It’s no secret that humans create a lot of trash — 262.14 million tons each year in the U.S. alone. That’s almost four-and-a-half pounds per person, per day. That trash sits in landfills, piling up as our population multiplies and our reliance on convenience product increases. It’s no wonder so many people in the sustainability community take this problem seriously.

We want to shine the light on two movements in the sustainability community looking to address this spiraling issue. In the last few years, Zero Waste and Minimalism have both exploded, almost in tandem, to tackle the issues of this crucial point in history.

Both movements, each of which we dig into below, speak to the urge people have to simplify and exist more harmoniously with the world around us.

The Zero Waste Movement

Over the past few years, the Zero Waste movement has moved from the on-the-fringe to a subject of national conversation and interest.

Advocates of the Zero Waste movement try to do just that: create no waste. They opt for reusable straws and cloth produce bags, they compost organic goods and even make their own household soaps.

Creating little to no waste, as a designer or a consumer, can seem almost impossible. But Zero Waste advocates accomplish their goal through hyper-conscious life choices. Popular blogs like Trash is for Tossers and Going Zero Waste provide real-life tips and product recommendations. Stores like Package Free offer household items designed to reduce disposable waste. Blogs and Instagram influencers aim to make Zero Waste feel accessible and applicable to modern life. Many Zero Waste advocates claim to have contributed no more than a small handful of items to the landfill this year.

The philosophy naturally faces some resistance. Advocates have admitted that some of the choices required for going Zero Waste, such as minimizing plastic packaging by going to bulk grocery stores, are less feasible in rural or suburban settings. And given the pace of an overworked and time-deficit society, it can feel overwhelming to put extra effort into chores that already seem to take up too much of the day. The word “zero” also hints at being radical or highly unconventional, which sparks some outside the movement to become defensive.

But overall, Zero Waste advocates are thoughtfully and creatively providing solutions for a global waste crisis. In the process of adopting personal responsibility, they are also becoming more aligned with their personal values and lifestyle needs.

Intersections with Minimalism

Around the same time the Zero Waste movement started to gain momentum, Minimalism emerged as a parallel and even more popular movement.

Marie Kondo’s KonMari method, documented in her book and Netflix show, provides a five-step process for eliminating things that do not spark joy. As a result, thrift stores began to overflow with KonMari-ed cast-offs, and organizational tools started flying off the shelves.

In the fashion world, minimal capsule wardrobes offer a way to pare down your closet until it contains only a set number of essential items you can mix and match. A number of clothing subscription services, like Rent the Runway, have started promoting a rental philosophy designed to minimize possessions.

Even in home interiors, trends lean toward sparse Scandinavian design with airy spaces and furnishings devoid of visual clutter.

Zero Waste and Minimalism share a few identifying values:

  • Being more thoughtful about what you consume.
  • Making life changes by spending time evaluating your choices.
  • Making more meaningful purchases that keep you from purchasing unnecessary things in the future.
  • Seeking to reduce waste.
  • Looking to value personal joy.

How does joy fit into all this?

It sounds a little armchair-therapist of us, but we think the root of over-consumption lies in a sense of unhappiness, even a lack of self-love. Many of us run to the store (or the internet) to buy the newest, trendiest items, thinking it will make us happy. But, while the joy of acquisition can be a powerful drug, it’s fleeting. It creates a built-in dissatisfaction: Instead of enjoying something that was purchased mindfully, we are always looking to the next thing we can buy to satisfy a craving.

When your space is cluttered with things you don’t truly love or enjoy, that clutter can breed emotional chaos. It’s hard to think and listen to your internal voice when there is so much disorder around you. By disorder, we don’t mean a messy kitchen — we have those too! — but rather a lack of emotional or mental clarity. The underlying factor is that that life isn’t enough on its own.

The kind of joy we are looking for can, for some people, be found through these movements. There’s a refreshing simplicity, almost a peace, about both of them. You can also gain a powerful sense of agency by seeking alternative ways of living rather than passively consuming what’s in your path. By questioning what is prescribed as normal, you are free to get closer to your own truths.

Say you go to a secondhand store and they put the vintage sundress you bought into a plastic bag. Instead of automatically taking the bag, ask yourself if you really need it. Do you have a purse you can use? Maybe you can just carry it all the way home without anything at all. It’s a deliberate choice to speak up and ask for this small change, but it can make a big difference.

What You Can Learn from Zero Waste and Minimalism

You probably aren’t going to go completely Zero Waste or full-on Minimalist tomorrow. That’s okay! Think about what it looks like to move in that direction. Imagine your life without the chaos of compulsive consumption. See yourself surrounded only by beautiful objects you love and things that don’t create excess waste.

Start small: Trade in plastic utensils for well-made wooden or metal ones. Swap a few lower-quality items in your wardrobe for clothes that are made lovingly and sustainably.

Making some of these changes might open up space to think and enjoy the world around us, and ease the guilt that we aren’t doing enough. At Pildora, we try to approach sustainability with acceptance, not judgment, knowing that we are each motivated to contribute in the ways that best align with our own lives.

Explore the ways people are living and creating around you. Listen to their ideas and see if there are any takeaways you can apply to your own life. Things might not always resonate, but we find that, more often than note, there is something to be learned from our rich and positive community.