PODCAST How To Be A Minimalist [The Sustainable Way] | A Defying Space Podcast
INTRO Have you ever wondered how you can make living sustainably more efficient? It’s often the harder way of doing things, let’s be honest. By focusing on the Zero Waste movement alongside Minimalist ideals, I’m going to explore the ways both of these lifestyles support each other, as well as some of the aspects of each that are a little harder to reconcile. So the objective here, in a nutshell, is to explore the idea of a more responsible Minimalism and merge that with a rewarding sustainable lifestyle, but one which doesn’t compromise the sense of wellbeing that the simplicity of Minimalism promotes. There’s a sweet spot that when the two are combined, provide an achievable balance that will essentially alter the way you perceive and interact with the world. Intrigued? Listen on…I’m Nash and this is How To Be A Minimalist (The Sustainable Way).
EPISODE 1: THE PROBLEM
Hi everyone, thank you for joining me today. I’m Nash, self-confessed minimalist and sustainability bod behind the @defyingspace
Instagram account. This is the place where I’ll be sharing accessible actionable content to support your own journeys.
By way of an overview, this series is divided into 5 episodes, each representing a step in a journey in which minimalism can help you live more sustainably. They are designed to be listened to in order as what I’m presenting is a systematic way to make both of these compatible but often competing concepts work for you without having a detrimental impact on the environment. Make sure you hit subscribe to be notified of the next episode in the series.
So today, we’re addressing what I call The Problem. You see, on the face of it, minimalism and sustainability are quite compatible. After all, I found things like the Zero Waste movement through Minimalism, and it’s not uncommon for people to combine the two.
So what are minimalism and zero waste? they mean different things to different people, and I applaud that, but for our purposes the following may be useful.
Zero waste is now commonly accepted as the way to eliminate your personal household waste. It’s a way of taking individual responsibility with a focus on living plastic-free, due to the impact of that particular material on the environment, but it is essentially based around halting and preventing anything at all going to landfill and a lot of that involves buying completely unpackaged goods especially where consumables are involved.
Minimalism is reducing your possessions to a minimum, and being mindful of what you share your space with. It’s a combination of style and function as there’s an aesthetic element to our traditional understanding of the movement. It’s designed to take down the visual noise, in order that we can appreciate what we have and devote our time to things that matter most to us.
Both of these movements have a shared interest in simplicity and consumer issues but in distinctly different ways. Zero waste takes its cues from self-sufficiency and homesteading in many ways. Living truly package-free almost always includes more scratch-cooking and DIY projects. Therefore simplicity is used in the way of going back to basics rather than simplifying your life in the way minimalism purports to, which in contrast leans towards timesaving, doing things in fewer steps, less upkeep of your possessions. It’s efficiency, where zero waste relies on a lot of planning and can, therefore, be rather time-consuming.
But if zero waste is your interest and your goal, simplifying your space through minimalism will give you the time required to live more sustainably. Doing both together can save you time and money too, eventually, and is something I will elaborate on throughout this series, but it takes some time to get to that point.
As for the consumer issues both encourage mindful consumption but the zero waste movement is weighted towards retaining possessions until the bitter end where minimalism promotes the discarding of things that aren’t serving you.
As someone that came to zero waste through minimalism, someone who really felt the benefits of downsizing their possessions, the idea of holding onto every ripped T-shirt awaiting a second life as a dishcloth or every peanut butter jar in my one-bed attic flat gave me my first conundrum. You see, starting as a naive wide-eyed idealist, I assumed waste would no longer be a problem. If I’m not buying packaging, I don’t need to dispose of it. Great! but they reality soon set in. Unless I was going to do personal care DIYs and ‘knit my own yoghurt’ as I heard Sophie Tait of @trashplastic
once say while trying to actually you know live life, unless I was willing to cut out, say, many foods from my diet because they just didn’t come unpackaged, I was going to create at least some waste.
Let me elaborate. The 5Rs are the founding principles of the Zero Waste movement and are attributed to Bea Johnson of @zerowastehome
. Refuse-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-Rot. In that order.
Refuse what you do not need.
Reuse by using reusables.
Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse.
Rot (or compost) the rest.
