Minimalism – Living More Lightly on the Planet

What would a minimalist do?

Minimalism appeals to me because owning less stuff helps me live more lightly on Earth. I guess you could say I am a minimalist environmentalist.

Stuff is an umbrella term for everything we wear, use, and enjoy in our daily lives like clothes, kitchenware, jewelry, electronic devices, artwork, toys, furniture, books, appliances, gardening tools, and cars. Making all this stuff, transporting it (often by airplane), and then getting rid of it takes a heavy toll on our planet.

You, I, and everyone else can help keep Earth habitable by living happily with fewer belongings.

My minimalism journey began during the height of the Christmas season in 2016 and I convinced my spouse to join me. Over the past two years, we have cleared our home and much of our garage of unnecessary things. This is no small feat as my spouse is an I-might-need-that-someday kind of person and I am not.

During this time, I have ruthlessly divested myself of my own belongings that I no longer need, use, or want including clothes and gifts. I do not miss any of the things I no longer own. I am happily living with fewer belongings.

A few weeks ago, when I hung up my 2019 calendar on the tack board next to my desk, I realized that I was in the third year of what I intend to be a lifelong minimalism journey. January seemed like a good time to review my 2018 efforts and decide if I need to do anything differently this year.

I have made progress but I clearly underestimated the gravitational force of our consumerist society. Divesting yourself of excess stuff is just one part of the minimalist journey. Keeping additional stuff from creeping back into your minimalist home is a lifelong pursuit.

The good news is it gets easier after the first year.

Plugging the Stuff Acquisition Pipeline

During my pre-minimalism days, I was a discerning shopper (some would say picky).

A blue and purple reusable water bottle
The blue reusable water bottle is the one I bought that day.

An image comes to mind that illustrates this point perfectly.

Several years ago, I was standing in front of a wall of reusable water bottles at an REI store with my then 8th-grade niece (now a college freshman) and my sister. They were thinking that I would select a bottle and we would be on our way, and we were, twenty minutes later, after I had evaluated all the bottles and chosen one (which I still own).

Even though I was a discerning shopper, I sensed that in order to transform my relationship with possessions I would need to understand and change my shopping and buying habits.

At the beginning of 2017, using a simple spreadsheet, I embarked on a yearlong effort to track what I bought for myself, for my family, and why I bought it.

My danger areas turned out to be buying things for insurance (just in case) and shopping on vacation. In Living Happily with Less Stuff – To Buy or Not to Buy, I recounted my experience and provided assessment alternatives for spreadsheet averse readers.

For 2018 I committed myself to squeeze the acquisition pipeline tighter and succeeded in reducing the amount of stuff I bought for myself (down by 64%) and for my family (down by 40%). I did not buy one item for insurance.

During my Omaha, Nebraska trip in September 2018, I bought a refrigerator magnet shaped like Nebraska, a cross-stitch pattern with a John Muir saying on it, 3 books (2 used), and a laminated Nebraska native plant guide (that I did not need). This was a substantial improvement over 2017.

However, it was not all smooth sailing.

Impulse Buys

One day when I was shopping with my mother for some much needed short sleeved t-shirts, I bought myself a pair of earrings and a necklace (with a tree) on impulse.

I heard an announcement on the store loudspeaker that there was a 70% off sale going on in Fine Jewelry and convinced my mother to go over and “just look.” I confess I had already bought a pair of gold earrings at another store.

Purposeful Extra Shopping

Another time, I bought something I did not need on purpose. A grassroots group was attempting to pass an initiative called Measure G that would have banned future expansion of oil and gas exploration in our county. Oil companies were spending millions of dollars on ads, social media, and road signs trying to defeat the measure and the Measure G campaign was relying on donations.

View from the Summit by Karen Fedderson Print and Frame
I photographed the framed print lying on my wood floor to reduce glare.

A post appeared in my social media feed saying that several local artists had donated artwork to raise funds for Measure G. I talked my spouse into going to see what they had and fell in love with a print called View from the Summit by Karen Fedderson.

I bought it, had it framed, and it is now gracing a wall in our kitchen. Measure G received a lot of votes but not quite enough to pass (this time).

Desperation Purchases

Last year, I needed a new pair of boots for working in our wild yard and weed whacking the 4-foot tall grass before the fire season. My feet are narrow so finding any kind of shoes that fit is always a challenge.

