How to Be an Eco-Minimalist

You have probably already heard about minimalism before, a lifestyle that focuses on possessing less material items and promotes the ‘less is more’ philosophy. But what about eco-minimalism? Eco-minimalism was first coined to describe a house design concept, but has now been redefined as a lifestyle that values both minimalism and eco-consciousness. Eco-minimalism is the balance between eco-friendly/zero waste/sustainability and minimalism. Both minimalism and eco-friendly living focus on conscious living and purchasing. This makes the two a perfect pair for anyone who wants to reduce their carbon footprint and the amount of material items in their life. By consuming less and consuming responsibly, you can become an eco-minimalist! Here are some tips to get you started:

Reduce, reduce, reduce: Reducing consumption and material items is a key component of both minimalism and sustainable living. If you are brand new to the concept of buying less, start off slow and try to challenge yourself – try to buy nothing new for a week or a month, eventually you can spread it out to years! 

Before you buy, think mindfully and ask yourself these questions: Do I really need this? Is this something I can rent, borrow, or buy second hand? Can I reuse or upcycle something that I already own? Can I buy this from a local business or from a sustainable company? What are the impacts of the life cycle of this product? 

You can also consume less and reduce by implementing sustainable swaps into your daily life. Skip the plastic straws and bring your own stainless steel straw or ditch the plastic cling wrap for reusable beeswax wrap. 

Most importantly, look past physical items. Unfortunately, our current society promotes hyper-consumerism, shopping sprees, and cheaply made items that will break in a month. Consumerism is not only terrible for the environment, but it may also be detrimental for your mental health! You may have to take a fair amount of time and effort to shift your mindset to look beyond the physical items in your life. Instead, try to make a commitment to value experiences that resonate with you. This could be gardening, volunteering, getting outside, or any other eco-friendly activity. 

Balance: Some initiatives that you adopt may be considered sustainable, but not minimalist and vice versa. For example, maybe you possess a collection of jars that you use to store food – this is eco-friendly, but not minimal, and that’s okay! 

Although minimalism and sustainability can complement each other nicely, other times they may not. There may be times where you have to decide if you value minimalism or sustainability more. Thus, balance will become key – if you are adopting a variety of minimalist habits in one area of your life, try adopting sustainable habits in other areas. 

If you can, try to go the extra mile with habits that will easily incorporate both minimalism and sustainable living. For example, if you buy bars of soap to limit the need for packaged soap, go the extra step to ensure that the soap is produced from local ingredients and is ethically made. 

Declutter mindfully: Decluttering is a very big part of minimalism, but where do your decluttered items end up? And do you really need to declutter?

This is yet another great opportunity to let sustainability and minimalism complement each other; be conscious of where you are sending your decluttered items. Unfortunately, donating items may not be the most sustainable practice and should be thought of as a last resort, as your donations may end up in landfills abroad. Instead brainstorm other ways that you can declutter – can your items be composted somehow? Resold? Swapped? Posted to a ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook group? Upcycled or repurposed? Repaired? Regifted? Anything else?

Only declutter items that are not useful – you do not have to be an extreme eco-minimalist with only 25 items in your house – it’s okay to keep items! In the long run, keeping items instead of decluttering may be more eco-friendly. For example, if you get rid of a certain object and realize later on that you actually do need it, you may have to buy it again, using up more resources that you wouldn’t have if you kept the item in the first place. 

Develop solutions to avoid risks: Yes, there are even risks to this lifestyle!

One big risk with eco-minimalism is comparison. Everyone will have to take their own unique path to achieve eco-minimalism. Don’t feel down if you believe your friend is doing eco-minimalism “better”, maybe they can help guide you! You may also need to limit your social media; being bombarded with images of perfectly curated eco-minimalist lifestyles may overwhelm you (or inspire you depending on your mindset).  

Another risk to avoid is greenwashing and targeted marketing. When transitioning to any type of sustainable lifestyle, it is tempting to naively believe companies that are trying to sell us “eco-friendly products”, some of which aren’t even necessary! A good rule of thumb is to avoid buying unnecessary sustainable swaps – do you really need that $30 Hydro Flask, or can you just use a water bottle that you already have? Also, watch out for companies who seem like they’re doing the right thing. For example, if a toothbrush company has a whole line of plastic toothbrushes, but one type of bamboo toothbrush, they aren’t really a sustainable company that cares; rather they are trying to appeal to a wider audience and make more money by catering to individuals that value sustainability. So, be mindful of which companies you are supporting!

Make time for eco-minimalism: An important part of implementing any new habit or lifestyle is the time that you need to practice. Some of us may be able to shift to an eco-minimalist lifestyle very easily within a week or two, for others it may be a long journey that takes months or years. 

Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself and others joining you on your eco-minimalism journey. Respect the unique paths that others in your life may have to take to achieve eco-minimalism. Be sure to encourage one another and do not become frustrated or discouraged if something does not go right. You may need to try out many different initiatives before finding the one that fits right for you. 

You will also need to make time to provide yourself with opportunities to make trips to the library, go to clothing swaps, visit Farmers’ Markets, write letters to local politicians and companies, and so forth. Time will also be needed for you to do your research, whether that’s Googling how to upcycle a t-shirt or whether or not your shampoo is eco-friendly.

In conclusion, eco-minimalism is about living with only the things that you need that are sourced and used with the Earth’s health in mind. This lifestyle can allow you to focus on living a meaningful life, free from physical items and making well-informed choices for our planet. It is time to learn to live with less and experience life instead!