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January 28, 2022

Eco-minimalism was pioneered in the early 2000s by architect Howard Liddell and his colleague, energy consultant Nick Grant. Their goal was to design and construct environmentally friendly buildings.

Eco-minimalism has since evolved into a lifestyle that aims to use minimalism as a means to reduce environmental impact.

This post is about the urgent need for eco-minimalism, the differences between sustainable living and minimalism, and 10 practical steps you can take to become an eco-minimalist today.

Let's get started.

How overconsumption is ruining our lives and the planet

Eco minimalism

When I think of our modern world, only one word comes to mind. Abundance.

If you have the means, you probably consume way more than you need. Even as a minimalist, I'm guilty of this! And if you are not in a privileged position, it is likely that you desire to consume more than you need.

We believe that we feel more secure, respected, loved, powerful, and happy when we want and have more things. But what does it cost us to want more things than we need? As it turns out, quite a lot! Let's take a look at some interesting (and scary) facts about our overconsumption habits.

A standard American household contains over 300,000 items. That's a lot of stuff! And clutter has been shown to increase stress and decrease productivity.

The average British woman buys 59 items of clothing per year. Compared to 1980, she owns twice as many items of clothing and has never worn an average of 22 pieces. Men are not far behind, with 19 garments they have never worn.

Meanwhile, the textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world, just behind the oil industry. Fashion pollutes the environment in many ways, including water pollution, water consumption, plastics, harmful chemicals, greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. And this is all in addition to the problems of fair trade.

It is predicted that we will own 43.9 smartphones in our lifetime. That's one new device every 1.8 years. Add to that the fact that each smartphone and its components travel 160,000 miles to get to us. 80% of the carbon footprint is created before the device is even turned on.

A typical ten-year-old child in the UK has over 200 toys, but only plays with 12 of them every day. The toy industry is the most plastic-intensive industry in the world, with 90% of the world's toys made of plastic. The size of households in the US has tripled since 1980. Yet the average household size has decreased by 16% since 1940.

The emergence and disappearance from cycles of poverty due to economic collapse or unfortunate systemic situations drives our mentality of scarcity. The result? We consume resources like there's no tomorrow. No, seriously. We consume until there really is no tomorrow.

Add to that timely and targeted advertising, and the aspirational lifestyle promoted by social media, and we are faced with an unprecedented psychological challenge that we must overcome in order to protect our planet and our mental health.

This is where eco-minimalism comes in.

How are eco-living and minimalism different?

Eco minimalism

Minimalism is about figuring out what is essential in your life and removing the rest. Basically, minimalism is about rejecting overconsumption - and turning success on its head, from "more is better" to "less is better."

This means that minimalists typically have fewer items, fewer apps, and clearer commitments than the average person.

Minimalists also regularly challenge the idea of depending on sales, free stuff, excessive gifts, and toxic relationships.

As effective as minimalism can be, the concept alone doesn't do justice to the environment. Here are some examples:

How often does a minimalist replace their stuff? Even though minimalists generally take an approach that emphasizes quality over quantity - which in theory should extend the life cycle of their things - they are also prone to clearing things out prematurely to make room for more "quality" items. Sometimes the pursuit of the perfect collection of things does more harm than good because they keep getting replaced.

How does a minimalist declutter their stuff? Minimalists are known for being relatively ruthless when it comes to throwing away unnecessary things, but they may not approach getting rid of those things with the same intention. For example, you can be a minimalist if you throw your unwanted things in the trash instead of finding a more environmentally friendly way.

Do minimalists try to extend the life of their things? A pure minimalist might wear out an item until it no longer brings joy, and then simply replace it without looking for ways to repair it.

Do minimalists buy used goods? Sometimes the minimalist aesthetic tends to buy brand new clothing, decor, technology, vehicles, and household goods, while the option of buying things secondhand is often disregarded because it doesn't meet the design standard.

Do minimalists support eco-friendly brands? Even if a minimalist buys high-quality products, they may be supporting brands with unsustainable practices and supply chains.

So what about going green?

Environmentalism is about living with as small an ecological footprint as possible. Environmentalists are aware of the impact their actions have on the planet's resources and do their best to reduce that impact.

A sustainable lifestyle often boils down to taking the less convenient route than the conventional one, such as walking instead of driving, preserving instead of replacing, refilling and replenishing instead of buying new.

Eco-living in itself is admirable, but the type of lifestyle can sometimes lead to both physical and mental clutter. Let's look at some examples.

