PODCAST How To Be A Minimalist [The Sustainable Way] | A Defying Space Podcast
1| The Problem
2| Stocktaking
3| What’s Going Out?
4| What’s Coming In?  
5| Outcomes
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 4: WHAT’S COMING IN? 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.
At the time of recording, March 2020, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. My thoughts are with you all, and I hope this free podcast is some respite for you. I hope that it is received in the spirit it was intended. While many of us have much more pressing issues on our minds, we will also be spending much more time at home. I hope that this helps you create a more efficient peaceful space if that’s what you need right now. And at the very least I hope it provides a little escapism.
In the last episode, I gave lots of practical advice about how you can declutter responsibly, taking into account the type of minimalist you are in order to determine the best plan of action for you going forward. Today, I’ll be sharing ways you can stem the flow of anything superfluous coming into your home. After all, once you’ve felt the benefits of downsizing your possessions you’ll want to keep things that way. This episode represents an important juncture in your journey. It’s the point at which you start to feel like you have control over things. Once the blinkers have come off and the burden of stuff has been lifted, it becomes easier to continue down this road. You’ll soon find after the initial sense of calm this brings, there are external factors that need to be addressed. How should you approach anything you purchase from now on? How do you deal with thoughtful and well-meaning gifts? What about junk mail, spam, official documents?
A great place to start is with the biggest topic: purchases. Last time we discussed a product’s lifecycle. You’re now armed with many options to recycle and declutter responsibly should you need to, and for those of you with access, shopping package-free and even composting food scraps and such, will be another way you can keep waste to a minimum in your home. But how do we deal with new, or at least new-to-us items? The set of questions I apply as a self-confessed aesthetic sustainable minimalist are:
Is it useful?
Is it well designed too?
Does it simplify living?
Is it eco-friendly?
These questions get to the heart of what I’m looking for in a home, so think about the kind of minimalist you are and create some questions for yourself.
The intrinsic message behind even the consumer aspects of being a minimalist is the need for less. To be questioning how we consume, and whether we can reduce that overall. By separating out necessities from that, such as consumables like food and personal care products for instance, we can be more responsible in how we approach those kinds of purchases too. Buying less is self-explanatory, but it is quite a novel concept. Really asking yourself whether you NEED something often yields surprising results! It forces you into addressing your spending habits. Are you an emotional spender? Are you attracted to multi-buy offers, whether through necessity or temptation? These are all things you can work with, but it takes being honest with yourself and using that knowledge you have about yourself to direct your energy in a different way. One of my favourite quotes that aligns with my eco-minimalism philosophy is from Vivienne Westwood: Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity.
This sums up the entire mindset required in order to maintain an environmentally-friendly and overall efficient and home. Doing so will save money in the long-run, but how can we do that if we’re on a budget too? We often buy cheaper options knowing they’re not great quality, because it’s what we can afford. Saving way in advance for future purchases is a great option, but it is a privilege to be able to save for many of us. So I’ll be giving a variety of options to address this.
In order to go into this with eyes wide open, we need to acknowledge our place as consumers in a materialistic society within a capitalist system. Minimalism is not the enemy of materialism, its an extension of it. As a minimalist, I think I’m probably more materialistic than ever now. While acknowledging the privilege of time to do so, I really pay attention to the actual materiality of something, the quality, the origins, and the potential longevity of these things. And I really think that’s where sustainability comes in! Not only does buying better quality mean buying less overall, it gives you the opportunity to consider the ethics behind those things. A favorite example of mine is something like cast iron pans. Usually made by heritage companies that offer a lifetime guarantee, you’ll only need to buy these once and they are instant heirloom items that hold a high resale value too. Enameled iron cookware is fairly easy to look after, but there is a learning curve that comes with raw or spun iron that involves getting into the habit of seasoning your pans to maintain them and prevent rust. Food tastes better, there’s even evidence it can even boost your iron levels which is pretty interesting! But the point of all this is to say take your time, and really consider your purchases. Use what you have first, or identify a need within your home. Budget for items with an initial higher financial outlay, but also create alerts for second-hand items coming onto the market. If there’s somethng the Internet has been great for its democratizing the access to a much wider range of second-hand goods. You can even put out requests on social media for wanted items—some people are looking to give things away or sell for a low price but just haven’t got round to it yet—and checking what’s on offer on Freecycle can yield surprising results. And you can even post wanted requests. This kind of quality, that of objects like my example of hardy iron pans, holds, with age even improving them in many cases. It’s why we have descriptors like vintage or antique. There is value in old things. So even if you’re buying something brand new you should be approaching that in the mindset of a future heirloom, antique or vintage piece, and at the very least as a quality item that someone will be able to use long after you no longer require it, should that ever happen. and there are so many tutorials online now about how to resurrect items like these, meaning it should be more affordable.
