering your mind and your stuff is interlinked and the contribution decluttering makes to living a low-impact life. For a free masterclass on decluttering and more tips on having a home that supports the life you want, subscribe to her blog at Green and Tidy, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Photo by Loco Steve via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES –  The Year of Anti-Consumerist LivingMeet Tammy Strobel, 10 Ways to Have Enough Money and Stuff