Which Approach to Minimalism Is Right for You?

A couple sitting on green hillside in camp chairs

Minimalism, reducing one’s consumption to the essentials, is one way to reduce your resources consumption and limit your consumer spending. By reducing what you buy, what you consume, and what you ultimately throw away, you’ll waste fewer resources, reduce energy expenditure and carbon emissions, and adopt a less environmentally impactful lifestyle.

Of course, there’s a wrinkle in this strategy; most of us like to indulge ourselves in certain ways that violate the minimalistic approach. We can unconsciously look to splurge after creating environmental improvements. For example, you might bike to work on a regular basis, but you love to drive your car on the weekends. Or you may typically buy groceries from local farmers’ markets but eat at chain restaurants or buy imported groceries once in a while for convenience or a change of pace.

There’s nothing wrong with occasionally indulging, even in the most aggressive minimalistic approaches. Additionally, any amount of minimalism or restriction you exercise is going to be beneficial; even reducing the number of plastic bags you consume by bringing a tote bag to the grocery store can help the environment in some small way. By using fewer plastic bags, you’ll help reduce the demand for more plastic bags and reduce your plastic waste.

In this guide, we’ll explore three “tiers” of minimalism. The goal of this good, better, and best approach is to help you find the level of consumer minimalism that you can maintain and sustain.

Minimalism: The Good Path

The entry-level approach to minimalism involves making simple adjustments to reduce what you spend and consume.

  • Buy less. You can reduce your spending and accommodations for material possessions. Whenever you’re tempted by a new purchase, whether it’s a new outfit, the latest device, or a new piece of furniture, ask yourself: Do I really need this? Is what I have still functional? Extending the usefulness of the items you already have is a form of minimalism, but buying new items encourages further production, energy expenditure, and use of natural resources. And the disposal of older goods often contributes to waste. Recycling is better than throwing out old items, but using what you already have is even better than recycling.
  • Use fewer disposables. You can also reduce what you consume in how you shop. As an easy example, use a reusable tote bag instead of getting paper or plastic bags every time you run to the store. You can reduce consumption of more than 300 bags, per person, each year with this simple approach. You can also choose products with less packaging, and opt for products with recyclable packaging when possible.
  • Reduce energy use with efficient products. When you must make purchases, select items that help reduce your energy consumption, like smaller (or hybrid/ electric) cars or efficient appliances. Reducing your energy consumption doesn’t just help reduce your carbon footprint, it helps you save money.

In this approach, the impact on your lifestyle is almost nonexistent — but you can still make a difference to the environment.

Minimalism: The Better Path

If you want to step things up, you can get more aggressive with some of your buying habits and behaviors.

  • Invest in clean energy. Invest in solar panels so you’re can create your own clean energy. If you’re connected to the grid, it’s likely you rely on power plants, which often burn coal and produce excessive amounts of pollution.
  • Shop locally. If you currently get your groceries at a supermarket, shop at a local farmer’s market instead whenever you can. Be sure to make a list so that you purchase only what you need, to avoid food waste. Supermarket food products are often shipped long distances, resulting in more carbon emissions, and they may come from unsustainable factory farms.
  • Reduce travel. Consider how you consume energy when you travel. Reducing your consumption by going on fewer vacations — or taking trips that are closer to home — can make a massive impact. You can also reduce your local transportation emissions by biking and taking public transportation whenever convenient to do so.

Minimalism: The Best Path

You’ll be an environmental hero, but the most aggressive form of consumer minimalism requires a major overhaul to your lifestyle, with restrictions on almost all forms of consumer purchasing.

  • Move to a smaller house. If your family can accommodate it, you can invest in a tiny house, occupying the smallest possible space that still allows you to live comfortably. For many people, this can be a few hundred square feet, with a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bed — there isn’t even room for extra furniture in this lifestyle, with no couches or chairs. Smaller homes use far less energy. And with limited storage space, you’ll purchase fewer material possessions, reducing demand and energy expenditure necessary to indulge in those possessions.
  • Grow your own food. Think carefully about the food you consume and how you consume it. The most environmentally conscious consumers in this tier of minimalism attempt to grow their own food, capitalizing on a garden to provide most of their nutritional needs, and selling whatever excess food is left over at a local market. Growing your own food requires far less energy than relying on supply chains and driving to markets; you can also guarantee you’re using sustainable farming methods.
  • Walk and bike everywhere you can. Of course, people at this level of lifestyle typically don’t drive cars, fly in planes, or consume massive amounts of energy for travel. Instead, they typically ride a bike, walk, or take public transportation to get where they need to go.

Craft the Best Approach for You

Does the “best” form of minimalism seem like too much for your comfort? Does the “good,” least intensive form of minimalism seem like it’s not quite enough? For every person reading this, there is an approach that can serve as a perfect fit. Experiment to figure out what works for you!

Feature image courtesy of vrolanas, Pixabay

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