Clutter, Pollution, Privilege

Before I go any further, I’d like to talk a bit about clutter, privilege, pollution and human rights for a moment.  All of these are critical issues today and are important to me in the context of my previous post and our mission to declutter our home and life.  Each topic deserves time and space, but for now I’ll try to put some thoughts down about each.  This is by no means a complete commentary about these topics…I just couldn’t go on chattering about my privileged life and “getting rid of all of my stuff so that I could be fancy free” without naming my privilege and speaking to the huge environmental devastation that our consumerism (and potentially the trend of “minimalism”) causes.


My desire to declutter is perhaps a quest for clarity.  To declutter my mind.  Declutter my relationships.  To make space both inside and out for the things that are really important to me, so that what I bring into this world has deep heart and meaning and that my children learn what has real value.  Having less will decrease my stress and allow me to refocus.  As my husband will attest, when there is a mess I do not function well.  I love a clean and clear space.  I would say I need a clean and clear space.  If my body is my temple, then my home is a temple, my life is my temple, my thoughts, my world is my temple.  All of these reflect my state of being.  How am I valuing myself?  How do I value material things?  How much space do I make for love? How much time do I make for the people that I care about?  And how much for myself?

Being a minimalist is a state of mind, and not a set of rules. It can actually mean you have more of what you need, are able to enjoy everything you have and are not worried about what you don’t have. All of that can help make living life a lot less stressful and can make it more fulfilling. ……Being a minimalist means you value yourself more than material things. It means making decisions based on what you need instead of getting everything you want.  ~

Also, money.  How much money will we save?  We’ll have more financial security and money to invest in social and environmental change.  To have more freedom to live in accordance with our true selves.  To help others.

For many, decluttering or minimizing might not save them money or put them ahead, but it may help slow or stop the consumerism-debt cycle.

Pollution & Human Rights:

Pollution and the environmental devastation caused by consumerism is staggering.  Simply staggering, and there are many issues at play.  Underpaid, exploited and vulnerable workers making our disposable goods, water wasted in processing, water pollution in dumping and in waste products, carbon emissions,  chemical use, pesticide and herbicide use (to grow conventional cotton), the footprint of transporting of goods and the filling of landfills with our junk are just some of the many harms done by our consumerist ways.

As for the landfills and talking about clothing alone,

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a jaw-dropping 26 billion pounds of clothing and textiles are added to our landfills every year.” ~ Jelisa Castrodale

Why do we have so much to dispose of?  Why are they being thrown in the trash and not donated?  Giving unwanted items to charity is a better option than putting things in the trash, but even still, much of clothing donations are shipped overseas and there are further consequences to local economies and industries as a result:

“Only a small portion — about 20 percent — of Americans’ used clothing, including those sent to consignment shops, are being sold at secondhand retail outlets and thrift stores in the U.S. Far more are being shipped to developing areas like sub-Saharan Africa, South America and China — in fact, the U.S. sends away a full billion pounds of used clothing per year, making it our eighth largest export — where clothes are bought in 1,000-pound bales, sorted and then resold to the local populace, sometimes wreaking havoc on local industries.

…Severely underpaid and unethically treated women and children (often putting their lives at risk) make our dispensable and next best consumables.”  ~

People’s lives are often put on the line to make the stuff that we buy.  Let that sink in.  An option is to shop for ethically made items and to buy just what we need.  How can I truly stop the cycle of buying and donating or trashing?  It is harmful on so many levels.

Did you know that it takes a whole lot of water to make things?  This info graphic stopped me in my tracks.

(Image credit: Mike Lowery)

The clothing industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, and its manufacturing processes are tremendously hard on our natural resources. It takes up to 700 gallons of water to make one new cotton T-shirt, and 1,800 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans. (It would take the average person more than 30 years to chug 1,800 gallons of water.) ~Jelisa Castrodale

And further:

The amount of carbon dioxide emitted to produce one pair of jeans is equivalent to driving 78 miles. ~Mattias Wallander

Minimalism as a trend, is not sustainable.  We can’t afford to throw out all of our stuff every five years only to re-accumulate.  We must get to the bottom of why we have too much, why we over consume and how we can change that in our selves and in our culture.  So, let us buy less, buy used, buy ethically, repair, gift, donate and figure out how to fill the needs that we have within ourselves that leads us to consume more.  For the love of life and all things sacred, let’s be more mindful.


I am a person of privilege.  I have so much privilege that I don’t even know how much I have.  I can afford to be blind to so much of it, because I am safe, my family is safe, I have all that I need and then some.  Recognizing that is important to me.  In this context, it’s important because I know that it is a complex topic and that not everyone can afford the luxury of “declutttering”.

I have more than I need.  I can afford to get rid of 60% of my possessions.  For some people who have lived in great poverty or are refugees, having extra is security, safety and perhaps even survival.  For most, having items that do not “spark joy” is just the way it has to be because they are living from paycheck to paycheck.   I can buy quality, ethically made items to invest in the long term, but that is not the case for so many.

“Just because something is a trend, however, doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in exploring it. Conversely, being a trend doesn’t give something inherent value. What matters is the ethos behind a particular choice. A person’s “why” is more telling than the outworking of it. ….They have three shirts because three shirts are all they have, not because they spent what they would have spent on twenty shirts to buy the three that best represented their trendy minimalist ethos. They use bar soap for shampoo not because of the ecological impact of throwing away a plastic bottle, but because the bar soap is the cheapest available option……The reality is, we have no idea what real need is.….

I’m not saying it’s wrong to be a minimalist. If you’ve got the privilege to make those choices, then you’ve also got a moral responsibility to make the very best choices you can, in terms of impacts and consumer fallout. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re better than everyone else, or you’re doing it “right.”

Minimalism might be the best, most ecologically and economically correct expression of extreme privilege, where global impacts are concerned, but it’s still privilege.

-Jenn Sutherland-Miller


In order to toss my old socks and donate my old shoes, I have to feel assured that I can afford to get new ones when the time arises.  It is a luxury to feel “tied down” by my possessions.  And here I am.  A greatly privileged person, living in a developed country and taking steps to live more fully and with greater intention.  I am choosing to put more value on myself, others and my relationships than on my things.  To have less and to take the best care of what I do have.  Creating space in my home will allow me to create space in my life for things that are truly important to me so that I may add more value into the world, respecting our precious resources and the other inhabitants of this planet.   With the privilege, resources and life that I was born into, I am working towards creating a life for myself that allows me to be a better mother, a better wife and a better being.



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