Minimalism and the environment

Living a minimalist lifestyle is nothing short of a megatrend these days. Just scroll the likes of Instagram and Pinterest and you’ll find a whole host of bloggers, interior designers and influencers who sing the praises of owning less, clearing your home of unnecessary items and keeping things uncluttered. But did you know that there are different types of minimalism, and the environment isn’t always at the heart of each one.

We’ve investigated some of the different types of minimalist living, and how you can protect the environment using minimalist principles and thought processes. We then go on to share the story of yoga teacher Lisa Askem’s own journey to living a more minimalist lifestyle, and the effect the changes she has made had on her environmental impact.

5 minutes to read

Minimalism and eco-minimalism

The “traditional” definition of minimalist living focuses on the happiness items give you, and the number of items you own, as well as making your living space clear of clutter and unnecessary distractions. 

Eco-minimalism works on a similar principle while considering the impact on the Earth’s health and wellbeing. This applies to the process of minimalising your lifestyle, as well as the ongoing choices you make.

How can minimalism and the environment go hand in hand?

If you’re at the beginning of your minimalism journey, you’re probably going to want to get rid of a lot of excess stuff. Decluttering is often one of the first stages towards minimalism, so making sure you’re doing this consciously and responsibly is important.

The easiest route and therefore often the most tempting is to just dispose of everything you no longer want or need. But if you want your minimalism to help the environment, throwing stuff away should be your last option, not the default.

 

Before throwing something away, consider:

  • Repurposing or upcycling items you no longer use into something you need or will get use out of.
  • Selling unwanted items. If you can, selling locally at a car boot sale or on local selling sites is generally more eco-friendly than shipping to someone further away. But selling something on is always better than throwing it away.
  • Offering for free. Some people will see value in a free item, for example, a collection of used and washed glass jars, but won’t want to pay for them.
  • Donating to a local charity shop, hospital, friend in need or shelter.
  • Recycling anything that can be recycled, but can’t be donated, sold, or repurposed.

 

Minimalism: your ongoing journey and the environment

When continuing your minimalist journey, make purchases consciously, considering the need of the item as well as its source. A lot of traditional minimalism is rooted in design, so it can be tempting to dispose of old things to replace them with items that help you get “the look”. 

If you’re practicing eco-minimalism, it’s important to consider if what you’re buying is really needed. If you do really need to purchase something, doing some research into the sustainability and sourcing of each item is good practice, and remember that buying second-hand is almost always more gentle on the environment than buying something new, no matter how sustainably sourced that new item is. 

Ideas for environmentally-friendly minimalism

Here are some of our tips for embracing minimalism whilst also considering the environment.

Physical minimalism – your wardrobe

When it comes to the things you own and use, there are some ways to lighten your impact:

  • Focus on items that bring you personal happiness and don’t own too many of the same item.
  • Keep a capsule wardrobe
  • Buy clothes that fit your current lifestyle. 
  • Buy clothes that fit your body right now (not what you want it to be). 
  • Recycle old clothes that don’t fit your capsule or lifestyle and consider alternative ways to recycle or repurpose clothes if they can’t be sold on or donated.
  • Repair (as a project) and sell damaged items, or sell them on (or give them away for free) to support someone else’s hobby. 
  • Read our post on making your clothes last longer!
  • Before buying something, ask yourself if the purchase is necessary and what you’ll use it for. Then consider its sustainability credentials. 
  • Buy second-hand where possible. 

 

Digital minimalism 

We’ve heard about the carbon footprint of sending just 1 email and then storing that email in the cloud. Cloud storage isn’t really a cloud, it’s a series of buildings with servers running 24/7 to keep your files and data safe and ready for when you need it. To reduce your digital footprint:

  • Clear out your inbox and saved files on a regular basis. Keep only what is necessary. 
  • Go paperless in your home and work office 
  • Be more purposeful with your digital use – cutting down on your device use will mean less charging, and the bonus of more intentional time spent with friends and family. 

 

digital minimalism can help the environment: a screenshot of a google email inbox with 5376354 unopened emails

 

Creative consumption

You might live the most minimal life known to humankind, but you’ll still need some things. Being creative and intentional with your consumption is a must when it comes to eco-minimalism. You could try:

  • Borrowing from friends and family (especially those bigger ‘ticket’ items such as kitchen appliances and electronics). 
  • Rent items on a short-term basis as needed instead of buying.
  • Consider the “end of life” options for the items you buy. Purchase with the intent to eventually repurpose, sell, donate or recycle, and ask manufacturers and retailers whether they have any options to return, repair or recycle items they sell.

