Updated: Sep 18, 2021
Can Minimalism Be The Road To A Sustainable Future?
The minimalist movement first took the world by storm with the sudden popularity of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by author and minimalist extraordinaire Marie Kondo. This global phenomenon, entitled the KonMari Method, resulted in a flurry of decluttering items that did not “spark joy”. Kondo emphasizes that, through decluttering, we can provide a more peaceful living space derived from the dust-collectors so many of us hold on to “just in case”. This method preaches bringing items into your home that are either necessary or invoke an emotional attachment in order to reduce the messiness of our lives AND the planet.
The KonMari method is hardly the first of it’s kind to take on the endless consumption of humanity. The 30-Day Minimalism Game by Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, AKA The Minimalists, is a challenge for folks to reduce their clutter over a 30 day period (on the first day of the month you get rid of one item, on the second, two items, and so on). This method, similar to the KonMari method, aims not only to streamline our daily lives, but to force us to consider our future consumption habits.
The Buy Nothing New Month Challenge is another that forces us to consider our endless consumption habits and reconnect with items we already own. Then of course, there’s the zero waste movement, the tiny house movement, and more.
Each of these lifestyles is a direct backlash to consumerism under capitalism, which wants us to always buy more, more, more, in order to increase the profits of major corporations and line the pockets of the 1% with more wealth than most people dream of. This lifestyle is primarily spearheaded by Millennials in response to the intense consumerism of the Baby Boomers and Gen X which have forced Millennials to value experiences over things, since most of us can’t afford things anyways.
The benefits of minimalism on the individual are well documented; people report a clearer mind, chores taking up less down time, and more disposable income to invest in experiences. But what about the environment? Minimalism might just be the cure for that too.
Our Climate Change Disaster
For decades now scientists have been warning us that the impending ruin of global warming will wreck our planet. Though the Western world has committed to trying to reduce our carbon footprint, invest in clean energy, and recycle - these initiatives are not on track to save us from a climate breakdown before it’s too late (for example, though most of the western world has proactive recycling goals of products being 100%recyclable by 2030, that initiative is far from being realized. According to a 2018 study, over 91% of plastic in the world isn’t recycled). Minimalism, on the other hand, does not work to recycle or reuse products, but aims on creating and consuming less products
period. This has a range of benefits.
Less Stuff, Less Carbon
The less stuff we consume as a society, the less stuff we produce. As the goal of
minimalism is to buy less - less furniture, clothing, decor, etc. - the CO2 emissions
coming from the apparel and household industries would dramatically reduce from where they currently are. For reference, according to stats from the United NationsEnvironment Programme, it takes 3781 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans. That equals about 33,4 kilograms of carbon emissions. If that’s a single pair of jeans, consider the cost of everything in our wardrobes, our households. The fashion industryalone uses enough water to meet the consumption needs of over 5 million peopleyearly. By intentionally buying less items, the demand for these items goes down. Whenthe demand goes down, so does the product of all these items, resulting not only in less stuff but drastically reducing the carbon it takes to create these items from start to finish.
Less Stuff, Less Waste
Not only does minimalism reduce what we produce, it curbs our ever growing landfills. With less demand and an emphasis on sustainable shopping (valuing quantity over quality) people will create less trash. According to stats from the U.S. EnvironmentalProtection Agency, the average North American individual generates over 4 pounds oftrash every day and about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year. Americans in particular generate over 200 million tons of garbage per year, enough to fill a baseball stadium from top to bottom twice a day. By wasting less, we prevent landfills from filling up or from garbage from Western countries being shipped to the Global South to pollute their air, water, and bodies from poor work conditions in which they dispose (burn, bury, etc.) or live amongst our trash.
Less Stuff, More Donations
An additional benefit to minimalism is that it serves others without creating more waste. By emphasising the need to declutter and refine our lives, people are getting rid of their excess of stuff. Minimalism not only advocates for a simpler lifestyle but for donating (not disposing) of the items you wish to remove. By donating items, these products can stay in circulation as a part of the clothing/household/entertainment/etc. economy instead of a landfill; this provides items to people who need them and as well as keeps money flowing from hand to hand in our own communities. It’s a win-win for the environment and our fellow neighbours running their second-hand shop.
Overall, it’s clear that minimalism not only encourages a simple and healthier lifestyle for the individual, but can create change for the health of our planet. Currently, studies suggest that if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average North American, four Earths would be needed to sustain them. We need to change our consumption habits, especially here in the West, if we stand any chance at changing our climate change and its disastrous effects. You only need to look at the wildfires currently ravaging BC to know that we don’t have time to waste