I became a minimalist partly because I hated moving. Everything about the process irritated me: from the decluttering of old belongings, to the packing of cardboard boxes, to the renting of U-Haul trucks. As a Greenimalist, I hoped to minimize the hassles of moving. If only my possessions could fit into a few suitcases, I could move in under an hour. I would simply pack my bags, load them in the car trunk, and drive away.
But like most minimalists, my existing belongings weren’t optimized for space. So when I tried to cram my belongings into a backpack, the bag bulged at the seams. I decided to turn to other minimalist websites to see how the experts packed.
As it turns out, many backpackers follow a similar strategy:
- Purchase the highest-quality equipment that money can buy.
- Optimize the usefulness-to-volume ratio of your belongings.
- Choose versatile, multiple-use equipment over specialized items. For example, sharp knives are preferable to fruit peelers.
- Buy equipment that’s custom-tailored to your needs.
These minimalist backpackers were extremely selective about the items they carried. In fact, they’ve turned light packing into an art form. I was especially impressed with one traveler, who explored the world for 6 weeks without a single piece of luggage (1).
But at times, these backpackers became obsessive about finding the perfect gear. They’d periodically update all their gear to reflect their latest research. For example, some digital nomads shun cotton fabric in favor of wool. Wool offers better insulation, wick-drying, and odor protection, making it a superior fabric compared to cotton. These digital nomads gave away their entire wardrobe and replaced it with Icebreaker woolens. Gear updates weren’t limited to merely clothing, of course. Every few months, entire sets of cameras, laptops, smartphones, toiletries, backpacks, and shoes would be obsoleted and replaced. Even underwear was intensely optimized.
As helpful as the gear posts were, I noticed something fundamentally disturbing. They were always encouraging me to buy new stuff. That meant more shopping — and more waste. The problem with shopping is that producing new stuff wastes natural resources. Raw materials must first be extracted from the environment, then manufactured into stuff in factories. This process wastes energy and produces pollution. And after a few short months, all this stuff would transform into junk, which is then tossed into a landfill.
The problem with specialized gear is that it’s so rare. For example, conventional people own tennis shoes, not Vibram Five Fingers. As a result, these shoes are difficult to find used. Even purchasing them from a local store would be a challenge; buying them might involve cross-continental shipping, which wastes more fuel. What’s more, limited supply makes these items outrageously expensive. Specialized backpacks, electronics, and clothing can easily cost thousands of dollars.
Greenimalist living is not about assembling the perfect gear. Instead, it’s all about conserving natural resources through minimalism. It would be ironic if, while protesting consumer culture, I spent half my waking hours researching what pair of shoes I should buy. So as much as I loved the cool gear, I had to pass.
Instead of constantly buying expensive equipment, I decided to use what I had lying around. Most of my gear was cobbled together from what I had already owned or what was donated to me for free. I wore old sneakers, put on old sweaters, and used an old laptop. It was less glamorous — my backpack still bulges — but I didn’t produce any trash or waste any money.
For this site, I try not to focus on gear. We already own too much stuff as it is; you don’t need me to tempt you to go shopping. Instead, I encourage you to focus on developing green living skills. Learn to use what you already have. Learn to cook from scratch, to bicycle commute, to fix your old computers, to grow your own garden, and to mend your own clothes. Convert your garbage into something useful. You’ll save time and money while learning self-sufficiency along the way.
You already have all you need — yourself. You just need to get started. The Greenimalist lifestyle is not about what you own; it’s about gaining a new perspective. The only trouble with perspective is that it doesn’t sell on store shelves — but hopefully we’ll realize that’s a good thing.