An eco-minimalist makes decisions about their purchases, possessions, and lifestyle based on their impact on the environment. They want to protect the earth and live as lightly as possible. This post will go into further detail about the different characteristics of an eco-minimalist and how you can incorporate more eco-minimalism into your own life.
This post is the fourth in a series about the different types of minimalism. Here are the other posts:
Before we get started, I want to say that you don’t have to be one type of minimalist, nor do you have to follow all the tenets of a minimalist lifestyle to consider yourself minimalist. Heck, don’t even use the word “minimalist” if you don’t want to. This is a guide to help you pick and choose ideas that work for you. Don’t worry about whether you’re “doing it right” or not. We are humans, not archetypes.
Features of an eco-minimalist
With each purchase an eco-minimalist makes, they consider how it affects the planet. This concern often comes before the wish to have conveniences for themselves. An eco-conscious person might own a Prius, but an eco-minimalist might take that a step further and not own a car at all.
Like an essential minimalist, an eco-minimalist will try to buy just the necessities. The difference is that an essential minimalist might have less concern for the origins of the products they buy. Both still want quality over quantity, but the eco-minimalist also wants the products to be responsibly made, with a minimal carbon footprint.
Many eco-minimalist that I know of also try to reduce their meat consumption, buy used goods as much as possible, and encourage local businesses to recycle. They aren’t afraid to reach out to companies they spend their money with and let them know that they want them to act more responsibly. In many ways, they are just like anyone who lives in more eco-friendly ways. They just do it while owning less stuff.
One example of an eco-minimalist that comes to mind is YouTuber and blogger Verena Erin of My Green Closet. She’s a former fit model who lives minimally and carefully researches household products, clothing brands, make-up, and personal care items before making her recommendations about them. I like her because she isn’t afraid to point out the faults in the products she reviews. She also advises people that they probably won’t be able to find everything they want—for example, they may have to choose between a local company and a company that does organic, because it will be hard to find both.
Behind the scenes of an eco-minimalist
Given that the majority of society is very consumerist and there are still people who refuse to believe or admit how much humans are damaging the earth, it can be challenging to live as an eco-minimalist in the modern age. If one owns any type of electronics or equipment, they are potentially making a negative impact on the environment. Even today, the “greenest” manufacturers of cell phones, TVs, and various appliances still use polluting techniques to create their products. The website globalcitizen.org says that buying an average smartphone impacts the planet through the mining of rare earth minerals, resulting in a pool of toxic runoff, water supplies polluted with black coal dust, and sulfur in the air. Many cell phone manufacturers still use child labor in some part of their operations; one report is that over 60 children were killed inside mines in 2008.
And all of this is before the smartphone is even manufactured, a process that creates greenhouse gases. More pollutants are created each time you charge your phone as well. Lastly, one source says that only 16% of e-waste is recycled. The rest ends up in our mountainous landfills, the components leaching into the soil and water. Landfill waste is often burned, releasing more toxic fumes into the air.
But who doesn’t own a smartphone these days? As you can see with this example, a dedicated eco-minimalist would have to make a lot of agonizing decisions on a regular basis.
Ways to incorporate eco-minimalism into your life
I don’t want to discourage anyone who wants to take better care of the environment. I just know that trying to be a strict eco-minimalist is a tough road. If you’re starting from scratch, trying to minimize your possessions in an eco-friendly way and being conscious about consumption at the same time is a lot to take on at once. That’s why I recommend taking baby steps in either direction as you adjust. Here are some ways you can be more eco-minimalist:
- As you’re downsizing, make sure you have a new home for things you aren’t keeping that doesn't involve putting them in a landfill. There are ways to find a new place for just about anything out there. Take a look at my post about getting rid of stuff for some ideas.
- Pick an area of your life where you spend a lot of money. Food is a good place to start for many people. There are many, many things that people can do to make more planet-friendly food choices. Here are just a few simple ones: eating produce in season, choosing products with minimal packaging, and buying whole (real, unprocessed) foods as much as possible.
- For times when you have to use paper products, choose brands that use recycled paper, or more sustainable paper alternatives.
- Those of us who are RVers and camp off-grid know about “military showers.” It’s also something many of us grew up within drought-stricken California. It’s where you run the water to get your hair and body wet, turn it off to soap up, and turn it back on again to rinse. Using this method is a water-efficient way to brush your teeth, wash your hands, and wash dishes as well.
- As they need replacing, switch out appliances for more energy-efficient versions, toilets, and showerheads for their water-conserving counterparts, and incandescent or fluorescent bulbs for LED ones. Try not to change out things just because you want to get green as quickly as possible. Wait until you actually need to do it because the old equipment is worn out.
- If you do end up getting rid of something, do you really need to replace it? It’s ok to have empty space.
- When you need to buy something, I recommend using the following order to search out your purchase and reduce your impact on the planet: 1. local and used, preferably of eco-friendly materials; 2. local, eco-friendly, and new; 3. used but online; 4. new, eco-friendly, online; 5. purchase pause. If you’re not familiar with the term purchase pause, I’ll be discussing it in more detail in my next post.
There are ways to renew, reuse, and recycle in the next sections.
RenewCan you upcycle or update something instead of getting rid of it? Sometimes an alteration or a coat of paint brings enough vibrancy to an item that you don’t need to replace it. There are many TV shows, YouTube channels, blogs, and Pinterest accounts focused on rehabbing old stuff. If you prefer old-school inspiration, look for books or magazines you can check out from the library. It doesn't have to be expensive--free information is everywhere!
ReuseFor eating out, bring a reusable water bottle, travel mug for coffee and tea, and container for restaurant leftovers whenever you go out. Bring your own silverware if you’re eating take-out on the go instead of getting throwaway plastic utensils. You could also carry a cloth napkin with you. It’s better to have them on hand--in your car or bag--so you don’t have to worry about remembering to bring them whenever you leave the house. Ask servers right up front not to give you a straw with any drinks you order, and not to put your take-out in a plastic or paper bag.
At home, use old rags or reusable cloths for cleaning. Try out cloth napkins instead of paper ones.
Instead of buying new containers to store things, consider reusing empty containers you would otherwise throw away or recycle. I love using old glass jars from pasta sauce for dry goods (or homemade pasta sauce).
RecycleDid you know tons of recyclable materials get thrown away every year? Part of the problem stems from things landing directly in the trash when they could be recycled. The other issue is that people try to recycle containers without cleaning them first. Many recycling plants don’t have the capacity to decontaminate dirty containers, so they will just throw away whole batches instead. Make it your business to know what you can recycle in your area, and prepare items for recycling the right way.
You don’t have to take big steps to be more minimalist and eco-friendly. I think the two actually go well together. Environmentally conscious decisions are a matter of doing the best you can, whenever you can.