Eco minimalism 101: The What, Why, and How
You’ve heard of minimalism, and you’ve heard of eco-friendly/sustainable living. But what about, eco-minimalism?
If you’re like me, you’re drawn to certain aspects of minimalism and eco-friendly living. But maybe you cringe when you hear other fellow aspiring minimalists talk about how much stuff they willingly throw out. And maybe when you take a look at your jar collection, you cringe at all the excess clutter.
If you can relate, eco-minimalism may be exactly what you are looking for.
In this post, I’ll share the 101 on everything eco-minimalism. What it is, why do it, and share some resources and tips for how.
If you’d prefer to listen to this post, or just learn more, check out my podcast Raising Eco Minimalists, episode one all about this topic.
Let’s get started.
Eco minimalism definition
While there isn’t an official definition of what eco minimalism is, it boils down to this:
Eco minimalism is the balance between eco-friendly/low waste/sustainable living and minimalism.
I like to look at it as living with less in a sustainable way (including not just physical items, but everything in our life). The word sustainable in this case, can be thought of as the eco-friendly term, or also ‘long lasting’.
While the two lifestyles have many similarities, there are some key differences as well, which I’ll talk about further down the post.
Where did eco minimalism come from?
Eco-minimalism started out as a design term for constructing buildings (interestingly enough, the concept of ‘zero waste’ started out as a manufacturing term) by Howard Lidell. He argued that when constructing buildings, we can’t be green-washed by ‘eco-bling’, and must be selective and minimalistic in what is actually needed to make a sustainable building.
Lidell’s book, Eco-Minimalism: The Antidote to Eco-Bling, is still in print if you’re interested in checking it out. Here’s a link to some available on Ebay if you want to learn more.
While the concept was initially created for construction, it has slowly seeped into individuals trying to live a more mindful and conscious life.
So, if minimalism and sustainable living are so similar, and we have this term ‘eco-minimalism’, it begs the question….
Is minimalism still a thing?
Yes, yes, and yes! Minimalism is definitely still a thing, and if you’re asking my opinion, it is growing in popularity as people learn about all the benefits of the lifestyle. All we have to do is look at shows like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and The Organization Gang – both on Netflix – to see that people are interested in living with less.
My issue with the movement is that there can be a lot of waste. I literally found myself cringing when I was watching Tidying Up as people were proudly piling up bags of trash. Yes, some of the items may actually be trash, but I’m going to bet that not all of it was.
Additionally, when people declutter, a lot of the items get donated. While this isn’t necessarily bad, a percentage (close to 50%) of items don’t make it on the shelves. It is in my humble opinion that part of our decluttering process should include responsibly getting rid of the stuff – even if that means it takes longer.
Is minimalism good for the environment?
Continuing the conversation above, the answer to this question is: it depends.
Yes, probably an annoying answer. But it’s the truth.
There are two parts to this answer, which I’ll break down now.
On one hand, as a whole, yes, minimalism is good for the environment in the sense that one of the main principles is to live with less, with reduced and conscious consumerism. These are probably the biggest shared values within the minimalist and low waste/eco-friendly movement.
However, on the other hand, minimalism doesn’t automatically equal sustainability. When decluttering, often things will end up in the trash – directly or indirectly – and without thought.
When buying things, there isn’t a focus on sustainability or ethical businesses/items. Additionally, because minimalism looks different for everyone, there still may be active consumption – whether in a pattern of consuming/decluttering, or because there are just a lot of things that bring someone joy.
Finally, some people who identify as minimalists simply may not be interested in the eco-friendly aspect of it. Sustainable living just isn’t part of their values, and that’s OK.
There are plenty of us who are interested and working towards eco-minimalism. Which brings us to the next part….
How to find a balance between low waste/eco friendly living and minimalism?
You’re interested in finding a balance between minimalism and eco-friendly living, but aren’t really sure how. For example, lots of low wasters will save things to reuse at a later date. However, saving unused items isn’t exactly in line with the minimalism movement, and can quickly lead to clutter if you’re not careful.
This is an extremely common issue that comes up for those of us trying to live both movements, so if you’re here, you’re not alone.
The answer, like everything else in this movement, is not straight forward, and can look different for everyone.
However, I can share with you how I balance the two in hopes of providing some tactics that may work for you.
First, I realize that things aren’t always going to be perfectly balanced, and that’s OK. That’s NORMAL, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Second, for me, I set limits on things I keep based on space. My house isn’t huge, and storage is limited. For things like jars, I have designated one space for them. Once that space is filled, I either find another use for them, offer them on FB or in my local Buy Nothing group, or recycle.
Third, I aim to compromise with my husband, who is definitely more minimalist and anti-clutter than sustainable. Which is a perfect segway into our next section!
How do I get my partner/roommate on board?
