Fair Trade Month : Minimalism

Fair Trade impacts everything: the environment, the development of impoverished communities, justice for the oppressed, and even, the simplicity and reclaiming of our lives and what "abundance" really means. 

Just before I left to study abroad in France over a year ago now, I had a slight panic as I sorted through what would come with me on the journey and what would be left behind. 

A giant black suitcase was nearly full in front of me. Jeans, sweaters, books I couldn't fathom to live without for a few months. The space was becoming less and less, and I thought to myself, "How am I going to get by without more coats and tops?"

I had a few pair of pants. A couple sweaters. A black and a white top. Minimalism wasn't my initial plan when thinking about how fashionable I wanted to be while traveling Europe, but it happened organically as I learned the power of living with less so I could see and become more. 

Travelling with less meant going farther. It meant hopping on a plane with my olive green backpack and not caring that my jeans may have been dirty or I may end up outfit repeating. I was traveling Europe. I was ooh-ing and ahh-ing at this big world's crazy beauty. Did I care if someone would notice that my shirt was the same one I had on the day before? Absolutely not. Do I look back on my travels and think, "If only I was dressed in cuter clothes?" Definitely not. 

Returning back to the U.S. and my giant closet, I felt the weight of everything I thought I had needed. I got back to my room and couldn't believe all I had collected. Holding on to physical stuff is also holding on to old ideas, old ways of thinking and being, and my initial biggest fear: what happens when I choose to just let things go?

I started to look at my clothes and the sheer amount of stuff that I buy. Why had I made the choice to make these purchases? Most of the time, I didn't need what I was buying. Most of the time, I saw an ad. I received an email about an amazing deal I thought I couldn't pass up. I saw beautiful girls with cool styles that look happy and put together and I wanted that too. When we look at why we make our choices, we have to be honest and willing to see if it's for us and what contributes to our best self, or if it's for others and what we think will make us look like we are our best self. 

I think often, what is essential to my being? My goodness, it's so very little. Kind friends. Good conversation. Faith and dedication to living for something bigger than myself. Days for my own solitude and reflection. Time outside when the sun is bright or covered. Food that makes me feel strong. Love that humbles me. When I think of what I value, stuff that makes me look good is never written on my list. Cute clothes that take up all the space in my apartment, is never what comes to the forefront of my mind. But how many times do we ignore our true values to look the part of a role we don't even want to play?

This newfound truth has let me pull away from always needing something. I also think long and hard before I make a purchase. Do I absolutely need this? Is the quality of the item reflective of the quality of the life that created it? How many do I already have? (Anyone else guilty of having five black V-necks??)

As people, we fear not having enough. That somehow it's linked to not being enough. We live in this culture that has changed how we view an abundant life. Despite what society preaches at us: no amount of things will make you feel full in your life. It's not the amount of stuff you can show, but how much you can give, be apart of, and grow. It's all of our essential truth that what we really need is within us when we quiet the noises and pressures of society. Sure, we need to wear clothes and have basic household and toiletry items, but beyond that, we need so very little.

Minimalism and becoming a conscious consumer allows us to make room for what is important. It puts less focus on material possessions. It allows us to slow down and ask questions to the massive corporations we are buying from. Are the workers being treated fairly? Do I know the origin of my purchases? Where is my clothing made and where is my money going once I buy it? We can begin to ask these questions of everything we buy: food, coffee, beauty products, household items, and more. We can love what we have and care for it. We can be part of a culture that reflects equal opportunity, empowerment, and gratitude. Every purchase has an impact so when we ensure that the impact is building and supporting, not oppressing and exploiting, we are helping re-shape the world we've watched fall so far away from it's true potential.

Ashley Ayala