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How to Change the World by Rethinking Your Perspective

“I believe that examining the hidden impacts of all the Stuff in our lives is a way to unplug, which is the first step toward changing things.” ~Annie Leonard

A few days ago I started reading the Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. I haven’t finished the book yet, but so far it rocks. The book prompted me to think about why I write and why simple living is important.

I write to help others, to constantly reevaluate my own beliefs and to be part of a community. I started this blog as a personal journal and to rethink my world view. My goal is to create social change through simple living. A social movement of people who are living simple, authentic and uncluttered lives.

It’s my hope that the writing on this blog will inspire you to join a movement of change and to rethink your perspective on life, community and relationships. This blog has never been about scolding or trying to make you feel bad. Rather, I want to foster a community where we focus on positive change and how we can help others. Further, my hope is that you will question the status quo, your consumption choices and your world view.

I worked in the movement to end violence against women for over 10 years, in a variety of capacities. I provided counseling services to rape and domestic violence victims, did research and public policy advocacy. During that time, I learned a lot about what it takes to sustain a vibrant, fully inclusive movement for change. Most problems (like violence against women) are systemic and are connected to the economy, public health and the rights afforded to women across the globe. More importantly I learned that we are all connected.

I think it’s important for activists in any movement for change to examine problems from a holistic perspective. I consider myself to be a systems thinker. System thinking means considering an issue’s effects on broader systems, like the economy, the environment and public health. That’s part of the reason I write about such a broad variety of topics, from downsizing to living a car-free life. Money, jobs, and people operate within systems. How we chose to live our lives and whether or not we’re involved in our community has a huge impact on broader social systems.

Below are some of my overarching beliefs about simple living, why I think it’s an important concept and how simple living can change your life for the better.

1. Saying “no” to the wasteful consumption habits will bring happiness and health to your life.

Like Annie, I am not against stuff. I’m against mindless consumption and trashing of the planet. Our choices matter and your dollar counts as a vote. I think it’s essential that we share products and are mindful to weigh the true cost of an item against the potential benefits.

Stuff isn’t inherently bad. When I purchase stuff, I buy from local artisans, thrift stores and ask questions about where things are made and by whom. Rather than mindlessly consuming and then throwing things out, I think we should value stuff, share stuff, repair stuff and truly appreciate who created the item.

In the end, I think it’s about questioning what is “enough” and what we really “need” to be happy and healthy. Study after study shows that once our basic needs are met, more stuff doesn’t bring us happiness. In fact, it often leads to depression. Saying “no” to consumption and getting off the work, sleep, eat, shop, repeat treadmill will bring an incredible amount of happiness and satisfaction into your life.

2. Doing what you love will give you an opportunity to help others.

Open your own doors. It’s so easy to let the lizard brain get the best of us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can make beautiful art and make a difference. Even if you aren’t 100% happy with your job, there has to be at least one area of your position where you feel you can make a difference and help others.

If not, you can do something. Consider sharing your ideas on a blog, volunteering or spending more time with your friends and family. The little things in life can bring us more joy than we realize.

3. Everything is connected.

It’s hard to talk about lifestyle design when we know that:

Living a simple and authentic life allows people to focus on helping others. The statistics I mentioned above are more than numbers. These are real people who need help. Simple living is about more than tiny homes or learning how to live clutter free. For me simple living is about social change. The movement is about holistically examining the money economy, the materials economy and our health. Everything is connected.

4. Be happy with what you have.

If you lost everything today, who would you be? If you couldn’t do the work you love, what would you be known for? Are you happy with what you have and the life you are leading? Or are you looking to make a change?

I think we all need to embrace change. Changing our behavior isn’t easy, but I think it’s something that has to be discussed. We can’t ignore pertinent conversations about capitalism and the amount of resources used by Americans everyday. I think we can live a good, authentic and intentional life without consuming so much stuff.

5. Reading will open your mind.

Reading a variety of material is one way to open your mind to different perspectives. Changing behavior isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen over night. I’m still sucked into consumer tendencies. However, I’m able to keep them at bay by not watching TV and reading as much as possible.

Without books, amazing blogs and indie newspapers my perspective would have stayed static. I wouldn’t have learned about the benefits of simple living or the interconnected nature of so many important issues. I’m far from perfect and always look for ways to expand my horizon and knowledge base.

6. Getting connected to your community will improve the world.

I truly believe connecting to a like minded community and being open to different perspectives will improve the world. We can’t create any kind of movement without community or the ability to listen to opposing viewpoints. You might not agree with me and that’s okay. However, the conversation has to start somewhere. Conversations about improvements must happen in active, engaged communities.

I think we can move away from fragmented solutions to many social ills and move toward comprehensive change. For that to happen people need to get involved in the political process, voice their opinion and use their privilege for good.

