16 Creative Ways to Upcycle Items in Your Home or Dorm Room

Hello!

This week’s post is going to be ideas for how you can reuse and upcycle items in your home. All these ideas are things that I’ve done whilst living in college dorm rooms.

Reuse is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental footprint, especially if that reuse allows you to divert waste from landfill. Personally, I’ve found that figuring out how to re-use items is as much about your crafting abilities as it is about your creativity and mindset. So I wanted to share my own most useful and most interesting examples of re-use because seeing what others have done online has been the most helpful thing for me when it comes to figuring out how to re-use.

These ideas are a good mix of easy and common zero waste swaps as well as some more creative ideas.

Mini Bookshelf

You can stack milk crates on top of each other or side by side to create a miniature bookshelf for yourself. Milk crates are the perfect size to fit a vast majority of books and can often be found in thrift stores or are given away when a local factory or plant shuts down. If you want to spice up the look a little bit you can also spray paint your crates like I did for an extra pop of color.

Mini Crate Seats

This second one is another milk crate hack. I created two of these miniature stool seats by cutting some bath mats to size to use on top for padding and then adding some ribbon so you don’t have to see the rough cut edge. This craft was fun, easy, and cheap to make and they’ve been awesome to have in the residence hall. The great thing about them is that they’re little so they can be easily stowed away when not in use and are great to have a around for moving as well.

Bedside Table

Need a bedside table? Stack two milk crates on top of each other, hit them with the spray paint, and you’re all set! You can also put a cute plate on top to prevent smaller items from falling through the holes.

Plant Stand

Alright, this is the last milk crate hack I promise. (It’s not my fault they’re incredibly versatile.) This one is great if you have a short desk or dresser but a taller window so your plants need some more height to get maximal lighting. In general, especially for a college kid I 100% recommend finding some crates before you go off to school. They’re perfect because they can serve so many purposes which is great when you’re moving around a lot like most students.

Soap Dishes

When I started using solid beauty products I didn’t really want to spend money on a nice sustainably made soap try so I just cut some holes in the bottom of this deli meat container (this is back before I went vegetarian). The lid is convenient because it makes it easy to carry my things to the communal bathroom down the hall and I can also rest the container on top of the lid to catch water so my dresser doesn’t get wet.

Conditioner Bottle

I was having trouble using my conditioner bar in its solid form so I decided to melt it down and add water to make it more like a conventional conditioner. I’d initially thought of buying or thrifting a pump top glass bottle like I have for my dish soap but realized I could reuse the old Dr. Bronner’s bottle from the soap I’d just finished.

Yoga Mat Bag

This is one of my favorite DIYs, its been so convenient and nice to have a proper bag for my yoga mat especially when I need to carry it in the rain. There are a ton of tutorials online about how to make jeans into a yoga mat bag and I also wrote a post about my personal experience doing so. This is a great way for you to save money and keep textiles out of the landfill.

Bulk Shopping Bags

The only thing better than buying bulk goods sustainably and package free is doing it upcycled bags you made yourself. There are a ton of bulk bags available for cheap on amazon but most have not been sustainably produced. Making some bags yourself is a great way to go the extra mile by diverting textile waste from landfill in addition to reducing your plastic waste.

Rags

This tip is such a quick and easy way to reduce waste. Instead of using paper towels and napkins you can cut up old t-shirts, towel, or any textile and simply wash them when you’re done using them.

Bulk Foods Storage

This is a classic and indispensable low waste tip. As you transition from packaged goods to buying bulk save jars from products like applesauce, salsa, or peanut butter. You’ll be able to store all types of food in them and even use them as cups.

Mouth Guard Case

Need a mouth guard for sports or late night teeth grinding? Save yourself a little plastic and store it in a re-used food container. Be sure to cut out a few holes in the bottom to make sure your mouth guard dries out properly.

Compost Storage

I’ve seen a lot of folks online who buy special containers to store their compost in, but because I don’t do my own compost and I bring it to a community compost location, I have no need for a special container. Instead of buying something I use empty yogurt containers or a disposable plastic bag.