If you are refusing, in this case, let’s say food packaging, then you’re golden! Nothing is coming in so nothing is going out. Congratulations. You’re living the zero waste minimalist dream. But life isn’t like that, so let’s take a moment to talk about the first problem…privilege. To be truly zero waste is a privilege. You invariably need the good fortune of having refilleries nearby, and as for minimalism, to feel you have enough of something—to be able to discard—is also a privilege.
For me, minimalism and zero waste have a shared interest in what’s being called the burden of stuff. It’s a privilege to be able to have the choice to embark on a journey like this; there are so many people that don’t have enough, or anything at all, not by choice but through circumstances. But there is also an epidemic of overconsumption. And within that there is nuance, lower quality items at a lower price means having to buy more of it, more frequently. It’s a travesty that if you rely on inexpensive goods you rarely have the choice of supporting ethical enterprises and that needs to change.
Be mindful that privilege, or lack of, applies to many different things. Shopping second-hand or waste-free isn’t accessible to everyone. Location, cost, and time are often aspects that are prohibitive. Being a non-standard clothing size, for instance, is a very real barrier, not to mention any health issues that keep many of us from participating in the way we’d like to.
It’s admirable to take personal responsibility by practicing things like zero waste, but we can’t ignore that there is something wrong with the system. Inbuilt obsolescence keeps us in a capitalist loop, with products built to NOT last. Why is it cheaper for companies to package their products in materials that cause real damage to ourselves and the environment? Minimalism and zero waste are amazing starting points that get us looking at the world differently. But once you do, don’t be surprised if it leads you to looking outwards, to question the status quo and actually challenge it. Looking at your personal situations and households is a key step, and also the focus of this series. because when you become hyper-aware of your space, your possessions and your waste, there’s a domino effect. You can never live low-waste in a bubble. We all rely on services and communal spaces outside our homes, whether they be schools, workplaces, public transport and so on.
ADVERT I’d like to make a brief intermission to tell you about one of my favourite minimalist solutions! And that’s Audible.
It’s been the way to ‘read a book’ while not having a seat on the train. It’s been a way to expand my knowledge and skillset while my son naps next to me. And it’s been the perfect way to do two things at once as so many new parents need to do. Listen to a book while cooking, doing household chores, or taking a rare moment to relax in the bath.
Books can be totally lifechanging, but if I had to wait for time to sit down to read a book I wouldn’t get anywhere. Thank goodness for Audible.
As an audible affiliate, I am offering a 30-day free trial of the 1 book monthly membership. I can also offer you the discounted membership at 50% off. Just 3.99 for 3 months. go to deyingspace.com
and click on the podcast tab to access these offers. There will be a link to Annie’s book there too!
So now to the next problem: perfectionism. It doesn’t change the fact that there’s something attractive about extreme lifestyles. They usually represent people that are exemplary in some way. The Zero Waste and Minimalist movements are appealing because they follow a rigorous code of sorts. I mean, there are no minimalism or zero waste police—although I rather think some people think they are—but trying to fit all your waste into a mason jar, or going full digital nomad with a laptop and rucksack are not practical solutions for most of us. People living those lifestyles ARE fascinating and have every right to a platform to share their journeys, although let’s face it, not everyone uses their platforms responsibly. But there can be something empowering and inspiring about it, but it can also feel totally overwhelming and inaccessible and for the most part unrealistic.
I’m going to wager that there’s is a dominant personality type that is attracted to zero waste and minimalism. Perfectionists! And they can often be the harshest critics of themselves and others. So in a world that especially doesn’t support a zero-waste system for the majority of people, failure is somewhat inevitable and can lead to a fairly substantial dropout rate. And there’s the problem.