How much does an environmentalist prepare and store? One of the most eco-friendly habits you can adopt is sourcing sustainable raw materials and preparing food, personal care and cleaning products from scratch. In the specific case of food, that might mean fermenting and pickling a lot of things - which leads to quite a mess and a need for additional storage space.

How many tools do you need to fix your stuff? Another cornerstone of sustainable living is the ability to fix things, and the tools to do so. This can mean acquiring or holding onto appliances just in case they might come in handy later - leading to more clutter.

Many environmentalists hold on to things they no longer need because they are desperate to ensure that each item finds a good home where the life of the item is extended. This is also admirable, but sometimes at the cost of holding on to things longer than they need to be held on to.

These are generalizations to illustrate examples. I don't think every minimalist or environmentalist thinks or acts this way.

Now that we understand the differences between minimalism and sustainability, we can explore how these two concepts can work together harmoniously.

The Exciting Potential of Eco-Minimalism

Eco minimalism

Minimalism is an approach to reducing overconsumption and improving mental health through conscious living. However, when factoring in environmentalism, the minimalist must consider the impact of every item that enters their life.

Minimalism is about you. Environmentalism is about our planet. It is the synergy between self-interest and outside interest that makes this combination so powerful.

10 actions to take to get started with eco-minimalism.

Are you ready to give eco-minimalism a try? Below are 10 actions you can take to get started today.

1. Own your identity

Eco Minimalism

What is your why? Your mission? Your values?

If you're reading this article, you're concerned about the impact of consumerism, so this part should be easy. But don't overdo it.

It's not about putting labels on yourself, but committing to your identity as an eco-minimalist is a surefire way to embrace your values and define your North Star. It's important for you to be able to exist in everyday life when the world around you doesn't seem to care.

You know what I mean. You work your butt off to prepare, limit, reduce, and recycle. But when you take a step out of your bubble, you witness the vast amounts of waste and clutter that seem to be everywhere.

So ask yourself, "Why do I want to get by with fewer things and less waste?"

Once you find your answer, don't be afraid to internalize it as part of your identity. This isn't as simple as updating your Instagram profile to "passionate eco-minimalist doing his best."

No, it means you can have a small celebration every time you make a decision that aligns with your values. Don't do it to impress others, do it because you know in your heart it's right for you.

2 Declutter in an eco-friendly way.

The difference between a minimalist and an eco-minimalist when decluttering is what they do with the discarded items.

Take your typical target piles for items you no longer deem necessary:

  • Sell piles
  • Give away pile
  • Piles for donation
  • Piles of reusable textiles
  • Trash pile
  • Stack for scanning
  • Sentimental pile
  • Recycling pile

Passing your stuff on to a new owner who has explicitly expressed interest gives the item the best chance of extending its life.

You should avoid the trash pile as much as possible because it leads to waste.

As an eco-minimalist, there are two other goals you can add to this list: the repair pile and the reuse pile.

If you're handy or know someone who is, you can repair and repurpose discarded items to make them useful again.

One caveat. These two ways are the most prone to procrastination because you need specific skills and time to complete them. If you don't create urgency to repair and repurpose, these things will become junk in the form of unfinished projects.

3. questions you should ask when buying.

Minimalists are known for keeping wish lists of things they want to buy, and they pride themselves on slowing down the buying process to ensure they are acquiring things that add maximum value.

In general, minimalists focus on buying quality products that will be used consistently and last a long time.

The same principles apply to eco-minimalists, but with some trade-offs. In addition to performance and longevity, you should also ask yourself a few questions:

  • How was the item made?
  • Where was this item manufactured?
  • How is the item packaged?
  • What materials or ingredients were used?
  • How would I extend the life of this item when I no longer need it?

The list of questions could go on and on, but these are the basics that will help you evaluate potential purchases without hopefully overwhelming you.

The good news is that over time, you'll find brands that automatically meet your criteria, so you can shop with them with confidence.

4. Set a limit for any storage space in your home.

I have a lot of respect for environmentalists who make things from scratch. It's the most practical way to achieve an accident-free life.

However, a constant production line of tofu, plant-based cheese, and kombucha requires space and storage.

To keep your environment clutter-free while making things from scratch, try to limit any storage space in your home. For example, imagine that everything you make is like a product in a store with assigned shelf space.

If you take the time to define your storage capacity, you can better estimate how often you need to make something and build that into your schedule and routine.

