The minimalist community is full of inspiring stories about transitions to simple living. My own narrative lacks the “Aha!” moment most minimalists experience because voluntary simplicity wasn’t a lifestyle change for me.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve avoided the physical clutter that distracts and overwhelms me. As a child, I instinctively kept my bedroom decorations sparse and was quick to trade or donate books, toys, and clothes as soon as I outgrew them. I didn’t enjoy cleaning my room and thought I outsmarted the system by having less to clean and organize. Even for single-digit birthdays, my wish lists included mostly consumables like perfumes and chocolates, plus experience-based presents such as a pet fish, trips to amusement parks, and tickets to ballet performances.
As an early adopter of minimalism, I didn’t make many adjustments in adulthood. In fact, I still think I’ve outsmarted the system by having less to clean and organize! My husband is a natural minimalist too, and one of the select few who find my Normcore wardrobe endearing. We’re in complete agreement about our financial strategy: limiting material purchases to basic necessities, saving for the future, and spending the remainder on the intangibles we value most. Minimalism adds many practical benefits to my life; owning few possessions saves me time, money, and energy.
I hadn’t anticipated any lifestyle adjustments until I watched Lauren Singer’s TED Talk in 2015. Her explanation of the zero waste movement motivated me to find alternatives for the foods and toiletries I was purchasing in disposable plastic packaging. Since beginning my zero waste journey I’ve noticed many similarities between minimalism and zero waste. I’ve discovered that their benefits multiply when combined in a method known as eco-minimalism.
Although eco-minimalism was originally termed by the late British architect Howard Liddell as a building concept, the label also applies to the practice of preserving the environment by limiting consumption of natural resources. While minimalism enriches my own life, eco-minimalism empowers me to protect the earth for the well-being of all its residents.
Here are 4 lessons I’ve learned on my eco-minimalist journey:
1. Respect the unique paths of family and friends.
After watching Lauren’s TED Talk I was excited to fill my husband in about my plans to stop buying single-use disposables. He responded supportively and said he might try a few zero waste swaps with me but wasn’t looking to remodel his life. I assured him his participation was optional and promised not to pressure him into any changes.
Over time, he’s joined me in using cloth napkins and eating bulk bin rice but isn’t interested in trying my bar shampoo or powdered toothpaste, and that’s completely fine with me! I have an elevator pitch ready for anyone who asks why I chose eco-minimalism but avoid pestering those around me to make identical choices.
2. Develop a plan to avoid two surprising risks of eco-minimalism: comparison and targeted marketing.
The eco-minimalist community is a valuable resource for support but human nature can twist shared experiences into avenues of comparison and competition. I used to spend hours on Pinterest looking at beautifully curated capsule wardrobes and kitchen cupboards which made my own wardrobe and cupboards seem inadequate. Reducing my social media use has improved my self-esteem by helping me focus on my own journey and the immaterial, rather than aesthetic, benefits of eco-minimalism.
Another struggle I’ve worked to overcome is temptation from targeted marketing. Advertisers know exactly how to appeal to those of us interested in minimalism and zero waste. We’re constantly pressured to seek upgrades like fashionable stainless steel water bottles, bamboo utensil sets, compostable notebooks, and ethically-made clothes in luxurious sustainable fabrics. I’m easily tempted by all of those products but recently decided to stop buying unnecessary non-consumables for myself unless they’re replacing something that’s beyond reasonable repair. I unsubscribed from the mailing lists of my favorite stores and have been growing more appreciative toward the items I already have.
3. Although minimalism and zero waste are highly compatible, there are a few differences to balance.
Minimalism and zero waste separately aren’t necessarily eco-minimalism. It’s possible for a minimalist to own less than 100 items by chucking everything in a landfill bin and shopping for replacements every season. It’s also conceivable for a zero waster to live among a colossal stockpile of eco-friendly goods they’ll never use. Neither scenario fits the philosophy of eco-minimalism which values both environmental sustainability and the avoidance of excess.
A zero waster deciding to add minimalism to their lifestyle will probably choose to limit the number of items acquired even if everything is secondhand or plastic-free. A minimalist going zero waste might need some durable goods to avoid disposables. When I began my zero waste transition, I added a large tote bag to my collection in order to carry the reusables that help me prevent waste. I no longer venture far from home without my errand kit including washable grocery and bulk bags, an insulated beverage bottle, a cloth napkin, eating utensils, and empty snack containers to bring back leftovers. Preparedness becomes important when reducing single-use disposables is a goal.
4. Minimalism and zero waste are better in combination.
Intentional living is the common thread between minimalism and zero waste. I’ve found contentment by eliminating overconsumption as well as making environmentally sustainable choices. The eco-minimalist lifestyle is abundantly joyful because it reminds us how our actions can positively influence the world around us and that we need very little to live a fulfilling life.
About the Author: Leslie Watson is an elementary school teaching assistant also pursuing environmental journalism. She writes articles and Instagram posts about sustainability, low waste living, minimalism, non-consumerism, and daily uniform dressing. Contact her at lesshasteandlesswaste.contactin.bio