Want to Be a Force For Good in the World? Choose Minimalism.
Note: This is a guest post from Jennifer Newton of Sustain Initiative.
The journey into minimalism often begins with understanding the power of less: How less clutter makes room for more connection, how less shopping frees up space for meaningful relationships, how fewer calendar commitments help us prioritize what really matters.
It’s no secret that there are numerous, life-giving benefits for adopting minimalist practices in your own life. But the benefits of minimalism extend far beyond ourselves. Here are just a few ways minimalism empowers us to be a force for good:
Reigning in consumerism protects the Earth’s resources and people
You don’t have to look far to find heartbreaking images of plastic pollution washing up on beaches or young children playing in the recycling and toxic waste exported from the United States to less privileged countries. In the face of these images, most of us want to make decisions that are kinder to people and the planet, even if we don’t know where to start.
Researchers have identified what they call a value-action gap, where even people who profess to feel strongly about certain issues—such as sustainability—don’t always act on these values in practice. In many cases, this is because the shift feels too overwhelming or the “cost” of making a change seems too high. But if you are an individual who wants to be a more intentional steward of the Earth and its resources, the solution is actually pretty straightforward.
The average American produces 4.5 pounds of trash per day… adding up to over 60 tons of landfill waste over the course of the average life. Want to produce less waste? Buy less.
170 million children are working in unsafe labor conditions to keep up with demand for fast fashion that is worn, on average, 7 times before being thrown away. Want to stop supporting child labor? Buy less.
Up to 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the manufacturing and use of household goods and services. Want to cut your carbon footprint? Buy less.
Of course, buying less isn’t the only way you can care for the Earth and its people. But when the most effective personal change is also the one that will simplify your home and your life, well, that’s a win-win.
Buying less allows us to buy better
Each and every one of us consume things: Clothes, books, toys, and kitchenware over-flow from closets and cabinets in the average home. We buy ever-more things at ever-lower prices, then wonder why our homes are so cluttered.
But when we buy less, we can afford to buy better. When we clear our closets of clutter and stop the cycle of thoughtless consuming, we make the space in our lives—and, eventually, our budgets— to make more intentional choices.
We can choose to ‘buy for life’ when selecting furniture, cookware, or other household items, instead of spending less upfront on things that are destined for landfill.
We can commit to purchasing fair trade and ethically produced products instead of financing companies that pollute waterways or engage in unsafe labor practices.
We can support the small business down the street, helping our neighbors stay afloat even when they can’t beat out the ‘sale’ pricing of a giant retailer.
Every purchase we make is a tangible vote with our dollars for the kind of world we want to live in. Let’s use that power wisely.
Holding possessions with an open hand is an act of love
Holding our possessions with an open hand means letting things flow into our life as they are needed, then letting them gracefully exit our life when they are not.
We are programmed by advertising and consumer culture to maintain a tight grip over our stuff. We tell ourselves that we deserve the new car, that we earned the shopping spree, or that the late-night Shein binge was somehow self-care (note: shopping is never self-care).
But if I stop thinking about physical possessions—even those I paid for, clean, and repair—as “mine,” I break free from the consumer cycle of chasing more expensive, more luxurious, or simply more things in search of happiness.
Instead, try thinking of yourself as a steward of your physical possessions: Here to use them, care for and maintain them, and then pass them on responsibly when they have served their purpose in your life.
When we become stewards rather than consumers, our identities are no longer tangled up in what we own, giving us more space to be compassionate and generous people.
As a consumer, letting go of your stuff may feel like you are giving up on the status you have assigned to material objects (even if they no longer fit your life); but as a steward, letting go simply means you care for an object—and the people who could benefit from it—enough that you don’t want to abandon it in a storage closet.
Being a lived example of intentionality is a gift to those around us
One of the biggest gifts that minimalism gives is the ability to craft a life on our own terms. But when we are a lived example of practicing our values, it empowers those around us to do the same.
When our loved ones see us lean into a passion project, opt out of calendar commitments that don’t serve our calling, or set down our phones to connect—they are watching what really matters to us.
When our neighbor sees us expanding our family without expanding our square footage, they know that bigger isn’t always better.
When the people in our life see us make the time for wonder and adventure—whether it’s traipsing across the globe or watching birds in our backyard—they are reminded that joy isn’t something you can add to your Amazon cart.
My version of an intentional life won’t look exactly like anyone else’s—nor should it. But when we begin to experience the joys of less for ourselves, the world benefits from more: More intentionality, more generosity, and more stewardship. More good.
Jennifer Newton is a wife, mom of two, and passionate about and helping you live a life in alignment with your values. You can find more of her work at Sustain Initiative, a blog about how to make decisions that are better for people and better for the planet. You can also follow her on Substack here.