Slowing down the rate we make consumer decisions at is key to giving ourselves the opportunity to both acknowledge our somewhat inevitable place as consumers in the modern world, while also being able to take some enjoyment in the process, and not be pulled so hard into consumer guilt. It’s shopping mindfully and being able to feel genuinely good about it; to quote Anna Lappé again, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” And to add to that, even if you’re not spending money at all, supporting a circular economy through secondhand items is also a vote for the kind of world you want. Everything we do is, and should be understood as such. I have created a tool for this, that takes the form of a set of questions called Which Of These Matters Most: An Ethical Conundrum, which you can find in the show notes for this episode over on the podcast tab at my website defyingspace.com. I made it in response to ‘decision fatigue’ I was having trying to be the best environmentalist I could. To give a brief definition of this, it’s summed up pretty well by minimalist and author of Goodbye Things, Fumio Sasaki: When given too many choices, people tend to worry that there’s something better out there than what they decided on. I couldn’t have made a success of attempting a low impact lifestyle if I hadn’t become a minimalist first. A key part of why I ended up at minimalism’s door is that it seemed like the antidote to what I’d later hear called ‘decision fatigue’. I suppose I’d been feeling that the whole time with no vocabulary for it. And this quote really sums up the double-edged sword that ‘choice’ is.
Minimalism takes the guesswork out of the basics freeing you up to redirect that mental energy. But how? I’d so often find myself stood in a store wondering ‘what matters most’ and that can change day to day depending on our circumstances. Shopping sustainably is an ethical matter and its so hard to know which is the right choice when faced with so many options, with rarely any products meeting all requirements. So I made this not just as an illustration of the dilemma, but also as a tool to help you triage it and work out what decision works best depending on your circumstances. This is why it’s not in a pyramid hierarchy format as everyone’s starting point is different:
Who made it?
Is it cruelty-free?
Who are the parent company?
Is it organic?
What is the carbon footprint?
What is it made of?
Is it recyclable?
How much does it cost?
Is it fairtrade?
What is the embodied energy?
They’re a good set of questions to have in your mind when you consume as it makes you aware of the value of things, and gets you into the habit of considering before buying. It is also not designed to make anyone feel frustrated at what they are able to do. The point is that it’s tricky to cover all bases all the time and your concerns may be different depending on your circumstances. And how you use these questions relating to food may differ from how you treat clothing or cosmetics. Your budget and location will be a very large factor in what you can access. I believe this is where the term to “spark joy”, coined by Marie Kondo, is widely misunderstood. Most people grumble at the idea that a pair of underpants can spark joy, but it really means to consider how you feel when you use something. Good quality, fit, material. When you’re really tuned into the objects around you, the composition of things, the ethics of a company and the conditions of the people who made them, and the lifecycle of a product, you will feel good about it. And yes, that can mean your underpants too!
I think the fact that people balk at the notion of taking pride in the smallest or most quotidian purchases or acquisitions shows how far we’ve become disconnected as a society from the human aspect behind our consumerism. Rather than bamboozling you with more questions, I hope it’s helpful and allows you to be kinder to yourselves and even give you ideas for exploring options that are right for you. Very few of us can do it all, and this is an illustration of that. But most of us can do something and that’s what’s important.
So to summarise, Use what you have. Plan ahead by saving where you can and taking the time to find something being offered used. Learn about maintenance and/or the repair or restoration of an object. This can mean items are offered much more cheaply or even free due to the owner not having the time or inclination to repair or even just clean. So much of what is on offer is so often just down to poor maintenance that can be remedied. Their loss and your gain! Research thoroughly and ask questions! Use the Ethical Conundrum tool and accept that your priorities may change depending on your circumstances at any given time. And be kind to yourself.
ADVERT I’d like to make a brief intermission to tell you about my ko-fi.com page. It’s a platform that gives you an imaginative way to support your favourite content creators. I came across the site through another creator and I thought it was the loveliest idea. I’ve often felt I’ve gotten so much value from accounts and creators I’ve been moved to want to make a gesture back. And this feels like the way to do that. If you’d like to support my podcast and my content, head over to my website and find the ko-fi.com field on my homepage. Alternatively, go to ko-fi.com/defyingspace. Thank you for your support.
Addressing how we consume requires habit change. Acknowledging that “real change happens when you’re sick of your own *insert expletive here* (such a great quote from Sara Brigz [@letthatshit__go] whose handle I have in the show notes) is the best thing you can do to give yourself the best chance of success, But you must accept that habit change can take a significant amount of time. There are all sorts of theories floating around as to how long this is, my feeling that is that it’s quite individual! So to aid you, think about writing things down before making a rash purchase. Note your mood, and write your reason “or supposed need” for the purchase down, this is a great way to manage emotional buying, but it can also help you identify excess in other areas. If you often find food going to waste, this may be a way of identifying the need to incorporate some meal planning into your week. Don’t lose hope if you get it wrong, remember that so often we have a natural inclination to let one negative thing outweigh many good things (I’ve heard it said it takes seven good things to balance out one not-so-good thing happening).

