Can You Be a Minimalist and Live a Zero Waste Lifestyle?

Kate Hall

I am a living, breathing, contradiction.

Some days I call myself a minimalist and declutter piles of clothes from my already minimal wardrobe.

Others, I’m a raging zero-waster who won’t let go of her old cushion inners because “what if I need to use them one day for a craft project?”

Minimalism and zero-waste = giving up, and holding on.

how to go low waste zero waste

Minimalism is grounded in the idea that we should have fewer things, and zero-waste embodies upcycling, repairing, and hanging on to everything just in case you need to use it one day, instead of buying something new.

Can you see the cause of my inner turmoil?


After completing The Minimalist Challenge last year, reading the book Stuffocation, and giving away over 1000 items in my home, I realised minimalism was beginning to battle against my existing zero-waste lifestyle (for the record, I still have waste in my life. ‘Zero waste’ is a term used to describe someone who strives to live with as little waste as possible.).

My main conflicting feelings when removing items from my life, weren’t because of the sentiment or monetary value, but my drive to use what I have and hold onto resources in case they could be repurposed in the future.


Image via Ethically Kate

So, here I am, in the middle of a raw internal debate, juggling two of the values closest to my heart, and struggling to understand how they fit together.

Can minimalism and zero-waste co-exist?

Minimalism and zero-waste both agree that less is more

If minimalism and zero-waste talked over a pint at the pub, minimalism would nod her head as zero-waste said: “consuming less is better for us and the planet.” Embracing both lifestyles involves fewer trips to the mall, decluttered and organised wardrobes, and more money saved for experiences and spending time with the people you love. The two concepts go hand in hand with anti-consumerism and being content with what you already own.

Minimalism helps us look at what we will truly use one day, and what actually belongs out of your life.

how to go low waste zero waste

Image via Ethically Kate

I used to have a cupboard full of crafty bits and bobs, second-hand wrapping paper, old scrapbooking stickers my grandmother gave me, broken pieces of random appliances… I had it all. This cupboard stressed me out. I could hardly find what I needed when I wanted it, and it kept on filling up.

During the minimalist challenge, I emptied this stress-inducing cupboard and donated everything to a preschool for their craft corner. I now feel free, and the preschool kids had so much fun crafting! The truth is, I had that stuff in my cupboard for about four years and had used it enough times to count on one hand. In this instance, the dual efforts of minimalism and zero-waste worked a treat.

Minimalism and zero-waste are healers of your bank account and savings, and inspirers of creativity

Don’t have the right tool to fix your light fitting? Borrow it. Sale on at the mall? Ignore it. Costume party in a week? Hunt through your possessions and see what you can rustle up.

Minimalism and zero-waste avoid consumerism, encourage you to own the things you need, and therefore allow you to save money faster. With this in mind, your creativity is pushed to the limits when you can’t just go out and buy something; you must first try to utilise what you already own.

The verdict is in. I’ve processed my internal value based dilemma, and can confidently conclude that:

You cannot be an extreme minimalist AND be an extreme zero waster. You cannot be an extreme zero waster AND be an extreme minimalist. You cannot live out of one suitcase while trying to reduce your waste 100%. You cannot keep everything ‘just in case’ while trying to live out of one suitcase.

What you can do, is embrace the values that come with both lifestyles, scrap the word ‘extreme,’ and enjoy a simpler, consumer free, conscious, and low impact life.

Minimalism and zero-waste live together in my life in a beautiful symbiotic relationship. They’re like Nemo and his sea anemone; they provide balance that can only be achieved by working together.

Kate Hall

I live and breathe sustainable living and ethical fashion. This alternative way of consuming and existing dominates my every waking moment- and sometimes more. Ethical fashion and living are no longer my hobbies, it has become my mission... to change the future of fast fashion and the way we consume. My husband and I strive to live a zero-waste lifestyle, live at thrift stores, and always look to 'up-cycle' rather than throw out. Eco-living is not a choice for me, it's in my blood, and I am trying with all my power for it to be the new 'norm'.