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A Guide to Eco-Friendly Downsizing and Minimalist Living

Eco-friendliness, sustainability, and “going green” are broad subjects, and while it’s common to talk about them concerning energy, the issues are much more complex. Environmental awareness can, in fact, touch on a variety of aspects of your life. 

Take the practice of minimalism as an example. This philosophy involves simplifying your lifestyle, from your consumption habits to your housing, and using minimal amounts of these items. Sustainability and environmental friendliness can be side effects of this approach, though some people may see them as the primary goals of adopting a minimalist lifestyle.  

The Case for Minimalism

The case for a minimalist lifestyle goes well beyond reducing your greenhouse gas emissions. It is about creating a better quality of life by focusing on living experiences instead of the accumulation of material things. Minimalists often seek to downsize and declutter their living spaces and, in the process, declutter their lifestyle so that they can focus on family, friends, hobbies, and passions. 

By downsizing their home and minimizing the number of possessions, they work to move away from materialism, which focuses on the accumulation of possessions. 

Minimalism vs. Materialism

Though these two approaches to possessions can affect the quality of a person’s life, they can also affect society and the environment. On a macro level, materialism can play a part in consumerism. This cycle increases carbon output and waste, both of which can produce greenhouse gas emissions

You do not need to fully adopt a minimalist lifestyle to increase your level of sustainability. Even materialists can reduce their contribution to the consumerism cycle by intentionally purchasing products meant to last, and by then using them as long as they remain effective. 

The Intersection of Sustainability, Minimalism, and Tiny Living

Those who want to pursue a minimalist lifestyle further may choose to change their living situation. The philosophies of sustainability and minimalism can be tied to the tiny house trend

Tiny homes apply minimalism philosophies to living space, using only the area that’s necessary and relying on existing rooms for multiple purposes. In addition to simplifying your lifestyle, the decreased square footage also reduces energy use. In some cases, tiny houses are more affordable than their full-sized counterparts. 

Tiny Living, Off-The-Grid Living, and Homesteading

As a general rule, tiny homes are less than 400 square feet. However, they can come in all shapes and sizes. Tiny home builders can opt for a steel structure or use wood as the primary material. 

Some tiny homes are mobile, while others are placed on a solid foundation. These structures have different features depending on their climate and location, but the purpose-built tiny homes are not the only option for those looking to downsize their lifestyle.  

Repurposed Structures and Barndominiums

Another option is to repurpose existing structures. For mobile-minded people, this could mean fitting out a van or RV. For others, it could mean converting a specialty building, such as a storage shed or carport, into a living space. 

Those who want more space can take advantage of another minimalist-inspired trend, converting barns into mixed-use spaces. These “barndominiums” can serve as a home and also function as a storage area or gathering space. 

Tiny home builders and building repurposing specialists offer more than a one-size-fits-all solution. There are numerous designs and choices, allowing each person to find something to fit their needs. 

Tiny Living and Self-Sufficiency

Self-sufficiency goes hand-in-hand with cutting down on consumption. Tiny living allows renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar, to provide complete or supplemental power. This semi- or fully-off-the-grid lifestyle can increase your sustainability efforts. 

You can take a more modest first step towards self-sufficiency by growing your own produce. If you live in a four-season climate, you can consider a greenhouse, which allows you to grow food year-round with continuous harvests. 

Home growing can have an indirect impact on the environment by reducing your personal contribution to global pollution. Because you are not purchasing foods transported by truck to a supermarket, you are lowering your carbon footprint. 

The Green Benefits of Downsizing

Tiny living and self-sustainability can entail a decent amount of work and a number of habit changes. However, there can be several benefits to downsizing, including both personal and environmental bonuses. 

Reducing The Overall Carbon Footprint of Your Living Space

The average square footage of the American home has been increasing steadily since the 1950s. One of the reasons is that Americans now have more and larger appliances. They also have more amenities and items, all of which need space.

The problem is that a larger home very often means more energy consumption. The home will need lights, climate control, and power for all of the appliances. 

Depending on how you get this energy, it can produce carbon. Larger homes may also produce more waste, including landfill-bound trash and sewage. 

A smaller space and fewer or smaller appliances can reduce energy consumption. Depending on how the tiny home gets built, you can amplify these energy savings. Proper insulation and shading, for example, can reduce the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling. 

Less Space Means Less Stuff

Another consequence of more space is that we often feel the need to fill it with items, driving the carbon-producing cycle of consumerism.

Downsizing can solve the excess area problem by forcing residents to think creatively about utilizing space. For example, you may find that one piece of furniture can have multiple functions. A dining room table can double as a desk, or perhaps you could use a futon sofa bed. 

There may be budgetary benefits to this creative use of space and multi-purposing of items. Here again, you are not playing as much of a role in the carbon-producing cycle of consumerism, so there are environmental benefits, as well. 

Maximizing Energy Efficiency and Water Conservation

Whether conservation is the primary motivation for someone embracing a downsized lifestyle or not, a minimalist dwelling does not use excessive amounts of energy or water. You can further lower power consumption by relying on LED bulbs, using low-flow plumbing fixtures, and purchasing Energy Star-certified appliances. 

A smaller home also means less space to heat or cool, so your heating and ventilation costs should drop. You may be able to rely on well-insulated walls, strategic shading, and an environmentally-friendly stove to handle your climate control needs. 

Water conservation can further increase environmental friendliness and savings. You can use dishwater or laundry runoff to flush toilets, for example. And perhaps a rainwater collection system can help irrigate your homegrown produce garden. 

Frugal use of energy and resources is possible in any home, but it may be more achievable in the compact spaces of a downsized house. 

Downsizing Your Lifestyle

Downsizing your lifestyle starts with small (but significant) changes. Everyone will need to make slightly different adjustments, but the same general approaches and philosophies can be good practice. 

  • Maximizing function over form – While aesthetics matter, consider the functionality of an appliance or piece of furniture before its looks. This approach ensures you have only the most useful and efficient products in your living space.
  • Maximizing space and storage – If you opt to live in a tiny home or barndominium, space will be your most valuable possession. You must be very careful about how you use it. You might choose compact, energy-efficient appliances, and small furniture. You can also find clever ways to utilize space in your home for storage. A bed with drawers underneath it is an example of this. Or you could find a sofa with drawers that can fold down into a futon-style bed.
  • Decluttering and focusing on necessities – Decluttering can also help by lowering the demand for storage space. The best way to approach this step is to focus on essentials. You may find that one set of dishes, pans, and glassware is enough, for example. 
  • Donating and recycling – Another step in the decluttering process is donating what you don’t need. You may give away old clothes, books, furniture, or appliances. You may also want to see if you can recycle the materials of some of your old products. An extra piece of furniture may have wood or upholstery that you can reuse. 
  • Repairing instead of replacing – Instead of replacing a broken item, consider repairing it if possible. Clothing or upholstery can often be mended, chairs and tables can be refurbished, and broken lights rewired. Even if you have to enlist the help of a professional, it might save resources and money in the long run. 

Resources for Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about downsizing and sustainable living, or you’re just looking for a place to start, consider starting with one of the sources listed below:

By following these tips, you can work towards downsizing your home, your lifestyle, or both. As a bonus, you can also enjoy the environmental, financial, and quality of life benefits that go along with it.

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