Flower Pots

Are you like many Americans who have somehow acquired more mugs than a person could ever use in a lifetime? Well, if you answered yes and you’re looking to start potting plants, mugs are a cute substitute for flower pots. The one caveat is they don’t have drainage holes so you’ll need to be very careful about over watering.

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Organizational Trays

This is an idea that Marie Kondo has recently popularized that I’ve been doing nearly my whole life. Often, items come in absolutely adorable packaging that is reusable. Shown below, I have old teavana containers and cookie tins that I use to store office supplies and teas. I always keep a small collection of these boxes and often share them with friends and family who need organizational help.

Funnel

This is an idea I stole from a video on the Shelbizlee youtube channel. (I’d highly recommend her videos in you’re interested in zero-waste content.) You can cut the bottom off a plastic soda bottle and then you’ll have a funnel you can use for all kinds of purposes, I use mine the most when I’m making oat milk.

Toe Spacers

If you’ve got bunions or other foot problems like me you know that toe spacers are life savers. But personally I’ve found that the silicone ones never last more than a few months and there just aren’t any sustainable options. Solution, roll up some pieces of old t-shirt, throw a few stitches in to keep the spacer together, and you have upcycled and machine washable toe spacers. The other benefit to trying this is that you can customize your toe spacers to exactly what is most comfortable and beneficial for you.

That brings me to the end of my list!

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What are the most creative or helpful ways to reuse or upcycle items that you’ve done or have heard of?

Sustainability as a Path to a More Meaningful Life

If I’ve learned anything over the last four years of earning my psychology degree it’s that humans are obsessed with meaning making.

Many things that are good for our mental health are things that drive a sense of meaning and purpose. Routines help life feel less random. Social connections moor us in an interconnected web of other people so we don’t feel alone. Volunteering and work let us feel helpful and fulfilled. Having hobbies and passion projects allow us to create and accomplish tangible things. And we’ve developed complex spiritual practices throughout all of history that help us make sense of our world, feel connected to it, and create meaning.

Having something to do and some kind of purpose beyond ourselves is a central aspect of the human habit of meaning making and integral to our mental wellbeing. Experiencing existential dread is essentially the opposite of experiencing meaning and is a major red flag signaling depression.

Personally, I’ve had plenty of experience feeling depressed and full of existential dread and I know that worrying too much about climate change is usually considered quite depressing. And sure, just sitting around and worrying about it is probably going to make you feel bad.

However, when you decide to start doing something about climate change every choice you make is suddenly an opportunity to do good by the planet and be part of the movement.

Picking up bamboo toothbrushes isn’t just a boring chore but your opportunity to vote with your dollar and tell companies you’re no longer interested in plastic. Every meatless meal or plant based substitute for an animal product is help in the fight against deforestation and animal cruelty.

The weekly grocery trip becomes a challenge to be as sustainable as possible and take advantage of as many low waste foods as you can. As you switch more of your conventional beauty and personal care products to eco friendly ones you’ll feel the pride within you grow by starting each day with a reminder of your sustainable commitment.

You’ll relish in the opportunity to mend something broken and feel a sense of stubborn pride when your friends and family roll their eyes at your insistence on buying your clothes and electronics second hand.

While your loved ones might think you’re strange, you also might see them change their behavior after a while too. A few folks might start using reusable shopping bags, wrap your Christmas gifts in old newspaper, and even come to you for advice on environmental issues.

You learn that every choice you make has an environmental impact. From what you eat, wear, and do to how you dispose of you things you don’t need. Therefore every choice you make is an opportunity to be good, or bad, to our planet.

This fact is at once overwhelming but the precise reason that sustainability is an ideal lifestyle change to help make your life more meaningful. Mundane and boring everyday activities now become a way to be part of a movement and help save the planet.

Beyond that, making your lifestyle more sustainable will naturally lead you to become more interested in other areas of sustainability. You might find yourself communing with nature, doing DIYs, or learning new skills as a result of your sustainable lifestyle.

I’m of course not saying that sustainable living is going to cure anyone of their existentialism or depression. However, sustainability is usually discussed as something that is just going to bum people out or make them depressed when that just isn’t the case.

If you’re able to focus on the positive impact you can have, rather than only the scary aspects of our climate crisis sustainable living might help you find some greater sense of purpose like it’s done for me.

