‘Low waste lifestyle’, a self explanatory term is commonly misunderstood as an uphill and challenging task & it does not literally mean absolutely "No waste". It is often not even attempted since it is viewed more as an inconvenience to what is generally an easy and an “energy intensive” lifestyle.
“Minimalist living” may be a more practical word, and is actually a much older concept than we think. The Buddhist Monks may be considered the ultimate masters of minimalism. Most of the Indian families are also very familiar with these practices, which used to exist just a few decades ago too. The advent of globalization and sophisticated marketing strategies brought radical changes leading to excessive consumerism.
Minimalist lifestyle is not about buying less or being frugal in spending money. This involves carrying tremendous mental strength, since today’s society constantly judges you based on what you wear and what you own. Minimalism involves change in mindset - from freeing yourself from this fear of being judged, and escaping from the current excessive consumerist culture. The key ingredient to achieve this is to have the willingness to endure the little inconveniences, and to continuously ask yourself - what else can be done?
No one can adopt such lifestyle overnight. It is actually a journey where you adopt incremental changes to your lifestyle, and thereby ensure that your current “easy” and “convenient” lifestyle is not significantly compromised. But, if you try to make significant changes too fast, chances are that you may not endure it and would soon take a U-turn.
While doing my masters in Commercial Vehicle Technology, the experience at John Deere, Germany in the field of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) triggered my interest in measuring carbon footprints of different products.
I embarked on this inquisitive journey 3 years ago, with an intention of making a gradual shift to ‘minimalist living’, and ultimately to ‘low waste living’ later in life prior to founding dwij . I was obviously overwhelmed to know the extent of carbon footprint each of us have, and the extent of difference each of us can potentially make to reduce it. What followed was a series of incremental steps and a joyous journey. It not only led to freeing up space in our house, but also led to freeing up a lot of mental space with fewer thoughts to focus on.
Although it was overwhelming initially, my husband & I were able to breakdown various aspects of minimalism where we felt we could make a difference, through the following changes in our lifestyle.
1. Home appliances
The debate about the harmful effects of power generation and fossil fuel combustion brings the subject to two most energy intensive areas of our daily lives - home appliances and transportation. While proponents of renewable energy argue that most of the conventional energy can ultimately be replaced by renewable energy, however the efficiency of battery and solar panel recycling industry is yet to be proven. Most of these batteries and components could become the “new plastic/e-waste problem” going further. People can argue both ways and justify their usage and get away with the debate but not the solution. I therefore truly believe that we should judge for ourselves what we truly need and own only those appliances that we absolutely require. Most of the appliances end up in our house to make a point about our social status. There are instances of people showing off their huge refrigerators and huge TV screens. We decided to own only those home appliances that are absolutely essential and ended up not owning a refrigerator, an Air conditioner, TV, a washing machine or any other kitchen appliance except a second hand grinder mixer.
Yes that’s true. That was a choice, and not a compulsion. Now, we don't have the desire to own them too.
And how did we find their replacements?
In today's busy life, everyone would ordinarily own a good smartphone and a laptop. With the onset of online subscriptions, there is little need to have a TV and in turn do needless channel surfing everyday.
With No TV - we save approx 3 units of electricity per month
A research published by Ohio State University states that an estimated 43 percent of food waste is due to in-home practices as opposed to waste that generates in restaurants, grocery stores and on the farm, thereby making individuals the biggest contributors. Refrigerator is most often misused not just to refrigerate essentials, also often used for storing unfinished food, fruits and vegetables, or to store enough cooked food to simply skip cooking everyday. Bulk grocery shopping & unplanned meals generally makes our lives very ‘convenient’.
We therefore decided to replace this appliance with changes in our habits such as procurement of fresh fruits and vegetables from local sellers every 2-3 days, better planning of our lunch and dinner menus such that no food gets wasted, and eliminated consumption of cold water and cold drinks since they anyway don’t support ‘better living’.
Although we are not vegans, we generally avoid regular consumption of milk products. Thus, storing milk and curd was not a problem for us. Occasional craving of ice cream or cake can always be satisfied by directly visiting the shop. We have always been a vegetarian by birth and by choice.
We also replaced this appliance with a mitti cool fridge, which uses the traditional method of evaporation to ensure that the fruits and vegetables placed inside get enough moisture and also reduce its temperature by 1-2 degrees. This ensures that fruits and vegetables last for 2-3 days, and still fresh. One can easily do away with mitti cool as well.
We use ‘Daily dump’ khamba for composting most of our daily kitchen waste. Only the most hard and non-compostable organic waste goes to the bin. The compost works excellent for our window garden, where we grow essential plants such as mint, chillies, curry leaves, aloe vera etc. The larger part of the compost is given to our housing society gardner.
