Less is More

Summer is here and, with it, all the crazy moving around that comes with the end of the term. It’s that time of the year again when everyone is packing and unpacking, rummaging through their closets to see what is worth keeping and what isn’t (and finding some hidden treasures along the way). I look at my closet and feel overwhelmed by the amount of things I own, and the amount of things I’m going to have to pack up! Well, what if it wasn’t like that? What if your closet consisted of only 33 items?

Recently, I watched Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things and was impressed by the myriad of ways a minimalist lifestyle can look like. I pride myself in living as sustainable as possible and being conscious about what I purchase, anything from food to clothing. Minimalism, however, was something I never considered; I saw it as something too unrealistic and far-fetched, something that would require too much of a sacrifice for me to make. I am by no means a fashion-forward person, but I like having a choice in my wardrobe; just in case that special occasion happens and I need to right dress, or just in case I go to the beach and need those flowery shorts or just in case I go to a job interview and need a business-casual outfit. And it’s not just about my wardrobe, it’s about all the knick knacks that I love collecting: that rock from Sombrio Beach that looks like a heart, that random ball of yarn, that leaf that I picked up on my way to school, that pen that ran out of ink but looks nice, that half-used notebook, that half-used scented candle, that almost-broken-but-not-quite mason jar and on and on and on. All these objects have sentimental value for me and I justified having them because of that.

I remember crying when my mom wanted to throw out my favorite shoes when I was 8 years old; they didn’t fit anymore, but I still kept them in the closet because I loved them so much. Until, eventually, like it happens to almost everything else, they got thrown away them because it made no sense to keep them. I tell myself I’m not materialistic; I just keep things that mean something to me. In the documentary, however, they argue that that is the problem: we give to much value to objects and get attached to them. As a society, we have grown to place more value to things we own than on people in our lives; we use people and love objects. We should be leading a life that is rich in experiences and people, not in objects.

The zero waste movement is usually focused on recycling and composting correctly, but we often forget that that is the last of the 3 R’s. We need to reduce and reuse before we event get to recycle; instead of focusing on how to dispose of objects that no longer work, we need to focus on reducing our need for them in the first place.

So with my imminent move looming over my head and some research into the evils of the fashion industry, I decided to try minimalism out. In the documentary, they introduce Courtney, a woman that decided to only dress with 33 items for 3 months; she called this Project 333. 3 months seemed a bit overwhelming to me (especially with graduation and ensuing celebrations around the corner), so I opted for doing this project for a month and calling it Minimalist May. I got a group of friends to do it together and here we are!


My 33 items

The Rules

  • The 33 items include clothes, shoes, accessories, and outerwear. They do NOT include PJs, underwear, workout clothing and jewelry with sentimental value or that you never take off.
  • We are allowed to borrow clothes from each other, but not from other people that are not part of the project.
  • If something gets torn/damaged/too old, it can be replaced by another item.
  • No shopping this month.
  • Choose the 33 items and box/hide away the rest! Make an inventory to make sure you are sticking to them.


My items:

  • Rain jacket
  • Jean jacket
  • Blue jacket
  • 3 fancy dresses
  • 3 everyday dresses
  • 2 blouses
  • 3 cardigans
  • 3 sweaters
  • 3 jeans
  • 2 shorts
  • White t-shirt
  • Black t-shirt
  • 5 shirts
  • Shoes:
    • Converse
    • Flats
    • Black shoes
    • Brown shoes

Not included:

  • Athletic gear:
    • Hiking boots
    • Running shoes
    • Leggings
    • Workout t-shirt (limit: 2)
  • Swimming:
    • Swim suit
    • Cap
    • Goggles
    • Flip flops
  • Accessories:
    • Heart necklace (wear it everyday)
    • 5 bracelets (can’t take them off)
    • Earrings (never change them)
    • Bags (limit: 2)
  • PJs
  • Underwear + tank tops (to wear under clothes)
  • Socks + tights




Want to learn more?

Project 333:

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things:

Want to join us?

Contact !


-Ana Gargollo, Common Energy Director 2016-17 



Herban Gardening (get it?)


It’s not often you spend the better part of a Friday afternoon planting herbs. After Common Energy’s DIY Herban Garden event, however, I would be more than willing to end my week painting n’ planting again. Most of you are probably wondering what this event was, why you missed it, if there will be more events like it in September (there will be) and where the brilliant name came from (credit to George, CE’s co-director and resident blogger). I am here to answer all those dying questions.