I still have bad days, and like I said above sustainable living hasn’t fixed all my mental health problems. But overall it has helped a lot. Now, my actions align with my values and I don’t feel so guilty about things. I still worry about climate change, but I know that I’m doing something about it and am part of the solution and not the problem.

Trying to be as sustainable as possible also brings some excitement and little challenges to my day. I feel good about myself when I resist purchasing something I’m tempted by, bring my own container somewhere, or choose to buy the more sustainable version of something. All these little boosts in mood add up and living out my values creates a satisfaction unachievable through other means.

Overall, making my lifestyle more sustainable has helped my mental wellbeing and I can honestly say that I’m happier now than I was before. And this basic idea that aligning your lifestyle to your values improves your mental health can apply to pretty much any lifestyle changes you want to make.

As with all changes, there will be challenges. You’ll have to learn new things and it’s easy to beat yourself up when you make mistakes and slip into old habits. But if you get past these slumps and pitfalls you’re not likely to want to go back to your old ways when you experience all the positivity that comes with going green.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. How has sustainable living effected your mental health? Do you feel that sustainability or other lifestyle habits have provided you with more sense of meaning? Let me know in the comments below.

Sustainability and Privilege: an Image Problem

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Is a sustainable lifestyle only the pursuit of the privileged?

Let’s talk about it.

First of all, let’s define what we’re talking about when we say a “sustainable lifestyle.” To me, a person living a sustainable lifestyle is anyone putting forth significant effort and thought to do good by the environment.

However, often times I see people online saying they can’t “afford” to be sustainable, usually in the comments of a post in which some sustainability creator is showing all the expensive zero waste swaps they own. That commenter is seeing a small aspect of that creator’s life and making broad assumptions about the sustainable living movement.

I’ve also had similar experiences in person, I’ll tell someone I’m vegetarian for environmental reasons and they’ll make an oddly aggressive comment saying “Well y’know sustainability is a privilege.” To which I usually respond with the fact that meat costs 5-6X more per pound than tofu and other vegetarian protein sources. The other person will then say something about veganism being expensive which is equally confusing to me because I’m not vegan and don’t promote that lifestyle. (No shade to vegans though, really just do what works for you.)

Yet, zero waste swap content and veganism really don’t represent a full picture what sustainable living is.

Let’s analyze what it means to live a sustainable life from the broader perspective of the five tenets of zero waste.

Refuse – Not accepting things you do not need.

Reduce – Not acquiring new items you do not have purpose for. 

Reuse – Turning items you already have into items you need, but do not have. Preference buying second hand.

Recycle – Recycle as much material as possible and preference items that come in recyclable packaging.

Rot – Compost

Nothing in these five tenets encourages you to go out and buy a bunch of new, fancy, expensive zero waste swaps or vegan yogurt substitutes. In fact it’s quite the opposite. When we view the tenets of zero waste away from social media and minimalist, polished aesthetics we are encouraged not to buy anything at all if we can help it. If we need something we’re encouraged to be resourceful and creative and use what we have or buy something second hand.

This difference between how sustainable living is portrayed in social media and what the core values of it really are frustrates me for two main reasons.

First, it discourages people from becoming a part of the movement. As a member of the American middle class, I’m financially privileged from a global perspective. Yet even I felt like there was no possible way for me to “afford” a sustainable lifestyle at first. This was the direct result of learning about how to be more sustainable from influencers online. However, there’s not really any other information source I’ve found that is as easy to get to and goes in as much depth as these influencers do as far as the minutiae of how to live more sustainably. So for better or worse these influencers are the face of the movement to a lot of folks.

Second, this idea that you need “a lot” of money to live a sustainable life gives people an excuse not to try. This may be an issue somewhat unique to the US, but there’s a lot of research that shows Americans are very unlikely to identify themselves as upper class and are reluctant to admit to financial privilege. Even people in the top tenth percentile of wealth are likely to consider themselves middle class, despite obviously being upper class.  Because over 90% of Americans don’t see themselves as upper-class, when sustainability gets the image of being only for the financially privileged over 90% of people just aren’t going to try.

