The minimalist and Zero Waste movements intersect from the start. Béa Johnson, in her book: The Zero Waste Home, introduces the hierarchy of Zero Waste, known as the 5 R’s. The first two: “Refuse what you do not need” and “Reduce what you do need”, are deceptively simple.
But what is need?
We would all agree that we need food to survive, but do we “need” the deluxe food processor or blender? If food goes bad in our fridge week after week, did we “need” it after all? And that handful of chips I had with lunch. Did I “need” that?
The reason that Béa didn’t just write “refuse what you do not need or want” is that wants are such a slippery target. I think we’ve all experienced this at some point. You go into a store to buy something specific, but then you see all sorts of beautiful things around you, a desire you didn’t have before is awakened. Suddenly, you’re less content and left wanting more.
Needs are finite and wants can be infinite. So do we just ignore all of our wants and live in tents, cooking over a fire, what we’ve foraged from the woods?
As much as I adore camping, I don’t think this is the answer. There are so many wonders that humans bring to this world when we’re not over-consumed by acts of survival. Along with camping, I’m also a big fan of the Internet.
So, how do we go about managing our wants so that they don’t overwhelm us?
Step 1: Determine Your Vision
The most important step in determining your “enough” will be to set goals for yourself. Do you want to be a nomad? Do you want to live out of a van or in a tiny home? Do you want a chic, white walled studio apartment decorated with green plants and little else? Or are your goals a little more conventional? Maybe, like me, you’d just like to keep a clean, clutter free home that reduces the family’s environmental impact. Maybe you’d like to live with less stress and less debt. There are all kinds of minimalists. What sort do you want to be?
Does the media you consume support or detract from your goals? I like to watch YouTube videos by extreme minimalists for inspiration about how little I actually need. It still creates a desire to emulate, just as watching a show where beautiful actresses prance around in expensive clothes and in expensive homes portraying the average American, but the result of emulation is healthier for me.
Step 2: Set Your Limits
I can’t sing the praises of limits enough, it seems. I’ve experienced immediate transformation of mindset just by pinning a maximum number or by allotting a certain space for things. When I had no magic numbers for my clothes, my satisfaction went up and down with my boredom or the proximity to laundry day. As soon as I told myself that four bottoms were enough for a season, I had to pick and choose from my favorites. I no longer felt deprived but instead over-abundant.
Step 3: Avoid Your Triggers
Children are often overwhelmed with their wants. Take a kid to the proverbial candy store, or, perhaps a toy store. See what happens.
Some parents will choose to avoid the situation in the first place: don’t take the kids to the toy or candy stores, don’t bake cookies if they’re not on the menu. Get upset with the school district when they serve chocolate milk and pizza with a side of chips for lunch.
This is because young children are under-developed in their decision making skills. They frequently aren’t able to set aside immediate gratification in order to reach more important goals. This is why kid’s toothpaste is sweetened and kid vitamins resemble candy.
The truth is, adults aren’t really that much better. Certainly, we have more life experience and can see that our immediate gratification might not be in our best interest. We can take our morning pill that might be tough to swallow. That said, our ability to parent ourselves judiciously is finite. A few good decisions here or there are easily offset by allowances we give ourselves as reward for making good decisions.
Since our good decisions are limited, it’s best not to overwhelm ourselves with what is often referred to as “decision fatigue”.
Do you always overspend at the mall? Maybe trade mall shopping for going to see a movie or taking a hike instead.
I have the guilty habit of online shopping on pay day. I love the satisfaction of picking just the right things out and then waiting eagerly for the mail to come. When it gets here, it’s a nice little high. Admitting you have a problem, I hear, is the first step.
Now, get out a pen and a notebook. Write down everything you own. Every item in every drawer.
What’s that? Is the idea ludicrous to you? You, like me, wouldn’t consider wasting your time in this way? Chances are, then, that you have “enough” stuff. Maybe, if you were especially terrified by the sound of this assignment, you have more than enough.