Let’s be real, it’s hard to get down and dirty (in soil…. ) when the perils of exams loom in the near future and many year-end events fill up your calendar. At the end of another 8 months of education, everyone is tired out, stressed out, and schooled out. This is why Herban Garden came at just the right time. I don’t know about you, but the amount of time I spend in nature compared to the amount of time I spend doing work on my laptop or taking notes from textbooks is crazily out of proportion. The Rooftop Garden at the Nest was the perfect place for the event for this same reason. It introduced many to the secluded green sanctuary that’s right in the centre of campus, and reminded the rest of us that it is still there! It was the perfect space to reconnect with nature again.

When everyone arrived, they were directed first to the painting station. An array of crafty supplies, including twine, paint, chalkboard signs and buttons greeted each avid gardener upon their entry. Those avid gardeners soon realised that they were avid painters as well… everyone got right into it. Paint got on the table, the floor, people’s faces.. It was quite the adventure. Even those who claimed to be “non-artistic” were lost in painting, and by the end had produced an interesting, yet colourful creation.

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Next: the potting. After waiting patiently for the paint to dry (or not so patiently in some cases… the culprits with paint-covered hands were easy to spot), it was time to fill the containers with soil. Chris from Roots on the Roof was there to guide the aspiring horticulturists in choosing the right herb, a wide selection of several different basil varieties and peppermint causing confusion amongst some. He explained how to care for each herb, and demonstrated the placing of a few seeds and the thin layer of soil cover. Chris’ “2 easy but hard rules to follow” were: keep the soil damp, but not moist, and let the plant sit in bright light. It was hard to not be excited at this point. There’s something about growing your own plant that stirs a protective, nurturing force inside you. Maybe that was just my empty stomach, but you never know.

Talking of empty stomachs, the UBC Tea club was there to quench your thirst and tide you over to dinnertime. I had the “Tea of the Moment”: the delicious No. 10 blend, with a generous amount of honey stirred in. The smiling Tea Club members added to the friendly atmosphere, and their service was much appreciated (@UBCTeaClub sorry for coming back for more… twice….). And who could forget the musical serenade. Throughout the afternoon, artists such as Sashka Warner, Traffik, Karina Gonchar and Terry Chen, and many more provided the musical entertainment, making the event an all-round success.

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In fact, the success of this event surpassed all expectations, and suggests that perhaps uni students need events like this more often. It’s easy to forget, even with BC’s beautiful scenery surrounding us, that we don’t reconnect with the earth often enough. Tending for my own herb in the weeks to come will be a great way to bring the outdoors in, and in turn remind me to get outdoors myself. Good luck with finals everyone, and don’t forget to take a break in the sunshine (fingers crossed Vancouver keeps up the rays)!

-Natasha Harland, Common Energy Tangible Solutions Team


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Reuse Until It Feels Brand New

As a note: although reuse can be of any item, regardless of its function or design, my story and focus is and has always been on clothing. This is because of multiple reasons. Even at a young age, I was very exposed to clothing, unlike many other household items. Further, in our society, where we may only have one kettle or one TV at any given time, many of us have hundreds of articles of clothing, and the use gotten out of each item is often much less than its value as a resource comparatively. It was for these reasons that I discovered my passion for not only clothing reuse, but also for its promotion. I may have lived a short life so far, but this situation is tightly stitched (watch for that pun!) to who I am and likely will continue to be.

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When I was a little girl, it was paradise every time I got a bag full of hand-me-downs from girls (or even boys) slightly older or taller than me, and I felt I had discovered a pot of gold – all the riches in my little world were hidden within that collection of t-shirts and stockings. Pulling out already-loved-shirt after already-softened-jeans, I would make my way through the treasure trove that was a huge garbage bag or cardboard box, choosing at my fancy and whim which articles I would add to my closet and which would move on to the next, equivalently lucky child. By the age of ten, I had set foot in a clothing store only a handful of times, and those expeditions were always extremely short and determined – my mother walking briskly to the sock and underwear aisle to grab a 12-pack of striped girls’ panties before marching me to the cash-register to pay and getting the heck out of that place of consumerism. To say the least, my mom hates shopping for clothing. This mostly stems from her childhood, when her parents lived as many young couples with families in the post-war era – penny by penny, reusing whatever they could and fixing or repurposing rather than buying new. My mom grew up getting hand-me-downs from her older sisters, who’d received them from their older cousins and so on. Contrary to what one might think due to my mother’s behaviour within my lifetime – her adamant refusal, whenever possible, to buy clothing new – she hated these passed-down jackets and dresses as a girl and sometimes vehemently refused to go to school, thinking she would be teased for her four-years-too-late style. Funny how history has a way of repeating itself…