If you are reading this, you have access to resources that can open up new and amazing worlds. What are you going to do with that opportunity? How are you going to improve the world with your next decision?


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  • Karol Gajda March 16, 2010, 7:00 am

    A friend of mine sent me a link to The Story of Stuff about 2 years ago. I think that was the beginning of my minimalist transformation. I didn’t realize there’s a book out now. Do I buy it and have more stuff? hehe, kidding 🙂

    • Tammy March 16, 2010, 7:05 am

      @Karol – LOL. Well if it makes you feel better the book is made of some really cool reusable stuff. 🙂

      In the introduction Annie talked about how she was hesitant to write the book because it would produce more “stuff.” Right now I’m on the section about how books are processed. It’s incredible how many resources are used to create paper in the U.S.

  • Chris O'Byrne March 16, 2010, 7:02 am

    This is an amazing post, Tammy, and really gets me thinking. I am especially moved by #4-Be happy with what you have. I am a huge fan of Byron Katie and your line (If you lost everything today, who would you be?) reminds me of her work. I ask myself this question every time I think I am risking something. What is the worst that can happen? Even if I lost EVERYTHING, I would still be all right. Everyone is capable of greatness in any moment and it is only fear that keeps them from it. The idea that only certain people have talent and can achieve greatness is silly. We are already great, it is just a matter of removing the obstacle (usually fear) that hides it.

    • Tammy March 16, 2010, 7:10 am

      Thanks Chris! 🙂 I haven’t read Byron Katie’s work. I don’t know where I heard that line (probably on twitter). But it’s so true – about fear and talent.

      I had such a hard time writing this post. So I’m glad you liked it. 🙂

      • George Pomonis February 17, 2011, 11:06 am

        I don’t know where this came from but I really do like it: “Fear is the thief of dreams.”

  • Chelsea March 16, 2010, 7:37 am

    I’m excited to read her book. I’ve been hearing great reviews. But my pledge this year is to only buy books that I can’t get at my library. The good news: my library has her book The bad news: there are 30 some people on the list ahead of me! Hurry up and read fast folks.

    I also think the bit about what would you miss most if you lost everything is so important. My best friend lost their family home (where they grew up) with almost all the contents several years ago. They miss most their keepsakes–photos–old family blankets etc. but the vast majority of items weren’t missed at all.

  • Alejandro Reyes March 16, 2010, 8:04 am

    This list is the result of change, I bet some years ago you would never dream of having a blog like this or to be able to write something as meaningful as this list.

    I think one of the most important things that you mention is how everything is connected. It is a concept that has been long forgotten, I’m not sure why, but for some reason we started to split things up in different groups and thought about this groups as separate. The truth is that, as we have been saying, even a small action can lead to huge change. That of course goes for good and bad, but why would we choose to do bad if good leads to happiness?

  • Shane March 16, 2010, 9:12 am

    Wow! Best post ever! My favorite aspect of your posts are that you balance living a sustainable lifestyle without being an extremist. Those of us that live in between tribes, one foot in consumption and another in conservation, feel a greater connection when it’s not all about extremism. Similar to trying to turn an oil tanker, it’s all about small course corrections that will eventually turn the mammoth ship. Please keep posting your great course corrections! The consumption engine is large and the sooner we can make meaningful change, the less painful it will be when the true challenges come.

  • Chris O'Byrne March 16, 2010, 9:18 am

    Shane, thanks for your comment. I’m in the same place as you, one foot in consumption, the other in conservation. I believe that simplicity and minimalism is the way to go, but for reasons related to my family situation, I must tread both paths simultaneously. Posts like this and comments like yours help me to know that I’m on the right path and that it’s okay to not be extremist. Thank you.

  • Meira March 16, 2010, 10:04 am

    Love your article. It is so true that everyone needs to simplify their lifestyle. Right now i just bought a home and just moving in i’ve noticed that i have a ton of junk! As i work on making my house as energy efficient and eco friendly as possible i am going to throw away or donate as much of my stuff as possible.
    I’ve also been car free for the past six years, i usually car-pool with my family that lives only a few homes away from me and if it’s local i usually bike ride or walk. I’m sure there is a ton of improvements that i could implement but it’s going to take me time as i repair the 60 year old home that is in disrepair, but for the Indie, minimalist lifestyle that i am trying to live it’s the perfect place. 🙂

  • Gypsy March 16, 2010, 11:30 am

    This is a wonderful post … I have ordered Annie’s book from our library (love the library!) and am really looking forward to reading it.

  • Crafty Green poet March 16, 2010, 12:53 pm

    Excellent post, I think your point about systems and holistic approaches is vital. It’s all too easy to have things cut off in separate compartments and forget how everything really is interconnected.

