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Simplicity and sustainability

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The Clean-Sweep

This month I am starting a 5 week series on the relationship between simplicity and sustainability.

This is not a lifestyle/organizing/homemaking/minimalist blog, but as I have grown in my understanding of sustainable gardening practices, major changes in my home have naturally followed and I will be sharing some ideas and resources that have informed the simplicity that compliments my environmental efforts so nicely.

The most obvious of these changes has been the amount of possessions I keep, or rather how much less I try to acquire. This covers my clothes, books, hobby and sports equipment, dishes, linens, tech gear, files… you name it.

Recently the Konmari method of decluttering has taken Pinterest by storm, along with minimalist and organizing blogs. The key message of Marie Kondo’s best-seller seems to be the popular “Only surround yourself with what you loooove“. This very detailed method, which gets to the nitty-gritty of how to fold your underwear, is an extreme and even controversial view of what it means to live simply.

The Treehugger article linked above takes a condemning view of minimizing in a world so unjust as to have refugees living stripped of all their possessions. While any of us reading this site and engaging in this discussion are certainly of the privileged few Martinko admonishes, my short response is that it is precisely because we are privileged to do so that we have a responsibility to make real changes in our lives that help us to focus on living more justly. Most of the influencers in the declutter/minimize camp seem to have this end – more socially and environmentally conscious living – in mind when offering up methods of simplifying.

So, moving on.

To build a system that makes the best use of my time and energy in order to live well and take care of my many blessings.

In contrast to the extreme, but likely very effective, Konmari method, I follow a more basic personal approach to simplifying drawn from Permaculture and the idea of stewardship: To build a system that makes the best use of my time and energy (Permaculture) in order to live well and take care of my many blessings (stewardship). This is a bit simplified, but perhaps another discussion on another day will follow to fill out my philosophy.

The practical application

So what does this look like in practice?

In our home it looks like your basic Spring Cleaning, with a bit of flexibility throughout the year.

My “Spring Clean” starts in January when the Christmas decorations come down, because that is when I feel like making a fresh start. I start with a list of household projects for the year, then I go back and look at the systems in place throughout the home. Chores, organization, storage, garden layout (very much a part of our living space), my growing child’s routine, and so on.

Sometimes these systems need amending. Sometimes I can identify frustrations that came up the previous year as signs that the system can be improved. Most often, the best change is the removal of something.

Something I keep moving around because it doesn’t quite fit.
Something I dust but never use.
Something I never wear but am storing.

If I worried about whether or not I looove something, I would make some wasteful and silly mistakes. Like throw out all the seed starting pots and containers I keep. Because they’re usually ugly. That would make no sense for my lifestyle.

I add practical changes to the very concrete home improvement list and then categorize them by room. Whichever room is closest to where I am sitting at the time is where I start!

There is no pressure to get it done all at once. We keep the list up in the kitchen and tick off items as we achieve them. It feels good and usually propels us to continue as we are able.

For example, this year’s list looks something like:

simplicity and sustainabilityKitchen:

Box up unnecessary pots and dishes
Remove plant stand
Take recycling
Remove picture and hang blind
Replace rusty toaster  Use oven to toast bread


Clear buffet surface
Sort linens to keep and linens to add to rag-bag
Clean out junk/odd utensil drawer
Replace broken drawer track


Clean cupboards and drawers
Take donations
Consolidate Reduce bags
Setup baby’s new (secondhand) cupboard
Under-bed shoe storage to protect from dust

Nothing overwhelming, though sometimes there are bigger changes on the list. Those big sweeps aren’t overwhelming either because we have personally recognized the need for change and we’re excited to make a move.

The take-away

The main thing I like about our system is that it is personal, not a prescription. We (and you can, too) just take a little intentional time to survey what we want out of the coming year and how we can better streamline our home-life in a peaceful way.

And we can now recommend this way because we have also tried the alternatives. Before marrying I tried out the different prescriptions; after marriage we even tried the extreme. It was stressful for some members of the family and that does not make for a peaceful home-life. It even upset the cats sometimes and, for us, those disapproving glares are unbearable.

If you like some of the other systems out there, like pushing through the nostalgia in one go, then go for it! (I liked them too, when it was just me). But if you are beginning to recognize a personal need for lifestyle changes and are not sure where to start, I hope our very low-stress approach encourages you to start with what you know best. Your immediate environment.

Have you recently become addicted to simplifying, too? What’s your approach?
Tell us in the comments below!

In the coming weeks I will explore more deeply the relationship between simplicity and sustainability within specific contextual examples. These will include household chores, personal style and grooming, children, and… the garden. Of course!

Margie is the founder of IG and is passionate about the therapeutic benefits of working with nature in the garden. She enjoys mangosteen, the rainy season, hammocks, and wild visitors in the garden.

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