My spouse accompanied me on several shopping forays with no luck. One day we found a store with a large selection of boots so I did what any discerning shopper would do and tried on every pair in my size. None of them seemed quite right, but I was desperate so I bought the best (least worst) pair.

The next day I put on my new boots and within minutes of walking around the hilly and uneven terrain in our yard, I knew they did not have adequate ankle support for me. I donated the new boots and I hope they found a good home with someone who has a flat yard.

I did eventually find a suitable pair of replacement boots.

Out of the three examples above the only purchase that I regret is buying the desperation boots. I enjoy wearing the impulse buy jewelry and the print makes me smile every time I walk in the kitchen.

Repairing and Holding on to Things

Another positive aspect of minimalism for my spouse and I is that it encourages us to try to repair things instead of replacing them.

My spouse excels at doing simple and complex repairs. For instance, the utensil cup holder that broke off our dish drainer in now wired on and works fine and so does my weed whacker now that it has a new motor. My spouse printed a replacement handle for our 9-year-old vacuum with the 3D printer in our garage prototype shop.

Striving to be a minimalist reinforces my tendency to hold onto things, especially electronic devices, instead of upgrading to newer models.

iPhone 4 Phone and Purple Bird CaseTake a smartphone for instance. Making one is not a benign environmental process and the rare earth materials used to make it are, well, rare. My 7-year-old smartphone is an iPhone model 4 but it still works so when the case cracked last year I bought a replacement because I intend to keep this phone indefinitely.

I hope the examples in this post adequately illustrate that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to minimalism.

Every time someone chooses to become a minimalist living happily with less stuff, Earth smiles.

“One day or day one. You decide.” —Joshua Fields Millburn

Featured Image at Top: Earth shaped like a heart – photo credit iStock/pearleye

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Coolest and Greenest Gift for Kids this Holiday Season

Give a gift they will never forget.

This holiday season, give the kids on your list an eco-friendly gift that is appropriate for kids of all ages and that they will enjoy for years to come.

If you are expecting to read a post about toy dump trucks made of recycled plastic, organic cotton t-shirts that say “Save the Bees,” or kid-size gardening tools, you may be disappointed because you will not find them here.

Literally, the coolest and greenest gift you can give your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews is to act like global warming and climate change is real.

“Really, you have got to be kidding me. I do not want to think about global warming during the holiday season!” is a reasonable response to the above statement.

It could be that I am just a perverse person, but I believe the holiday season presents you and me with the perfect opportunity to consider our holiday traditions and habits and how we might change them to live more lightly on Earth. A habitable planet now and in the future is the best gift we can give the children we love.

My goal for this post is to interrupt your business-as-usual holiday preparations and mine before they get too far along so that we can decide what we want to do differently and then do it before the holiday season kicks into high gear.

Greening Your Holiday Season

Giving your holiday season a green makeover is one thing you can do to reduce your environmental footprint. Some of the ideas below are easy and some are hard. Feel free to come up with your own. There is no right answer.

One thing to keep in mind is that we humans excel at justifying our behavior so do not be surprised if you find yourself coming up with really good reasons why you cannot change and do things differently this year. If this happens, go grab a photo of the children in your life and try again.

Of course, I am not immune to justifying my actions either and as you will see, I do not always go for the eco-friendly option. I am constantly striving to live more lightly on Earth, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing.

Travel

This time of year, the USS Enterprise would come in handy (hopefully it is a zero-emissions spaceship). Imagine saying, “Beam me up Scotty,” and being magically transported across the country without the hassle of flying or its enormous carbon footprint.

Amtrak California Zephyr Traveling Along the Colorado River
Amtrak California Zephyr train traveling along the Colorado River – photo credit Amtrak.

Before you go online to book your flight, please seriously consider taking the train, riding on a bus, or carpooling. It could be a wonderful adventure and the start of a new holiday travel tradition. While not carbon-free methods of travel (unless the vehicle is electric), trains, buses, and carpools have significantly smaller carbon footprints than flying.

Even if you have already made a reservation to fly you could change your mind and choose a greener travel alternative.

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees are the quintessential symbol of the holiday season for me and about a hundred million other people. This year ask yourself if you can and want to green your Christmas tree tradition if you have one.