Now that you’ve considered the type of consumer you are, it’s time to think about ways of getting ahead of the things that come in from external sources. I’m not here to ruin the party, but removing temptation from email marketing by unsubscribing from some quarters was one of the best things I did. Instead, jot down the companies that you love in a digital note as a reminder to check those places if you’ve identified a need for something. Think carefully about the businesses you want to support. There are different levels of this. Newsletters are usually content, and equally, there’s nothing wrong with staying signed up for offers and such if it’s for things you use regularly, so stay up to date with your local small or ethical businesses, be a part of the community, but get rid of the fast fashion and the incessant hot deals kinda stuff. Minimalism isn’t sadness! Shopping isn’t off the menu. It’s about directing that energy into being more intentional, acknowledging your place as a consumer and enjoying the process of choosing well, and supporting systems that align with your values where possible. Because being a minimalist has scaled things down for me, I now take pleasure in picking out bars of soap wherever I go. You’d be amazed at the variety.

Go paperless for statements. And opt-out of marketing calls and junk mail. This will vary depending on where you live, and it can be quite a convoluted process, but I have very detailed resources on this in my online course, so head over to defyingspce.com to join my very non-commercial content-based mailing list for first access!

With refuse being the first R in the 5R’s of zero waste, it’s the one people identify as the hardest, especially when it comes to saying no to others for risk of offending them. The good news is that sustainability is way higher up in the collective consciousness even though it doesn’t always feel that way, but saying no to straws or bags or freebies at conferences or at shopping centres is more socially acceptable than it was even just 5 years ago. But receiving gifts is the toughest one here as for the most part these are offered with wonderful intentions by people we care about. As a sidenote, I’ve found it really interesting how Facebook gives options for friends and family to donate to a charity to celebrate birthdays and such. But its also important to acknowledge that gifts can be very much needed and welcomed if you yourself have no expendable income or if you have the expense of a new baby or a big move or another financially tight period.

