Go Green With Minimalism
Reduce, reuse, recycle. It's the mantra of eco-conscious people everywhere.
But we have a tendency to do it wrong.
Most of us approach the concept backwards.
The first "R" to get our attention is "recycle." Lots of people recycle; it's practically a social requirement. And that's not bad, but we have so much to recycle! So many plastic water bottles, soda cans, and take-out food containers. So much cardboard from food boxes and shoe boxes and Amazon shipping cartons. And tons and tons of paper: junk mail, newspapers, magazines, concert programs, ticket stubs, extra photocopies and printing mistakes.... And don't forget the e-waste: our "old" TVs, computers, phones, batteries, and all of that stuff which is collected but not always recycled, or recycled somewhere overseas, often with toxic results for workers and their environment.
The next "R" in people's minds is "reuse." Many people reuse. There's a whole design aesthetic called "upcycling," in which you reuse junk to make other junk, like a "decorative" wreath made from an old garden hose (I'm not kidding), an earring holder made from a painted box grater, and shoe storage made with extra-large PVC pipe (you have to buy the pipe at the hardware store, so it's not really a "reuse," even though the project is considered "upcycling").
Now, I'm all for reusing old furniture (which might call for new paint or slipcovers). I wash and reuse glass jars to store nuts, raisins, tea bags, car wash quarters, a mending kit, and more. I've been known to make a tote bag out of old jeans and dust cloths out of old tee shirts. I wouldn't hesitate to buy a refurbished car, bicycle, computer, phone, washing machine, or musical instrument.
But to me, buying someone's castoffs at a thrift store or flea market so I can fashion one more thing to hang on my wall, or to display a jumbo collection, doesn't make sense. Isn't "Junk Chic" just another excuse for shopping, another way to add to the clutter in my home?
A minimalist should always focus on the first "R" - "reduce."
Buy less, own less, and you'll have less to reuse and recycle.
You won't need all the upcycled storage solutions, because you won't have much to store. You won't look at a blank space on your wall and worry about how to fill it. If something has meaning and value for you, or brings beauty and satisfaction into your life, you'll display it. But you won't be constantly looking for new doodads, because you already have what you want and need.
You won't bring home stray leaflets or sign up for every store catalog, you likely have fewer bills and fewer contracts, so there's much less paper to deal with. You may be perfectly happy drinking filtered tap water and home-brewed coffee or tea, which will naturally lower your bottled beverage consumption. A couple of sets of cloth napkins, some dish towels, and a stack of microfiber cleaning cloths will replace the piles of discarded paper towels and Swiffer rags.
If you're a minimalist when it comes to food, you don't follow the American trend, which wastes nearly one pound of food per person per day. The food wastes you do have, such as veggie peelings, coffee grounds, and crushed egg shells, are easily composted.
As a minimalist, you may wear a 30 item wardrobe, so you don't often shop for new clothes, and you don't contribute much to the waste clothing glut around the world. You don't live in or feel the need to fill a 3,000 square foot house. You don't drive a huge SUV if a compact car, public transit, a bike ride, or a short walk will do, and your lifestyle doesn't include a two-hour commute.
The best way to make a real difference is to reduce your consumption.
Green living is more than hybrid cars and solar panels. And while reusable bags and stainless steel straws are wonderful items to own and use, owning and using less overall will make the biggest difference to our planet. So let's get it right. Don't just go green – go minimalist!
Updated January 2023