As a child, my understanding of not being wasteful was to finish all of my food, not throw things away if they can be fixed, and shop for the best deal. Even though they were all good rules to live by, they also created problems of their own. Our house was cluttered with broken items that were never fixed. Items purchased on sale piled up in the closets. And even to this day, I struggle with over-eating to clean my plate. I also spent a lot of time searching for cheaper versions of things I liked, when they never sparked the same joy as the original.
In The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, she says that sometimes waste is not what we throw away, but what we hold on to. I couldn’t agree more. When my father passed away unexpectedly, I was the one responsible of cleaning out his stuff. My father didn’t own much of anything that had monetary nor sentimental value. He didn’t have any hobbies either. So after donating his clothes, the cluttered 12×15 room packed with worn and broken stuff were all discarded. The only memento my sister and I kept were a watch and a ring worn by him daily. It saddens me to wonder what could have filled the room if he wasn’t stuck in his way of defining waste. Maybe there would have been more clues to what brought him joy.
As for my mom, she has no trouble spending money. She is just as comfortable buying high-priced fine jewelry as she is finding a great bargain at a yard sale. She often buys multiples of things so she can give them away as gifts, although the items mostly stayed in our house. When she decided to move back to Asia, I was once again the one to help with deal with all of her stuff. She lived alone in a 3-bedroom house with a 2-car garage, all packed to the top. It felt like a never-ending process, but eventually we were able to sell most of the stuff through weekly garage sales. The thrill from the great discounts she got during her purchase didn’t last nearly as long as the disappointment from letting them go for cheap.
Those examples shaped my purchasing habits, and in a way how I saw myself. Part of me felt like I was undeserving of having nice things. My pride in finding a bargain was sometimes mixed with shameful feelings of not being good enough. I felt insecure about the way I looked in my cheap clothes, even though I was the one who made rigid rules on how little I can spend. I was jealous of people who can buy what they love, when I couldn’t help but focus mainly at the price tag.
After learning the KonMari method, I finally understood I was actually being wasteful. I wasted so much time contemplating and researching which cheaper items to buy when my decision should have based more on the features and my needs. I wasted money on things with lesser quality, which in the end had to be replaced sooner or be tossed. I wasted space with a closet full of clothes that I didn’t like to wear. I accepted hand-me-downs that I didn’t need, afraid I might offend the giver. In reality I was wasting the opportunity for someone else who could have utilized and appreciated them more. I wasted my emotional space with guilt of spending too much or too little on things, as well as fear of the same things.
My first realization that my definition of waste needed re-evaluating was after I did the “joy checking” to decluttered my clothes. After handling each piece of clothing and separated the ones that brought me joy and wanted to keep, I noticed they all had a similarity in the style and shape. All this time I had been searching for my “personal style” elsewhere, turns out were in my closet all along! I begin to love the way I dress. I can get ready in almost no time because everything I put on made me feel good. I stopped having the urge to shop. And even if I did, I knew exactly what style I should buy. If it happens to be on sale, super! If not, I was willing to pay full price if I know I truly love it, will happily wear it, and take good care of it.
I also started composting, storing the food scraps in a small container, kept in our freezer, and taking them to the local farmer’s market weekly where they collect them. By making this small change, our trashcan no longer smells bad or gets drippy. And the leftovers goes on to benefit the local farmers. I pay closer attention to the fruits and vegetables in the house, so I can soups and smoothies before they go bad. The same collection location also accepts used clothing to recycle the material. And I use the Give Back Box service to donate to Good Will.
My previous connection to waste was linked so much guilt and negative feelings. Now, I am more conscious shopper. I recycle and repurpose as much as I can. I actually enjoy my “waste” and the extra space in my home, the money I saved, and extra time to spend on the people and things I love.