Happy Earth Day! I’d just like to take a moment to hug the Earth (yes, the whole Earth) and thank it for being such a good home, even though we humans have objectively thrashed it over these past few hundred years. Sadly, most people only do any thinking about the plight of the planet on Earth Day (or when it involves drowning polar bears).
When I became a minimalist, it was as a fun personal challenge. I was intrigued by capsule wardrobes, tiny houses, world travelers who fit all their possessions in a backpack. It was a novelty lifestyle that gave a name to all these cool, kinda novelty, but seemingly higher-plane things I never thought I could do. But the more I researched, the more I understood the minimalism isn’t just about me. It’s about the world around me, too. And really, in my opinion, you haven’t achieved simple living until you’ve contributed to the world.
The one thing we could all stand to contribute to a little more? Our environment. We all should be more mindful with how we interact with the world around us and, as minimalists, focus on minimizing our impact. And the first step toward change is mindfulness. So I challenge you to do four things in honor of Earth Day, in an effort to truly be intentional in how you interact with the world. Most of them are free; all of them are as easy as you make them. What other excuses could there be?
4 Little Things You Can Do to Help the Environment
1. Spend more time with nature.
That’s it. Just go out and commune with the world around you. Take a meditative walk through the woods. Treat your wife to a homemade picnic in the park. Read a book at the beach. Jump in puddles with your kids in the pouring rain. Go stargazing and watch the sun come up. When you do this, you reclaim the awe you used to have for the natural world. You remember how amazing it is to see raindrops on a spiderweb or the shape of a whale in the clouds. You appreciate it.
Plus, spending time outside means you aren’t out shopping or at home watching TV—which means you’re saving money, electricity, and the Earth’s resources by not consuming. Doesn’t that feel good?
2. Leave it better than you found it.
While you’re out communing with nature, you’ll probably notice that lots of people aren’t very kind to it. Litter is everywhere, from cigarette butts to soda cans to plastic bags. For the most part, trash doesn’t decompose. Instead, it mars the landscape and releases toxic ingredients into the ground, water, and air (electronics, batteries, and some plastics are the culprits of the latter). That isn’t even the worst of it—litter also causes thousands of animal deaths due to entrapment (like whales and fish being caught in discarded fishing line, for example) or ingestion.
Just one wildlife rehabilitation clinic sees 14,000 animals regularly. Click here to read an article from them about the sad things that happen to animals because of our trash habit. So when you go out into nature…be a hero, and pick up a few things. Leave the place you go looking better than it did when you got there. For a few minutes of effort, you could prevent some significant harm.
3. Educate yourself about the state of the world.
Did you know that this last winter was the hottest winter on record? How about the fact that only 1% of China’s half a billion city dwellers breathe air that’s considered safe? There’s a lot of scary information out there. But if we’re going to be mindful and motivated about preserving the Earth, we have to face the facts. I highly recommend reading No Impact Man, which has all sorts of eye-opening facts…but also tells you how one family did their best to counteract their carbon footprint.
Basically, get informed. Get angry. You’re going to feel guilty and frustrated and like it’s too late. It’s okay to feel that way. But take heart—there are so many people out there working to fix all kinds of environmental problems, from giant nets to reel in space junk to hamster-powered cars. And now that you know what’s out there, aren’t you excited to take part?
4. Take action.
Here’s where you truly make a difference, not just in yourself but in the outside world. There are myriad ways to contribute to the fight to keep the Earth beautiful and healthy. Everyone will have their own thresholds of comfort and resources that they are willing to dedicate to the planet. By taking an interest in minimalism, you’re already helping by consuming less. Here are a few other options to consider:
The Compact. Many conservationists take part in The Compact, in which signees vow to purchase nothing new (with a couple of common-sense exceptions, such as medicines and underwear). This does not mean you can’t buy anything; rather, the focus is on keeping things out of the landfill. Thrift stores and consignment shops, Craigslist, bartering groups, libraries, and other public resources can fulfill almost every need—and you just might save some money by buying secondhand, too.
Composting and/or recycling. You can prevent so much waste by composting and recycling. There are a dozen different ways to compost food scraps, and virtually every city has a recycling program. I understand that some situations make these seemingly simple steps difficult, such as apartment living. But if you put a little effort in, you can take advantage of public programs. Whole Foods takes compost and #5 plastics for recycling, for example, and almost all offices have a recycling bin. Try keeping your food scraps in a compostable bag in the freezer until you have a chance to drop them off somewhere, and when you buy packaged foods, focus on purchasing those packaged in cardboard, metal or glass over plastic, which is harder to recycle.
Food Not Lawns. If you have a yard, consider using it to its full potential. Instead of taking tons of time and water to care for a finicky lawn, how about growing your own food? Reducing your food bill and your carbon footprint (it takes a lot of resources to get those Chilean vegetables to your plate!) could be, literally, at your doorstep. Plus, mo’ plants mo’ oxygen, and that’s always a good thing. Learn more here.
Vegetarianism. Many minimalists happen to be vegetarian or vegan, for a lot of reasons. A compelling one is that it takes a ton of the Earth’s resources to raise livestock for meat. Raising livestock pummels the land, contributes to deforestation, releases ozone-burning methane, and takes 10 to 20 times as much water as growing protein-rich vegetarian foods does. If you aren’t ready to switch entirely, try having one or two vegetarian meal a week and see what you think. I bet you’re surprised by how easy it is!
Zero Waste. Admittedly, a Zero Waste lifestyle can take some getting used to. Check out the book Zero Waste Home and see how absolutely possible it is to live a life producing virtually no trash. This would be an incredible step toward true environmental friendliness, and if my friend Dana over at Scribble and Jot can do it with two little kids, I bet you’re up to the challenge, too.
Invest. Some people aren’t able to make massive changes to their own lives right now, and that’s understandable. If that’s you, consider donating to an environmental charity or lobby and supporting an organization that wants to effect global change.
We’re all in this together, spinning through the sky. It’s our responsibility to make sure that we, and our children, have many more happy Earth Days to celebrate. Are you ready to make little changes and help save the world? I’m building a list of my own goals, and I can’t wait to see what’s on your mind.