For the first time, when I was eleven years old, my older cousin took me on a shopping spree. I was thrown right into one of the largest malls in North America with a couple hundred dollars cash and a nineteen year old fashionista – what did my mom expect? I bought a bunch of clothing, and I loved it, and I wore it all the time. But I also became embarrassed by all my other outfits – the ones that I hadn’t picked out in a brand name store. I still wore them, but I would tell people I’d forgotten where I bought them if they asked me. So much of our pre-teen years are spent trying to prove that we are ‘in with the crowd’, and I felt like I was living a double life – I was sure someone would rat me out at any moment and tell everyone that I was wearing a hand-me-down. Why I was so scared of this discovery is beyond me now, and I don’t think there was ever any logic in it. Being the generation that learned from a young age to recycle and not idle, you would think that reusing clothing would have been a more readily discussed topic as well. But it just wasn’t. And so I thought that I would be at the butt-end of a joke if it ever came out that I didn’t pay for my clothes (even though at that age, no one else did either really, it was mostly our parents’ money).

And then, one day when I was fifteen, I went on another shopping spree with a friend in Toronto – I’m from a small town – and she took me to her favourite store, one of many second-hand stores along Bloor Street. Suddenly, I realized that there were lots of young people out there in the world who loved scavenging for little jewels that were pre-loved. And I started openly telling my classmates and peers that I had bought my favourite pair of boots at the thrift store in town, or that my shirt was a hand-me-down from an older cousin that had been sitting in a closet since 2004 and was totally giving off vintage vibes. Much to my surprise, people reacted positively to my honesty about the origin of my clothing. Extremely positively. Suddenly I had buddies to join me on my thrift shopping adventures and people to organize clothing swaps with all throughout my high school years. And I adored my well-worn, pre-loved clothing even more.

It must have been this love that drew me to the well-cared-for closet – the UBC Free Store and its little group of volunteers – sporting second-hand clothing, school supplies, household items and much more. (Just because another random student has cooked in that pot doesn’t mean you can’t use it for the next five years!) And on top of all that, the Free Store concept was even better than anything I could have ever imagined. To me, it was the globalized and industrialized (but in a super positive way!) version of the garbage bags of hand-me-downs that I used to receive as a child. Now it wasn’t just something between friends, or in the family—it was something that was shared with strangers, anyone who could give and take as they desired, because in the end, everything would get balanced out. Something interesting happens when money is taken out of the equation: so goes guilt, greed and embarrassment. It’s not just about passing on clothing, it’s about sharing whatever you have to share. Essentially the Free Store concept is the modern version of the entire human society thousands of years ago, before money even existed. And in some ways, that works. Not for everything, but for reducing waste and reusing all sorts of items, it works. And it educates.


I’ve been at university for six months now, and I have yet to set my foot into a store selling new clothing. I don’t even think of that as an accomplishment. I just proudly wear my UBC Free Store clothing and tell everyone I meet about how amazing it is, how accessible it is and how free it is. The more we all openly discuss and support the idea of reuse, the more normal it becomes. You’d be surprised how acceptable reuse actually is in society, yet each one of us thinks that we will be labeled for wearing clothing, or using cookware or writing with half-empty pens that lacked tags when we picked them up. Trust me, be proud to show off those items. Be proud as you walk out of any second-hand store or Free Store with a new outfit to show off. Be proud to dumpster dive for ball gowns or food (I’ve done both!) and organize clothing swaps or sharing fairs. Maybe you can trade your bike-fixing skills for a free haircut! Visit the UBC Free Store and see what it has to offer! It might be a struggle to make reducing, reusing and recycling a worldwide, accepted way of life, but the way to start is to proudly demonstrate your subscription to this lifestyle. History has a way of repeating itself, so let’s make those repetitions as positive as possible, because maybe one day, every child’s joy will be a new bag of hand-me-downs and the knowledge that they are adding to a conscious and positive society.


-Kirianne Ashley, UBC Free Store