A number of years ago I read this book called Scarcity, written by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. Interestingly, I’m finding three different cover designs with three different subtitles: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Your Life, Why Having Too Little Means So Much and The True Cost of Not Having Enough. It instantly became one of my top five favorite non-fiction books. I’m always interested in why we do what we do. I observe contradictory behaviors in myself and others and want to know why. The concept presented in the book is pretty simple: if you’ve experienced scarcity, particularly when you were young, it’s hard to break free from thinking that you ever have enough. This could be a reason that some of us struggle to achieve zero waste. On some level, having more makes us feel better even though wasting makes us feel bad. The authors explore scarcity in many areas including money, time and food.
We get a strong message through advertising that buying more things will also buy us happiness, that the answer is to always be adding. But we may have gotten a different message from our parents.
Having both been born in 1924, my parents grew up during The Great Depression. The difference between them was that my father was from a less-affluent immigrant family and my mother’s family had more time here in the United States to build their wealth before the depression hit. My Dad really did not have much growing up. This made him hold on to what he was able to buy. He tended to buy quantity over quality and it was very difficult for him to get rid of things. As I am writing this, I wonder if there was something visually satisfying for him to see a lot of clothes in his closet.
To keep our household in balance, my mom was always subtracting, always giving things away to charities. I didn’t like it, probably because I’m more like my Dad. This came up recently because my brother was visiting my apartment and asked if this light-up globe I use as a nightlight had been his. I said, “No, Mom gave away the globe.” If I’m being honest, it’s the only thing she ever gave away that I actually wanted and she gave away thousands of items over the years. And what do you know? The universe provided me with another one. I didn’t even need to buy it. My mother-in-law was giving it away.
It’s much easier for us to add than subtract. I recently read the suggestion on a decluttering or minimalist blog that instead of removing items one-by-one from a room, it’s easier to remove everything and just add some items back in. That way we’re adding, not subtracting and this is somehow easier for us to do. It’s called reverse decluttering. I have gotten more careful about adding to my possessions because I know how hard it is for me to get rid of things.
Joshua Becker has a website and blog called Becoming Minimalist. I wouldn’t say I’m a super fan but I’m open to some of what he writes. In his intro, he has this sentence that spoke to me: My belongings were not adding value to my life. Instead, they were subtracting from it. He often has guest bloggers which I appreciate because they have their own things to say. Most of them are women.
Joshua talks about wearing a uniform of sorts: black v-neck t-shirt, pants, black shoes. I’ve noticed this about him because a lot of his pics and videos are from the waist up. There are several successful men who come to mind who wear or wore a uniform of their own choosing—Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg—but where are the women? Diane Keaton and Ellen DeGeneres come close, but isn’t it interesting that their styles incorporate menswear?
One of the recent guest bloggers on Becoming Minimalist, Julia Ubbenga, who has her own blog Rich in What Matters, presents a compelling argument for having less clothing in a post called Seven Ways to Fight Decision Fatigue.
I considered having a capsule wardrobe but all of the ones I’ve seen have been so boring. Lots of solid colors and I like to wear prints. Some of the videos I’ve watched have sold me on the idea of not having one. The fewer items you have means that some of the outfits are real clunkers. But I do notice that with each season I have my favorite pieces of clothing that I wear over and over. Joshua gives acknowledgement to his success at paring down his wardrobe to another blogger Courtney Carver, who created Project 333—a personal challenge of wearing only 33 articles of clothing for a period of 3 months. She wrote a book about it. You can find more of her wisdom at Be More With Less.
In one of his blog posts, Joshua mentions the Pareto principle, that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The principle applies to lots of situations like getting dressed in the morning. I believe that I wear 20% of my clothes 80% of the time. But he really had my attention when he posited that less variety in meals leads to less food waste. I’m a variety-is-the-spice-of-life kinda gal but as I said earlier, I’m open. The post is called You Eat Less Variety Than You Think. Embrace It. And check out the comments because there is a lot to chew on there too. (I’m sorry, I just pun naturally.) It doesn’t mean that you can’t mix it up and try new recipes.
I’m sure that I’ve mentioned Anne-Marie Bonneau, who is known as the Zero-Waste Chef. She had a post on Facebook recently that had me thinking. She was saying that cooking with fewer ingredients simplifies her life. In this particular blog post, she is singing the praises of wheat berries because they can be used in so many different ways. They can even be a replacement for gum which you may or may not know contains plastic.
I’m going to close with the question that I’ve been asking myself lately: What have you subtracted that has added value to your life? And would subtracting more add even more?