When I first came across the concept of minimalism, around the year 2009, I wasn’t too impressed. It seemed to me that minimalism was all about getting rid of stuff. Sometimes perfectly good stuff. I suspected that minimalism was all about filling landfills.
After reading the first book on minimalism that I found, the idea that minimalism was all about housekeeping and de-cluttering was cemented in my mind. I moved on to other things.
You see, back in 2009, my environmentalism was more a field of study and a rallying call behind my activism. I didn’t yet understand that each of us in our daily living creates our legacy. So home upkeep seemed irrelevant to me back then, especially as an unmarried, childless college student living in the dorms.
When I began my minimalist journey in earnest, I discovered that minimalism would shape my sustainability ethics so drastically that I could no longer pursue environmentalism without minimalism. I’ll never see the world the same way again.
I was initially lured back into the realm of minimalism by stumbling upon the concept of capsule wardrobing. The idea that I could finally look decent without breaking the bank, filling the laundry basket, and ravaging the Earth held great appeal. I saw a minimalist practice as both personally and environmentally beneficial for the first time. I began to see that less really was more and that there was more to less.
Rather than simply ditching things, minimalism has become a call to rethink my consumptive habits. Guarding the inflow of things and therefore limiting my negative impact on the Earth.
How Minimalism Has Shaped My New Environmentalism
As I mentioned above, I didn’t see the environmental benefits of minimalism at first. Like many new to the concept of minimalism, I focused on the most visible attributes of the philosophy. It wasn’t until I began exploring another movement, called Zero Waste, that I understood that the practice of sustainable living benefited from a framework, or a hierarchy of decisions. At the peak of the Zero Waste hierarchy, created by Bea Johnson in her Zero Waste Home book and blog, is the first “R” of 5 R’s, which stands for “refuse what you do not need”. The second “R” is “reduce what you do need”.
What would have been painfully obvious to a practicing minimalist but took me some time to grasp was that these first two “R”s, are a call to minimalism, because waste is naturally reduced when consumption is reduced.
In fact, whatever the impact you have on the environment, whether your choices are considered wildly harmful to the environment or only mildly so, choices both big and small, that impact is made automatically less harmful be curbing the consumptive level. For example, say you have a Hummer as your family vehicle. You’re not in a position to replace the vehicle right now, but you have become more environmentally conscious. To make the least impact, you decide to combine errands, to carpool, and to simply drive less when activities could be walked to instead. This is clearly not the ideal scenario, but it is a realistic one that improves the situation just by making the decision to consume less.
I now consider minimalism to be at the top of my environmental hierarchy of decision making. I first look to refuse and reduce the things coming into my life before I look at other issues such as buying second-hand, limiting plastic, avoiding toxins, and so on. The decisions I could make might be endless, but if I am already refusing an object that I decided I don’t need, I no longer have to worry about how ethically it was produced (I’m protesting an unethical or unnecessary product by not handing over my money in the first place).
And, by the way, when I do de-clutter, I’ve learned that I can think minimally and responsibly at the same time. I always think about alternatives to the landfill first.
Until next time, shine brightly by living lightly!