As January rolls in with its new year resolutions, think of adding a household detox to the list.
Our splurge over the season was estimated by Retail Ireland at €2,700 per household. That adds up to €4.65bn for the celebrations. On the other side of the equation, we generate 7,500 tons of rubbish a day, and dump 220,000 tonnes of clothing a year. Stuff goes in, waste comes out.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the trends suggest that the more money we have, the more things we buy, and many of these become waste within a relatively short time.
“The environmental impact of buying so much stuff is huge,” says James Wallman, author of the 2013 book Stuffocation, an eloquent plea to cut back consumption. “For every bag of rubbish you put out, another 70 bags of waste have been created to make the goods that filled your bag.”
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It’s familiar territory to architect Roisin Murphy, the driving force behind RTE’s Home Rescue, and the woman who has purged many an overstuffed home.
“When we go to people’s houses, they think they’re going to get storage. But we’re trying to encourage them not to buy,” she says. “And to think of the end use of what they do buy – how it will decay or how they will get rid of it. The decluttering of landfill.”
Clothing is the worst offender in Irish households, she says. The recommendation is a metre-wide wardrobe and a small chest of drawers per person. Any more just encourages clutter.
It also creates problems for the planet. The fashion industry is responsible for 10pc of greenhouse gases globally and, after fossil fuels, is the next largest polluter. On top of that, textiles make up 10pc of the black bin, and with 60pc of a garment made of synthetic fibres, takes as long to decompose in landfill as a plastic bottle. So think beyond decluttering to recycling your cast-offs.
A clearout does more than create space. Marie Kondo, aka the Queen of Decluttering, talks about keeping only the things that ‘spark joy’, but letting go is a bigger high. “It is such a weight off,” says Murphy, “it’s like you believe in the future. You’re not just holding onto things.”
According to Wallman, there is a direct connection between the clutter that silts up our homes and the state of our mental health. He refers to a US study that proved “that the more women feel stress and talk about their homes as being cluttered, the more likely they are to have a more depressed mood as the day wears on and at the end of the day”.
“The evidence is clear, the case is closed,” he says. “If you want to be happier, you should spend less on stuff, more on experiences.”
Why do we buy so much? Anne Ryan, author of Enough Is Plenty, explains it like this – consumerism tells you that when you’re overworked or over-stretched, feeling down or bored, treating yourself to something new will help. “But that rarely meets the deeper need you have, which may be a need for rest, or for care, or for a listening ear, for example.”
Time to welcome the latest concept imported from our Scandi friends – lagom. It means “Not too little. Not too much. Just right.” They apply it to work-life balance, to interiors, the environment and to how they spend their money and it is the philosophy behind their famously equitable social democracy.
Of course, we used to have that concept in Ireland too. As Ryan reminds me, ‘go leor’ in Irish, or galore, means ‘enough’, but also ‘plenty’. The idea was eclipsed as shopping became a national past-time.
Yet the climate crisis has brought an urgent need to revisit the idea. “What helps individuals cope well with the world,” says Ryan, “is also good for the Earth and for society at large. If we apply the concept of ‘enough’ to our health, finances and personal energy, we automatically restrict the kinds of damage we might be unwittingly doing in the wider world.”
How to declutter
1 Give it away. Top offenders in Irish homes are clothes and furniture. Dumping them in landfill creates unnecessary waste. Use websites such as freetradeireland.ie, freecycle.org or freetrade.ie to donate.
2 Repair, reuse, recycle it. All sorts of initiatives are springing up to give waste a second life. At The Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun, for example, there are workshops to upcycle clothes, paint, furniture and bicycles with more planned for 2020 including a repair café where electric goods, among other things, can be fixed.
3 Sell it. Try websites such as adverts.ie or donedeal.ie, and car boot sales on Collectireland.com.
- Bored withyour clothes? Don’t splurge, join a clothes rental site such as thenuwardrobe.com
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