And, as we’ve already discussed, the principles of sustainability aren’t about spending money. It’s about buying as little as possible and saving money.

Now, all this is not to say that there isn’t privilege involved in pursuing a sustainable lifestyle.

When we talk about saving money and cutting back on consumption there’s an inherent implication that there is some excess to cut back on. If you live in poverty and already cannot afford the things you need there’s no way to cut back. Additionally, if you are relying only on the foods you can get for free you don’t have the privilege of being choosey about your diet.

There are also issues that hinge not on socioeconomic privileges, but access more broadly. You may be wealthy but that doesn’t mean you have access to public transit or bulk bins. Maybe you do have access to bulk bins but have allergies and therefore cannot use them without cross contamination concerns. Maybe you’re a teen who lives at home with your parents and they just won’t accommodate the changes you’re interested in making. There is all variety of life situations such as illness, family structure, work, and geographic location that affect each individual’s ability to do, or not to do certain sustainable practices.

However, the conversation is often simplified down to just socioeconomic privilege and sort of implies that it is only the absolute wealthiest people who are privileged enough to live sustainably. Yet that just isn’t the case.

Making the feasibility of a sustainable lifestyle solely about financial privilege is pretty reductive. There are plenty of sustainable changes that can be made for free or for the same cost as their alternatives as well.

It’s also important to expand our ideal of what living a sustainable lifestyle really means. Yes, pursuing the perfect social media airbrushed picture of sustainability full of expensive swaps and farmer’s markets would be costly. But that isn’t all that sustainable living is and we can’t define sustainable living through unattainable zero waste perfection.

To me, it’s more about putting the effort in.

Don’t have access to bulk bins or public transit? Don’t worry, there are still other things you can do to lower your footprint and you don’t need to beat yourself up about things outside your control. And, if for whatever reason your situation really doesn’t allow you to make lifestyle changes you can always engage in activism which has equal and potentially greater value than individual changes.

Even just talking about climate change in everyday conversation is powerful. There’s a lot of misinformation about climate change here in the US where moneyed conservative interests have spent exorbitant amounts over the years to create confusion about it.

I just don’t want this skewed idea that you need tons of money to even try to be sustainable to discourage people. Even if you lack money, access, or time to take part in certain sustainable practices there is always value in doing whatever bit you can and talking about the issues.

So, is there privilege in leading a sustainable lifestyle? Yes, of course. But at least by the standards of a developed nation you by no means need to be rich to do so and there is so much more that goes into it than money alone.

The expensive version of sustainability we are so used to seeing online isn’t reality, it’s a narrow image that’s become the face of a movement that is so much more than that and we have got to expand our view of sustainable living to be more inclusive to all kinds of life situations and get new people on board.

This is a complex topic and I could write about it forever, I of course can’t cover every example and nuanced situation in my post but I’ve done my best to offer a balanced perspective. 

Now I would love to hear from you all in the comments. What are your thoughts on this topic? Is sustainable living only achievable for the wealthy? Do you think social media has distorted the true values of the movement? Let me know below!

The Simple Pleasure of Making Things

Convenience.

Here in the US and much of the western world we are living in a time in which we have never had more convenience in our lives.

Cars let us go where we want exactly when we want to, online shopping gets goods to us without us ever needing to leave the couch, and we are able to contact one another instantaneously.

However, I’ve recently come to believe that all this convenience has robbed us of a simple and classic pleasure.

The joy, satisfaction, and pride that comes with making things on your own.

For me, this realization came when I found myself in the market for a yoga mat bag. Now as an eco-minimalist I don’t want to buy anything that isn’t ethically or sustainably made and I realized an eco-friendly yoga mat bag was going to cost me quite a bit more than I hoped to spend.

I checked second hand apps for a couple days, but in all honesty I got impatient and so after those two days I was bored of the hunt and decided that the only logical choice would be to make a bag myself.

Luckily, I had an old pair of jeans I’d been saving for months in hopes of finding a way to repurpose them. I stopped wearing the jeans because the spot where my thighs rub together had gone completely threadbare so I didn’t think I could resell them. However the rest of the fabric was in great shape.

So armed with some internet tutorials and the grace of my mother being willing to remind me how a sewing machine works (and let me use hers) I got to work making my own yoga mat bag.