I have been a real Christmas tree enthusiast ever since I was a small child. But about five years ago, I began worrying about the environmental impact of real trees and wondering if an artificial tree would be better. After researching the issue, I concluded that the best choice as far as the environment is concerned is not having a Christmas tree at all.

My love for real Christmas trees overcame my inner environmentalist and I bought a real tree, but I also began a new holiday tradition, “A Tree for a Tree.” I asked readers to join me in planting a tree each year that we buy a real or artificial tree or put up an existing artificial tree. That year my spouse and I rescued a tiny cypress seedling from certain death on a street median and planted it in our yard (now it is about twelve feet tall).

Two years later, I upped the ante to “Buy One, Plant Two.” That year we planted two Big Sur coast redwood seedlings in our yard and last year we planted two small toyons.

Property developers and readers who follow climate change will recognize this tree planting as a mitigating action, which is when you do something to make up for doing something else.

Food and Drink

During the 6-week holiday season, you and I will have 126 meals (not including snacks) to try out environmentally friendly menu ideas and dining practices. No, I am not suggesting that you serve tofurky for Christmas dinner unless you want to try it.

Healthy Eating Vegetable Stir-Fry Dish
Stir-fry vegetable dish – photo credit iStock/Mizina.

Feeding the people you love with healthful, nutritious food is an act of love. What better time than the holiday season to try out some new meatless or low meat recipes and include more plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds into your menu planning? Eating a healthy diet does not preclude you from making Christmas cookies with your grandchildren.

This holiday season set your table with reusable dishes, glasses, cups, flatware, and serving pieces that you already own. Give yourself extra credit for using cloth tablecloths and napkins. Ask guests to bring extra tableware and reusable containers for leftovers. Use the time you spend washing dishes to catch up with family members and friends.

You can accomplish another green holiday action while shopping at the grocery market. Leave plastic bottles of water and anything that comes in an aluminum can on the store shelf or in the cooler. No amount of recycling can ever alleviate the environmental damage caused by single-use beverage containers.

Gifts

Living more lightly on Earth requires amassing less stuff. Yes, that includes gifts.

In 2013, my spouse and I made the decision to stop exchanging Christmas gifts with our family and friends. We have never regretted it. Now, each year, we look forward to a stress-free holiday season with time to enjoy it.

If you have ever contemplated opting out of Christmas consumerism, now is the time to do it. You might be surprised how readily your family members and friends accept your suggestion to stop exchanging gifts during the holidays (at least between adults).

For those of you not willing to give up exchanging gifts, please ship your gifts via ground transport. You may not realize it, but when you select 2-day shipping or overnight delivery, your package is probably hopping on an airplane significantly increasing the carbon footprint of your gift

Decorations

Decorating for the holidays is fun and brightens up the cold and dark winter months.

The challenge, at least for me, is to avoid obtaining new items because everything looks so festive and enticing in stores and online marketplaces.

Quilly's Antiques Shop - Dickens Village
Dickens Village Quilly’s Antiques Shop – photo credit Department 56.

Giving decorations to other people or donating them so you can acquire new items is decoration churning and does nothing to curtail the environmental footprint of making, transporting, and distributing new decorations like Christmas tree ornaments, inflatable snowmen, and Santa figurines.

Over the past couple of years, as part of my mission to live happily with less stuff, I have pared down my Christmas decoration collection to the items that I really, really like and can see myself enjoying indefinitely, but there is a hitch.

One of my favorite things is my Dickens Village collection of tiny Victorian-style buildings, trees, and figurines inspired by the books of Charles Dickens, like A Christmas Carol featuring Ebenezer Scrooge.

Recently, after I had donated my London’s Chocolatier Shop and chocolate street vendor figurine to make room for my friend’s Quilly’s Antique Shop, I finally had to acknowledge that I have been engaging in decoration churning for several years. Oops.

My green holiday change this year is to focus on healthy eating, which is also good for the planet, by eating more plants, less meat, and enjoying sweet treats in moderation.

Okay, now it is your turn to evaluate your own holiday traditions and habits and decide what, if anything, you want to change to make your holiday season more environmentally friendly.

Your children, my children, and everyone else’s children are relying on us to keep Earth habitable now and in the future, so everyone can enjoy life and thrive.

Happy Holidays!

Featured Image at Top: Colorful Handprints Surrounding Earth – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Holmes Su

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