Many people are looking how to change their lives in a meaningful way, whether that’s to curb overspending on items we’ve been tempted into, to declutter a home to make for a living space that enhances our lives, or to reduce our carbon footprint and household waste. With this movement, there’s been a wave of books on minimalism, as well as Instagram accounts, blogs, and TV shows trying to help us streamline our lives and embrace a more responsible and sustainable lifestyle.
A minimalist apartment decorated solely with natural wood and luscious plants is becoming a lot more mainstream, and this is undoubtedly a reaction to our busy, cluttered, and intensely capitalist lifestyles. Bulk buy stores and reusables are becoming much easier to come by and incorporate into our lives. Picking the right books to sink into is tough with so many around, though, so here are some recommendations of books on minimalism and sustainable living that I’ve personally enjoyed and learned so much from.
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Creating Your Minimalist Lifestyle
Less is more and these books will give you every tool you need to transform your cluttered and busy life into a minimalist one.
This is a perfect start to both topics and was actually the book that inspired me to carry on reading more books on minimalism. I was particularly attracted to it because of how many topics it broached; from decluttering to minimising your time on social media and removing toxic people from your life, which were all things that I hadn’t associated with minimalism until I read Minimal. She even talks about our way of travelling and how to be concerned about the environment while we explore.
Later, the book starts to focus on actionable and practical ways to minimise your carbon footprint while living a cleaner life in general such as recipes for making your own cosmetics and household cleaning products to meal planning. The author is friendly and non-judgemental, always knowing that minimalism will look different depending on the reader. If I could recommend one book on this list for readers new to the topic, it would be this one.
This collection of short essays made quite a stir upon release, selling over 150,000 copies, and is perfectly laid out to pick up and put down again. Going from a life of excessive spending and self-abuse, Fumio Sasaki decided to part with all of his possessions, except for some very basic things needed for day to day living. He also highlights some famous Japanese minimalists who live an even sparser life than himself.
While I do think Fumio Sasak’s approach is a little extreme in some areas, I still find that every single lesson he shares in goodbye, things is actionable, like his tips on taking pictures of things you’d like to remember. Overall, I would approach this as a philosophical read since there really are some words of wisdom to be taken away here, which you can adapt into your ways of thinking as well as your day-to-day behaviour.
I was really taken with the idea that many of us take on unnecessary extra rooms (and cost) simply for our stuff to use. We spend more money on buying or renting bigger homes, not to put extra people in but simply to fit in more stuff, which also costs more money. If you struggle with overspending, in particular, this might be exactly the read you need to tackle why you consistently buy things and whether there’s another approach. Truly one of the best books on minimalism out there.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo
The book that sparked a new wave of minimalists, a Netflix show, and even a series of books and manga. It’s incredible to see the achievements that Marie Kondo has made with her empire of products but that doesn’t make the philosophy behind her work any less important for the budding minimalist.
Kondo is referenced in Fumio Sasaki’s book above and you can tell he’s highly inspired by her philosophy of items ‘sparking joy’ or not – an easy way of identifying things that are genuinely important to us. Apart from encouraging us to part with things that are simply taking up space in our lives, Marie Kondo’s approach to storage and decluttering is ideal for those of us who are challenged in this area, like myself.
The concept underpinning her work and advice is respect – respect for ourselves, our items, and the space around us. While the empire she has built is at times unsettling (no one needs a $50 storage basket), Kondo’s core philosophy is still more than sound, and genuinely helpful. Her stunning website also offers fantastic tips from folding furoshiki to getting started with origami.
A different approach; this book on minimalism, written by a Japanese monk, focuses on self-care and cleanliness as a way to quiet the mind and form new healthy habits. ‘Things become rubbish when they are treated as rubbish’ is a small insight into the many philosophical teachings of the book, and simple ideas( like cleaning first thing in the morning and taking care of and repairing your belongings) become a way of life just like a monk’s daily ritual.
While I wouldn’t say this book directly teaches minimalism in the way most others do, it inevitably encourages a life of simple pleasures and a rejection of the wasteful and cyclical capitalist life that many of us are currently trapped in. Aside from desiring a clean life, I’d highly recommend this book if you struggle with a busy mind and want a wave of calm in book form.