Now, I’ve been doing this eco-minimalism thing for about 8 months and this bag isn’t the first thing I’ve made on my own. However, it is the most elaborate and time consuming thing I’ve made myself so far. My previous DIYs have all been rather simple, just quickly combining a few store bought ingredients into a jar.

But this project was different, the only brand new material I used for this bag was the thread.  Even the sewing machine I was using had been thrifted by my mother.

What made the process truly satisfying were the moments when the tutorials didn’t have all the answers. Every pair of jeans is a little different, and I soon realized that my particular pair of pants wasn’t going to become a yoga mat bag in the same exact way as whatever pair of pants other people used.

This gave me the opportunity to creatively problem solve, and because making this bag wasn’t super easy for me I was able to feel so proud and accomplished once I finished it. I was nervous about trying to make it in the first place because I haven’t sewn in so long and have never been a highly skilled seamstress. Yet it was the challenge of my inexperience that really made the process so satisfactory.

Now let’s roll back and think about how it would have gone if I had simply shelled out the cash for an expensive and eco-friendly bag. Surely the bag would have been of great quality but I would’ve missed out on the opportunity to hone my sewing skills, be creative, and feel that satisfaction that comes only from accomplishing a task with your own two hands.

Shortly after making this yoga mat bag I also found myself in the market for some shopping bags to use at bulk bins. I initially popped onto amazon to look for the standard zero waste organic cotton or muslin cloth bags but I stopped myself. I could afford to buy the bags, but I also had a whole pile of old t shirts I was waiting to repurpose and remembered that using what’s already in your home is always the most eco-friendly option.

And thus I made my own bags again! Completely free and no worries about the carbon footprint of shipping or ethical sourcing of materials. Bonus points that all the t-shirts I repurposed were uniform shirts given to me by my employers over the years, so no initial costs for the shirts themselves either.

I often see repurposing or making things yourself recommended as an alternative for when you can’t buy the sustainable/ethically made version of an item. And I didn’t even realize that I’d taken on this mindset until after making all the bags.

So, I encourage you to try to repurpose something around your house and make it into an item you otherwise would have bought, even if you can afford the most ethical version. You may be surprised at how fun and satisfying the process is, so much so that you’ll forget about the inconvenience of having to do it yourself.

Digital Minimalism for your Cellphone

Cellphones.

A modern marvel or a plague on society?

A bit of both I’d say.

Cellphones are of course amazing in many ways, they help us communicate more efficiently than we have ever been able to in the past. We are able to pull up maps anywhere in the world to navigate with the push of a button. We have access to the greatest single collection of human knowledge ever created instantaneously.

But there is of course a downside. Increased use of social media is associated with more anxiety and depression. Exposure to blue light from screens causes eye strain and difficulty sleeping. The average American adult spends just under four hours a day on their cell phone and teenagers get an average of nine hours of time online a day.

Ideally a phone is a tool you use to help you be more efficient, but with all the time phones take up it can really feel like phones are using us.

So, how do we turn this around? For me, the answer is digital minimalism. Now before I get into all of this let me say that I am not a perfect person, bad habits are hard to break and when my mental health is poor I still have periods in which I binge watch hours of content on my phone. But, the tips I’m about to share with you have helped me to reduce my screen time and stress.

Turn off Notifications

For me, opening my phone to a dozen or more notifications is very stressful. The stimulation is overwhelming and I feel compelled to check on every single thing. Even if I didn’t actually want to go on Snapchat, Instagram, or check my email I’ve suddenly spent a few minutes on each app and allowed myself to be dragged into mindless media consumption.

The only apps on my phone I now receive notifications from are messaging apps, phone calls, voicemail, download updates from Ecosia (my web browser) and the Google Play store, Google maps, my blue light filter, Daylio (a mood tracker),  and system notifications that I am not able to turn off.

So this means that instead of being prompted to use an app by notifications, I am prompted to use apps by just my own desires. Now my brain often desires to binge watch youtube videos, but it helps to not have extra reminders.

My recommendation would be to disable notifications for any app that you don’t specifically want or need the notifications for. For me the big notification distractions I’ve disabled came from email, social media, shopping and entertainment apps. My current practice is to disable notifications for all new apps as soon as I download them.

