Lessening how much stuff you have can bring you joy. But it can also protect our planet.
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Have you ever thought about how much stuff you have?

Think about everything — from furniture to appliances all the way to that shirt you bought on sale that one time that you swear you're going to wear one day. How much do you estimate it adds up to? (Don't worry, we'll wait.)


Well? GIF via "Coming to America."

Have that number in mind? Hold on to it.

Now get this: The number of things in the average American home by one projection is 300,000.

Yes, that's a huge number. (Although when you consider all the little knickknacks we have lying around, 300,000 might not be that bad? I mean, my kitchen drawer alone probably has a thousand things in it right now.)

Story of my life.

But when you compare that number to people living a minimalist lifestyle, 300,000 things can seem astronomical.

For instance, one man from Japan, Fumio Sasaki, has only 150 items to his name. That's it! Yet he's perfectly content and feels that having less stuff has allowed him to hone in on what really matters in life.

He told Reuters, "Spending less time on cleaning or shopping means I have more time to spend with friends, go out, or travel on my days off. I have become a lot more active."

Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus sum it up perfectly on their website, aptly titled The Minimalists, by saying: "Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important — so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom."

Granted, owning only 150 things may be a bit more on the extreme side of minimalism, but New York Times best-selling author Marie Kondo presents a slightly different approach.

In her world-renowned book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," Kondo writes about getting rid of stuff that doesn't bring you joy so as to maximize your own happiness. You can own as little or as much as you like, but if that DVD collection of "Dawson's Creek" you've had lying around for years doesn't really make you feel anything anymore, chuck it!

Don't worry, Dawson. It'll be OK. GIF via "Dawson's Creek."

Now, whichever side of the spectrum you gravitate more toward, the same idea seems to come out — clearing away clutter can actually change your life for the better.

That being said, do a lot of us have too much stuff?

Back in 2007, Annie Leonard answered that question with her revolutionary documentary, "The Story of Stuff." She brought to light how people's desire for more was severely hurting our planet's resources and the health of many.

The life cycle of stuff: extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Image via The Story of Stuff Project/YouTube.

As more and more people buy and consume more things, big businesses are compelled to produce more products at a quicker rate to ensure a profit. But in the process, they pay little attention to the depletion of natural resources and, of course, the accumulation of waste. It's a vicious cycle.

That's where The Story of Stuff Project comes in.

It's a community of changemakers all working toward continuing the mission that the original documentary set in motion.

"The Story of Stuff Project exists to look at the system of the materials in our lives and the economies that support them — from extraction to disposal," Stiv Wilson, director of campaigns, explained. "We’re really concerned with how we make use and dispose of the stuff in our lives and ultimately, what we do with the project is create stories about different points in the system and mobilize citizens to then take action towards metric outcomes that benefit both the environment and people."

When stages in the life cycle work together, great things can happen. GIF via The Story of Stuff Project/YouTube.

Through different methods of storytelling — from podcasts to books to mini-movies — The Story of Stuff Project is zeroing in on important issues that have a global impact. Whether it's their tell-all on the hazards of plastic water bottles or their movement to ban plastic microbeads in toiletries from wreaking havoc on the ecosystem, there is no doubt these changemakers are telling the stories that can help make the world a better place.

Remember that number from the beginning? Think about it again.

A lot us can get caught up in wanting more stuff. But with a little reevaluation, keeping our numbers down makes it possible to improve our own well-being, the well-being of others, and the planet.

And should you decide to start lessening the things that don't bring you joy, keep in mind that donating it could spark some joy in someone else. Maybe it's just a matter of finding a creative way to reuse it.

In fact, a little creativity can go a long way. One study found that if 300 million Americans reused just one shirt, that would save 210 billion gallons of water and 1 billion pounds of CO2. Imagine that.

So next time you think about throwing away some stuff, just remember all the other factors that come along with it. Yes, it might seem pretty small at first — but trust us — the impact is monumental.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


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Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

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The message reads:

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