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  • Writer's pictureMeg Carney

1. What is Outdoor Minimalism?

Hello, and welcome to the very first episode of the Outdoor Minimalism Podcast. I’m your host, Meg Carney. I’m an outdoor and environmental writer and author of the book Outdoor Minimalist: Waste Less Hiking, Camping, and Backpacking which is set to be released on September 1, 2022.

The Outdoor Minimalist Podcast aims to give listeners actionable ways to waste less hiking, camping, backpacking, and more during every step of the process. Your impact outdoors starts long before you hit the trail and goes beyond Leave No Trace ethics. You’ll learn how to identify sustainable outdoor brands, how to ask hard questions regarding sustainability and begin to shift and evolve your mindset to integrate minimalism into all outdoor pursuits.

As this is our first official episode, let’s discuss minimalism and its application to outdoor recreation. This topic is near and dear to my heart as I am an avid outdoor enthusiast. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t always been a minimalist, and I have a lot of work to do.

There’s this relatively well-known quote about zero-waste that was said by Anne Marie Bonneau (sorry if I mispronounced that), the zero-waste chef, and she says, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly; we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

I want to be transparent about one thing before we get into the topic of minimalism: in any pursuit like this, whether it be zero-waste or low-impact, you cannot be perfect. This is a toxic mindset that can derail all of your efforts. That could be an entire episode in and of itself, so I won’t harp on it too much right now, but it is essential to go into outdoor minimalism, knowing that mistakes are natural and we cannot change everything overnight.

So, what is minimalism?

At its core, minimalism is based on the arts of sculpting and music. But a minimalist lifestyle can be thought of more as living only with the things you need and removing unnecessary distractions. Minimalism is intended to help us live more intentionally and with greater purpose.

This is a very subjective topic, to be honest. In every aspect of life, I’ve learned we have distinct needs. Whether it be, say, a romantic relationship, a friendship, and the relationship we have ourselves, our needs dictate a lot. They can tell us how to set boundaries and when to take a break for self-care. But to do those things, we need to know them.

When pursuing minimalism in our lives, we often look at material goods or basic human needs. Now, I want to separate these basic human needs like shelter, food, and water from outdoor minimalism because until those needs are met, then you can’t focus on sustainability in terms of the environment. What you need to focus on in that instance is sustaining yourself and your family. Once you can branch out from your basic human needs, you can start to look at and evaluate some other things you deem essential in your life, like material goods.

Material goods may be things like the size of our house, our furniture, technology like TVs and computers, and for all the gearheads out there, our outdoor toys. For me, my favorite outdoor gear includes things like my gravel bike or my rock climbing gear. But for many other people, it could be more geared toward motorized equipment like dirt bikes or UTVs; all of these things we’ve given an inherent value to. That means we deem them worthy of taking up time, money, and space in our lives, so we need them.

But what if we took a step back and asked ourselves: is this necessary?

That one question is the core of outdoor minimalism.

Minimalism is defining your personal needs. I find this more important than ever in our lives. If you’re listening to this in the United States and grew up here, you can attest that you grew up in a consumer culture. You were surrounded by endless advertisements to remind you of what you don’t have and what you should want.

I was a TA for a class called Media and Society when I was going to University, and I remember being appalled by the way advertisements manipulate consumers, but the thing is, I’ve fallen victim to these ads my entire life despite being exposed to the true nature behind marketing. Here’s the thing, marketing is physiological. Although I write a lot of online content, I also have been known to dabble in copywriting, and you know what copy is? Marketing. Good copywriting reads the customer base, relates to them, and convinces them they need whatever you’re writing that copy for.

As a consumer, it kind of becomes up to us to sift through all the bullshit to get to the root of what we really need. As an outdoor enthusiast, that’s where outdoor minimalism comes into play. If I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed and seeing new biking fits, I think, “Okay, those are super cute.” So, I click the ad and start sifting through their options. In a matter of minutes, with or without reading the copy in the ad, I’ve started the buying process, and that’s where the interruption needs to come into play.

I don’t need new fits! Sure, I might want them, but I don’t need them. Minimalism is a mindset. It is a conscious decision to evaluate impulses and to interrupt subconscious patterns regarding consumption and inherent value or worth.

