How to live zero waste and be a minimalist when your partner isn’t
How do I get my partner/family/roommate/parents on board with a lifestyle change such as decluttering or going zero waste?
I see this question ALL. THE. TIME.
All. The. Time.
And for good reason. Since I started my reduction-based living journey, specifically the minimalist and zero waste pieces (five years and 2.5 years ago respectively), I’ve noticed that it’s often one person that initiates the change. If you’re living on your own, that’s great! But if you’re living with someone else, no matter who that person is, you may come up against resistance.
Related: 10 Ways Minimalism and Zero Waste Living are the Same
My husband was always more minimalist than I was, so decluttering and reducing ‘stuff’ wasn’t really a sticking point for us. When it came to zero waste, while he wasn’t against it, he wasn’t fully on board at first either. I think he thought it was going to require a ton of change and time. Luckily, the environment and our son’s future is important to him too, and he does indulge in many of the zero waste efforts I do. But he’s not as hard core about it as I am, and that’s OK.
You can’t force anyone to do anything they aren’t willing to do.
BUT, there are a few things you can do to inspire and encourage those around you so they hopefully see the light.
For each tip below, I’ve titled said tip with either an appropriate headline, OR, a common phrase I see/hear from others when they’re wanting to start a reduction-based journey (through mindfulness, anxiety management, and for the purposes of this post, specifically minimalism and zero waste living.) However, the tip will apply to anyone who lives with someone who isn’t minimalist or zero waste.
So, without further ado…
Here are 11 ways to live zero waste and be a minimalist when your partner isn’t.
Going zero waste and clutter free with compassion
First things first: remember that minimalism, living a clutter free life, and zero waste living is not for everyone. For those of us who are in the realms of reducing our consumption and getting rid of clutter and waste – that means we had an excess to begin with, which is a privilege. A lot of people aren’t able to say the same.
And some people (those people being one or multiple people you live with) may have grown up in severe poverty, their parents didn’t respect their stuff, or they grew up with a mindset around lacking ‘things’, and it’s triggering to be decluttering or adopting some of the zero waste lifestyle hacks.
Or maybe having things is a sign that they’ve made it and are successful in life, because they grew up with nothing and worked hard to get where they are today.
The stuff we have often holds a lot of emotions and traumas from earlier in our lives, and for some, it’s not as easy to ‘just reduce it’ – whether you’re talking waste or items.
It’s important to be mindful about this when approaching those you live with your new lifestyle change – especially if they respond with resistance or on the defense. They may not even know the reasoning behind not wanting to reduce themselves.
Approach the process with respect
Do not throw away or get rid of any personal belongings that are not specifically yours. Seriously. Just don’t do it. Imagine how you would feel if someone did that to you? As I mentioned in the previous post, there may be a lot of underlying reasons (that someone may not even be aware of) as to why they like having ‘stuff’, or are opposed to reducing. If you start the process getting rid of a bunch of their stuff – whether that’s through decluttering or reducing waste, it’s only going to make them more resistant and defensive.
Do. Not. Do. It.
Related post: How to declutter your closet for good (plus save money and reduce waste)
Check yourself at the minimalist and zero waste living door
I’m going to challenge you on this – because I think a lot of times we make excuses to not start a new lifestyle change. Know where I’m going?
Often, I see people who say that they can’t get rid of clutter or reduce waste because their family isn’t on board. Or their roommate. Or parents. Or whomever.
But guess what? You can. You really, truly can.
I’m assuming you have your own stuff. I’m also assuming you have certain things you are responsible for in the house (chores, etc). Maybe you work outside of the home and have your own routines there. Those things that are yours? You can change. You don’t need someone else to be 100% on board in order for you to reduce them or make changes.
When we start a lifestyle change such as reduction-based living, it can be scary. Change is hard! The tasks ahead seem daunting. It’s much easier to make excuses about why we can’t begin or keep going than to actually do the work.
It’s also easy to fall into a mindset of ‘perfectionism’, which is really just a mask for anxiety, in my opinion. A mindset that says ‘everyone has to be on board or it won’t work and I can’t do it’ is not true and not helpful.
So if you see yourself in this tip….I’m definitely not judging. I know I made my fair share of excuses too. But I’m also not going to let you get away with it that easily. You got this!
Related post: How to graciously tell someone no gifts, please (with actual examples)
“My husband refuses to declutter” (aka = just do your own thing)
Ok. So you have someone that you live with that refuses to declutter or reduce waste. Is that ideal? Is that your perfect vision of what you saw when you dreamed about a clutter-free and waste free home? No, probably not.
