Reconciling Modern Minimalism with “Waste Not, Want Not”

modern minimalism

Across the nation, people eager to simplify their lives are decluttering their homes with a vengeance. The overall trend is good; a generation is realizing that life is more enjoyable when they own less stuff. As a result, unwanted items which did not “spark joy” for the owners are overwhelming donation centers.

Donations to Goodwill Stores in Maryland have increased by 42% since January 1, 2019. America is fed up with excess and is zealously embracing the idea of living more simply. Yet the vast offloading of unwanted junk from first-world countries contributes to an already out-of-control worldwide stuff problem.

“Waste Not, Want Not”

Generations of the past had far less abundance and therefore made far less waste than the average family today. Perhaps some of us remember our great-grandmothers saying, “Waste not, Want not.” This idiom means if you use a resource carefully and without extravagance, you will never be in need. People in history have saved expensive items to be used later because saving high quality things was wise.

There are many reasons why the “waste not, want not” concept is difficult to fully implement today. Items are not made with the same attention to detail and quality that perhaps they once were. Fashions change quickly and inexplicably. We own way more stuff than people in history and do not want to keep it all. 

Despite its limitations, the wisdom from “waste not, want not” could help alleviate the global junk crisis and also help our closets stop overflowing. 

Can we reconcile the ideas of living minimally—with only things which serve us well and that we truly enjoy—with the principle of not being wasteful?

Modern Minimalism

The concept of new minimalism marries sustainability and ethic responsibility with living with less. Authors of the book New Minimalism, state that minimalism and beautiful design should be an intentional, sustainable practice. I agree. Across the minimalist world, proponents are crying out for people to be intentional in how they choose to offload their unwanted junk. New Minimalism goes hand in hand with the zero waste movement and even the slow living movement, because both place an emphasis on using what you have, not buying more than you need, and creating or growing what you need/eat to minimize waste. 

Modern minimalism is a thoughtful, intentional, sustainable approach to living with less. Our great grandmothers would be proud, I hope.

Here are 5 humble suggestions to help a KonMari-crazy country deal with our unwanted stuff thoughtfully.

1. Get to the Root

Get to the root of WHY you have so much junk. Do some heart work to figure out WHY you purchased what you don’t need. Were you trying to live up to a fantasy self? Impress someone? Fill an inner ache or craving? Truthfully, purging your home isn’t going to do any good if your buying habits don’t change. You’ll simply be perpetuating the materialism problem, both personally and globally. 
Get to the root, give yourself a challenge and stop buying so much stuff. When you DO need to buy something, make the purchase slowly, thoughtfully, quality, and second-hand if you can.

2. Use it up

Give a nod to the “spark joy” theory, but remember that stuff is just stuff. It shouldn’t be bringing you joy, at least in the deep, heart-contentment sense.  If an item serves a purpose and is doing a fine job, and is actively used, keep itUse it up. Allow it to use its purpose even if it doesn’t match your decor or isn’t your first choice of style. Consider replacing it only when the item is completely used up or beyond repair.

3. Shop your own home first

Shop your own house first. See if you can repurpose or move some furniture around to serve a need. This is my #1 go-to to for my own needs in our house. I often move furniture, pictures, and blankets around in my house to make it feel “fresh” or new. For example, if you feel like you need a storage bin, see if you can purge some items in another area of the house and perhaps free up a bin you already own. It might not look Instagram-perfect, but the solution will be kinder to the earth and your wallet.  

3. Apply “waste not, want not”

Apply “waste not, want not” to all areas of the home. Patch or repair old clothing, if you can. Upcycle shipping boxes into storage bins.  Wrap presents in paper bags. Be diligent to use up the leftovers in your fridge as best you can. Use old socks as cleaning rags. 
I’m not suggesting that you start hoarding every thing that might someday come in handy; I’m suggesting that you be wise with the things you do own. If you feel like you might have a genuine use for an item in the near future, then don’t donate the thing on a whim. The possibilities are actually endless; get creative to save things from going in the trash.

4. Discard responsibly

When you get rid of stuff, discard responsibly. Make the trash the last resortFirst, give it to someone who genuinely needs or wants it directly. Sell the item if you can. Look for local shelters for donations; find small programs you can get involved in and be familiar with how they work. Lastly, give to larger thrift shops with ethical reputations. Recycle what you can. Look for textile recycling bins for threadbare or hopelessly stained clothing. Make the trash a hesitant last resort. Just because something is out of your home, it does not mean that it is off the earth. It exists somewhere.

5. Express gratitude

Express gratitude for what you own, even as you sort through what to keep. Be thankful for everything you have in your home and everything you choose to let go. Value simplicity over having a perfectly decorated and curated home.  This is an important step because being thankful for an item will affect how you offload it from your belongings. If you aren’t grateful for something, you might be tempted to just toss it in the trash. If you value the thing, honor who gave it to you or way it served you, you will be empowered to make a responsible decision regarding the item’s future.

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One last caution concerning the principle of “waste not, want not”: wondering “what if I need it someday” is a gateway thought to hoarding mentality. A better question to determine the future of an item is, “Has this item already served its purpose in my home?” or, “Can this thing serve a new purpose in my home?” Just make certain that if you keep it, it is actively fulfilling that purpose. 

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Tell me what you think! Is it impossible to reconcile the ancient wisdom of “waste not, want not” with modern minimalism? Or can the idiom guide us in curating our belongings as we purge? Comment below and join the (nice!) discussion. 

If you need help, feel free to contact Moving Forward.

Article by SALLish.com. Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash.