I feel paralyzed by all the problems in the world. What do I do?

I know I’m not alone with my feelings of paralysis when faced with depressing news story after news story. Between climate change, mass extinction, pollution, homelessness, loss of human rights, and murders, all I want to do is curl up in a ball and lay in bed. There are just too many problems for one person to tackle, and I just don’t have the emotional or mental energy to read and learn these topics every single day. But, it doesn’t mean that we each can’t do something. Or do one thing at least. So where do we start?

1. Watch documentaries to inspire and educate yourself about important topics without making it feel like “work”. Surprisingly, Netflix has stocked its virtual shelves with high quality documentaries and docuseries. Instead of binging on mindless tv, put your free time to good use. Some of my favorites include “Dirty Money”, David Attenborough’s “A Life on our Planet”, “Minimalism”, “Explained”, “Our Planet”, “The Keepers”, “Down to Earth”, “Drugs, Inc”, etc., etc….

2. Donate to a worthy cause. This might just be the easiest and quickest thing to do that can make a positive impact on the planet and in someone else’s life. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount either, most websites and charities will gratefully accept donations in any amount. Pick a topic that is particularly close to your heart, do a little online research, and then make a donation via their website. If you want to check the legitimacy of a charity, Charity Navigator is a good place to look.

3. Meditate. When I find myself feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed, I stop what I’m doing and take a few minutes to breathe deeply and center myself. Meditating helps remind us that everything is perfect in this moment, and that we are not our thoughts. I find that I’m more equipped to handle the stressors of the world and stay focused on what I can do instead of what I can’t do when I regularly practice meditation. This helps me lead a more meaningful life, improve my self-control, know that I am enough, and I have more than enough.

4. Next time you need to buy something, try to pick a more sustainable, local option. Remember, each dollar you spend is like casting a vote. You can either vote for the corporate, polluting option or you can be resourceful and creative and choose the local, sustainable option. Yes, it’s easier to click “buy it now” on Amazon, but it’s better to shop local, shop small, and shop green. It’s also more fun! Etsy and Ebay are two of my favorite options for buying handmade and second-hand items and for supporting individuals rather than big companies. Just because you buy it from Amazon or Target doesn’t mean it’s cheaper than buying small and local. The corporations try to trick us into thinking theirs is the best and most affordable, but it’s just another marketing ploy to get you to spend money in their stores. In fact, I would argue that buying local, small and sustainable is actually the better option because you will generally get higher quality items that will last longer and keep the money in the local economy, instead of padding the already well-lined pocketbooks of the mega-rich.

7 Tips for a Sustainable Closet

(Here I am wearing a vintage silk kimono that I purchased from a second-hand shop in Iceland with my favorite merino wool camisole from Rambler’s Way)

  • Avoid white or light colors. Not only will you have to wash them more often but they also show and retain stains more than darker colors. This means that if they’re polyester they will be releasing micro bits of plastic into the water with every wash and they will inevitably have a shorter shelf life than that same item in black.
  • Avoid purchasing clothes that are not made from natural fibers. Not only are polyester and rayon made from plastic (ew!), but human-made materials also retain scents more than those that come directly from nature. Wool, bamboo, and hemp are all naturally anti-bacterial and therefore smell a lot better for longer. Silk, too is surprisingly scent-resistant, even for someone like me that sweats and exercises a lot.
  • Avoid prints and florals in human-made materials as they tend to fade more quickly and look cheap.
  • If you’re like me and love to wear a lot of black (see bullet point #1), avoid items made out of darkly dyed cotton (t-shirts, jeans) as they tend to fade quickly. Instead, opt for black clothes in silk, wool or bamboo which retain their lovely richness wash after wash. I personally love black linen clothes (due to it being a loose-weave cotton fabric), but I minimize purchasing them since they too will fade over time.
  • Reduce how much you use your washing machine. Between this time-saving appliance alone, your clothes go through a literal wringer. Not only does using a washing machine for one year use the average amount of water that one person will drink in their lifetime, but unless you’re using biodegradable soap, you are also polluting the water reservoir with nasty chemicals. Since most of the clothes I own now are made of natural materials and are therefore more delicate, I tend to hand wash them in the sink with room temperature water using Eucalan- a soap that is safe for all fabrics and doesn’t require any rinsing. This might sound like a lot of work, but it’s really easy for me to fill up my bathroom sink with water, put in a capful of Eucalan and let the item soak for as long as I feel is necessary (a completely arbitrary amount of time).
  • Reduce how much you use your dryer. Your electrical bill will thank you, and your clothes will have a nice, fresh smell if you hang them up outside or on your porch instead of drying them. Also, hang-drying ensures absolutely no shrinkage and eliminates the need to purchase dryer-sheets! Yes, it takes a few minutes extra to hang them up instead of toss the bundle in the dryer, but now that it’s part of my normal laundry routine, I barely even think twice about it. This way also reduces the existence of wrinkles since everything is hanging up to begin with and doesn’t get forgotten in a twisted mess in the dryer.
  • Buy second-hand whenever possible and avoid fast-fashion. Lucky for you and me, it’s now trendy and socially acceptable to buy used clothing. Gone are the negative associations with thrift-stores, ’cause vintage is in, baby! Levi’s even came out recently with a new second-hand store where they’re re-selling old jeans and jackets, and they will accept your used, and even damaged items at select stores and give you a gift card in exchange. Considering that denim is one of the most water-intensive fabrics to create and dye, this is a major win for your pocket book and the planet. See my other post for more great places to shop secondhand.

