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31 Days no waste challenge

I went on 2 years without buying anything new and learned how toxic our need for possessions is.

Few years ago, when I came back to my parents house after years of living in tropical heaven, that was one of the worst experience of my life. As I reflect on the time preceding this episode, I realized the hardest was to not able to mourn in peace. Nope, in our society you can’t just mourn for any reason. That’s also what I learned after my mum passed away few months ago and the piles of paperwork, people to notify and arrangements to be made. Finally, when I thought all of the hard work was over, I had to empty out my parent’s house from my stuff and her stuff. Little did I know that this would be the bitterest labor yet.

It took weeks to clear out the lifetime of possessions in my small apartment. Weeks to sell, donate, recycle or throw out the boxes and boxes of kitchenware, clothing, furnitures…

I threw away a normal life of accumulation and I didn’t clear out the all stuff from my previous life of extravagant branded precious clothes and shoes even if it is absolutely unnecessary.

Time, money, and effort had been heavily invested in getting all of this stuff—only to be disposed of with great difficulty. We were destroying the planet for future generations, all so that we could enjoy a short lifetime full of material possessions that in many cases were hardly used, rarely necessary and easily forgotten.

I decided that I didn’t want this to be my “normal.” And so I embarked on an experiment where I would buy nothing new. Excluding groceries, medicine and basic toiletries, I would borrow and buy secondhand, or simply go without.

Like many of us making a steady income, I’d never been very disciplined when it came to my purchases. If I could afford it—and even when I couldn’t—I often just thought “why not?” Right?

In fact, I could. And here is some of what I learned along the way:

There is already too much stuff in the world. As I toured various thrift stores, online classifieds sections, Facebook buy/sell groups and the like, I was shocked to see the sheer volume of stuff we humans have already created. Mountains of clothes, tons of furniture, dishes, pans, walking sticks—an ocean of all things imaginable. As all of this stuff is being thrown away, more is being churned out. We don’t need more.

People buy things out of pure compulsion. As I looked to fill my needs through pre-owned sources, I was blown away by the amount of new items in thrift stores—items that were unused, complete with price tags and original packaging. Everything from new scented candles to new clothing graced the aisles of secondhand stores. Clearly, the act of buying is often completely disassociated with actual human need, or even want. It’s much more akin to a compulsion.

There is an unreasonable stigma against pre-owned items. As I blogged about my experience, I received a lot of interesting feedback on the hygienic aspect of my efforts. Many felt that buying clothing, furniture and other goods used instead of new was dirty and uncivilized. What a weird mentality! These same people would happily donate their used goods to thrift stores. I guess it’s good enough for the lower income among us—but not for “us.”

There is so much abundance. During my 2 years, I learned I didn’t need to go to big box stores to buy what I needed—there were plenty of resources in my own community. Our communities have an abundance of stuff and plenty of people willing to give it away at a very low price or for free.

When nothing is new, nothing is expensive. My bank account definitely got a break during this time and I can work less today because I need less, I don’t care if my income is lower as my need too. Secondhand comes at a delightfully steep discount. And I never felt that I compromised on quality, either

It’s awesome paying a person instead of a corporation. Especially when shopping through classifieds, I found that most sellers were honest and helpful. They were normal people just wanting to recoup a portion of their purchase price by selling perfectly usable items. It was refreshing to know that my money would be going directly to someone just like me, instead of a faceless corporation.

I don’t really need that stuff. Truth is, some things you simply cannot find preowned. Lots of items, even common ones, are either impossible or impractical to find pre-owned. When I was forced to not buy them—against my strongest impulses at times—I was surprised how nothing changed. Not my health, happiness or inner harmony. I realized that most things are really just “nice-to-haves;” real needs are generally more limited.

My 2 years was not only an optional experience in sustainable living and minimalism. It was a necessary and transformative journey because I live it now, it is no more a challenging effort to do.

I hope that you might allow this post to change you a bit as well. Maybe you’ll pay a visit to a thrift store for your next clothing purchase, or embark on your own 10, 31, or even 300 day challenge. At the very least, I hope you’ll just change the way you think when you buy another item.

We need less, way more less!

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