  • Diana March 16, 2010, 2:58 pm

    Hi! I recently found your website as I am preparing to move back to the U.S. from South Korea where I’ve lived for the last three years. I am not really that excited about moving “home” because I love living in another country (there are personal, family health reasons for the move), but I’ve been downright petrified about my return to extreme consumerist culture (Korea is also consumerist, but in different ways… and being an “outsider” in the culture makes it easier to just say “no”). I wanted to thank you, because your blog (and others) have convinced me that I CAN live in America and choose to live a different lifestyle–one based on the social principles I care about and not so focused on stuff. I’m at the beginning of this journey, but I hope to continue being inspired by your writing and (now) your book rec. Have a wonderful day!

    • Lori March 13, 2011, 12:11 pm

      First, I’d like to say that I’m sorry have moved back for personal, family health reasons since this is almost to the day a year later. Hopefully things worked out for the best. With that said, I feel that this is the “safest” time to be able to move back and not feel pressured into the “consumerism of old” mindset…Wow, the 80’s were “the old”. It is comforting to be a part of a movement to mimimizing and live realistically, whether it be out of neccesity or choice. My reason is both. What I’m also trying to say is that NOW it is less noticable if one doesn’t keep up with the “excess consumers” and if it IS noticable, people respect it more.
      I hope you are settled in and enjoying life back “home”.
      I never knew how hard it was for my parents when we moved to different states and then overseas to Germany and back for thirteen years since my dad was in the Air Force because I was so young but I think there was a different mindset back then. Some people moved light and others (like my family) moved everything and I think I know the reason; because wherever we moved, my mom wanted us to feel like it was a home whether we lived somewhere for a year, three years, or ten years (which is the longest we lived somewhere-in MT-before my dad retired). And, like you, we would probably still be there if it weren’t for health reason back “home” in Pennsylvania.
      Welcome home!

  • Vanessa March 16, 2010, 2:59 pm

    Awesome post. I really connect with everything you’re saying. The Story of Stuff is a great eye opener for understanding how rampant our consumption is. I’ve only recently been getting involved with my community and you’re right, I find new awesome people who have the same passions and desires and we can collaborate and share and inspire! It feels great. I’m working on my own blog which will also be my journey towards self-sustainability and living a healthier, happier life. Your words and lifestyle are truly encouraging. Thank you =)

    • Tammy March 16, 2010, 5:51 pm

      Thank you everyone for leaving a comment! I’m super pumped that you found the post helpful. 🙂

  • Zengirl @ happy heart and mind March 16, 2010, 6:58 pm

    It is very interesting and as I too wrote about the story of stuff, without being aware today you also wrote it. Interesting. She has a new video out and a few more coming up, new one is called “cap and trade”. Amazing stuff…we need to be better at living sustainable or reality is gloomy.

  • Tyron March 16, 2010, 9:49 pm

    I haven’t read The Story of Stuff yet, I’ve been meaning to. Thanks for this post. Over the last month I’ve discovered your blog and some others (Tiny Simplicity, mnmlist) that have really changed my life. I’ve made some real changes in the last month. It’s articles like this one that keep me inspired to become part of this movement:)

  • Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell March 17, 2010, 7:03 am

    Good post, Tammy. I agree that what we do isn’t about scolding or telling others how to live, but to show a different path and how it can change lives!

  • Christianna March 17, 2010, 7:39 am

    This is a terrific post, Tammy. Thank you for bringing this excellent book to our attention.

    BTW, for all your Portland readers, I see that Annie Leonard will be speaking at Powell’s City of Books on Monday, March 22, at 7:30 pm.

    • Tammy March 17, 2010, 7:48 am

      Thanks Christianna! I’m really excited to see Annie speak at Powell’s. My husband told me about the event a few weeks ago. I hope I can met Annie in person. She is one of my hero’s. 🙂

      • Christianna March 17, 2010, 7:57 am

        I’m so glad you’re going to see her! Do be sure to arrive earlier than you think is necessary. I have gone to Powell’s to hear a speaker on more than one occasion and found it SRO or, worse, closed to any more attendees.

        • Tammy March 17, 2010, 8:40 am

          @Christianna – Ohhh wow. Thanks for the tip. I’ll get there extra early. 🙂 I don’t want to miss this talk.

  • Jean Hong March 17, 2010, 8:42 am

    Hi Tammy! I’ve been a ghost reader of your blog for a while now (I come here several times a day to read your previous posts!!), but after reading this post, I thought I’d drop a note to say hi and thank you. The timing of your article somehow coincided with me starting to broaden my scope of focus from myself to community and society. I’m turning 26 this Saturday, and am starting to look around and think about how I can meaningfully contribute to this world. Your writings and photos are very inspiring and I appreciate all your efforts and inspirations! I’ll make sure to read “the Story of Stuff”! 😀 Please know that you have definitely made a change for at least one person in this world (although I know there must be tons of poeple positively affected by you): me! Thanks again for this great posting!!

