Everyone needs to see this video. Produced in 2007 by Free Range Studios and narrated by Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff is an animated short film about the life cycle of all the things we use in our daily lives – things like clothing, toys, paper, packaging, and construction materials. How are the natural resources mined and harvested? Where are the products manufactured? How are they transported to a shelf in the store? And where does the waste go after you toss it in the garbage or recycling bin?
A few things you’ll learn: The US has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s resources. The average American throws out 4½ pounds of garbage a day… and indirectly produces 300 pounds of garbage a day from the manufacturing processes. There are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals in use today, and none of them have been tested in combination to see what effects they might have when mixed.
Free Range Studios has since put out several other videos, and offers several steps to take action – for example, you can sign up for Catalog Choice to eliminate junk mail from your life, or take the Plastic Free July Pledge.
You’ve probably heard of Japanese declutter queen Marie Kondo. Her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up instructs readers to examine all their possessions, one by one, and for each item ask if it sparks joy. If the answer is yes, then the item gets to stay. If the answer is no, then the item is given a ceremonial (and verbal) goodbye. This simple but severe advice has inspired a multitude of self-proclaimed Konverts who say that Kondo-ing has transformed their lives.
Author Margareta Magnusson offers a different but equally simple test with her new book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. In Magnusson’s view, decluttering is an act of compassion toward your loved ones who will need to sort through your stuff after you die. She favors a steady weeding-out of unneeded items, called dostadning in Swedish. The process starts before retirement and continues for the rest of your life, so that you leave behind no mess for others to clean up. Of course, that’s the opposite of how most Americans live.
I think Kondo-ing and Swedish Death Cleaning will eventually eliminate the same items from your life, namely junk. Ten-year-old receipts and catalogs; the extra dozen coffee mugs at the back of your cabinet (behind the four to eight you actually use); that rusting bicycle you swore you would repair one day. Where the two philosophies differ is their speed of application. Kondo-ing begins with a once-in-a-lifetime event where you gather all your possessions and literally set them in front of you to decide which ones to keep. Swedish Death Cleaning requires an unhurried but constant effort for the rest of your days, so you die with essentially zero possessions.
Personally I’m more of a Swede than a Konvert, but you can choose whichever method works best for you. Or, if you don’t have time for either, you can follow the lead of a friend of mine. When her two young kids complain of boredom, she replies, “Then let’s go through your old toys and decide which ones to give away!” It might not lead to decluttering, but it sure sparks joy in the stuff you already have.
Samantha and Robert are outdoor enthusiasts – so they simplified their lives to maximize the time they can spend in the mountains. They pared their belongings down to fit inside a 204-square-foot house on wheels, which they call SHED. The name is a play on words: not only is the house about the size of a shed, but any item that’s not essential to their outdoor pursuits in the Pacific Northwest is an item the couple has shed from their lives.
I love the modern styling of the house, both outside and in. A simple roofline has the right proportions for a space this size; I never cared for the tiny houses that jack up the roof with dormers all over. A diagonally recessed entry lends aesthetic interest to the broad side and makes the building look like a home. Looking at the front door, the house could be 80 feet deep or 10. Built-in seating and storage indoors make the place feel spacious and bright.
Here are a few notes from the blog of the builders/owners: “We employed some unique construction techniques including the use of 2×3 framing with continuous exterior insulation that results in a lighter wall with superior thermal performance.” “You may be surprised to hear that our design gives up 24 square feet (of our 204 sf total) for a special, externally accessible “gear room” to hold all of our outdoor gear, which we consider essential tools to our health and happiness.” “There are a lot of beautiful and amazing tiny houses out there, but your favorite will always be the one you built with your own hands!”