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘if somethings worth doing it’s worth doing right?’ That encapsulates the weight of the perfectionism complex so many of us have. We’re often so concerned with being criticized that we don’t start things at all. It’s illogical in so many ways, but words are powerful and what other people think does matter to most of us on some level. And words ARE powerful. The dialogue has changed over the last few years thankfully. Zero waste has become low-waste. The Low Impact Movement was coined by Immy Lucas of @sustainably_vegan
out of a frustration with zero-waste. People now talk about reducing rather than full-on eliminating waste. I’m lucky to have found a great community online that is not only supportive, and consists of individuals who are also very honest on their own platform when discussing zero waste versus zero waste In Real Life! And yes many of us joke about being recovering perfectionists. Anne-Marie Bonneau, @zerowastechef
, really summed it all up when she said “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
The same can be applied to so many things. Many people struggle with Veganism for instance, and beat themselves up if they slip up, whether intentionally, or by mistake. And doing something by the book 80% of the time is 80% better than none of the time. And if we all looked at various sustainability issues that way, we’d be in a much better position.
Through having adopted aspects of minimalism and zero waste successfully in my own life, it’s given me an understanding of what privilege and perfectionism really mean. I’m now acknowledging privilege and letting go of perfectionism. Zero Waste—if understood in the literal sense—is the quest for perfection in an imperfect system. I think that for most of us, to succeed with zero waste, we’re still utilising the 5Rs, but it requires much more reusing and recycling, which I think of as the critical juncture in the 5Rs between the two movements. There are those of us that have the capacity to reuse more, and those of us that rely on a certain amount of recycling to keep things manageable. There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone, so I encourage you to keep that in mind and take from this podcast what adds value to your individual situations.
The key takeaway is to tailor-make your approach. Through doing zero waste for 4 years my family has grown, my space has become more limited, as has my time. Now my family are about to move. We’ll be in the same area so actually not much will change for us. We have 5 or 6 refilleries, still no access to a council composting scheme, but we may be able to add a local seasonal veg box into our household. But we could have ended up moving to a completely different area. And so we’d have needed to adjust further. Perhaps we’d have moved somewhere with even better access, but most likely it would have limited us greatly when it came to zero waste. Even if we stay in the same place, we must never take things for granted. Situations change, incomes fluctuate, the resources we rely upon could shut down. We need to be constantly aware of that, and make sure our sustainable lifestyles aren’t too narrowly focused.
I created a tool to help put it all in perspective. Its called the Sustainable Living Map
. I created it as I quickly realised that there were so many satellite issues. A world unfolded and the more I learned the harder it became to keep track of. Once I got everything down in visual form, I realised zero waste and minimalism are a small but not insignificant part of sustainable living. They happen to be the two things that attracted me. But what you’ll find is that your interests will inevitably expand and this is a great way for you to see what is closely linked to what you’re already doing. This means that if your circumstances change or whether you’re looking for a new challenge, you have this resource to support you and inspire you if you feel like you’re in a rut. It represents a world of possibility if you consider it as a starting point rather than an impossible checklist where you have to cover it all! Head over to the show notes on my website to take a look.
I advise picking 3 areas from the map that appeal to you as a starting point. Seeing that you’re here I’m going to assume you will gravitate towards zero waste and minimalism, but to give a few examples, if I call to mind some of my sustainable friends, I can pick out, say… a slow living-thrifting-herbalist, a low-waste gardening baker, a plastic-free frugal DIY-er, a Flexitarian crafting composter, a Vegan activist vintage fashionista. I suppose I’d call myself a zero-waste minimalist homesteader. We all have our strengths and interests. It’s a great way of embracing our individuality and really adding something unique to the community. It’s also a useful exercise to discover our motivators, to get a sense of what excites us, which inevitably gives us greater chance of success. And there’s plenty to try if something doesn’t work for you for whatever reason. You see it’s not really your journey if it doesn’t reflect your unique story.
In the next episode, I will discuss my approach to decluttering. It’s one of the hardest aspects to reconcile between the two movements. Having gotten my home—after a lot of hard work—to become a more efficient space—essential when you live in a one-bed 35sqm attic flat, at this point with another adult and a toddler, reusing and repurposing absolutely everything gets out of hand pretty quickly. So how do you achieve a minimalist home without sacrificing your eco-credentials?
Join me next time for more on How To Be A Minimalist (The Sustainable Way).
OUTRO If you’re enjoying this podcast, you may be interested to hear that this series is a companion to an online course and a book.
To be notified of their release, you can join my mailing list by visiting defyingspace.com
—just pop your email address in the bar on the page. And if they’re already available by the time you’re listening to this, you’ll find them there too.
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