    • Tammy March 17, 2010, 8:47 am

      WOW Jean – I am so touched. You can make a difference and change your community for the better. Please keep me posted on how you’re doing and what types of activities you decide to get involved in. 🙂

      Thank you so much for reading the blog. And happy early birthday!

  • Deek March 17, 2010, 10:54 am

    Love the ideas and article Tammy- and I’ll have to check out/link your e-book soon too (Gregory Johnson from the Small House Society recommeded that I check it out/email you- as we’re in the same indie-book boat). Anyway, I’m off the peruse the rest of your blog (and add it to my favorites).

    Host of “TINY YELLOW HOUSE TV” on Youtube
    Author of “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks…”

    Best of luck with all in the meantime! 🙂 And happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    • Tammy March 18, 2010, 11:23 am

      @Deek – awesome! Greg is fantastic. I love his website.

      Thanks for coming over to check out the site. Have a fabulous day.

  • brooke April 15, 2010, 3:25 pm

    Wow — great, and lots of food for thought. I’ve tried connecting to my community in the literal, geographical sense — but aside from two sets of neighbors, have been roadblocked. Seems that many people are in their own little world these days. So I’m challenging myself to come up with my own new definition of “community”. Is it the group of people I hang out with at the gym? Is it a group of people I haven’t met yet at my husband’s weekly business networking group? I hope to find my “community” at some point. Too many people around here have an electronic device constantly attached to their ear and consider themselves “connected” as such — what a sad state of existence, IMO.

    • Tammy April 16, 2010, 6:53 am

      @brooke – Have you thought about volunteering for a local non-profit? That’s a great way to get plugged into your local community and meet folks with similar interests. 🙂

  • Christina August 9, 2010, 9:22 pm

    Attending theatre can, like reading, open your mind, as well as connect you to your community. It can be a very powerful way to understand new perspectives and start conversations that lead to understanding and action.

  • Jessica October 12, 2010, 12:36 pm

    I’ve been checking out your blog for a couple of months now & just have to say that I love your writing as well as your message. I’m totally inspired. Keep up the great work.

  • Anum February 18, 2011, 8:24 am

    Thanks a lot for this article.It really is a food for thought.It actually made me realise that how much i am missing my life .It has really opened up some new paths for me.One can change his thinking perspective by changing some very little things in life and those small changes can lead to bigger ones.I liked your first and fourth point because we should be satisfied with what we have and be thankful for it and then make the most of it.

  • Jen February 25, 2011, 7:25 pm

    Hi! 😀

    I really love this post, and I totally agree with everything you said. One of the lines that really pops out to me is when you say that ‘we are all connected’, I just tweeted about this this morning! I feel like everything is starting to come together, hearts are opening and people are beginning to see that everything they do has a ripple effect on other people and the earth.

    Thank you for writing this 🙂


  • shannon May 11, 2011, 8:52 am

    Love your blog! So happy to have found you today. Love how the universe works… xo

    • Tammy May 11, 2011, 3:38 pm

      @Shannon – Ahhh thank you! I’m happy that you’re reading. 🙂 Have a beautiful day.

  • faria May 18, 2011, 11:19 am

    thanku so much for this post..i have been reading all ur posts today as im new to ur site…and all i could think about was dat i can b happy too…i am getting married in a month and i wasnt happy about having a small place to live with my in-laws who like me alot + they have a garden too…i was thinking about spending huge amounts of money on luxury..and after reading ur posts, now all i wanna do is make every1 happy around me..i decided not to spend too much money on stuff and rather thinking about how to keep our love alive each n everyday of our marriage…i cant thanku enough tammy..i want to stop thinking abt wat other ppl think abt our small home or stuff in it but rather concentrating on ourselves me n my soon to be husband…

  • Chris Koch August 16, 2011, 5:32 pm

    I watched the video to the story of stuff early in my Ph.D. training long before I was thinking more critically. It has made me think about consumption and materialism quite a bit. But, keep in mind that this video (I do not know about the book) is funded by an organization that has a political agenda. There are some good things to think about and discuss after watching the video; however, there is quite a bit of critical theory in the video. So just keep in mind that may be more sides to the story of stuff. If someone with a different political agenda created it, it may have a quite different spin to it.

  • Amanda August 16, 2011, 6:19 pm

    Haven’t heard of this book but it sounds great! There is so much ‘stuff’ around here and even though I am simplifying, I feel like I am not moving enough ‘stuff’!

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