Minimalism and sustainability are two popular lifestyles that continue to gain followers. Read about the differences and intersection between the two.
Minimalism and Sustainability
Today I’m going to be looking at three different lifestyles: a minimalist life, a sustainable life, and the intersection of minimalism and sustainability. Sustainability is a fairly new worry in the history of the world. In the past, people did not need to be concerned about their actions’ impact on the world at large.
The population was heavily agrarian until the past 150 years. Farmers were, and still are, tied closely to the land, to weather patterns, and to nature. In order to have a greater harvest they were in tune with and worked with nature, not against it. We have lost much of this relationship with the land as the population has urbanized.
Now that we are over 50 years into the post-industrial era, many are questioning life as we know it. New counter-cultural lifestyles are emerging. Two of these are minimalism and sustainability. I will briefly describe what each of these looks like and the intersection between the two.
The Three Lifestyles
THE MINIMALIST LIFESTYLE
Minimalism is generally understood as striving to only own things that serve a purpose in our lives. This may sound like a loose definition, but it’s broadness is what makes it so applicable to so many people.
A pure minimalist is concerned with the number of things they own and the purpose of each item. Part of moving into a minimalist lifestyle is getting rid of things that no longer serve a purpose. All of these items need to go somewhere. If we aren’t intentional about downsizing our cast-offs can easily end up in a landfill.
Minimalism in and of itself is not always more sustainable than the typical Western lifestyle. A Minimalist might still consider himself or herself a Minimalist despite buying clothes at a fast-fashion store, using cosmetics packaged in standard plastic, and living in a poorly insulated home.
These are all drastic examples of what minimalism practiced unsustainably looks like. A lot of people interested in minimalism are also concerned about the environment. This leads us to the second lifestyle we are looking at.
THE SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE
Sustainability can be thought of as meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainability more heavily requires minimalism than the other way around. Limiting one’s consumption of goods is a natural outcome from looking at the needs of future generations. We are beginning to see the effects of consumption without limit on our planet.
In January 2020 the UN issued a report outlining how we are in the midst of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event. The COVID-19 pandemic eclipsed this report, but it is sobering to read. The study predicts that by 2030 almost 30% of the earth will need to be protected. It also warns that we will need to cut our pollution in half to conserve our remaining wildlife.
Whether we act now or not, life in the upcoming decades will be radically different than the life we know now. Those living a sustainable lifestyle reject the idea that life is just about comfort at all costs. A lifestyle that is possibly more difficult or time-consuming, but that favors a lower impact on the world at large is the goal of sustainable living.
Someone living a sustainable lifestyle is not always concerned with the number of objects they own. More important is the impact those objects have on the world. They may even own a larger number of things than someone living a typical lifestyle would. This is due to things such as rain catchment and holding, solar panels, gardening, etc. This category of lifestyle choices is all about living in harmony with our planet and the environment around us.
THE INTERSECTION OF MINIMALISM AND SUSTAINABILITY
Now that we’ve examined what sustainability and minimalism look like devoid of each other, lets examine what the intersection of the two lifestyles looks like. This intersection is my goal space to be in both lifestyles focus on conscientious consumption.
Minimalism touts conscientious consumption based on use. In sustainability the conscientious consumption is based on materials and lifespan of an object. A sustainable, minimalist lifestyle emphasizes only owning things that serve a purpose while also selecting and valuing items that are environmentally friendly.
In a capsule wardrobe, natural fibers made by factories following sustainable labor practices would be used. Kitchen items would be made of durable materials that, when the end of their life is reached, they could be composted or easily recycled. Food waste is composted, and that compost is used to enrich garden soil for another years’ plants.
Although both lifestyles encourage conscious consumption, the end goal of consumption differs. When practiced together each person can have the least impact on the environment and the most mental freedom to live their best life.
An Improved American Dream
Consumerism is being packaged and sold to us as the American Dream. We must redefine that dream to be one in which we lift each other and the planet up It is not a dream of continual consumption, but a dream of harmony and peace within ones heart and home.
Do you identify or follow with any of the lifestyle traits found in minimalism or sustainability? I would love to hear about your lived experiences down in the comments!