Sustainability and Minimal Living

Sustainable living is fast becoming a trend that we are all starting to adopt; the reduction in our use of fossil fuels and our inventions to counteract this dependence is a tribute to this. However, sustainable living transcends the field of energy and often, sustainable practice can go hand in hand with other lifestyles, such as minimalism.

Minimalism doesn’t mean sitting in a blank room having only the bare necessities needed to survive, it means asking a question of value; “how much value does this thing add to my life?” Everyone’s idea of minimalism is different because each of us defines value independently. However, a universal aspect of minimalism is the freedom that clearing the clutter from our lives enables us to acquire. By ridding ourselves of our litter, we create room for things which can give us fulfilment, more money, and more time. This also means that our desire for commodities won’t strangle the world; if we don’t demand these luxury goods then the Earth’s supply of resources won’t be taken from future generations to create them.

If we ask ourselves ‘how much value do the things we surround ourselves with actually give us?’ you may be surprised to see just how many unnecessary items you own. Think back to all the Christmasses gone by when you really wanted the new iPod Nano and you were so excited to open it! No doubt it went with you everywhere until the iPod Touch was released and that was the new thing you had to have. Everyone is guilty of wanting an item and this isn’t the problem; we’re always going to want things. The problem is that we often forget the fickle nature of our relationship with things; no matter how much we want something, as soon as an updated version is released we discard what we have and desire something new – where is your old iPod Nano now? A minimalist mindset could, therefore, help us to curb our consumer-driven glorification of things and help us establish a more meaningful appreciation of what an item can do for us. All we need to do is be a little bit ruthless and realise that the comfort we think buying things gives us is ultimately a fleeting fantasy.

Minimal living is as easy as asking ‘do we really need everything we buy?’ In today’s society, consumerism is extraordinary. Our huge demand for various products is ensuring that resources, labour, construction, and the transportation of material is at an all-time high, which it must be to meet our excessive demand. Delivery services, such as Amazon Prime, have not only ensured that we have access to more commodities but also that we can get them delivered to our doorstep in under 24 hours. It has been estimated that Amazon delivers around 1,600,000 daily, that’s around 608 million packages a year. To put this in perspective, one Amazon delivery driver stated that delivering 200 to 255 parcels was an average day.

It is of course not only Amazon which has made buying products simpler. There is an array of online shops selling anything from clothes to foods to tech products that have made buying items the easiest it has ever been; we can browse and purchase almost anything online right from the comfort of our own homes. The important thing to note here is that if something is easy, we do it more often; hence our increased surrounding of commodities.

So, what toll is this hungry consumerism having on the planet?

Well, the three concepts of sustainability are economic, social, and environmental. They are also colloquially known as profit, people, and the planet. These three spheres each have a dynamic relationship and whatever affects one impacts the others. For our economy the rise in product consumption in wealthier countries has resulted in a further and expanding widening between rich and poor; as the saying goes, ‘the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer’. For society, modern consumerism has created a split in societal expectations and classes. Consumerism changes what is thought of as ‘normal’ in society, it changes what is considered to be adequate – for example, because of Amazon Prime, we expect fast delivery and therefore this has to be supplied. For the environment, our hungry demand for goods means a subsequent demand for resources – this has resulted in more pollutant emissions, increased land-use, and deforestation.

This all happens before the product even lands on our doorstep. As with anything, a product has a life span and our ravenous consumerism will end up creating more waste. This is damaging the ecosystem and also creating more work for ourselves, as the more we buy the more we throw away.

Sustainability is ‘development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs’. Sustainability and minimalism, therefore, mesh together very well as a minimal lifestyle engages us with our surroundings. It allows us to ask ourselves what we value and to reassess our relationship with things. In our modern world, it is easy to become swept up in the ideology and allure of items but we must make every effort to resist this by only surrounding ourselves with things that provide value. Adopting a minimalist mindset is a fantastic way to ensure that we appreciate what we have and respect the conservation and growth of our world for ourselves and those still to come.

18 Jul 2020