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Declutter for the Planet (Yes, That’s a Thing)

This week (on July 29th) was Earth Overshoot Day. What this means is that July 29th is the day on which we’ve officially used up all of the resources the planet can naturally regenerate in a year. Another way of saying it, is that we use almost twice as many resources as is sustainable – half of what we use is basically being taken from future generations.

Something to tell the grandkids! Oh…wait…

The Global Footprint Network, who are behind all the research, break it down a little further, detailing the Overshoot Day for each country (meaning, on what day would we use up all the earth’s resources if everyone in the world lived like the people of that country). As you can imagine, Australia, Canada, the US and the UK all fare pretty badly here (the dates are, in order: March 31st, March 18th, March 15th and May 17th).

They also have a little calculator that gives us an idea of what our individual footprint is – how many earths do we need to sustain our current lifestyle?

I gave it a go. It was an interesting exercise, but I don’t actually want to talk about results and how planets we each use (or not). Anything that asks us to self-report our behaviour tends to be overestimated – after all, we like to think the best of ourselves!

What was noticeable to me were the questions that weren’t asked.

There were questions on meat consumption, food miles, food packaging. There were questions on housing and energy use. Of course, there were questions on car driving and flying.

But the glaringly obvious thing missing in my mind were the questions about consuming, shopping and ‘stuff’. Those things have an impact too. Take clothing. The UN estimates that the global fashion industry contributes 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.

(I understand that calculators need to simplify, but still.)

There were no questions about how often we shop, what things we buy, what kinds of businesses we buy from, how the things we buy are delivered (do we buy the from local stores or get them air freighted from different continents?), whether we actually use these things once we own them, and what we do with them when we are done.

If you’ve bought anything ever, and you’re feeling like you should probably get ready to defend your purchasing choices, I just want to say – me too! I’ve bought things too! This is not that post.

Sure, our shopping choices are important. But for me, what’s equally as important is what we do with these things once we buy them. I sometimes think that we forget that our ‘stuff’ is resources. We can put those resources to good use, either ourselves or by giving them to someone else that will use them… or we can leave them languish in a cupboard.

When I think about my footprint, I’m always drawn to the things I own, and whether me owning them is really the best use of that ‘stuff’. I think that letting go of things we no longer use is the opposite of waste. In fact, the idea of Earth Overshoot Day was something I wrote about in my book Less Stuff and one of my personal motivations for decluttering.

I’m not talking about decluttering as overloading the charity shop with stuff they probably won’t be able to sell. I’m not talking about decluttering as clearing space so there’s room to go buy more stuff.

I’m talking about decluttering as de-owning.

I don’t need to own more clothes and shoes than there are days of the year. I don’t need to own every trinket I consider beautiful, or every piece of art I admire. I don’t need to own every single gadget that’s cleverly designed.

I don’t need to own every single thing I might ever need to use just one time.

What I need and what you need will be completely different. But we can both ask ourselves: do I really need this, am I actually going to use it, or can I put it back out into the world and let someone else benefit? Is there a better use for these resources than gathering dust in my cupboards?

Decluttering is as simple as taking a single item, realising that we just don’t use it enough to justify keeping it, and setting about finding somebody who does need it, and will use it.

If you think the ‘finding somebody who does need it’ part sounds hard, it is much simpler than you think, especially with the internet. Think online classifieds, online auction sites, online marketplace platforms, and Buy Nothing groups. For more details, here are six ideas to get you started.

The best thing about sharing stuff is that it is accessible to everybody. We can’t say that about a lot of sustainable choices. Rather than feeling bad because our sole local grocery store wraps everything in plastic, or because we can’t afford solar panels (or we rent), or because we have to drive a car to work because there is no public transport option, we can look at where we have the opportunity to create change and make a difference.

And yes, what you do does make a difference.

When it comes to stuff, I think most of us buy things with good intentions. But the way we use them doesn’t always pan out the way we expect. We can make the most of our bad decisions by ensuring that the things we don’t need don’t go to waste.

And in doing so, we help someone else out, keep resources in circulation and stop new things being made. The best thing of all? It’s easy to do, and you can start taking action today.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you heard of Earth Overshoot Day? What steps do you take to share resources? How do you feel about decluttering? How have your feelings changed over time? Any other thoughts to add? Please share below!

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