As I said above, you’ve got to just do your own thing. This means working on your own stuff or the stuff in your control (also known as – not someone else’s stuff.)
One great thing about the components of reduction-based living is that a lot of the benefits are visual. You can physically see how less ‘stuff’ opens up your living space. You can actually measure the time saved by not having to clean as much. You get the idea.
Ideally, your housemate(s) will start noticing how you are reaping the benefits of reduction-based living because you’ve been leading by example and not judging or pushing. And they’ll want to learn how to do it too.
An example is reducing waste to the point where you can get a smaller curbside trash can. You can physically see that benefit, and bonus, it likely comes with a money saving benefit as well that no one (likely) will complain about!
Trust me, this works!
“My partner doesn’t care about the environment” or, don’t make assumptions
Whenever I hear something like this, I often wonder if that is really the case, or if that is an assumption? And you know what they say when you assume….
Talk with the people you live with. Share why these lifestyle changes are important to you (more on that below) and the benefits they provide, and ask them about their hesitations.
From there, you can work on speaking their language: is saving money something they value? Talk to them about the money saving aspects of reducing waste and clutter.
Do they want more time for their hobbies? Show them resources on how decluttering and reducing waste can free up time.
People need a reason to care; a ‘why.’ If there is no connection, there is no motivation. They may need a little help seeing why they should care in the first place.
Related post: Super Easy Zero Waste Swaps That are Saving us Over $1200 A Year (that’s over $100 a Month!)
With compassion (see first tip), share (don’t bombard) articles, tips, blogs, videos, documentaries, podcasts, etc. of the benefits of the specific lifestyle change you’re looking to implement. Talk to your people about why it’s important to you and why you’re starting on the journey. They may not agree with it in the end, but hopefully they’re open enough to read an article or two to get an idea of where you are coming from.
From there, you can…
Compromise and communicate about what you want your low waste and clutter-free home to look like
We’ve already established that you aren’t going to go through other people’s stuff and get rid of it. However, for joint spaces and things that will affect both of you, involve your partner/family/roommate as much as they’re willing to be involved without pushing. If they’re very resistant to getting rid of things, here are a couple of things to try:
1. Ask if you can compromise by putting the items away for a couple of months. If at the end of the two months, the items haven’t been touched, then revisit donating or selling them.
2. Come up with an agreement that benefits all parties which says joint spaces will remain clutter-free, but the person/people you live with can do whatever they want with their room or another space. This is just an example – tweak to fit what works for your household.
The most important piece in this is to communicate. Don’t just declutter an area and assume your housemate will ‘catch on’. That’s just setting everyone up for failure.
And if someone comes home with food wrapped in tons of disposable/single-use packaging? Don’t shame or embarrass. Just focus on your food items and/or do what you want when you shop. Again – lead by example.
Related post: The Eco-Friendly Magic of Tidying Up (or where to get rid of almost anything (responsibly)
How to live with a messy spouse, family member, or roomate
You may see a mess, I may see a ‘lived in space.’
Know there may be different opinions of what ‘clutter’ is: my husband and I have differences in what we deem as clutter. He sees our son’s toys over the living room floor as clutter. I see that as toys being played with but just not put away (because they do all have a spot to be returned).
I see his piles of papers, mail, and ‘stuff’ as major clutter that drives me up the wall. He just doesn’t seem to see it.
As a compromise, we have come up with the following:
- We help my son clean up his toys in the joint living areas each night before bed
- We have created a box for all my husband’s piles of ‘stuff’. Full disclosure that I am the one who puts his piles in the box, but at least they’re out of sight then. That way he can go through the piles on his own time, and I’m not constantly feeling frustrated and annoyed.
The important thing to remember here is that even if you don’t see something as clutter that your partner does, it still has the same physical and mental effects on the person as all clutter does. Work together to figure out a solution.
“My wife is wasteful”, or, what not to say to someone
You love your partner. You love your family. You have to live with your roommate. You have to follow your parents rules under their roof. Whatever you do, don’t let minimalism and zero waste living create a wedge within the household by assigning blame and labels.
Be respectful, ask for respect in return, compromise and communicate, and know that your home doesn’t have to be perfect to reap the benefits (what does that even look like?) Approach these lifestyles with curiosity and enjoyment. Teach with an open heart and without being pushy and without judgement of others.
