Whether consumerism leads directly to the destruction of the environment is not clear. However, consumer goods — from plastic toys to video games to sneakers — factories across the globe are working unceasingly to produce finished products that are not strictly necessary to one’s life. These factory outputs contribute to a large percentage of the fossils fuels emitted each year and have an equivalent effect on environmental degradation.
For its part, minimalism functions as a direct rejection of consumerism. Where consumerism seeks to overload us with products, curiosities and toys, minimalism advocates a rejection of all such things. Many minimalists refuse to buy a TV, limit their clothes purchases to the essentials and favor handmade and sentimental gifts over those bought at the store. While this leads to the by-product of a smaller consumerist footprint and helps limit environmental waste, it also builds environmental awareness.
This concept goes beyond just understanding the impact one’s actions have on the environment. Rather, ecological awareness carries the assumption that an individual will actively work to improve the environment and mitigate the damage he or she does directly and indirectly. However, environmental recognition does not imply environmental activism: one can be aware and simply modify his or her lifestyle without getting politically involved or attending events.
For many people, this lifestyle modification manifests in minimalism. After all, minimalism dictates that one should use and retain only what is necessary, and avoid purchasing frivolous products. Well-functioning and sentimental objects should be kept and used until they are no longer functional. The philosophy also employs a “quality over quantity” assumption: spending money is fine, as long as it is for a product that is quality and that will last longer than a cheaper more fragile product.
America is the worst culprit when it comes to unfettered consumption. Some analysts go so far as to claim that the world would require four times its natural resources for everyone to live the way we do. This has led to a growing counter-cultural movement against overconsumption. However, the average American still produces over 50 tons of garbage throughout his or her life and leads the world in carbon emissions.
Cheaply-made goods also find an enormous market in America from overseas. So while America may have relatively stringent restrictions on its factories’ carbon emissions and pollution output, most of the manufactured products sold in America come from countries that don’t have the same standards. Foreign competition makes it difficult to buy locally-made products, especially with the price differential being what it is.
The Minimalist Life
One by-product of minimalism is closer scrutiny of each purchase. When you are all in on minimalism, you begin to pay attention to every product you consider buying. When thinking about this, you will need to weigh out what is important to you. If your goal is to find a product that is better-quality and longer-lasting, you have already begun the first steps toward an environmentally-conscious lifestyle. Once you understand this benefit, you will naturally seek out environmentally-friendly products.
Environmentalism might not be your end-goal when transitioning toward minimalism. For many, the pursuit of a simpler lifestyle comes from a need to eliminate clutter and prioritize the few essentials in life. Often, sustainability is not even on the radar. However, you will quickly find that the two — minimalism and environmental sustainability — are tightly interconnected.
A Greener Future
Whether you have decided to embrace minimalism for the need to eliminate excess junk, because you are aware of your environmental impact and want to lessen it, or simply because you want to save money, the result is the same. Whatever route you take, the natural progression will have you buying better-quality and sustainably-produced goods, ones which you can reuse and recycle again and again.
About the author: Emily Folk works as a freelance conservation and sustainability writer. To see more of her work, check out her blog, Conservation Folks, and follow her on Twitter. Image by NordWood Themes on Unsplash