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What Every Family Should Consider Before Embracing Minimalism

By Maria Cook

Reducing waste is an important part of any eco-conscious family's lifestyle. Recycling or getting rid of things you no longer need is good for the environment and for cutting down on clutter, which in turn cuts down on stress. But recently, the publication of bestselling books, such as Francine Jay's The Joy of Less, has given rise to an entire movement--which some call the 'simple living movement'--of people who take the idea of reducing waste to some pretty extreme places. 

From tiny houses to never buying anything new and urging others to do the same, the simple living movement aims to reduce the space and resources every person uses, even through extreme means, for the good of the planet. It seems like a worthy ambition. But a closer look at the tenants of minimalism reveal that it might not be the best way to reduce your family's environmental impact after all.

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For many people, minimalism isn't a choice 

The most basic, underlying philosophy of minimalism is that most people have more than what they need, and could stand to give some of it up. The problem is, this isn't remotely true. More than half of the world's population lives on less than 10 US dollars a day. Around 1 billion people live on less than 1 U.S. dollar per day. In other words, most people on earth are poor.

Buying less, eating less, spending less...these things are choices for certain people. But for most people around the globe, they are not. Even in the Western world, particularly in the U.S. things are changing for many people. Many young people in the United States are having a harder time finding jobs than their parents. Certain industries, such as the auto industry, have drastically declined. 

Poverty is on the rise, and the income gap between the richest U.S. citizens and the poorest continues to widen. It's difficult to spread the gospel of minimalism when most people around the world live in small dwellings, save used items, and rarely buy new things out of necessity. The audience for minimalism is small--small enough that the amount of people it pertains to is not large enough to cause significant global change.

A better way to change the world may be to donate to charities which are helping to improve the global economy and curb wealth disparities. When people have more money, they can contribute more to the global economy, which results in a healthier economy with more incentive to invest in "risky" new technologies, such as clean power. In other words, helping people live better can actually help save the planet.