A few weeks ago on instagram I asked people what sort of content they wanted to see from me/what they wanted to find out more about environmental issue wise, and was really surprised when someone asked "How do I become more of a minimalist?". Which I wasn't really expecting because I'm far from a minimalist and it doesn't immediately strike me as something you need to do to be more sustainable. So it begs the question:

Do you have to be a Minimalist to be an Environmentalist?

Is Minimalism the only way to be environmentally friendly?

Short answer; not necessarily, it kind of depends how you define minimalism.

Minimalism seems to have taken off as one of the top aesthetics over the past few years, especially on instagram, I mean #minimalist on instagram has over 10 million images and videos in it. And though a lot of the images on it are definitely not actually minimalist, it's an aesthetic that has become associated with the sustainability community.

But I also see fast fashion brands and influencers using the minimal aesthetic in order to sell cheaply made clothes, among other stuff. Something that's not sustainable or environmentally conscious at all, and is definitely being used as a form of greenwashing to make people think a brand is more environmentally conscious than it actually is.

And on the surface someone who only owns 20 wardrobe pieces, and has a one in one out policy,  is going to be seen as minimal. But if they buy all of their clothing from fast fashion brands and replace them every month,  that is definitely not environmentally conscious. Not that many people are like this, it's a very basic example to prove the point, but I definitely see people online who fit this aesthetic but are buying fast fashion and promoting companies who are responsible for a like

And then there's someone like me who probably owns more clothes than they need but buys 90% second hand, doesn't buy very often, and has learned to repair clothes to give them a longer life (among other things). On the surface this definitely isn't minimalist but it's for sure more environmentally friendly than the "minimalist on the surface" example from above.

Of course clothes aren't the only thing that make an impact on the planet, but it's an easier to draw comparison
I mean, people who live the "true" minimalist life would say that it's about a lifestyle more than an aesthetic, and I would agree. The idea of owning less stuff to free you from the need to own stuff and give more time for the things that are really important in life. Something that a lot of people would benefit from.

But this ideal image of pristine white, all matching jars for your beans and pasta in your cupboards, only wearing whites and beiges, and a room that only has white linen and plants in,  can actually be a little damaging for some people looking to try and be more environmentally friendly. It's not something that is necessarily obtainable for most people living in modern society and not an aesthetic everyone wants to live with. And when it's seen as the only, or main, way to be more sustainable then it isn't accessible.

What can we take from minimalism?
It's definitely  not all bad, and to be better environmentalists I think there are things we can all take from the world of minimalism to help us be more environmentally conscious. And it's also important to try and separate mindset and lifestyle from aesthetic.

Consuming less
I think this is what the person that asked how they could be more minimal meant. Learning to consume less and rely less on the temporary happiness of buying new stuff is beneficial for mental health, the environment, and your bank account. I'll probably make a whole full blog post on how to learn to consume less but this is definitely something anyone trying to be more sustainable should work towards.

We live in a society that tells us to buy, buy, buy. We believe stuff equals happiness. This is partly because the reward centres in our brain tell us it does, but it's a fleeting and false sense of happiness. Breaking free of this constant need to consume is a sure fire step to be more sustainable in your every day life.

Zero Waste
Zero waste is definitely a love child of the minimalist and sustainability community. And though fully being zero waste, like only having a jar of your waste for 5 years,  is not something that is obtainable for most people, trying to create less waste can definitely be a big part of being more sustainable.

A lot of people now opt to calling zero waste less waste and this is something I like. It's more realistic for the every day person, says what we're really aiming for, and is less scary and daunting too.

Marie Kondo
Now I have mixed feelings about the declutter culture that Marie Kondo has created here in the west. I love her philosophy and methods, I definitely think it's important to get rid of things that no longer serve you in your life and leave room for the important things, but it's also really important to do this consciously. If you're just putting things in landfill in order to create space for more stuff, that is not positive. Instead decluttering to continue to have less stuff, and making sure that your old things are recycled and donated where possible, is really important.

I think things with Marie Kondo here got lost in translation a little bit in the mainstream (and not just because she's Japanese). She emphasises keeping stuff that is important to you and being mindful which is about changing your attitude towards stuff, but I think some people have just taken it as a "declutter to buy more things = happiness" which is not really her message.

How to be eco without being "minimalist"?
Although there are benefits to the minimalist life, let's be real, it's not practical for most people to be a super minimalist. I could never do it, and as I said above it's just one way to be more environmentally friendly. In fact some of the people I look up to most and have taught me the most about looking after the environment are far from minimal.

Keeping to avoid waste
Now I love a good declutter, a bit of Marie Kondo in my life. But I also have a shelf full of art supplies that I have no idea when I will use again, I just know I will. The thing is I know there aren't really places that take half used art supplies, and I also know that one day I'll want to use them again. So I've kept them. it avoids waste and me buying more stuff.

Also in terms of people who make, or upcycle, collecting stuff that's second hand/foraged in for the future can save both waste and money in the long run because again, you have the supplies you need and don't have to go out and find new stuff. My mum currently owns about 20 cutlery sets, not because we need then as a family but because she makes stuff out of them, my Dad never throws out wood, but these are sustainable ways to make. Keeping and salvaging old things, it may not seem super minimal and decluttered but it is sustainable.

Also a lot of the environmental groups I've been a part of have had spaces full of stuff. This means they can rent things out to people and don't throw things away so that individuals need to own less stuff. Having collective community items is a really good way of helping people individually be more minimal without seeming more minimal on the surface.

Sustainability isn't all Beige and White.
This is my biggest personal problem with the visual aesthetic of minimalism. And has nothing to do with the mindset of minimalism but... Why is is all white and beige?! A lot of people seem to think that everything eco has to be colourless, and I created this space in a way to show people you can be fun and vibrant and still be eco friendly. I get that people like that clean and crisp look but there are so many ways to be sustainable without adhering to this aesthetic at all. Also keeping your food items in old jars and bottles you own that may still have labels on is more eco than buying whole new sets of items just to fit into a "look".

This is not me having a beat down on the aesthetic, some people I'm good friends with in the community (Like Besma, she's amazing) have this crisp white and minimal aesthetic. It's definitely pretty, and pleasing to the eye. But it's not the only way to be eco, and it's not like it's automatically the best or superior way either. It's just a way.

At the end of the day actions speak louder than aesthetics, and trying to live more minimalist in attitude rather than trying to adhere to a certain style is definitely the way to go. Being a true minimalist and prioritising your happiness, experiences, and other people over stuff can definitely help you live a more sustainable life, but I think that message has gotten lost somewhere in instagram flat-lays and zero waste room tours.

So the answer?  Sort of. Having a more minimalist attitude towards stuff is definitely important in becoming more of an environmentalist but the aesthetic is not needed. If you want it, go ahead, but don't feel like you have to comply.