Can the Rising Trend of Minimalism Help the Environment?

A new trend is on the rise, riding on the shoulders of millennials and their desire to cut back on the number of things they own. It’s being dubbed “minimalism,” and it’s a pretty good trend to get on board with if you’d like to have less clutter, appreciate the items you own more and spend less money on products you won’t use.

But does minimalism also have the potential to make a positive impact on our environment? Absolutely. Here’s how.

The Movement

Sweeping the U.S. and beyond, the minimalist movement is primarily trending among the millennial generation. Raised by baby boomers who tend to hold onto everything, millennials are heading in the opposite direction. They’d much rather spend their money on experiences than material things.

In addition, millennials are struggling economically. They’re saddled with record student loan debt and trying to make it in a difficult job market. They’re picky about the way they spend what extra money they end up having.

Minimalism is becoming huge in the U.S., but the movement is growing across the globe. Scandinavian minimalism is taking over Europe, while Japanese minimalism is another mainstay. While the movements are similar in many ways, you can see the differences in their inspiration. The Japanese movement is more spiritual, involving Zen and Buddhist traditions, while the Scandinavian movement is more about achieving the cleanest design possible.

Consuming and Wasting Less

Minimalism? Credit: Laura Mardon, FlickrCC
Pack rats go home! The age of minimalism is nigh!

Having less stuff definitely reduces your impact on the environment. If you’re consciously monitoring what you buy, you both consume less and produce less waste. Just think of the amount of packaging that comes with what you buy. There’s the bag from the store or the box and packing material from online. Then, the product itself is often sealed in plastic. If it’s clothing, there are tags on it. These factors alone make an impact, even though they may seem small.

Also, if you’re buying fewer items, you’re going to want to get quality ones that last for a while. Doing so means less waste because you’re not getting rid of clothes that got holes or dishes that are stained or beat up.

Consumerism is a huge contributor to climate change, responsible for up to 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Consumers purchasing goods manufactured all over the world means that a lot of transportation is needed to get them to the right place.

The fast fashion trend makes people buy a lot more clothing, which requires a high amount of water to produce and contributes to materials being found on shorelines and other areas they aren’t meant to be, which harms plant and animal life.

Tiny Living

The minimalist movement rises alongside — and for similar reasons as — the tiny home trend. Besides pretty much eliminating a mortgage and saving you a lot of money over both the short and long term, making the choice to live in a smaller home is also an excellent eco-friendly option. Smaller homes naturally require less material. And they also challenge you to make sure every single space in the house has a purpose since space is so limited.

If you want to live more off-the-grid, keep in mind that’s also easier to do in a tiny home. It’s simple to power these homes with solar panels due to their small size. You can also choose to rig a rainwater collection system to get fresh water.

There will also be less damage done to the actual land. If the house is stationary, it’s taking up less space. If it’s portable, that means there is no need to lay a foundation. Tiny homes don’t disrupt the balance of nature as much.

The largest environmental impact of a tiny home is its amount of energy consumption. 86 percent of the environmental impact of a home is from energy consumption — things like lighting and heating. Tiny houses use only a small fraction of the energy that a normal, average-sized house does. The same kinds of results were found comparing the carbon dioxide emissions of a normal house and a tiny one.

Smaller issues exist too, but small things can add up. If you’re living in a tiny house and living in a minimalist way, you’ll naturally use fewer cleaning supplies because there’s less to clean.

Because you’ll have fewer fixtures, appliances and other electronics, you won’t need to replace as much down the road. Those who live in average to large-sized homes will spend approximately $3,000-$14,000 annually on home repairs. In contrast, tiny home owners will only spend about $250-$1,000 a year on repairs.

These numbers not only show how cost-effective this lifestyle is, but also how much less there is to repair — and, in turn, waste — when living in a smaller home. Having a tiny home encourages the minimalism movement because it literally makes it virtually impossible to succumb to overconsumption.

Minimalism is a great way to help the environment — and yourself. It’s easy to become far too focused on the belongings we own instead of our life experiences and who we are. Even if you slowly ease into a more minimalist lifestyle, it will still make an impact on the environment and the world.

The more the minimalism trend grows, the better off the environment will be, so get started right away!