Set Quiet Hours

Now that you’ve gotten rid of excess notifications, you may find it enjoyable to take a break from notifications all together during certain times of the day. Both apple and android phones have built in features that allow you to receive no, or very limited notifications during specific hours. When I use quiet hours on my cell phone, I usually set them from 11:30 PM to 9:30 AM because I sleep 12AM-8AM, this allows me a half hour before bed and an hour in the morning with fewer distractions. 

I don’t always have quiet hours set on my phone though, only when I have been particularly distracted by my phone or am very busy in a given week and need to focus on managing time as effectively as possible.

Don’t Use Your Phone on the Toilet (For Quick Visits)

If you know that your bathroom trip will be a quick one leave your phone in another room (or inside your bag in you’re out and about). This one was surprisingly impactful for me, it may sound silly, but just a few minutes scattered throughout my day without extra stimulation really lowers my stress and helps keep me present.  However, if I’m sick and I know I may be on the toilet for more than ten minutes, I usually bring my phone with me because it’s nice to be distracted in that situation.

Try a Blue Light Filter

What is blue light? Blue light is a portion of the light spectrum that is produced in high concentrations by electronic screens as well as natural light. Blue light exposure is associated with needing more time to fall asleep, lower quality sleep, eye strain, and headaches. If you find that anytime you spend a lot of time looking at a screen you get headaches or have light sensitivity to other light sources like myself, I highly recommend this tip.

A blue light filter will make the colors your phone emits warmer and give your screen an orange or red tint. Adjusting to the new aesthetic can be a bit hard to get used, but after a while I hardly noticed the difference and it has been well worth the decrease in headaches and eye strain. Most phones have a built in blue light filter you can toggle on and off from your notification center, or you can download a dedicated blue light filter app to get more options. I use the Twilight app which is free for android phones.

Declutter Apps

Periodically review your app list and just delete any apps you are no longer using. Consider deleting apps you use regularly if that app has an easy to use mobile website, for example youtube. It can be nice to simply have less icons on your screen to look at. You may also want to delete apps you are overusing, such as social media and email and only access those accounts on your computer. For apps you don’t use but cannot delete, remove them from your home screen or tuck them into a folder together so they are no longer clutter.

I also recommend deleting any apps you use only to kill time but do not really enjoy, overuse or check compulsively. For me, these apps have included email, social media, and mobile phone games. I’ve found that instead of always looking at my phone when I am waiting in lines or have down time I enjoy having moments throughout the day to think and appreciate my surroundings.

If you aren’t sure whether you want to delete an app just go for it and see how it feels! You can always re-download the app later.

Organize Your Apps

Having a uniform system in place to organize your apps will make it easy to find them as well decide where to put new downloads without much thought. I recommend placing apps that are similar near each other on your home screen or putting them in folders together. I personally prefer the folders method so that I don’t have to flip between multiple screens, but I know many prefer not to keep every app in a folder so they don’t “lose” them. Do whatever works best for you.

Below you can see the categories I’ve organized my home screen into and the categories are largely self explanatory. Only the apps I use regularly have an icon on my home screen, there are several that only have icons in my app finder and I use the same folder system there. The podcast app is no longer in a folder because it was the only app  within its folder, and I just felt it looked nicer this way.

Simplify Your Keyboard

When I last got a new phone in January the out of box default keyboard settings included text prediction, auto correct, auto capitalization, a text to speech button, key press pop ups, and swipe typing. Many find these features helpful but for me all the extra movement is just too distracting and my typing is actually more accurate and faster without any of them. If you are unsure, just experiment with turning some features off as you can always flip them back on later. Plus, turning off your auto-correct may improve your grammar and spelling once you’re past the learning curve.

Those are my tips for digital minimalism on your cell phone!

Did you like these tips? Do you have some of your own? Let me know in the comments below.

Eco-Minmalism vs. Minimalism: What’s the difference?

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Eco-minimalism is a rather new term that’s been popping up more and more online lately. But what exactly is the difference between minimalism and eco-minimalism? Isn’t minimalism already eco-friendly? Why does this new term even exist?

