Our society still favors the quick fix. And sells us the idea that self-care is something you can buy. Of course, it’s not. But we’re bombarded with the promise of relaxation, health or energy, on everything from laundry detergent to smoothies. And what happens when that promise isn’t fulfilled?
There is a connection between what you buy and how overwhelmed you are. When Moms were surveyed about the mental load, the top culprit was housework. And in the pandemic study, 78% of surveyed parents are doing more of it. A lot more. And all of the stuff, that we buy or acquire, comes with an invisible tax. Do you want to clean and maintain those things forever? Probably not. So, there are strategies to shift this cycle. We can become more intentional about what comes into our homes. And it’s not just about saving time, money and mental energy. We can help save the planet.
The Problem, our Societal ‘Engine’ is Driven by Consumerism
Stephanie Seferian, Author, Podcaster and Minimalism Expert said, “People who have been in their houses for the past year are looking at their possessions through a more critical lens. ‘Why did I spend my hard-earned money on this? Is it improving my quality of life? Why do I have 12 mugs when I can only drink coffee out of one at a time?’” She often engages with people who are new to sustainable thinking. Stephanie said, “The pandemic’s been very hard for a lot of people. But in some ways, the great pause has given us the breathing room to ask these questions. And the process of not going anywhere or needing ‘the new thing’ has really opened their eyes to the facade that is essentially consumer culture. It usually starts there.” Yes!
And the Challenge is Bigger Than Plastic
On the journey from interested to expert, Stephanie has learned a lot about the state of the planet. And what we can do to help. She said, “What surprised me is that plastic is actually a small portion of the problem. The bigger problem is our carbon footprint and how in affluent societies, it’s so oversized. I can reduce plastic all I want but simply living in this country, with the lifestyle I have, means that I am impacting the planet at a rate that’s four times what somebody in a developing country would. So that surprised me and it’s something that I think about every darn day.” Sigh. What options do we have?
The Solutions? Start Small
In her new book Sustainable Minimalism, Stephanie walks us lovingly through incremental steps we can take to improve outcomes for the planet. She said, “It’s really about taking one tiny little itsy bitsy stab towards doing something more ecofriendly. And then, to do it over and over again until it’s incorporated into your life. Maybe that small step is using the dryer less and hanging up your clothes. If that’s your first step, you’ll likely find that your clothes last longer and your electricity bill is much lower. And those small wins will snowball overtime. After you take that one step you feel good about, then you take another tiny step. There are no leaps when you’re trying to change your lifestyle. It’s a series of very tiny little tweaks.”
And Learn About High Impact Categories
Unfortunately, the damage to the environment has reached critical levels. Despite some gains from the pandemic-driven pause. Stephanie said, “I continue to believe that an incremental approach to sustainability, like any lifestyle change, is prudent. However, I have begun to switch my thinking, to working smarter not harder.” Amen to that! She explained, “What can we do in terms of eco-friendliness that is going to require the least amount of effort and have the greatest impact? Because most of us are were already stretched thin pre-pandemic.” She suggests we focus on four areas where small changes lead to big results.
Be Critical About What you Let in
Start by buying less. Stephanie said, “When I need something, I ask around first instead of purchasing. And just critically examine whether this item is a want or a need.” Many surveyed parents have shared the desire to continue “simplifying,” “spending less” and “focusing on what matters” after the pandemic ends. Stephanie said, Because I feel like for so many of us and for me, before starting this journey, it was just an unconscious decision to go to Amazon to swipe ‘click buy now’ and have it on my door in two days. I didn’t need to think about it because goods are so cheap. I’m not wealthy by any means but I’m wasn’t worrying about that $24.00 whatever-it-is. And so, it really comes down to adding a little bit more intention into purchasing, which for a lot of us is unintentional.” Sigh.
The Invisible Costs of Clutter Outweigh the Financial Costs
Mothers are still primary caretakers of the home, in most US families. And the constant cleaning and clearing, is like spending years, running on a hamster wheel. Stephanie said, “I came to a difficult realization when I first started my decluttering journey, standing over a pile of stuff in my house, that all these things are my responsibility to declutter responsibly. As somebody who does care about the planet, I would do everything I can to not just stick it in the trash. Because items in the landfill don’t just sit there nicely, they release methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas as they decompose.”
We have options though. And Stephanie added, “So, I can donate, sell, repurpose, upcycle or give this item away. But at the end of the day, it is still going to go to a landfill somewhere, someday. And so, for me, I’ve come to the conclusion that instead of going through this cycle for every product in my house over and over again, the solution is to simply be critical of what I’m letting into my house.” And shifting it doesn’t have to happen all at once.
Consider the Long Term Cost and That Includes Your Time
Stephanie said, “Every item requires nonrenewable resources to manufacture it. Then, there’s the shipment of the thing and the packaging of the thing to keep it pristine as it arrives at your doorstep. So, all of those aspects on the front end of a product are not environmentally benign. Then there’s the thing in your house which requires time to maintain, organize and keep spotless.” Something many of us are intimately familiar with. The ‘stuff’ we own restricts our freedom by tying up precious time.
She added, “If it’s an appliance, you’re paying for its maintenance and if it breaks, you’re paying to have it fixed. We all go through seasons of life and it’s normal for the items that we need to change. And then after this item, whatever it may be, no longer serves a purpose for you, on the other end of this lifecycle, is the disposal of the product.”
Reexamine Some Key Behaviors
We can also rethink how we move around our communities. Stephanie said, “Drive less or not at all. So, if you live in the woods like I do and need a car, plan and batch your errands and driving around town. For example, going out once a week and doing all your errands instead of going out once per day.” Although travel has slowed considerably in the pandemic, flying less or not at all, also has a positive impact.
And think about what you eat. Cooking at home is generally more sustainable. And Stephanie said, “A plant and grain-based diet is infinitely more eco-friendly than one that’s based on meat and dairy. Another is how you heat and cool your home. If you have your thermostat set to 75 degrees that would definitely not be as ecofriendly as 62.” I laughed because she had about 3 layers on during our video call.
Live With Intention
We have a lot of power as consumers. And when surveyed parents were asked about the pandemic positives, they described “strengthening family relationships,” “cooking at home more” and “spending less.” Stephanie said, “The pandemic has been an impetus for a lot of people to critically examine all facets of their life. What do we want our lives to be defined by? How do we want to spend our moments? And treading lightly on this planet, so that my children have the planet to live on, has always been important for me.”
There’s beauty in becoming concious and aware. The pandemic, despite it’s devastating effect on our communities, has led many people to seek new ways of being. Stephanie said, “I’m excited that people are awakening to those ideals.”
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Stephanie Seferian!
Stephanie Marie Seferian is a mother and former educator of literature who believes that incremental minimalism is the key to saving our shared planet.
She has had a number of solo features in both Reader’s Digest and Thrive Global; her eco-friendly bathroom tips were also picked up by NBC News. She regularly appears on fellow podcasts including The Minimalist Moms Podcast, The Spark Joy Podcast and The Women! Inspired Podcast, to name a few. Her own podcast─The Sustainable Minimalists Podcast─enjoys a 4.7 average Apple Podcasts rating and over 5 thousand unique downloads per recent episode.
Stephanie has two young daughters, a yellow Labrador Retriever, and a husband who loves to compost.