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What Is Eco-Minimalism? Your Guide to Getting Started

Eco-minimalism not only does wonders for the planet, but also your mental health. Here's everything you need to know.

Written by
Rachel Liu

Minimalism and environmentalism have become much more mainstream over the past 10 years. That means you’ve probably heard of eco-minimalism before. But what is it? And how can it help you live a more sustainable life?

The phrase "eco-minimalism" was originally coined by architect Howard Liddell and energy consultant Nick Grant. It was a design concept used to construct buildings with minimized environmental impacts. More recently, however, the phrase has been redefined. 

Eco-minimalism has evolved into so much more, and the new definition combines eco-consciousness and minimalism to create a lifestyle that's both simplified and good for the planet. Shelbi (the YouTuber behind the channel Shelbizleee) and Deanna Pratt (who runs the eco-minimalism blog, Eco Ally) have been influential voices in spreading the world about eco-minimalism in the sustainability space in recent years.

While both eco-friendly living and minimalism focus on living consciously, they also have some differences. Minimalists live with very few items, simplifying their lives by decluttering and consuming mindfully. On the other hand, eco-friendly environmentalists live in a way that reduces their environmental footprint. But at the end of the day, environmentalism and minimalism share rewarding habits like reusing, upcycling, and conscientiousness.

How Is Eco-Minimalism Good?

According to the Los Angeles Times, the average American home has a jaw-dropping 300,000 items. You name it: food, furniture, decorations, kids toys, CDs, random participation trophies from Little League—it’s all there. This average family might also spend $1,700 on clothes annually, and each member of the family will throw away more than 68 pounds of clothes and 185 pounds of plastic by the end of the year. This seemingly endless supply of trash goes straight to the landfill, churning out harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and its increasingly horrible effects

Aside from bettering the planet, eco-minimalism might also do wonders for your mental health. According to research from Princeton University, decluttering your space may contribute to improved attention, concentration, and focus, since clutter drains your cognitive resources. A 2017 study from Current Psychology found living in more cluttered spaces is correlated with reduced productivity and procrastination. 

If you want to get started on an eco-minimalism journey of your own, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

3 Guidelines for the Newly-Initiated Eco Minimalist

1. Find Your Values 

Regardless of whether or not you're on an eco-minimalist journey, this exercise will prove immensely valuable. Take a few minutes to think back to your most treasured (or most despised) memories. What made these memories stand out to you? Reflect on what makes them important and list out some ways to honor those values.

For example, a self-proclaimed "eco-minimalist" who's embarrassed by their lavish shopping habits isn't honoring their values. In order to do that, they should more consciously minimize their carbon footprint. This isn't an easy process. But by the end, aim for having at least five values and ways in which you could improve your life by honoring them.

2. Simplify Your Life 

This is one of the three "guiding principles" of Pratt. As one of the core tenets of minimalism—simplifying your life—might mean everything from reducing the amount of jeans in your closet to cutting out toxic people. It's also about how you spend your time.

Reduce time spent scrolling through social media posts. Declutter your emails. Create a capsule wardrobe. But do this according to the values you listed. If you prioritized environmentalism, find creative ways to go zero-waste or avoid buying products with excessive packaging. If you prioritized determination, challenge yourself to the Minimalism Game, where you get rid of one thing on the first day of the month, two things on the second day, and so on. You can donate items to places like Goodwill.

3. Find Your Joy

For the third guideline, we like to think of Marie Kondo’s famous motto: “Does it spark joy?” If yes, then keep it in your life and remind yourself of its importance every once in a while. If not, then no worries: Thank it, donate it, and delete. Having less is good, and wanting less is even better.

Once you simplify your life, you might find that you'll have time for the essentials of life: spending time with family, watching a movie with friends, dancing in the rain, or whatever else your definition of fun may be. (Like making vegan baked feta pasta, for instance!). For most people, this is where the joy comes in.

And before you make a decision on getting rid of something, try to look at it in a new light. A neglected blouse you once loved can become a treasured possession simply through use. A rusted bike, once repaired, can bring you on many new journeys. That's what eco-minimalism is all about.