Updated: Sep 18, 2021
Sustainability is one topic that has been at the forefront of our minds recently. With ecological experts warning about the dangers of climate change in our world, and the subsequent actions by climate activists around the world, including world leaders, there might yet be hope for our planet. The reduction in the use of fossil fuels, and the gradual move to renewable sources of energy is a testament to this welcome change.
However, sustainability does not only relate to climate change. It is one concept that has become applicable in virtually every facet of our lives. For some, it has become a lifestyle. So has minimalism, one other concept that is catching on with a lot of people. Let’s start by defining these terms and how they relate to one another.
Minimalism simply means living with less in order to have more time and space for the things that truly matter in our lives. Leo Babauta defines it as the rejection of the idea that more is better, of consumption as a lifestyle, of excess. According to the Zen Habits guru, it is basically paring one’s life to the essentials, whether that be possessions, tasks, projects, or anything they allow in their lives, which is different for every person. Minimalism affects every area of our lives, including health, relationships, passion, growth, and emotional well-being. A minimalist lifestyle for a 21-year-old college student may be quite different from what minimalism means to a 50-year-old professional and parent. However, while minimalism means different things for different people, it is geared towards meeting the same goal: stripping ourselves of the excess in other to have time and space for the most important things in our lives. Basically, with minimalism in place, we have time and the freedom to choose the life that truly brings us meaning – a life where happiness is not hinged on the number of material possessions that we own.
On the other hand, sustainability simply means monitoring our use of resources in such a way that we take only what we need to live while ensuring that the interests of future generations are protected. Essentially, we are focused on meeting the needs of the present moment without compromising the needs of the future.
Sustainability is composed of three pillars, and they include economic, environmental, and social. Perhaps widely known as profits, planet, and people.
Minimalism does not translate to boring
Admittedly, while on the surface minimalism can look like a cheap and boring path to take, it is a great journey to make, considering the excellent benefits that lie ahead once we’ve made those little sacrifices to achieve our aims.
An example of minimalism for me might be giving up on cable TV, unnecessary subscriptions, and buying lunch and snacks every day, except on special occasions. Say, I spend $10 every day buying my favourite ice cream, I would have spent $3,650 a year feeding my not-so-healthy habit. When money saved from cable, subscriptions, and other unnecessary expenses are taken into consideration, I would have saved a large chunk of my monthly income.
As a traveller always seeking new adventures, this money can fund my trip to cool places in Europe. It should be enough for airline tickets and a week's stay at some comfortable resort. I am always feeling my best when traveling, exploring, and seeing new places. My creativity is also enhanced, with new places giving my imagination the freedom to run free and create great content for my readers and audience.
In essence, minimalism for me means giving up on spending habits that don’t allow me to save, as having enough money to fund my constant travels is a top priority. This is one of the ways I carry out minimalism in my life.
However, the above expenses I listed may be a priority for every other person, and that’s cool. Our priorities and what makes us happy in life differ, and that’s just about the best part.
Minimalism is simply saying NO to the things that don’t agree with our goals and objectives. It might give the impression that we are boring and love cheap stuff, but since we are able to find meaning in every intentional step that we take, it won't bother us. Once people see our calm, peaceful attitude, they will be inspired to identify with our viewpoints. Moreover, many people in our society today, who are still bogged down by consumerism, consider minimalism to be boring. It's not the least bit true.
With Minimalism, there are fewer decisions to make
Minimalists have fewer things to worry about in life. For instance, while the colleague of a minimalist at work may be quite worried about the clothing to wear to the stakeholder’s meeting the next day, a minimalist is not bothered. They already know what is in their wardrobe.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg brought this illuminating fact to light at a public Q&A session at Facebook’s headquarters several years back. When asked why he wore the same type of shirts every day, Mark went on to say:
“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community. There’s actually a bunch of psychology theory that even making small decisions, around what you wear or what you eat for breakfast or things like that, they kind of make you tired and consume your energy. My view is I’m in this really lucky position where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than 1 billion people, and I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life, so that I can dedicate all my energy towards building the best products and services and helping us reach our goal and achieve this mission of helping to connect everyone in the world and giving them the ability to stay connected with the people that they love and care about. So, that’s what I care about. Even though it sounds silly, that’s my reason for wearing a grey t-shirt every day, it is true.”
Most famous innovators have done the same, including Steve Jobs, who was famous for wearing a black mock neck, even during product launches.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a term for what Zuckerberg is talking about. It is called decision fatigue. Research shows that we have the capacity to make so many sound decisions in a day because making decisions could be exhausting. Wouldn't it be more productive of us to make only the critical decisions?
We certainly don't need to wear a grey t-shirt to work every day (that wouldn't be wise, we don't own a billion-dollar company yet), but it would be nice to rid ourselves of excesses and stick with what's necessary.
Relating Sustainability with Minimalism
Sustainability and minimalism are quite related concepts for a number of reasons. For one, they present excellent solutions to differing issues. While minimalism preaches decluttering and the need to rid the excesses in one’s life, sustainability, especially its ecological pillar, seeks to reduce the number of consumed goods in order to reduce the consumption of finite natural resources that are depleted in the process.
It takes an enormous amount of energy and resources to produce the many products that people buy on a whim. Many products we consume produce up to 60 percent of greenhouse emissions. This number will only continue to rise as the consumption rate around the world keeps on increasing.
To manufacture an item that would reach our local store shelves, a lot of resources must have been expended. When we factor in the raw material used, cost of transportation, and the final packaging and tags, there’s a lot of waste in between, even for the smallest of items. The sad fact is that only a fraction of the lifespan of these products are used by the consumers before they get bored and move to the next trending product.
When viewed from a wider lens, both minimalism and sustainability seek to protect our planet from avoidable destruction. The overlapping of both concepts is a testament to their credibility.
Minimalism and sustainability are relevant to many aspects of our lives – food consumption, general waste, plastic usage, and water, and they don’t just end there. The intersection of minimalism and sustainability can be seen in the fashion industry, which has turned out to be one of the most polluting in the world if frightening statistics by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) are anything to go buy. According to UNEP, every year, the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water – enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. At this pace, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50% by 2030.
How a Minimalist lifestyle promotes Sustainability
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with buying and owning things. Some of the products in our homes today are quite useful and life would be a lot harder if we didn’t have them. So, it’s not a problem if we buy items for their practical and aesthetic purposes.
However, our buying habits become a problem when the products that we purchase are manufactured at an unsustainable rate. A consumer culture that gives no thought to the environmental consequences of what we buy does not encourage sustainability. Most times, these manufacturing companies cover up for their nonconsideration of the environment by citing the frugal use of resources and protection of the environment while at it.
However, as we’ve seen, these values are not consistent with a consumer culture that encourages people to buy more and more.
When consumers buy many low-quality products instead of few high-quality ones, there’s the tendency to consume and discard after a short while, encouraging more pollution. However, when as minimalists, we buy few top-quality products with lasting value, we will use them for a long while, thereby promoting the sustainability of the environment and natural resources.
In other words, minimalists buy selectively, instead of buying on impulse as big brands encourage us to. They go for items that would last longer and meet their needs more efficiently. Buying fewer high-quality goods can help conserve finite natural resources and protect our world.
Another approach would be to prioritize eco-friendly products, recycling, and repurposing. In essence, buying better.
Global population growth has put so much pressure on living standards that cutting back on non-essentials has become a necessity. We’re running out of resources and our planet is undergoing stressful changes. Therefore, minimalism and sustainability are two related concepts that should come to our minds as consumers.
Ever wondered where we’re heading if we continue in our practice of buying things compulsively? These things are worth reflecting on for everyone.