 

One woman’s journey to minimalism

We spoke to yoga teacher and minimalist living enthusiast Lisa Askem, who embarked on her own minimalism journey 8 years ago. She shared some thoughts about how it all began for her and how it’s going.

 

Lisa’s story

When I decided to downsize my whole life, sell my home and move my family into a smaller place, it wasn’t just the stuff of family life and 17 years in one spacious house that was going to have to be edited. Like many others, I had things from my whole life so far that I want to keep, not to all the things from my children’s lives. Our history is important and memories are the stories and rituals often re-connected through an associated item. What to keep was my biggest question.
 
I carry within me an inner Buddhist. I find it easy to let go and move on. Although I like to have nice things and love to create a home that reflects my sense of style and desire for both harmony and balance in my life, I am not attached to the material. I enjoy it but can leave it all behind. I tend to be happy anywhere.
 

Was there a particular event that prompted you to overhaul your life and live more minimally?

No event but more of a time. I had always planned to sell up and downsize, therefore I was seizing the moment and making a start on fulfilling a dream of how I wanted to live my life.
 

How did you do it, and how did it feel?

I really enjoy decluttering and moving things around, rooted in ideas of Feng Shui. I had time to work with it all, it took 9 months for the sale and purchase of my new place to go through so it was all considered.

It was emotional –  this was a clear out of my whole life history, everything that I had carried around with me. Portfolios from my time as a fashion student.  Seeing my kids’ bikes from all their ages being carried away, reminds us that life is in cycles (an intentional play on words, there). I had to shred 20 years of invoices which made me reflect on all the places and people that I have worked with. There were boxes of photos that I wasn’t ready to look at, so things like that had to go to a place for another time. It was lovely to see the contents of the garden shed being taken away with all the garden furniture and massive planters. That all went to a client who was starting up a gardening business. Along with some of the better-kept things going to new homes.

 I think it’s normal to have a lot of odd stuff. Family life meant we had no complete sets of glasses, crockery or cutlery, and that that was all easy to get rid of. But the boxes of things that my kids had made were really hard to say goodbye to. Only a parent will see the emotional attachment to such things.
 
Even though it was an emotional process, I enjoyed editing it all and creating memory boxes for things like my grandmother’s ball gown, my wedding dress, children’s shoes, first baby grow, plaster casts of their hands and feet, favourite books and clothes from my youth, ballet shoes and my Sindy doll. 
 
lisa's minimalist shelves post declutter
 
My son wasn’t (and still isn’t to an extent) ready to embrace decluttering. However, when he passed 18, he did agree to let go of a wooden toy box filled with soft toys. It really did feel like a funeral of childhood.
 
Maybe we are just very sentimental, it’s best not to look when we let this stuff go.
 

Do you feel like the life you live now is kinder to the environment than it was before your overhaul? 

Absolutely. About 5 years ago I went on a mission to detox our home and this was definitely triggered by our initial decluttering and downsizing. My son said it would be impossible but I said if we can reduce our plastic consumption by 70% that will be a good start. I think that we are very close to zero waste now. 

I guess it’s down to choice (or is until it becomes a necessity). I chose to live close to a busy high street so that I can walk to the shops. I think I have had less than 5 takeaway meals here in 8 years, so no wasteful packaging at all. I have a zero waste shop on my doorstep, so it’s easy to refill bottles for household cleaning and they’re all eco products. We live in a communal building and I share surplus veg and baked cakes with my neighbours. We all compost our food waste. Public transport is easy –  I do have a car but only use it occasionally and switching to an electric bike is on my list of intentions. 
 
Looking back to when my kids were small, I can see how much waste we produced. But I know it’s all a work in progress. It takes awareness, time and effort to change habits. I think we did OK back then, but I know we now do better.
 
I only buy sustainable products now. Either second-hand, or clothing made from recyclable fabrics. It’s much easier now than before to get this right.
 
I recently changed to an ethical bank and I am switching my pension too. There are so many little things you can do to make a difference.
 
I feel like 8 years ago was when this journey started, but it’s a journey I’m on for the long haul now, and I love it.

Share to:

Looking to build eco-friendly habits without the guilt or negativity?

Download the free Ailuna sustainability training app today.

Other posts you might like