Zero waste and minimalism with kids
Some reduction is better than nothing. I repeat, some reduction is better than nothing. When it comes to zero waste and minimalism with kids, it’s important to follow the same guidelines as you would with an adult. Just because they’re kids, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect, communication, and compromise (in my opinion.)
Obviously, it’s your house and your rules, so do what works best for your family. But here’s how we do it in my house.
In my house, my son helps out with all the zero waste tasks that have become part of our routine. We’ll talk a lot about something if it is new and why we are doing it (in an age appropriate manner), but over time, it just becomes second nature. We’ll also read books about a lot of the eco-friendly topics we do in our home, knowing other homes may not do them and my son may wonder why.
My husband and I have started talking about volunteering with him in our community to help further showcase the importance of eco-friendly living at home and further out.
At the time of posting this post, my son is almost 4.5 years old. We’ve been decluttering with him since he was around two years old. We often go through his room when we clean it, and we talk about how if he doesn’t want an item or isn’t playing with an item any more that he can ‘give it to a friend’ who doesn’t have one. Same goes with books – except with books, he helps me bring them to our local free little library. He has slowly started to randomly bring me items and say he wants to give them to a friend. I never push him to get rid of anything, even if it is something I don’t ever see him playing with (I’ll ask and he’ll say no.) And the same goes for something that I think we should keep. If he wants to give it away, we do. Very rarely I’ll hide an item just to make sure he doesn’t change his mind a couple of weeks later. He never has. If it’s something that is sentimental for me, I’ll take a photo and then sell or give away.
Every once in a while, he’ll ask where a particular thing is, and I’ll tell him he wanted to give it to a friend and it’s gone. He has always just replied with “okay” and moved on.
Related post: How to declutter toys for good (plus save money and reduce waste)
When it comes to minimalism in a non-physical item sense, we are very mindful of how many things we sign him up for. So far, we’ve aimed for one extracurricular activity at a time.
Just like us as adults, my husband and I make sure he gets enough active time (more so being intentional about it in the winter when it’s harder to get outside regularly), and we follow his cues and give him down time if he is acting like he needs it.
This topic could easily be its own post (I write as I make a note in my content planner), so I won’t get into much more detail here.
Basically, when it comes to kids, less is more. Get them involved and make them feel included in your lifestyle change as much as you can, and implement the same tips, respect, compassion, and communication as you would with an adult.
Related post: 4 Guilt-free ways to say no (in order to say yes to a life you want)
Create your own minimalist and zero waste community
If your people at home aren’t into working towards a reduction-based lifestyle, find support and community in other places – which is OK!
Search on Instagram for hashtags such as ‘minimalism’ and ‘zero waste’ to find accounts to follow, then start interacting with those people. You can also join groups on Facebook too (like the group I run all about reduction-based living.)
Want to find some people in person? Check out sites like Meetup and Nextdoor and see if there are any zero waste/minimalism groups in your area. You could also do a general Ecosia search as well!
Related post: Low/Zero Waste Guide to Minneapolis and St. Paul
How to become a zero waste and minimalist home
Keep these tips in mind, then put your head down and get to work. Don’t invest too much time and energy into negativity – whether that is from others or your own inner critic (easier said than done, I know.)
Take things slow, and remember things don’t have to be perfect to be effective.
In a perfect world, hopefully, your people will eventually come along on the journey with you. But if not, that is OK. Remember that change can be hard and uncomfortable for some people, and we all adapt at different rates. Do your own thing, and lead by example.
You can find specific tips on how to live zero waste here.
You can find specific tips on how to declutter and live a more minimalist lifestyle here.
Do you have any tips to add to this? What has or hasn’t worked for you in the past?
Looking for ways to overcome even more roadblocks while decluttering or reducing waste? Check out my e-book titled: Hot to Tackle Clutter when you’re Facing Internal and External Resistance (which includes a corresponding workbook.)
Book review: ” Very informative read, and I love the workbook at the end! The whole e-book is nicely laid out and gives great tips. “
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?
Great post! I definitely do my own thing, although we are both pretty good. The biggest one I’ve noticed is replacing reusable bags in BOTH cars. This way, no matter who needs to stop at the store always has bags!
These are such great tips and points. It can be really frustrating when someone isn’t fully on board. But when its approached from a sensitive place and everyone is communicating, the whole transition at home can go a lot smoother. We are constantly in a state of change, and I’ve had to adopt a few of these ideas. 🙂