During the last decades, what we call nowadays consumerism has unfolded and changed the way we live. Consumerism is a social order which encourages the acquisition of more and more goods. This was caused due to the industrial overproduction especially in the USA after World War II and was fueled by the upcoming mass media and its advertisement. Today, consumerism can be seen almost everywhere in the world; Especially in the USA, where an average American household contains 300.000 objects, an amount unchallenged in history. In the last 50 years, the size of American homes has tripled. But in recent years, a counter-movement has established.
Minimalistic lifestyle has taken inspiration on ancient approaches of asceticism by uncoupling it from connected worldviews and integrating it into the modern lifestyle. While mainly being promoted by bloggers and influencers over the world, for living an easier life in a world demanding more and more mobility, as well as freeing oneself up from unneeded ballast. There are different sub-movements existing, but all focus on more and less the same ideas: Own less, consume less and live more aware. Modern minimalistic movements are the most recent form of the old ideal of simple living.
However, minimalism can also be interesting from the perspective of sustainability. For this, I want to take a short look at two famous examples of minimalistic lifestyles. The Tiny House Movement as well as the so-called “100 things challenge”.
The first example arises again from the USA. As a reaction on the mentioned tremendous increase of living space per person in the USA, the rather low building restrictions gave rise to a movement of people who promoted small homes of down to 40 m². Often self-built and off-grid, they are promoted as an affordable, ecologically friendly housing alternative. Reducing building-size and living space can be for sure a huge blow to CO2-Emissions. Buildings cause up to 40% of the greenhouse gases in the USA. Decreasing the size of houses also massively decreases the consumption of resources during construction as during use. Many of these constructions also try to use a lot of recycled or salvaged materials. A lot of them include energy and water saving systems in order to rely only on solar energy and rainwater. This has also been seen as an answer to the rapidly increasing real estate rates in most urban areas of the world; which also allows one to put one’s house on wheels and travel around with it.
Whilst being very successful in warm regions, their worse surface to space ratio increases heating costs and may question their sustainability in colder regions. Apart from that, most of them are designed to be placed in low populated environments and making use of the local nature (e.g. creeks for using water, etc.), which is in conflict with an increasingly urbanized lifestyle. An alternative approach is, however, to prefer renovating old buildings instead of building new, during which smaller spaced flats can also largely benefit sustainability. Renovating has been proven to save a huge amount of emissions compared to building from scratch.
The next movement, the “100 things challenge”, is probably a necessity to accomplish when living in a tiny house. The name says it all, it is about owning as fewer objects as possible. Short googling shows a lot of experience reports about how to filter what one needs and what not. A lot of people trying to master this challenge start by questioning what they use daily, and try to eliminate the rest. However, from a perspective of sustainability, if the objects given away are not reused, there is nothing achieved in getting rid of them. The interesting aspect is more about asking oneself: Do I really need more? Consumerism works a lot with promises. New sports shoes promise the one who buys them to add a sporty, healthy taste to his or her lifestyle. Although we know that this is not true, we fall very often to this advertisement trick. If one restricts the number of owned items, one is forced to set priorities and by this only buys what is really needed. No need to say that reduced consumption of objects would be a blessing to the environment, saving a lot of resources.
Author: Niklas Götz. High Energy Physics student and software engineer. Passionate about literature, hiking and the idea that people can come together to find solutions for a better future, as well as education, being the basis of all progress.
Main sources: Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, The Guardian