There seems to be so many different aspects to living the Tiny Life. There’s all these different ideas to understand that are differently defined yet inherently linked to each other. There’s intentional living, sustainable living, white space, minimalism, the slow movement, I’m sure there are more. Every time I do some research on one of these aspects, I feel like I should be doing more, getting rid of more, thinking more, buying more local, creating more of my own clothing, eating healthier, and at the same time going slower. I’m exhausted thinking about it. And of course, everyone online is doing it perfectly. Or so it seems.
Maybe you’ve felt that way too. It all stems from my desire to live an ethical and compassionate life, a life that causes no harm to others, that treats our natural world with respect and takes responsibility for my own choices. But when trying to incorporate new and better philosophies and strategies into our lives, we discover the contradictions or the subtleties in our decisions that we had never considered before and it throws us into discomfort. We start to refine our core values and they may turn out to be different than you were hoping.
First off, let me start by defining some terms that keep coming up, intertwined with each other.
Intentional Living: living a life in which decisions are made based on your core values and beliefs.
Minimalism: Not having more than you need; the art of letting go of material goods.
Sustainable Living: reducing your global footprint by buying locally and ethically, by reusing and creating more; not contributing to the greater profit of companies and destruction of the planet.
Slow Living: A lifestyle that emphasizes a slow approach to all aspects of our life, an appreciation for every aspect of the creation of something, ex. food or clothing.
White Space (or Negative Space): taken from a design point of view, the space in our lives that is “empty” of the chaos that our world throws at us; the space in which our lives are fulfilled.
When we first started out on this journey to the Tiny Life, we had aspirations to include many of these aspects in our lives. It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? A life in which there is no waste, no excess consumption, no mindless clutter, and time to do the things that nourish us and give us purpose. But as we get further and further, we are coming up against some philosophical questions about what are core values are.
Here are a couple of examples that illustrate my point. Soldier Boy decided that today would be a good day to minimize the kitchen. Not the food, just the tools and utensils, down to the essentials. (Soldier Boy is the cook in the household so the kitchen has always been considered his domain.) The kitchen in our city house is quite small compared to single-family home standards and it’s old. It hasn’t been redecorated since it was built in the 7o’s (so it has that awesome brown and cream palette going on), which means it doesn’t have a lot of storage space and the storage space it does have isn’t the most efficient. So our kitchen has always been badly organized and has had a feeling of exploding at all times. Working from a list of essential items compiled from several different lists found online, he started sorting and tossing.
But here comes the issue. He said, “We need to keep all the extra cutlery because we host the Christmas family gathering every four years.” (My immediate family alone has 14 people in it.) Most of the stuff in our kitchens IS used at some point. Extra serving spoons, serving dishes, extra salt and pepper shakers, baking supplies. But is it worth keeping for only once a year at most? We decided to get rid of it and we would opt for purchasing some high-quality disposable plastic cutlery just for the occasion. But then we’ve just decided to increase our global footprint by consuming plastic that cannot be recycled. And then, after we’ve used it, should we keep it so it doesn’t go in the landfill? Because that would just add more “stuff” to our house again. See the vicious cycle? Maybe we should simply not host any more than six guests at our house ever again.
Here’s another example. Last night I watched a movie on the fast fashion industry called The True Cost. I started over-thinking the new rain jacket I just bought. Does MEC have a socially fair policy when it comes to its factories in the third world? How can I make sure that my coat didn’t contribute to someone else’s slavery? But I really needed a raincoat. I got rid of the coat that I’d had for eight years that I had been wearing, to equalize the new purchase in my closet, but now what happens to this old coat if it doesn’t get sold at the 2nd-hand store?
We would love to lower our carbon footprint while being off-grid at the cabin but with the lack of running water, it’s easier and brings me more peace of mind to use the disposable Clorox wipes to clean the kitchen of allergens and bacteria from raw meat.
I mentioned to Soldier Boy tonight as we went grocery shopping how I would like to get back a healthier and more ethical way of eating. But the truth is while I am working full-time and he can’t drive (due to his third ankle surgery), I just don’t have the time or energy to go hunting for locally grown foods nor am I willing to pay the extra money for food labelled organic, knowing the issues surrounding labelling laws. We also need to consider the work involved in creating these healthy and ethical recipes. They often involve far more work than just boiling rice. Frankly, by the time I’m home from work and finished walking the dogs, it’s about 7:30 – 8 pm and I’m so wiped that I could just go to bed without eating.
This lifestyle is a considerable shift in thinking. It’s not an easy change, though it is worthwhile. It’s hard to become a minimalist and not increase your global footprint at the same time as you discard items. It’s hard to live a sustainable life if you don’t keep all the items you need to do so. It’s hard to make ethical choices in this world AND have time to do the things you love when working a more than full-time job. And if living an intentional life means making time for doing things you love, what if those things you love have a lot of tools and equipment? I have an entire closet filled with knitting and sewing items. Which means I can make my own clothing and not contribute to ruthless fast fashion industry but also means I need to keep a lot of stuff in order to do that effectively. I’ve started to feel that to do any of these lifestyles properly, one has to be independently wealthy as well as retired.
See the conundrum?
And it’s possible (though uncommon) to be a minimalist but not live sustainably in the same way you can live intentionally but have tonnes of stuff. But you rarely find any of these without mention of the others because they share a common value. I believe they are all different yet related ways that we seek true happiness. According to the Dalai Lama, happiness does not come from loving things. We cultivate it within ourselves and it comes from loving and helping others. It isn’t something given to us by others nor do we get it from objects.
While I would like to partake of all of these lifestyles in their entirety, as with anything, we each need to find our balance between them. For now, I do the best I can. I can donate items. I can buy local honey, local vegetables when in season, and local meat. I can make a conscious decision to buy or not buy. I can make space in my life for the things that recharge, inspire and fulfill me. I can prioritize, reflect, and weigh the outcomes. And every day I try a little harder, I try something new, I try to be a better human in this crazy, crazy world. And because of it, I can honestly reflect on my life and say, “I am happy.”