5. Use community and trade services.

Instead of trying to be a jack-of-all-trades and make, fix, and preserve everything you own, which takes up both physical and mental space, you could instead take advantage of the sharing economy.

For example, if a person on your street grows cucumbers and you grow tomatoes, trade your harvests.

The swap doesn't have to be in the same category. For example, our neighbor is an excellent seamstress and offers to fix our clothes. My wife Maša is a fantastic cook and offers her delicious delicacies.

If you have access, you could go to your local repair cafe to have appliances repaired while offering your special skills to the community.

Another way to take advantage of the community is to join Buy Nothing groups in your area. This is part of the gift economy, where people give things away to people who really need them.

6. living with family or roommates.

One of the biggest challenges as an eco-minimalist is living with others who don't share the same values.

Eco-minimalism affects the way you make decisions every day, so it's understandable if it puts you at odds with others.

I know how frustrating it is when you have a compost bowl sitting on the kitchen bench and then a family member comes over and throws a banana peel into the bin.

I suggest that you assume that your family or roommates will not agree with your eco-minimalism. Set your expectations low. Very low.

I say this to protect your well-being and also to accept others to feel comfortable around you.

Aside from managing your expectations, here are some suggestions:

  • Resist the urge to push or go too far. People rarely respond positively to pushy behavior.
  • Set a good example without putting on airs. If you act consistently, hopefully others will try to prove to you that they are making better choices to impress you.

  • Make your space your own, whether it's a bedroom, part of a room or an area in the kitchen. Call it micro-minimalism, where you have a small area in the house where it's completely clutter-free and peaceful.

7. take the challenge of not buying anything.

You know what's better and easier than figuring out how to buy sustainably made products that don't suck? Buying nothing at all.

A Buy Nothing Challenge is about not buying anything that isn't an essential consumer good, like food and personal care products, for a certain amount of time, like 3 months or 12 months.

So, starting today, set a time frame and commit to not buying anything during that period. Even better, tackle this challenge with a friend to motivate each other.

You'll be surprised how easy it is to go long periods of time without shopping. Best of all, it allows you to live both minimally and sustainably.

8. Use minimalism to free up your time for eco-friendly activities.

One of the most underrated benefits of minimalism is the creation of time.

By reducing the number of things you own, you won't have to spend as much time cleaning, deciding what to wear, or worst of all, trying to find things in the messy clutter.

By reducing your commitments, you'll free up space in your schedule.

By ending toxic relationships, you spend less time soaking up negativity and have more time for yourself.

And by removing addictive apps on your phone, you'll free up time you'd otherwise lose to aimless social media browsing.

With that extra time, you can finally do the eco-friendly activities you've always wanted to do, like:

  • Going to the farmer's market on Saturday mornings
  • Visit the library to check out books about sustainability
  • Participate in eco-activism
  • Planting trees and native flowers in your neighborhood
  • Planting a vegetable garden
  • Walk, ride a bike, or use public transportation instead of driving a car
  • Learning how to use a sewing machine
  • Learn how to prepare food from scratch

9. use minimalism to save money and invest in more sustainable goods

Another effective way to practice conservation is to invest your money in meaningful causes. Examples include shifting your 401k or portfolio into more ethical funds, supporting sustainable fashion brands, donating to good charities, or buying organic food and personal care products.

However, there is no way around it: Sustainable goods and services are expensive and require a little more money than usual.

Fortunately, minimalism is a great way to make money by selling things you no longer need, buying less material products, or downsizing your residence.

10. don't drive yourself crazy

Environmental anxiety is real. Minimalism also has its pitfalls. Both ideals promote an almost perfectionist approach that can plunge you into despair if you're not careful.

Sometimes you impulsively buy something you want. And sometimes you forget your bottle when you're out and have to buy bottled water. There's nothing wrong with that. Eco-minimalism is not about being perfect. It's about making an effort to do better.

The hope is that when you leave the earth, you've done as little damage to the planet as possible, and that's something to be proud of.

Even if you make 10% better choices, that's progress, my friend.

And if you are one of those people who make 80% good choices as a sustainable minimalist (which is great!), please try not to judge or shame others who are learning and struggling.

Become an eco-friendly minimalist

I believe that eco-minimalism can have an incredibly positive impact on our lives and planet. I hope this concept continues to catch on and reach the mainstream.

Are you a budding eco-minimalist? What have you learned so far about your experience? Let me know in the comments below.

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