Saturday, August 29, 2020

Making Ethical & Sustainable Choices

Minimalism is not only about the choice to keep fewer items in our homes, or paring down only to the things that make us happy. Making purchasing choices that are ethically and ecologically sustainable is important, too. There are a few facets of making these kinds of decisions that I want to lay out so that we can all work together to make the planet a better place. Individual action may never feel like it counts for much, but group action absolutely does. So how can we all make a difference together?

First: Consider Buying Secondhand
Secondhand shopping helped me stretch a very tight budget in college. Whether for clothing or for bigger items like furniture, making the choice to buy something secondhand keeps it out of the landfill until it's been truly well-used and lets an item serve its intended purpose for longer. It's also a great budget option for mixing up one's wardrobe--get something new-to-you secondhand, and donate it back when you're done with it. Secondhand clothing and soft furnishings can be washed, and wooden furniture can be sanded and restained or painted. Some of my personal favorite items in my home were purchased secondhand and refinished to match my own style. Sustainability does not have to be expensive.

Second: Look at Supply Chain Transparency Policies
Many retail clothing stores should have a supply chain transparency page on their website somewhere. If they do not have one, they may not have a supply chain that sources materials responsibly or pays living wages to factory workers. By shopping only at stores with humane, ethical, and eco-friendly supply chain policies, we're supporting fair wages, healthier factory environments, and less damage being inflicted on the planet. Supply chain transparency usually entails readily-available statements on safe working environments, living wages paid to factory workers, and surprise audits. Additionally, you may see commitments to garment recycling and using sustainably-sourced raw materials.

Third: Buy for Quality, Not Cheap Convenience
At some point, we've all probably bought something cheap that we've had to keep replacing over and over because it failed to stand up to every day use and abuse. Shoes and clothing are the primary culprits of this rapid replacement policy we seem to endure. It's important to shift to buying items for their quality and longevity over just cheap convenience. Of course, buying for quality usually means paying for it handsomely, too--but over time, a well-constructed pair of shoes, leggings, or a good dress will outlast many cheaper items. When we buy cheap stuff that needs to be replaced constantly, we're wasting the energy of the supply chain and just adding to the mounds of garbage in landfills and pollution in the ocean. Buy for quality and you'll produce less waste over time. As an added bonus, high-quality brands generally have better supply chain transparency than lower-quality "fast fashion" brands.

Fourth: Support Social Justice
As far as I am concerned, it is impossible to remain neutral when it comes to social justice and equitable treatment of all people. My official stance since I was a teenager has been (and please stop reading my blog after this if you disagree) "FUCK THE POLICE" because of police brutality, specifically the tortures and deaths inflicted upon nonwhite individuals. Coming from a place of white privilege and knowing that it's better to solve a problem than to become a part of it, I try to do what I can to buy only from brands that support racial equality, social equity, and social justice. If a brand sees it unfit to fight racial prejudice, they will not get my money, plain and simple. Bigotry, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia are unsustainable social practices that damage community morale. Brands and stores that preach and practice love, empathy, and support for marginalized groups are better for us all.

If we all take these four tips to heart, whether we're minimalists or not, the world will eventually be a cleaner, happier, more loving place for us all. It's also important to note that we won't get every purchase right. But we can at least strive to make better choices when the opportunities arise. Go forth and be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Digital Decluttering Part 1: Social Media

Previously, I've written about how to declutter physical items. Minimalism and keeping tidy spaces are important to me in being happy at home and at work... and as an IT professional I think it's important to bring decluttering practices to our virtual worlds.

Recently, I have embarked on a journey to reduce my digital footprint. The process of decluttering my virtual world has so far been similar to the process of decluttering my home. Some of the questions are much the same as I'd ask when discarding a physical item, like whether or not I'm happy to have it follow me into the future, or how useful it will be for me to keep it long-term.

The first area I decided to tackle in my digital decluttering process was social media. I have never been big on social media sites to begin with, so I only had three sites to consider initially: Facebook, LinkedIn, and an IT community. Of each service, I asked:
  • Do I get what my time is worth from the platform?
  • Am I making meaningful social connections on the platform?
  • Do I want/need my posts to follow me into the future?
  • Is the sometimes-personal data I provide a fair trade-off for the value of the service?

For Facebook and LinkedIn, I quickly and confidently answered "No" to every single question. For the IT community, I felt I could answer "Yes" to the first three questions and "Close enough" to the last... for now. With those questions answered, I proceeded to remove as much as I could from Facebook before scheduling my account for deletion. I had posted next to nothing on LinkedIn, so I closed my account without much effort put forth to remove information from my profile.

Removing as much as I could from Facebook before leaving ended up being a week-long project. I posted two final statuses informing my small group of friends that I'm making an effort to reduce my online presence, and that they could find me on a couple of chat apps that I fully intend to keep long-term. If they missed their opportunity I decided to treat decluttering my interpersonal relationships as a perk--if they couldn't make time for me, they shouldn't expect mine in return. It took an entire week to declutter my profile and remove as much as I could before closing my account. It's not terribly necessary to remove everything before account deactivation, but it was a lot of data that I didn't care to let Facebook hold onto for any longer than they had to. I saved important photos back to one of my computers, and when I was satisfied with how much I retrieved and removed, I closed my account and removed the login information from my password vault so I wouldn't ever log in accidentally and break the timer for account deletion.

For the first couple weeks, I caught myself trying to type in when I opened up a browser out of boredom. After that, however, it started to become forgettable and I found more interesting things to do online and offline. Having time back to fill with more quality activities felt good. I started to wonder what I could do next, and within a few weeks of requesting Facebook account deletion, I cleaned up and deleted my Pinterest account as well.

Overall, it seemed easiest to remove Pinterest and LinkedIn from my online presence. Because I wanted to leave Facebook in what I felt was the "right" way, it took a lot of time and effort. However, I'm over a month removed from that journey now and I feel better for it. My time online is now mostly spent talking to friends and reading articles about topics that interest me. It's easier for me to pick up my Surface to draw on it and produce art than it is for me to pick it up and mindlessly surf the web. I'm no longer emotionally bogged down by negativity and superficial "who's got the best life?" contests on social media. 

Reducing social media's hold on my time has paved the way for increased productivity and given me the motivation to clean up and minimize the rest of my online presence so I can spend more of my time on things that matter to me. So, was it worth it to leave Facebook, LinkedIn, etc? Absolutely! I would highly recommend doing so to anyone whose digital life feels cluttered and dissatisfying. It really is worth the effort because the end result is more time available to spend on meaningful and fulfilling activities. For me, that means reading and enjoying my friendships. What could it mean for you?