The less I need

When Saasha Celestial-One was made redundant, she was faced with
a choice – look for more work, or change the way she spent her money.
She chose the latter. Emma Johnson meets the founder of food-sharing
app Olio to discover how much less we need than we think we do…

Saasha Celstial-One – the cofounder of food-sharing app Olio, which has transformed the way communities and businesses not only share food, but waste less food – is talking to me from her bedroom, via Zoom, as is the way these days. She’s moved into her bedroom because her partner was doing a workout in the sitting room, and now she’s perched on the edge of the bed.

Behind her is a bedside lamp, bare-bulbed and illuminating the space with a low glow. ‘That’s a perfect example,’ she says, gesturing at the lamp. ‘There hasn’t been a lampshade there since we moved in. And, almost every week, I look at it and I say, “you need to get a lampshade”. But, then I catch myself. Because it looks fine, we’re never in the bedroom and when we are, the lights aren’t even on. So, instead, I’ve been keeping an eye out for the charity shops, and I’ll pick one up when I find the right shade.’

Saasha is right. It would be so easy to just open an app on her phone, search for a lampshade, click and collect, and boom, 24 hours later, lampshade. But, really, who is this serving? Every time she doesn’t buy that £45 lampshade, it’s £45 to spend on something that she really needs or wants. Every time she doesn’t buy a new lampshade, that’s another lampshade from a charity with a chance of not going to landfill. It’s a tiny thing, but when you do this across your life, the ripple effect is huge.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and even Saasha – born to hippy parents in America, who gave her her unusual name and instilled a solid make, do and mend ethos – found herself in adulthood enjoying all the trappings of a successful career and plenty of disposable income. Working for American Express as vice president of international business development, she filled her days with facials, weekends away, luxury business travel and plenty of new clothes. Then, she took maternity leave to have her son, and was later made redundant.

‘I knew at the time I didn’t want to go back to work because of all the travel that was required,’ she says pragmatically. ‘So it was really a blessing.’ With a generous exit package, she sat down and did the maths, and realised that if she halved her expenditure, she could live comfortably for at least two years without working.

Back to basics

The basics she kept – she stayed in her house in Crouch End, and still went back to visit family in America – but ‘everything else pretty much became discretionary’. Having learnt about the impact of the textile industry on the environment, Saasha immediately stopped buying new clothes, and to this day – with the exception of underwear – hasn’t bought anything new since 2012.

‘Actually, it’s a relief because I don’t really like shopping. And I’ve gotten a lot of time back too. In my twenties and thirties shopping was something I did every weekend. Eliminating that was a big step – but it did free up both money and time.’

Time is a big feature for Saasha. Not only has her new way of living affected her finances – and it’s something she has continued despite starting a successful company and going back to work – but she talks often about how much time we use up in spending, or buying, or juggling our money. Not getting highlights anymore, cancelling weekly restaurant reservations and stopping a routine of monthly facials equally gave her back acres of time, as well as plenty of money. She also saved time – and money – when she became much more selective about long weekends away with her girlfriends. ‘Everyone wanted to rent a nice Airbnb in Cornwall, or go to Iceland for a bank holiday, and I just didn’t have that luxury anymore. Having to say no to some of that stuff was a bit of an adjustment,’ she admits.

A new start

In the shift from more to less, Saasha found that her unconventional upbringing provided her with a lot of the skills she needed. She started camping again – something she’d always loved – and she and her son have invested in a good tent, and good camping equipment, that’s stored efficiently so it’s easy to throw in the car when she wants to go away. Investment is an important word and, as she explains, it’s about an investment in both purchasing the equipment but also how she uses and organises it.

‘I grew up camping. So for me it’s sort of coming full circle. I really enjoy it. You can make camping very comfortable if you invest in things like a decent mattress and so on. And now we have all the camping stuff in one shed outside, and it’s all sorted and labelled and it’s really easy to just put it all in a car – which we rent – and then we’re off.’

The way that this lack of excess has filtered into all aspects of Saasha’s life is really attractive in a world that’s bursting at the seams with excess. The impact of having less gave her space not only financially, but also literally. As she started to need less, she became braver about saying no to things, refusing free stuff she didn’t want, and later respecting the boundaries of her own time and space. A skill that has continued to pay metaphorical dividends. 

After separating from her then husband and moving into a smaller flat, she also cut down her general belongings to the bare minimum of what she could store and really needed. ‘I just didn’t have capacity personally to take on additional responsibility then,’ she recalls. ‘I got rid of a lot of stuff – vases, picture frames and general household items.’ Cutting down in this way actually gave her the space to focus on what was important. Even now, since she’s moved in with her partner to a bigger house, everything has been secondhand, with the exception of her dining table that was made to order from reclaimed wood.

And this approach to a life with less has filtered seamlessly into her work too. Her app, Olio, which she founded with good friend Tessa Clarke, is designed to allow people to easily get rid of things they don’t want or need – including leftover food – and has created a community of people sharing things. It has brought communities, villages, streets and towns together – and when the pandemic hit, it came into its own. ‘We’ve had more activity on Olio in the last five months than we’ve had in the five years it’s been running,’ she says matter-of-factly.

The pandemic, of course, has been hugely influential for everyone, with lessons in needing less, wanting different things and appreciating what we have being delivered across the globe. And while Saasha might have arrived at this learning before the rest of us, she too has been thinking about what has changed since the beginning of 2020. 

‘Excess had become our status quo,’ she says. ‘I think people are thinking differently now. It’s time to consider what is a merely a habit and what actually brings you joy.’

‘So, do you think the pandemic gave us more of what we needed and less of what we don’t need?’ I ask her.

‘Yes!’ she says. ‘That’s absolutely it.’ She pauses for a second. ‘But it’s a process, you know.’ She looks back at the bare lamp again. ‘It is like a muscle. I do still make mistakes too. You need to practise a little bit. You need to keep having those conversations with yourself.’

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