5 Environmentally Friendly Swaps That Also Helped Me Downsize My Stuff
I didn’t become a minimalist lifestyle coach exclusively because I enjoy helping people lighten their lives through less stuff. Before starting my business, I spent a dozen years working at an environmental nonprofit organization to reduce the waste of natural resources through sustainability practices. Already a minimalist, I saw how adopting a minimalist lifestyle could help me reduce waste individually and make more intentional, eco-friendly choices. The intersection between simplicity and sustainability was the impetus for launching my business.
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Minimalism asks people to approach each resource they use with the end in mind, helping to avoid purchasing products that will soon end up in the landfill. It’s the shortest and easiest path to a more eco-friendly lifestyle. So, I’ve identified five of my favorite simple swaps to reduce your environmental impact and up your minimalism game:
Zero Waste Toiletries
Shampoo, conditioner, bath and hand soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste come in plastic containers (an environmental no-no). Plus, water used to create many liquid-based products (rather than adding water later, like when you lather up a bar of soap) increases the energy required to produce and ship these products. The solution? Zero waste toiletries like conditioner bars, toothpaste tabs or powders, and bar soap, as well as reusable makeup remover pads and cotton swabs can complete a zero-waste toiletry collection. But you don’t have to toss what you already have and buy these alternatives all at once. Instead, slowly integrate them as you run out of what you currently use. One of the unintended but much appreciated benefits of going zero waste in the bathroom is how aesthetically pleasing the reusable products look, especially as they take up less space.
Bidet and Towel
Another daily use item in the bathroom is the, ahem, toilet. Along with using the toilet comes massive amounts of toilet paper. A way less wasteful alternative: Using a bidet and a towel. Bidets come in various designs with different features, but all use water, instead of toilet paper, as the cleansing mechanism. The nearby towel helps dry off any remaining water on yourself, freeing up storage space typically used for extra toilet paper. While I keep some TP on hand, I certainly wasn’t worried during the great toilet paper shortage of 2020. It takes some getting used to, but it is quite refreshing!
Reusable Paper Towels
I use Swedish dishcloths for water-based wiping since they are more sponge-like in absorbency, and reusable paper towels made from cotton (or bamboo) for when I’d otherwise use dry paper towels. Both can be cleaned in your washing machine. You can also sanitize Swedish dishcloths in your dishwasher and then compost them after six to 12 months of use. It’s a super simple swap that banishes the need for a paper towel holder and keeping up a stock of rolls (similar to toilet paper).
Zero Waste Cleaners
Another category that takes up an undue amount of household real estate is cleaners. Most of my clients have multiple shelves and cabinets filled with many types, brands, and duplicates. Often these cleaners have overlapping uses, and almost always are in plastic bottles. Instead, replace them with a couple of cleaners that you make yourself and store in glass spray bottles (or jars) to use throughout your home (no duplicates!). For example, I use a glass spray bottle containing a 1:1 ratio of vinegar and water, which I use for almost all needs. When I need a scrubbing powder, I use Bon Ami, which is non-toxic and comes in a recyclable container. Of course, no cleaner is perfect from a sustainability or cleaning point of view, so I aim for 90 percent success on both counts.
Reusable Silicone Bags
Yes, technically, silicone bags are made of a type of plastic. But it’s a food-grade form that can be reused almost endlessly and does not leach like other plastics. They come in various sizes and you can use them for storing food or anything you can fit in them (e.g. makeup, first-aid to go bag). They’re also sturdier while still being lightweight. This swap replaces the need for multiple boxes of zip-top bags, which inevitably take up precious drawer space. Instead of getting on the hamster wheel, keep it simple and sustainable with silicone bags, like Stasher bags.
While all the perks — the reduced need to stock up on lots of items, a more aesthetic looking under-sink area, increased storage space — may have you wanting to make all of these swaps instantaneously, it’s best to start slow. Try choosing one of these five as a starting place and once that is effectively a part of your home, move on to the next one. Minimalism can help you live a more sustainable life — and vice versa. Why choose?