With No REFRIGERATOR - we save approx 54 units of electricity per month
- Washing machine:
Water scarcity is a phenomenon increasingly affecting major cities in India each year. On an average every wash utilizes approx 50L water. Handwashing is an effective option, which not only saves water, but also saves energy consumption. In addition, incremental steps like regularly pre-soaking white clothes in warm water not only saves energy while handwashing, but also increases the life of garments.
With NO WASHING MACHINE- we save approx 15 units of electricity per month
On an average, we saved around 2600 units of electricity over the last 3 years (without even considering the electricity saved on AC), simply by replacing our appliances with change in our habits!
In many metros in India, the public transport system is not mature enough to eliminate the need for a personal vehicle. However, is a personal vehicle really an essential all the time? It is a no brainer that using public transport is good for the environment. However, switching to public transport (here, we consider cabs too as public transport) has various advantages - it allows making a 'requirement based' choice depending on the fastest and most convenient option for any travel. Economically too, choosing a ‘requirement based’ mode of transport, is still a cheaper option than owning a personal vehicle. The most important aspect is to have an intention to be flexible for choosing a mode of transport based on the situation. Convenience and comfort vs having a flexible mindset. Is it too much of a compromise?
With NO VEHICLE- We save approx 9 Tonne CO2 emissions per annum
3. Home decor
While setting up our house 3 years ago, specific attention was given towards home decor to ensure minimalist designing.
Curtains: Our windows have colored glass to naturally filter the afternoon sunlight. In the living room, we decided to make our curtains from old colorful cotton sarees. It exactly suited our purpose since they were dark enough to serve as a curtain, and light enough for easy handling and washing. For the bedroom, we had bamboo blinds handmade by a Craftsman.
Bed: Our bed, and sofa cum diwan has a minimalist design with a wooden frame and made in a ‘charpai’ fashion using white cotton strips, handwoven by craftsman at our home. The mattress & cushions comprises 100% cotton material too. Our quilt is a 'godhadi' made in granny style.
Bedroom table: Our bedroom table comprises an upcycled thermocol box that was used for packaging the mitti cool fridge. We converted it into a beautiful bedroom cum storage table, by simply decorating using an old saree.
Dining table: Our dining table comprises just a small stool (chowki) and woven mats. There are number of benefits of eating cross legged and eating like better digestion, improving body posture, etc.
Earthenware is used as much as possible for storage purposes. Balance comprises glassware/brassware.
Steel works best for carrying boxes and water bottles
The number of kitchen vessels and cooking essentials are kept at a minimum, and we ensure that they are washed immediately after using them in order to minimize water usage.
We carry our own cutlery kit comprising spoon, fork and steel straw.
We also have a grinding stone to convert wheat into flour. (Such traditional methods serve as workout sessions too!)
We bought a stainless steel water filter that comprises only a ceramic filter candle, which works well. It filters out heavy metals, while retains the useful bacteria good for your gut. Such useful bacteria is completely filtered out in a modern RO filter, which often leads to digestive problems including constipation (something that the leading water purifier companies will never tell you). And also RO water purifier wastes up to 75% of water.
On a half yearly basis, the plastic waste that we seggregate is given to a local NGO that carries out plasma-pyrolysis process & the paper waste goes to a paper recycler.
Among other daily routine habits that we do,
No printed newspapers and minimum usage of tissues. A 50 piece tissue packet might last around 6 months in our house.
Our wardrobes are also minimalist. We prefer quality over quantity. You can read my journey of “no shopping for a year" here.
I use reusable menstrual pads, bamboo toothbrush, and wooden comb.
The onset of food delivery apps in recent months has made it extremely easy to order food from your favorite restaurant. We ensure that our food delivery orders are avoided completely. This not only minimizes needless usage of excessive packaging material, but also reduces the energy consumed for transportation too.
We always carry steel bottles, and refuse when we are offered bottled water at conferences, meetings, public gatherings and even during long distance train/bus travels.
The above are just a few changes that we have adopted in our lives over the last 3 years. We look at such practices not as an inconvenience or deterrent to normal life, but with a sense of joy of making a difference to the society. "Minimalistic living" can apply differently for different people and it doesn't really have to do only with replacing plastic or buying less clothes, etc. You could set your goals & understand what you can give up initially and then take incremental steps. The above changes in our lifestyle was a result of incremental and periodic goals over 3 years. Our next goals will be to switch to reusable packaging options for household groceries, and move towards homemade soaps, natural detergents etc. We know we have a long way to go!
As Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.
Minimalist lifestyle needs to become the new norm of the sophisticated society so that the “followers” of the society ultimately adopt them.