It’s time we reconsider our subscription to the trend of minimalism — because the costs to the environment tell us otherwise.
If you’re an active netizen like me, you’re bound to come across the popular cleaning-guru Marie Kondo. Her book titled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a New York Times #1 bestseller, and she has two shows on Netflix: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and Sparking Joy.
Kondo’s charm-offensive consists of her clad in a white blazer and sweet voice, knocking on your door with the promise to help you physically tidy up your room, while also leaving you mentally refreshed in the process.
This is done through her KonMari method, which involves throwing away or donating things that you don’t cherish anymore – or as she says it, no longer “spark joy.” Be it memorabilia, kitchen appliances or old clothes from your deceased lover, Kondo leaves no crumbs in the scale of your home’s transformation.
For this, Kondo’s ideas have even entered into our lexicon, such as creating new cleaning catchphrases like “Kondoing” your socks, and she has gained a cult following dubbed “Konverts.”
Popularity aside, there are some large flaws in this line of thinking – the idealized versions that Kondo describes simply cannot align with our less glamorous reality. In the end, you simply can’t throw away such large quantities of stuff without facing consequences in this world.
This is especially relevant for clothing, as discarding it accounts for waste that sadly isn’t recycled very often. This is because many of the fabric components of clothing, made from complex combinations of material, are unable to be sorted out, a process required for recycling. As a result, they are either burned or dumped into a landfill, with pieces blown off from the transportation process ending up in the ocean as runoff.
And don’t be so quick to think that donating your clothes to thrift stores and charities can do good. An astonishing 90% of clothing that charities receive end up in textile recyclers. Reasons for this include sorting out poor quality donations or removing items from the rack that haven’t sold after a few weeks so new stock can take its place. Even though this process is more eco-friendly than sending your clothes straight to the garbage, it ultimately still contributes to global waste due to the transport, energy and water costs that occur in the recycling process.
Another pathway for your donated clothes that hasn’t received much attention is their purge to poorer countries. Nowadays, people in sub-Saharan Africa receive heaps of clothes that are donated to them for the sake of charity. Many then proceed to sell them in outdoor markets, which not only increases their dependency on the West, but also displaces opportunities for local business to thrive. As a result, many countries are working to ban the import of clothing and shoes to protect the local industries.
After cleansing out your closet, Kondo then encourages you to restock your stuff. From her line of baskets and other organizing gadgets at The Container Store to promoting her trademarked blanket on Instagram, the list of things she encourages you to buy again is seemingly endless.
All of this leads to the inevitable conclusion: Kondo promotes a lifestyle where you can unabashedly toss away things and then rebuy them, without ever considering the costs to ourselves and those half-way around the world from us.
In acknowledgement of these issues, it’s time for us to adjust our behaviors accordingly. The first step is to commit to the three Rs: reuse, recycle and reduce.
This means you shouldn’t just toss out your rubber spatula once it no longer creates butterflies in your stomach. And you can’t get rid of your old pillow just because you don’t like how it frays at its edges.
Of course I am not asking you to be a professional hoarder. Items that are moldy, non reusable or have been piled high enough to become a tripping hazard need to be thrown away – use your common sense.
The third tenant of sustainability – reduce – means that you need to be very conscious of what you buy. Kondo coincidently omits this piece of advice from her cleaning guidelines (her blatant promotion of new items to buy may be a potential motivator).
But here, in your space, this piece of information is wholly relevant. The easiest way to reduce waste (or clutter) is to not produce it in the first place – saving you energy and time from the draining practices that Kondo proposes you to take for decluttering.
Once you follow these easy steps, your wallet and the environment you live in will thank you, and you’ll probably avoid returning to the crème de la crème capitalist practices innocently disguised as being “minimalist.”