I have an entire post on this topic, so I’m not going to dive into it here, but I’ll share some basic tips. If you want to read more about living with someone who isn’t an eco-minimalist like you are, you can do so here.
So, how do you get your partner/roommate/kids on board?
The answer is you can’t, at least, if they’re not willing.
If you’re like my husband and I, or many other partners/roommates, your level of eco-minimalism likely differs. And that’s OK. It doesn’t mean you need to give up your wishes of living that lifestyle.
It just means you’ll need to compromise.
Here are some quick tips:
*Don’t touch their things: a super quick way to turn someone off from eco-minimalism is to mess with their things. Don’t do it. It may be tempting to go through their things – especially if you think they don’t use them. But it’s a bad idea.
*Lead by example: do your own eco-minimalism thing, and let the benefits speak for themselves. Talk about (not preaching) the things you’re doing and why. You may be surprised how quickly it rubs off on others.
*Communicate: there may be some things you don’t agree on (my husband and I have two very different definitions of clutter), so it’s important to communicate and compromise.
To read more about this topic, click on the link below.
What are some of the differences of minimalism and low waste/eco friendly living?
As we talked about above, the main difference between minimalism and low waste/eco friendly living has to do with consumption and disposing of items. Please note that these are absolutely generalized, and are not absolute. Nor is one wrong or bad.
Consumption: someone living an eco-friendly lifestyle likely thinks before they buy. They ask questions like if they really need the item, can they use something else instead, borrow, or look secondhand. Additionally, they may look to purchase from a local small business, BIPOC/women owned, or from a sustainable/ethical company.
Someone who is minimalist may also think before they buy, but without the same eco-friendly values, they may not put in additional effort to find an ethical or eco-friendly alternative (or put in the time to look secondhand). Note: this may not be by choice.
Item disposal: Someone who is looking to reduce waste may put in the extra time and effort to find items a home where they know the item will get used. They may also take the time to run to different recycling facilities in order to make sure items are properly disposed and/or recycled. Someone who doesn’t have these same values may not put in the time (or be able to put in the time) to do the same. Instead, they may just throw things away.
Related post: 11 Ways Minimalism and Zero Waste Living Are The Same
Tips for adopting eco minimalism in your life
Reduce, reduce, reduce
We talked about how reducing consumption and ‘things’ is one of the key components to both minimalism and low waste/eco friendly living. This is a fantastic way to get started with the eco minimalism movement in your own life.
If you’re brand new to this, start with a buy nothing week or month. Challenge yourself to only look secondhand for items. Practice getting into the habit of checking with yourself anytime you’re tempted to buy to find out why….are you upset? Or is this something you really need?
Make borrowing, upcycling, and reusing your norm. Join a local Buy Nothing Group, Freecycle, Nextdoor or Facebook Marketplace to give away and look for items secondhand (for only items you need, of course!)
Remember to look past physical items. While this is obviously very important, minimalism (and eco minimalism) go beyond the physical piece. It can include reducing commitments or activities that don’t resonate in order to spend time outside, starting a garden or other eco-friendly activity, volunteering, or filling up your cup.
Make time for eco-friendly living
Yes, I know, I too roll my eyes whenever someone says “make time”. But hear me out.
By reducing, reducing, reducing, you can make time. Seriously. By limiting commitments and activities and getting rid of clutter (that takes up time and energy – think searching for lost items, cleaning, organizing, etc), there is a possibility to add some time back into your day.
This can provide opportunities to make trips to the library, host clothing/toy swaps, spend quality time with family and friends (once we’re safely able to, of course), support a local environmental organization, go to farmer’s markets, volunteer, write letters to local politicians and companies, start a garden, or other eco-friendly activities that suit your lifestyle. Maybe it’s even just getting outside more often!
Allot time for going the extra mile
Sure, when you’re a minimalist or working towards it, it’s much simpler and a time saver to just get rid of stuff. Drop it off at Goodwill or throw things away. However, this isn’t the most eco-friendly option.
As I mentioned briefly above, ensuring that items are properly disposed of can take some extra time. If you’re able, make sure you allot that extra time to go to different recycling facilities or areas (or even just researching these places), finding someone who wants an item vs just donating it to Goodwill, etc.
The good news is that once you really start to limit consumption, these activities will be less and less.
Additionally, borrowing items or searching secondhand can also take extra time. In my opinion, I’ve come to really appreciate this, because it really limits how many impulse purchases I can make. But if you’re not used to allocating time for this, it may come as a surprise.
There are more tips of course, but these tips are great for just starting out, and can be a great partner to the resources below.
Other eco minimalism resources
There is a growing community of those interested in eco-minimalism – which to me is really exciting. These tips will help you get started, or even continue on with your journey if you’re already on your way.
What tips do you use (or plan to use) in your own life to practice eco-minimalism?
Want to learn how to adopt a reduction based lifestyle (through mindfulness, minimalism, anxiety management, and zero waste living but not sure where to start?