Zero Impact Goals has been silent for the past few weeks, and I’m sorry about that.
I’ve just moved from Tokyo, Japan back to my childhood home in Massachusetts, USA after three years of living and working in Tokyo. This has been a huge adjustment for me, not just because of the move itself, but also because I have had to confront all of the stuff I have accumulated over the past three years.
My problem with Minimalism
When I set out to create this blog, I never considered myself a minimalist, despite how often the minimalist and environmentalist communities overlap. To me, minimalism was always associated with the tastefully bare designs of MUJI or a slightly scaled up Ikea, but always inescapably tied to some form of consumerism. I saw minimalism as a design aesthetic, rather than a lifestyle. And I wasn’t interested in the hypocrisy of purchasing stuff to give the impression that I had less stuff, you know?
“I saw minimalism as a design aesthetic, rather than a lifestyle.”
Through my experience moving out of my Tokyo apartment, however, I had my minimalist epiphany. Despite what Pinterest or Instagram had led me to believe, minimalism is less about the beautiful natural wood and plain white porcelain aesthetics, (duh!) and more about being intentional about what material things you bring into your life, choosing them for their usefulness in your particular lifestyle, and not because it’s the latest thing.
Confronting the mess
The thing about moving is, it sucks. Hard. This is no less true for my tiny Tokyo apartment. In the three years I had lived in this 21 meter squared space, you would not believe the amount of stuff I had accumulated. In my misguided attempt to make it feel like home I thought filling it with my stuff would do the trick. So when it came to the end of my time in Japan, I found myself dealing with a seemingly infinite amount of clothes, shoes, spices, dishes, hobby thingamajigs, furniture, and on and on. Minimalism suddenly made sense to me. Luckily for me, and perhaps for us all, moving offers us a chance to wipe the slate clean. The task then simplified to figuring out whether I could give any of my stuff away to someone who would use it, and if so, to whom.
Trying to Reuse in Japan
My goal for trying to sell or give away things rather than just throw them out was to extend the lifespan of each item, and hopefully prevent it from languishing in a landfill when there was someone who would get additional use from it. However, in selling/giving away nearly all of my earthly possessions, I discovered an unforeseen difficulty; Japanese people, in general, do not like to purchase or own secondhand items. This shocked me, especially because of the reputation Japan has for being such an environmentally-friendly country and the rise of thrift-store fashion in trendy places like Harajuku. I have heard all sorts of reasons for this squeamishness, everything from Shinto theology to superstition to materialism, and I will not attempt to guess why this is true. Nevertheless, I had the hardest time trying to sell or give away anything to recycle shops in Tokyo. One particularly egregious example is of a secondhand furniture company, who tried to charge me $100 for them to dispose of (not re-sell!) a basically new couch simply because it was not an import brand. I ended up giving most things away to friends or other westerners in Japan who weren’t put off by secondhand goods.
Back in the land of Capitalism
So, spoiler altert- I eventually made it back to the old US of A. I’ve been here for about two weeks now, and although I’m still adjusting to both the time zone and the reverse culture shock, I have been able to keep my possessions to a minimum (so far) and have added some sustainable habits, such as composting, to my routine here that I was unable to do in Japan. Hopefully now that I’m back I’ll be able to post more regular updates to this blog, so please keep checking back. I will speak to you soon!