Marie Kondo Changed My Life

Full disclosure: perhaps like many of you, I had heard of this book in passing but was skeptical about the snippets I caught about “touching an object to see if it gives you joy” and “folding your socks in a way that lets them rest”. Eye roll. But then my cousin told me how after reading the book she managed to donate six bags of clothes. I had been feeling for some time (my whole life?) that I had too many clothes, and it stressed me out, so this caught my attention in a way that I couldn’t shake.

Shortly after she told me this, I logged onto my Overdrive app and downloaded the audio book at no extra cost(!) thanks to my library membership, and started listening. About 20% of the way in, I couldn’t help myself and got to work going through my closets. They were already fairly lean, so I was no where close to having 130 shirts/tops, for example, that the author, Marie Kondo states is the average for her clients; but I nevertheless managed to get rid of two bags of clothes, shoes, and accessories. Next, was reorganizing my closets per her directions. I wish I had taken a before picture, but here are the “after” photos (ignore the pile of dirty laundry in the corner-I’ve since started folding them like the crazy Kondo-method convert I’ve become):

Other than my work-out clothes, coats, shoes, and undergarments that are stored in another location, these are the only clothes that I now own! And, look, there is actually space between the hangers and room for me to hang up my backpack inside. Previously, they were jam-packed together and organized by work clothes in one closet and leisure/other in the second closet. Now, they’re organized by type of clothes, with the longer/heavier ones on the left, with the shorter/lighter garments moving towards the right side of the closet. I can’t tell you how much I love opening up my closet now! I no longer cringe upon turning the door handle, or have feelings of guilt about having too many clothes.

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Pre-Kondo, this drawer was overflowing to the extent that I couldn’t shut it. Now it’s neatly organized and the top easily closes! I am so proud.

An unexpected benefit of only having items of clothes that inspire joy is that I’m wearing more of my clothes now. I can finally see everything that I own, and I’m excited to wear all of them. Not to mention, that the urge to go shopping has completely dissipated– something I didn’t think would ever happen. And when I eventually acquire a new item (it’s inevitable, I’m only 30), you can bet I’m going to be extremely selective about what I bring into my haven of organization.

Kondo’s only metric for keeping or discarding an item is as follows: does it inspire joy? and will it make you happier by owning it? If the answer is yes, keep it. If no, then give or throw it away. Indeed, the only rule that you need to live by is the one you make for yourself. The only measure is your happiness. When was the last time you were given that freedom? Forget the rule of: “if you haven’t worn or used it in a year, toss it.” If owning 100 books inspires joy for you, then fill up your closets with leafy texts. If stilettos are your source of glee, then stack those shoeboxes to the ceiling. However, if any one of those books or shoes inspire an emotion other than joy, you’ve got to toss it to the curb.

I’m not going to tell you that it’s an easy process. In fact, I was seriously exhausted from a combination of decision fatigue and lugging boxes up from my basement. But, it was 100% worth it this morning to experience the feeling of taking the below containers (bags of clothes not pictured-I’m saving them for an upcoming clothing swap) to the thrift store.

Kondo helpfully provides detailed instructions for which categories of items in your home to start with (first, clothes; then, books, papers, misc., and finally, sentimental mementos) and then gets into the nitty gritty tips and guidelines that will guide you in sorting through the items for each category. Trust the process and follow her method; I can tell you from personal experience that it works. I completed going through the final category last night and managed to get rid of half of my photo albums and photos. I no longer felt obligated to keep photos of extended family members or people that were no longer important in my life. #SorryNotSorry

The “before” picture is on the left and the “after: picture of what I discarded is on the right. I manged to toss my old yearbooks, random small photo albums, old scrapbooks, and a huge pile of photos that did not inspire joy in me. This part was especially emotionally draining as I re-lived the whole spectrum of old emotions, and then pointedly decided to let them go.

 

In the chapter covering the “memento” category, Kondo reminds the reader of the importance of living in the present, and that if the memories were truly special and important, then we don’t need photographs to remember them. Old letters and cards fall into this category, too. I re-read greeting cards from friends and family members, and then only kept the ones that gave me particularly happy feelings, and were special enough to hold on to and take up valuable real estate in my house. As a result, I actually took the time last night to look through my newly improved photo album and enjoyed each and every photo, since it was now filled with pictures that fill me with joy.

The other reason that this book is so aptly named “life-changing” is that Kondo insists that her clients group all of the items of a particular category (clothes, books, papers, batteries, etc.) in one specific location in their home. This has three purposes.

  1. You will easily be able to find your possessions and you will rarely misplace items again! After I completed my round of tidying up, I found at least three “missing” items that I hadn’t been able to find in months.
  2. You will know exactly what you have on hand, which translates into avoiding over-buying or repeat-buying of a certain item.
  3. You will be able to monitor and control the accumulation of objects in that category and cut yourself off before it gets too late and you have stuff that isn’t giving you joy.

In conclusion, I can’t stress the value of this book and its principles enough. You will truly be shocked about how much money, time, and stress you will save if you put her methods into practice.  Your physical space will be clear and you will have room to live out your values in the way that works best for you.

Tidy away and let me know how it goes!

-Abi