Well fear not, I ,your friendly neighborhood eco-minimalist, am here to help. The term was coined by late architect Howard Liddell around 2000, it was originally used in the discussion of green construction projects to make builders more carefully consider the impacts of the building process, not just creating flashy environmental features.

Though when the word started being used as a lifestyle term is a bit harder to pin down, and by my personal observation it seems to have quite suddenly exploded. I’d never heard the term last October when I began exploring minimalism and environmentalism, and despite hardly changing who I’ve been following online I’m suddenly seeing the word everywhere used by creators who had been living the principles without calling it eco-minimalism previously.

Alright, with that brief history out of the way, what does eco-minimalism actually mean? In short it describes someone who strives to live a life style that is both eco-friendly and minimalistic. Because environmentalism and minimalism have principles that are easily aligned many people interested in one are attracted to the other.

Those initially attracted to environmentalism will learn that consuming fewer things is one of the best ways to reduce their footprint and those initially attracted to minimalism usually begin by wanting to minimize their belongings and then become interested in minimizing their footprints as well.

However, there are some instances in which minimalist and environmental principles can clash, and that is where the term eco-minimalism comes in.

Let me give you a common example to explain what I mean. Say you are decluttering your pens, you realize you have more than you need and want to get rid of some. A minimalist will keep only the number of pens they feel they need and say sayonara to the rest, they’re likely to throw out, donate or give away the rest.

What might an eco-minimalist do differently? The most environmentally friendly thing a person can do is use up everything they already have before getting rid of it, and an eco-minimalist is more likely to keep the pens. Why?  Donating supplies is admirable but donated items are often not used or resold and will end up in the landfill unused anyway unless given to specialized programs. The pens could be given away to friends or family but unless those people are environmentalists too they likely also have way too many pens and won’t use them. So the best way for our eco-minimalist friend to avoid these pens being sent to landfill without being wasted is to keep them.

This is the most environmentally friendly choice but not the most minimal.

Another example from my personal life. Bobby pins. I currently have a bob length haircut and plan to keep my hair this length for the next year or so. At this length I just don’t have any use for bobby pins and won’t need them anytime soon. But, when my hair was long I utilized bobby pins pretty frequently.

Should I get rid of the pins? Someone focused only on minimalism would say yes, as an eco-minimalist I say no. Sure, I won’t need them soon but I will definitely grow my hair out again in my lifetime and therefore it is worth it to me to keep the bobby pins to avoid impacting the planet in buying new pins a few years from now.

Now of course there are some complications to this. Because minimalism is often defined as striving to do only the things that add the most value to your life, if being eco-friendly is valuable to you than eco-minimalism is minimalism. No new term needed. However, I think it is still important to add this new terminology to our collective vocabulary and explore the differences.

Focusing only on minimalism is just going to look a little different than striving for both lifestyles. An eco-minimalist will probably own more, especially the first few years of their journey because they’ll be working through a backlog of whatever it is they might have previously been stockpiling if they aren’t able to get rid of it sustainably. Whether it be pens or bobby pins or anything else.

Now, if before you began your eco-minimalism journey you never fell into the trap of buying months or even years worth of a good by accident, congrats! That’s awesome!

But for most of us that is not not the case, several eco-minimalists online including Shelbizlee and Heal Your Living on youtube talk about being shopaholics prior to beginning their current lifestyles. And even if you weren’t a shopaholic, you likely just went along with consumer culture like myself and ended up with way more pens than you ever needed.

So, why is this important to talk about? Because you can definitely be an environmentalist and clutter your house with second hand goods or dumpster dive treasures. You can be a minimalist and be wasteful by getting rid of all your stuff to buy a whole bunch of new things in fulfilling a “minimal” aesthetic.

It’s important to acknowledge that while minimalism and environmentalism attract similar people the lifestyles can still clash. Acknowledging that fact makes it easier to reconcile the differences between minimalism and environmentalism; reduce the pressure people often feel to get rid of something when it’s more environmentally sound to keep it, and stay focused on the true values of the movement.

Which I believe benefits both people and planet.

Are you an eco-minimalist? Leave a comment and share a story about a time your minimalism and environmental goals have clashed.