When I started to simplify my lifestyle about seven years ago, it wasn’t in pursuit of happiness. As I student I started to experiment with non-consumerism as a reaction to the things I was learning about the world. I stopped buying new clothes as a learned more about sweatshop labour and the amount of textile waste that gets put in landfill each year. I became a vegetarian to cut my personal carbon emissions. I made an effort to borrow rather than buy things I needed, and reduced my air travel to try and reduce my impact on the earth.
But while my journey started out as a political, all the above reasons are now secondary to why I live as I do. The reasons I rarely buy anything new, don’t own a television and walk or cycle to most places I need to go isn’t to stop doing damage to others. It’s now much more selfish than that. I’ve continued my trying to reject consumerism and live as simply as possible because the further along this journey I travel the happier I become. This was unexpected, but means my lifestyle changes are more sustainable because they don’t feel as though I’m depriving myself for the benefit of the planet. They feel as though I’m treating myself to better experiences. For example, I’d still call myself an environmentalist, but the main reason I don’t drive my car is because I want some fresh air and exercise, rather than because I don’t want to feel bad about carbon emissions (and a little bit because I don’t want to spend money on petrol).
Basically, I’ve discovered that rejecting consumer culture has made me happier.
- Giving up magazines has made me more at ease with my body.
- Having less stuff makes me less stressed, and gives me the freedom to move house easily.
- Choosing to spend my money doing things with other people rather than buying things for myself (I work for a charity, I can’t afford to do both) has strengthened my friendships and connection with family members.
- Not eating packaged food, and cooking a mostly vegetable based diet from scratch makes me feel healthier and seems to mean I can eat more than most people I know without putting on any weight (although I might just have a different kind of metabolism).
- Making do with what I have forces me to be creative – with what I wear, what I make and what I eat.
- Not having a television gives me more time to read, write and craft.
- Cycling or walking everywhere means I exercise several times each day.
- Making things to wear, things to give people, and things to decorate my house with saves money and makes me more connected to my possessions. I also really believe that the process of creation has therapeutic value – when I’m struggling with something I find it really helpful to work the issue through in my mind while doing something practical like knitting.
These aren’t just things that I do – they’re who I am. They’re also things I’m hoping to share more of in this blog. Because we all need to start talking more about the alternatives to a society that’s on the whole making people unhappy, unconnected and unequal.