With a tangle of everchanging rules around how we live, there seems to be a growing craving for simplicity plus an essential focus on how we manage both personal and collective resources.
Speaking recently to the BBC, Sir David Attenborough made a new statement linking the excess of capitalism to environmental destruction. “We are going to have to live more economically, and we can do that – I believe that we will do it more happily not less happily, and that the excesses that the capitalism has brought us have to be curbed somehow,” he said.
Less is more
Attenborough views the pandemic as “a wakeup call that we are not so much in charge, we need to adapt and work with nature. We can’t prosper without a healthy planet”. Summing it up, he said: “Ordinary people worldwide are beginning to realise that greed does not actually lead to joy” and called for a return to the simple joys and delights in life.
While this is a valuable lesson for global leaders to also move away from greed and competition to a new era of collaboration, this concept needs to extend from the political to the personal, in the way that our self-esteem is bound up with what we buy, do and wear. How freeing to let go of that even a little– during lockdown one surprisingly positive effect on some people’s mental health was the relief to live simply, not obsess about appearance, not compare ourselves with what others are doing.
It is empowering to live more simply
We are lucky to live in a place of abundance but how much do we actually need or use? How overwhelming or nourishing are our belongings? For lifelong environmentalist Satish Kumar the answer to climate change is the concept of elegant simplicity: living frugally, simply, and having things that you really use and not just accumulate and waste. “For me, elegant simplicity is a prerequisite for sustainability. And sustainability is a prerequisite to mitigating climate change,” Kumar told Wicked Leeks in an interview last year.
If you are interested in taking small steps on this path, here are our top tips:
1. Don’t buy – sell, declutter, donate
Commit to buying less and donate even a tiny part of your income to a charity you love for a feelgood factor. Sell your unwanted items, donate them to a local charity, or leave a ‘free – please take’ labelled box outside your house. For help with decluttering, authors like Madeleine Olivia offers a wealth of practical tips for simplifying down. Afterward, you will probably find you have much more than you thought, and rediscover loved items in the process.
2. Resist the impulse to buy
Find a way to curb impulse buying both online and in the shops – pause, distract, leave it for 24 hours – how important is it? Could you reuse, fix or upcycle something you already have? Overspending and the resulting debt are no fun. If you still have the urge buy, go charity shop bargain hunting or try an online store like Oxfam which has thousands of items. Not only is your purchase a great use of resources, the money goes to good causes.
3. Share, swap, learn
A recession means hardship but also brings creativity and resourcefulness as communities support each other. Pre-Covid, informal ‘repair shop’ groups were springing up, where you could take along items to be mended by volunteers keen to skill share. Now, you can learn how to make or do pretty much anything online from a new generation of makers, designers, home DIYers, bike fixers and clothes menders. Projects such as Share Shed in Devon are still running, a travelling library of objects you can loan – from a lawnmower to a sewing machine, and apps like Fat Llama are a way to rent items local to you.
4. Shift your attitude to clothes
Cheap fast fashion has fuelled a dramatic rise in clothing consumption. #PayUp co-founder and fashion activist Elizabeth Cline’s research found that in 1930, the average American woman owned nine outfits. Today, each will buy more than 60 pieces of new clothing on average per year.
Good on you has a free app to help you purchase ethically made clothes, and second hand now covers everything from your local charity shop to luxury label vendors Vestaire Collective. When you just need something for a one-off special occasion, loan clothes or accessories online instead – websites such as HURR and By Rotation are women’s wardrobe rental platforms that are aiming to rethink how we do fashion.
5. Buy well – buy once
Well-made items are more pleasurable, save us time in the long run, age beautifully and often the cost per wear or use is much lower over time. They can be passed on or resold when you no longer need or want them too. Seek out companies that manufacture in more sustainable ways and produce better objects that last longer. Forget about saving things ‘for best’ – enjoy the things you really love now.
6. Support ethical business
With anything we spend we are creating the world around us. Our buying power makes a difference so support positive business models – look for B Corps, employee owned businesses, local food cooperatives, zero waste shops and veg box schemes. Many companies also support projects that empower communities or regenerate the environment. Ethical Consumer magazine is a great resource.
7. Invest in yourself instead
We can begin to shop less, finding value and self-esteem in other ways, focusing on experiences not objects. Boredom and purposelessness are a huge driver for shopping, but we can focus on our wellbeing as an alternative. Instead of trawling round the shops getting hot and stressed, or scrolling online for hours, take up free activities that give you a strong base – relaxation, mindfulness, wild swimming , yoga, playing games, starting a journal, gardening, getting creative, being part of a community project; whatever feels nourishing. Finally, mindfulness writer Caspar Walsh suggests the simple act of just reminding yourself every day “I am enough, I have enough, I do enough”.