A Small Yet Profound Piece of Wisdom to Keep Minimalism on Track

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CC BY 2.0. Peter Gronemann

Once again, Joshua Becker of 'Becoming Minimalist' hits the nail on the head.

Minimalism should be simple, in theory. Less stuff at home means less work, less money, less time to maintain. But in reality, being minimalist is incredibly challenging. It feels like an endless battle against the rest of the world that wants to inundate us with stuff.

Whether it's freebies handed out at a conference, kids coming home from school with mountains of loose papers and crafts, or stores offering irresistible deals that your frugal self cannot ignore, keeping the world's crap at bay -- and out of your house -- requires constant vigilance.

That's when I find it helpful to read the inspiring words of far more experienced (and successful) minimalists, like Joshua Becker. Becker is the founder of Becoming Minimalist, a lovely blog with thought-provoking articles, and author of Clutterfree with Kids.

In a recent article, Becker shared his "5 life-giving truths about living simply and saving money," one of which I want to share with you here because I think it's profound:

The most frugal or greenest product is the one you didn’t buy.

This is a tough one for most people to swallow. Our Western consumerism is so ingrained that we often justify it through greenwashing, now widely available in many different forms.

"Oh, I can totally buy this umpteenth pair of leggings because they're made from recycled plastic bottles!" "I'll buy carbon offsets along with my plane ticket for a weekend away." "I know I don't need new jeans, but these ones are organic!"

But the fact is, it's almost always best not to buy, to make do with what we have, to consume less, to reduce demand for production and waste management services, to keep money in our own pockets. Sure, it's good to know about these companies for those times when we really do need to replace something, but simply to transfer our spending habits from conventional to eco-friendly sources doesn't really fix anything.

This is something I struggle with at TreeHugger because I'm often asked to review or learn about awesome new products -- things as diverse as mattresses, skin care, clothing, and food. These new startups have such great ideas, mission statements, production standards, and goals, which I'm happy to promote; however, there's a part of me that thinks, "We can't shop ourselves out of this mess. It's wanting and needing less of everything that needs to be the goal."

Becker points out, too, that it's hard to know what's really going on behind the labels.

"Many businesses have responded by using 'greenwashed' marketing to confuse and appeal to more consumers. A shocking number of products are now 'environmentally friendly' without any certifying body to confirm or standardize what that even means."

I keep this in mind, too, when I look at pictures of gorgeous minimalist interiors and lament how much it would cost to get my house looking like that. Then I remind myself that that's precisely why I shouldn't fall for it. True minimalism is using what I already have, as unglamorous as it may be.

So, for those of us who feel strongly about keeping our homes emptier, our bank accounts fuller, and our planet healthier, the best piece of advice is simply to stay out of stores. Make do with what we have.