• Nina

Do You Have to Be a Minimalist to Live A Sustainable Lifestyle?

Environmentally-sustainable living is all about reducing your waste, energy footprint, and environmental impact. Therefore, that must mean that minimalism is the ideal lifestyle we all should abide by, right?

Well, not really.

Most often, when we think of minimalism, we think of it in the aesthetic sense: you have a very small wardrobe of basic, versatile clothing, just a couple pieces of furniture that you love, bare walls, and nothing hanging around that you don’t use on a daily basis. One would think that this lifestyle of owning and consuming a minimal amount of material items would, by nature, be low-waste and minimally impactful on the environment.

As Izzy McLeod points out in this article from her blog, The Quirky Environmentalist, this “aesthetic” in itself is not innately environmentally-friendly, it depends on how you do it:

“...on the surface someone who only owns 20 wardrobe pieces, and has a one in one out policy, is going to be seen as minimal. But if they buy all of their clothing from fast fashion brands and replace them every month, that is definitely not environmentally conscious. Not that many people are like this, it's a very basic example to prove the point, but I definitely see people online who fit this aesthetic but are buying fast fashion…”

I’m no expert in the minimalist philosophy, but from my understanding, the point of a minimalist lifestyle appears to be reducing your material crutches in order to allow yourself the freedom to be more present in your surroundings, so that you can experience and enjoy the more important things in life (time with family, meaningful experiences, personal discovery). You keep the things that bring you joy and add value to your life, and nothing extraneous; by living a minimalist lifestyle, you’re changing your mindset and rearranging your priorities.

This, of course, means that “minimalism” is going to look differently on everybody. You may have more “things” that you believe are necessary for your happiness than someone else who also lives by a minimalistic philosophy. So, does minimalism = that aesthetic we all see on instagram? Not necessarily, it depends entirely on the person.

But, to bounce back to what Izzy was saying, having a “minimalist” aesthetic is not necessarily synonymous with living a sustainable lifestyle. Reducing your consumption of materials is wonderful, but minimalism itself does not dictate that you have to get your minimal possessions in an environmentally-friendly way. Minimalism could be considered a very individualistic philosophy that revolves around what a person decides is necessary for them, and although I am sure for a large population of minimalist-livers that this also means investing in reusable products instead of disposable, or only owning thrifted clothing, not every minimalist is an environmentalist.

That being said, not every environmentalist is a minimalist. Minimalism sounds like a really wonderful practice to live by, maybe one day I’ll try implementing it in my life. However, I’ve always been a material girl, and I thoroughly believe that you can live a sustainable lifestyle without abiding by a minimalist “aesthetic.” I love clothes, I love glassware, I love art pieces, I love having shelves of books and jars of herbs everywhere.

do you have to be a minimalist to be sustainable

How can you live sustainably if you’ve got so much stuff?

Most of my possessions are things that I acquired prior to starting my mission to live sustainably; however, I have many items that I’ve accumulated post the change in mindset; it all depends on where your things come from, and what you do with them when you no longer need them.

You don’t have to - and shouldn’t - throw your things away just to achieve that un-cluttered, “eco-friendly lifestyle” look

Maybe you’ve got some plastic faux-plants strewn about your house, but you’ve recently made the switch to eco-friendly living, and you feel guilty about having purchased these items. One word for you: don’t. It’s okay, what matters is that now you have a better understanding of how your purchases and possessions impact the world around you, so now you can do things differently. If the faux plants you have make you happy, keep them. I’ll go as far as to say: if you want more, check your local thrift store, Mercari or ebay to see if you can get some second-hand plants.

If you really don’t want them anymore, don’t throw your possessions away, give them a second life

Here are four things you can do instead of throwing your old items in the trash. If you want to reduce the amount of possessions you have and achieve that minimalist aesthetic, or you’re a material girl like myself and just want to make room for new things, try:

  • Selling them: sell your things to a thrift store, online second-hand shop, pawn shop, your friends, your family - give your item a second chance to make someone else happy, and get a few dollars back in the meantime.

  • Gifting your item: if you don’t want to make money off the item or think it’ll take too long to sell, gift the item to someone you know instead. Maybe your friend always compliments that painting you have every time they visit your house; next time, ask them if they want it.

  • Donate your item: if you don’t want to sell it and don’t personally know anybody who’d make use of it, donate your item.

  • Upcycle or repurpose it into something else: you don’t like that dress anymore? Maybe it would look great as a top - cut it up. The bottoms of your jeans are all ripped to shreds from years of wear? Chop them into shorts, or, if you’re actually good at this sort of thing, take the old fabric and make it into a tote bag. Candle jars can in fact be cleaned out and repurposed, check out my article for ideas on what you can do with them. Get creative, almost everything can be turned into something else if you use your noggin.

Be conscious of where you acquire new items

When I’m looking for new items for my home or wardrobe, the first thing I look towards is seeing what I can acquire used or second-hand.

  • Let’s go back to hand-me-downs: I have never had to purchase dishes in the four years that I’ve lived on my own, because my family already has approximately 848028910304980000 dishes lying around (my great grandmother really liked dishware). Sustainability aside, it would be a complete waste of money for me to buy my own sets of dishes just for the sake of buying my own dishes. If you’re moving to a new place or just looking for a change in your space, ask your family what they might have lying around. Love vintage fashion? Ask your parents what they have lying around in their closets that they haven’t touched since the 80s.

  • Then of course, there’s thrift stores. Check out your local thrift stores, or shop second-hand items online. There are plenty of places to buy second-hand on Etsy, ebay, Thredup, Mercari, Facebook Marketplace, even Amazon.

If you really want something that’s brand-new, look for brands that create their items from recycled or repurposed materials.

  • There are lots of lovely fashion brands that are committed to making their clothes out of recycled fabrics and materials: I am completely obsessed with All About Audrey, a clothing shop that creates absolutely beautiful handmade pieces from recycled Indian sari fabrics. They also sell vintage clothing, but their handmade clothes are stunning. I'll be coming out with a photo shoot of the pieces I recently purchased once the weather heats up a few degrees. I have also been following Grace Beverly’s Tala since it first launched; they use almost entirely recycled materials, including plastic bottles are committed to sustainable business practices, and very often use their platform to educate people on protecting the environment.

  • For a list of eco-friendly furniture companies, read this article from The Good Trade.

  • Look for décor and home-goods brands that use recycled or sustainable materials. While these brands tend to be an investment price-wise (it’s a good thing, we want to support fair-trade, environmentally friendly businesses), it’s worth the cost. If it’s out of your price range, you can always support your favorite conscious businesses by liking their posts or sharing their goods on social media - like Coconut Bowls. I love their work and mission, but as I said before, I have no reason to be buying dishware at this time, so I’ll just give them an unaffiliated shout-out.

  • Seek items of higher quality: if you purchase a higher-quality item, not only will it last you a long time, but when you’re ready to pass it off to a new home, it’ll be in good enough condition to resell or repurpose. You want the items you bring into your home to be able to go back into circulation.

So, no sweat, you really do not have to abandon all your worldly possessions to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle. You and your over-stuffed closet can live in peace with the planet.

Would you consider yourself a minimalist? Or are you constantly out thrifting? Let's chat in the comments!

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