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Minimalism & Environmentalism

A person next to a cabin

Markets and experts have been strategically creating material desires and encouraging people to buy more and more things. In the 1950s, consumerism in the U.S. was even considered to be an act of patriotism to support the country’s economy and participate in the marketplace. Today, OECD (Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development) countries primarily focus on economic growth and support the narrative that consumption and societal well-being are associated. However, as you probably know, economic growth and overconsumption lead to excessive waste production, environmental pollution, and depletion of natural resources.

Minimalist attitudes of anti-consumption and simplicity gained popularity over time, especially as a response to consumerist cultures and the economic crisis of 2008. Minimalism is a lifestyle movement that rejects established ideas of maximizing consumption and advocates for simplicity by keeping only the essentials. This movement is often characterized by sustainable living practices, such as moving into smaller homes that require less energy to heat, cool, and illuminate, and also store less possessions. Some of the components of lifestyle minimalism include decluttering, cutting down on work, information and competition, and reinvigorating values of focus, purity, and idleness.

Since the 2000s, minimalist trends have encouraged individuals to move into smaller homes and consume less. Such transitions can help address the problem of lack of green space, air pollution, high energy consumption, and ecosystem fragmentation. Additionally, many minimalists also adopt zero-waste strategies, which aim to reduce the amount of waste produced by individuals as much as possible. Overall, most minimalist narratives argue that less will result in more in terms of personal lives and happiness.

While minimalism encourages eco-friendly habits such as reduced consumption and waste production, it is a response focused on changing individuals rather than challenging capitalistic systems as a whole. Nevertheless, minimalism could have more potential in pushing the environmental agenda forward if there were more governmental regulations or incentives in place to encourage its practice at a larger scale. A balance between free market and environmental protection rules is crucial, yet implementing such incentives or regulations can be difficult as they impact individual liberties and privacies.

There are also a few critiques about minimalism. First, transitioning to minimalism can be expensive and actually create the desire for new forms of consumption. For example, minimalists may feel the need to purchase more expensive, multi-purpose, or energy-saving appliances which can be expensive in the short-term, though appear beneficial in the long-term. Furthermore, certain forms of minimalism appear to be branded for wealthier classes and focus on aesthetics rather than contentment with what one has. Discarding non-essential possessions and reducing the amount of work is also easier for individuals who can afford to do so, but might be more challenging for those of a lower socio-economic status. Finally, it is important to consider what would happen if minimalism grew as a movement. What would happen with all of the discarded items if minimalism was suddenly practiced at a large scale?

Overall, minimalism is a promising individual course of action that could over time transition into a more impactful and comprehensive strategy to address environmental issues. New generations such as millennials are already interested in minimalist lifestyles, and future generations might be more likely to challenge capitalist systems than generations that grew up in them.

If you’re curious about minimalism and want to learn more about this lifestyle, here are some popular works that address minimalism:

  • Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of decluttering and organizing (2014)

  • Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things: On minimalist Living (2017)

  • Dominique Loreau’s L’art de la Simplicité: How to live more with less (2017)

  • Sarah Knight’s The Life changing Magic of not giving a F**k: How to stop spending Time you don’t have, doing Things you don’t want to do with People you don’t like (2015)

  • Tony Crabbe’s Busy: How to thrive in a World of too much (2014)

Written by Gwen Aubrac


Palafox, C. L. (n.d.). When Less is More: Minimalism and the Environment. WHEN LESS IS MORE, 10, 25.

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