Getting Started With Sustainable Living
Sustainable living and zero waste lifestyles can be intimidating at first glance, but these books show how easy it is to make small changes in our lives that will not only save the environment but also our wallets.
It’d be wrong to start this list without mentioning the pioneer Bea Johnson who wrote the book Zero Waste Home and focuses on ‘five R’s – refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot’ as a way of life. Many of the following books frequently reference her work but I haven’t read it myself yet.
It’s tempting to buy this book for the cover and design alone; it really is a beautiful book. This book has a similar style to Madeline Olivia’s book in that you’re offered recipes for food, household products, cosmetics, even items for your children like crayons. She goes into depth about bulk buying and how all of these small changes can save you a lot of money.
This book is slightly more US-focused, while Madeline’s is more UK focused but, overall, I found them to be a perfect partner for each other as the recipes and tips were different and gave me even more to work with. I have found myself dipping back into this one more often after reading it, to quickly make something; the layout makes it easier to find the page you need, being as colourful and well laid-out as this book is.
I found this to be the most friendly zero waste book of the bunch, Kate reminds readers that ‘zero’ is something that we should always work towards but it’s a target and one that’s almost impossible to attain in today’s society. Arnell understands that where you live and your personal circumstances will vastly impact what you can achieve and instead offers easy changes spread across six weeks that you can slowly incorporate into your life.
Kate Arnell lives in central London and admits that this lifestyle is very different from someone living in the countryside or in warmer climates. She most closely works to Bea Johnson’s philosophy using them as a framing device for her book and adding her own additional advice and experiences. She includes some recipes, cosmetic, cleaning, and pet product homemade substitutes but these sections are smaller than some of the other books.
Something I really enjoyed were the pages of resources at the back, rather than her inspirations these are helpful websites to learn more and websites that will help you on your journey from zero waste stores, ethical travel options, charities that you can support, and more. This is a lovely book and ideal for those new to the idea and want someone who is realistic about the challenges you might face at first.
This bright and colourful book is more coffee table sized than the others and full of vibrant full colour drawings that are a pleasure to flick through. I would say this is a gentler approach to minimalism and zero waste (especially compared to goodbye, things above who argues nothing is too sentimental to be thrown away) and highlights many of the things you might be doing already such as taking your own bag to the supermarket, walking to places where it’s possible, and shopping vintage.
It’s nice to be reminded that these are still steps to a more sustainable lifestyle. A lovely thing about this book is the focus on the home, rather than decluttering or making your own products Chillingsworth talks about how to decorate your home sustainably, how to plant your garden to help bees (and even make a bee house), how to plant hedges and trees, and how to scent your home naturally. These are areas that aren’t touched or skimmed over in other books on this list.
The chapter on Christmas is also refreshing as it goes much more into depth on how to approach Christmas as a minimalist from how to wrap furoshiki cloths to gift ideas, and homemade decorations. This really is a charming book that you’ll dip into again and again.
This one is a little different and it took me a few visits to the bookshops, picking it up and flicking through it, to actually buy it. I hesitated because I kept wondering: would I get much use out of it living in the city despite the fact it is for urban dwellers? In the end, I decided to go for it since it’s a small book and can easily fit in my bag or even pocket and I wondered how many of these plants I’d seen out and about.
The plants and herbs featured inside the book include things like wild garlic and honeysuckle, and what really drew me in were the gorgeous recipes included alongside each plant and recipe. Everything from curry made from dandelion leaves to cocktails made from various common flowers. And I really have found plenty of these plants growing out on the streets and in parks, so it genuinely is for the urban dweller, exactly as the authors promise. For a light introduction to foraging without the heavy books that currently exist on this topic, I would highly recommend The Urban Forager.
One slightly funny and unnerving aspect to the book, however, is that, at the back, they have a couple of pages of poisonous ‘dupes’ that look like the main plants in the book. While, up until this point, the photos have been full colour and highly detailed, these poisonous plants are drawn as what can only be described as simplistic, crude drawings and wouldn’t be helpful for anyone trying to identify those plants. They do give a detailed description but it’s worth noting because it gave us quite a chuckle. The one time it’s most vital for a plant to be easily identified (because it may kill you) is the only time in the book that it’s depicted as a vague sketch. You’ve been warned. I’d suggest looking those plants up online for a better look.
Have you read any great books on minimalism and sustainable living? let me know anything else I should read in the comments!