If your heart is set on something dear to you, then you’ll always find a way to make it work. Giant strides forward usually start out as baby steps and most good ideas start with one person taking it seriously and finding others who have been waiting for something like it to come along without even knowing it.

The Facebook group Phnom Penh Minimalist and Freecycle has been around for about two years now. It was founded by long-time Cambodia resident Irina Chakraborty and has now gathered more than 5,000 members – both locals and expats – who are interested in making a small contribution to the sustainability of Cambodia’s environment by reducing consumption through giving things away, reusing old things and recycling what nobody else wants.

Chakraborty relocated to Cambodia to take a break after finishing her PhD dissertation. She came to visit an old friend here and to look after her friend’s dog for several months while she was away and by end of 2011 she’d decided to relocated here.

She said her inspiration to create the group was environmentalism and minimalism as its core philosophical principles.

“My background is in environmental engineering and I had previously worked in sanitation and wastewater treatment. In many cultures, there is a stigma around ‘used’ items, which worsens the consumption crisis that we are currently in. But I have always loved vintage clothes, repurposing, recycling and actually my impression is that generally people in Phnom Penh value quality used products more than they do cheap new ones, she said.

Chakraborty, 41, who has Finnish citizenship but ancestry spanning several countries that she describes as “complicated”, says the goal is to reduce consumption of cheap new junk, promote reuse of consumer goods and to get people interested in sustainable living and sharing of resources.

So far, she says that the group seems to be working out very well for people who want to declutter or people who are moving. Some people post requests for items they might need as a first option before going to the store to purchase.

People also post requests for broken items to salvage spare parts for other broken items such as glass part of a coffee press, a fan motor or a blender jug.

“If you look through the posts, you can see some complaints about ‘no-shows’ where people reserve an item but don’t come on time to pick it up, but I think that’s a minority of cases. You can also see people are being clearer about their expectations, like how long they will wait for someone to pick up an item and so on. I’ve also used the group to do some polls about environmentally-related topics such as food packaging,” she explains to the source.

She says that some people just don’t understand the point of asking if anyone has a cheap or easily found item to give away and some comments are suggestions of where to buy the item instead of donation offers, which misses the point of the group entirely and sometimes she posts reminders about the purpose of the group.

Chakraborty says there are rules for the group and certain things are forbidden, like not for sale posts, no animal adoption posts and no complicated bartering because that doesn’t seem very efficient. Beyond that, she has guidelines about how to be respectful to each other when donating or requesting items.

That said, according to Chakraborty almost everyone seems to understand the purpose of the group and follows the rules, so problems with the minimalists have turned out to be minimal.

She’s excited to see more and more people joining the group every day and she hopes it will take off in the Khmer community and is willing to make the group officially bilingual with both Khmer and English at some point in the future if the need is there.



Flatiron by Meridian, Unit FO-1401, Street 102
Phnom Penh City Center, Phum 1, Sangkat Srah Chak
Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia


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