Of the two halves of this experiment, it’s difficult to say which is more important. Minimalism is more personal, a new way of looking at possessions and people, and it could have more personal significance in the long run, but reducing waste is a task that has farther-reaching consequences and more moral force behind it.
And it is necessary to determine which is more important, because the two are going to conflict, and have already come up against each other.
Zero-waste pushes for reusable containers and less plastic. Mason jars are popular for satisfying both with a single container, so I went searching for some used ones. Once I found them, I was in the position of having both older plastic containers and new (to me) glass jars. Minimalism says I don’t need both, because they serve the same purpose. Zero-waste says I shouldn’t just throw away either, but use them until they die. So now I’m stuck between throwing out the plastic Tupperware, or keeping it and using it.
Alright, alright, there’s a third option, and that’s passing on the Tupperware. I’ll most likely do that when I go through the kitchen to clean it up. But the third option won’t always be available. When my clothing wears out, what do I do with it? Minimalism says get rid of it, zero-waste says keep it and re-purpose it.
A minimalism mantra that I’ve heard often is, “‘Just in case’ are very dangerous words.” On the other hand, zero-waste says, “Keep things until you find a use for them.” They aren’t directly opposed, but they come very close to it.
I guess it all comes down to balance. How much of my time, money, and convenience should I give up to benefit the environment? To reduce my impact? To simplify my possessions and lifestyle?
I cleaned off my dresser this morning, and was amused to observe my own feelings. I felt a real sense of accomplishment, though I did little more than put some papers in the recycling and store some things in my closet. My brain decided that I was making real changes to my lifestyle by cleaning off my dresser, though I’m well aware that it’ll probably be cluttered again in a week. The act of cleaning off my dresser wasn’t advancing my minimalist lifestyle. It might even have been regressing it, because now my storage closet is a little more cluttered. But the act had an immediate payoff (my dresser looked clean), and so my brain rewarded me for it with a feeling of accomplishment.
Zero-waste isn’t going to produce the same rewards. Is my brain ever going to give me a shot of dopamine for not buying bagels because they’re in a plastic bag? Doubt it. Most of zero-waste is decision-making, not action. But they are decisions that I want to be making.
Healthy balance isn’t about making the decision that has more reward to it, though that would be a simple lifestyle scheme. Healthy balance is making the decision that will most advance both goals simultaneously. Sometimes minimalism will lose out to zero-waste, and sometimes vice versa. That’s something I need to focus on, because up to now my decisions have mostly been made based on immediate priorities.