In all situations, you can try to steer your loved ones in a direction you’re comfortable with. Particularly in the case of a new baby, requesting only pre-loved items, which you can then pass on too is a good way to approach transient items. Perhaps even setting a theme for gifts you’d like to receive, such as books only, might be a nice way to limit things and make people feel involved in a project but they still get some choice. The thing that helped me most of all is by fessing up and writing a kind email to my nearest and dearest explaining our space restrictions and the ways we’re lowering our impact on the environment without trying to sound too smug about it as is the danger with these things. We set up a baby list as we have the privilege of having family that can and want to help us out, and it helped so much that we are still using it for birthdays and Christmases. It’s astonishing how overwhelming it can feel, and I think secretly people are quite relieved that the pressure of gift-giving and choosing has been taken off, and has also given them the confidence to implement something similar. The more of us that do it, the more acceptible it becomes.

It’s astonishing how overwhelming it can feel having not only a new baby to take care of but all the things that come with being a new parent. Keeping it to the essentials was, well, essential for our mental health, and didn’t eat up all our time in maintaining 20 outfits that would last a few weeks when we could barely keep on top of the basics. It means no duplicates and only things we’ve identified a need for. You can put options of gift cards on there, or even a family ticket for a day out. My email template is included in my online course, as well as an article I’ve written called Minimalist Motherhood: Living Sustainably When Everyone Around You Has Other Ideas. There are so many mixed emotions and issues here, frustration, privilege, finances, but the most important thing is to try to approach the situation with kindness. And a certain amount of acceptance that people will not always listen or accept your way of doing things. If you have anything superfluous to your requirements donate them to someone who can use them. I have plenty of tips and templates in my online course, as well as a backup plan for when things don’t go to plan. There is so much you can apply here to the act of gift-giving in general on both sides. Even simply asking what everyone actually wants is the simplest way to reduce waste (regardless of whether it’s an eco-friendly item or not, an item that is likely to get used is much less wasteful).

Reusables are a big deal in the sustainability realm. Sure, a coffee cup or water bottle doesn’t take up much room, but if you want to take that further, whether by cloth-diapering your child, or replacing paper towels and dish sponges with eco-friendly alternatives, you’ll inevitably need to dedicate some space in your home to that. There may be an extra load or two of laundry in there, so an extra chore, but it also saves you a trip to the shops for bought items and usually is much cheaper. The frugal self-sufficient aspects of zero waste has its perks! Its also quite reassuring knowing you won’t run out of something, something that I really appreciated as a new parent.

So all of this is to say that what you view as convenience depends on your mindset. Is having an additional load of laundry more convenient than a trip to the shops? Or do you struggle for space with lots of reusables to store? Or does minimizing and making room for your reusables become part of your plan?

By using reusables you’re minimizing a flow of new items coming into your home that requires disposal through one waste stream or other. I’ve also found reusables to be very useful at this time when resources are not in short supply but are in excessive demand. For me, using reusables may mean having a few more items in my home, but it saves me money and also time making repeat purchases, and it also saves me from bringing bulky items home; we don’t have a car, so carrying lots of paper towels is not that much fun. So it’s a form of self-sufficient frugal minimalism.

Next time we come to our final episode, Outcomes, where I’ll be sharing lots of wisdom on where this journey has brought us. There are things you can look back to for inspiration if you need reinvigorating. It’s always useful to review our lessons in order to really absorb them. Zero waste has taught me resourcefulness, while minimalism has taught me the importance of an efficient and peaceful space. If we’re to realise the importance of ‘the great indoors’, it’s about now. Stay well, and join me next time for the final episode of How To Be A Minimalist (The Sustainable Way).

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.
While you’re there, take a look around! All the show notes and affiliate offers mentioned in these episodes are there. You’ll also find links to my YouTube videosmy storefront where you can browse my zero waste essentials, as well as free motivational posters and even an ebook collaboration called “offerings”, which brings you the best plant-based soup recipes on the ‘gram.
Speaking of which, I post most of my content on Instagram. Find me at instagram.com/defyingspace—I hope to see you there. 
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