I want to include an excerpt from the first chapter of my book, Outdoor Minimalist. The chapter is called “The Seven Rs of Outdoor Minimalism.” And in that chapter, I discuss the seven pillars of this concept. In a sense, they are the foundation that Outdoor Minimalism sits on, and they lay the framework for anyone wanting to integrate these ideas more deeply into their lives.

Here is the quote:

“While the things you own are a large part of understanding how minimalism fits into your life, physical possessions are not the core of minimalism. More broadly, minimalism is about what is essential. Minimalism brings forth a level of self-awareness to what you truly need in your specific life circumstance and a realization that your needs are relative to all of life’s changes. What is essential is also often associated with a person’s ability to be fully present and in the moment. What I mean by this is consumerism, or even “retail therapy,” are ways many of us use to escape our reality, and we use the distraction of excess to hide from our here and now. Minimalism is a journey of self-discovery that bridges your ability to identify necessity while pairing it with intentionality in self-expression.”

There is so much we can say about minimalism, and it will be different for everyone. We all have varying needs, so identifying your needs, even in the small parts of your life, like the type of sunscreen you buy or the brand of trainers you get, becomes essential. Outdoor minimalism is a shift from feeling like you should consume more to evaluating your needs versus wants.

So minimalism as a whole concept makes sense in those terms, but how is that relevant to the outdoor industry and environmental impact?

Interest in outdoor sports has grown dramatically in recent years, especially with the COVID shutdown in 2020. While I think this is wonderful, and I’m happy to see more people enjoy their time outdoors, there is also a lack of education regarding the environmental impact of humans when entering wild spaces. To an extent, I believe it is up to us as individuals to seek out how to safely and mindfully interact with the outdoors. Still, unfortunately, there is a lack of self-awareness in this realm. Now, I’m not saying this arrogantly as if I have all the self-awareness I need; absolutely not.

But I firmly believe that the outdoor industry, whether you work in it, have enjoyed outdoor rec for years, or you are just beginning your journey, we have more responsibility than any other sector of society to preserve, protect, and restore natural spaces. While this is true, when we talk about the environmental impact of outdoor recreation, we hyperfocus on the wear of the ecosystems we are playing in, and this is an extremely important part of the puzzle. It is only one part of the equation.

Your environmental impact as an outdoor enthusiast also includes the products you buy, how you travel to your destinations, and how you interact with the land. There are a lot of moving parts, and so many of them are things that we don’t often stop to think about, or we aren’t fully aware of at the moment.

As more new people enter the outdoors, there is an even more immediate need for education and awareness that leads to action. Beyond just buying less, minimalism becomes a way to appreciate and care for what you already have.

Minimalism comes with the realization that everything we buy and do has an impact. Despite clever marketing by brands or their honest efforts to run a sustainable or eco-friendly business, there is no such thing as sustainable products when using finite materials. As you begin to pursue less through minimalism, you often also evaluate your overall impact on the world around you. Although you seem to be more introspective of your behavior, there is also this inherent switch to understanding how everything you do creates an impact one way or another. That’s where the seven Rs come into play.

The Seven Rs of Outdoor Minimalism are: reduce, refuse, rethink, repair, rehome (or repurpose), remove, and restore. I will do an episode on each of these individually, so I won’t go too far into depth here. But much like the three Rs we are used to hearing: reduce, reuse, and recycle, these seven Rs are meant to remind us of how we can implement outdoor minimalist behaviors and practices into our lives.

It’s easy to say, “shift your mindset,” but it’s much harder to create those habits within your life without information on how to do those things. That’s why I wrote the Outdoor Minimalist book, to be honest. The underlying concepts like zero-waste and minimalism are not new ideas; I simply put them in a new setting: the outdoor industry. I wanted to help people skip the giant learning curve that I struggled through in my twenties to begin to even scratch the surface of outdoor minimalism and mindfulness. I am still learning every single day, but with these ideas and this book, I hope that this podcast and the Outdoor Minimalist book will give you some of the necessary tools you need to approach any form of outdoor recreation through the lens of environmentalism and minimalism.

There is so much to explore on this topic, and I am so excited to have the opportunity to bring this conversation to light for listeners like you!

Thanks for listening, and if you like what you hear, let me know! Leave a review and subscribe so you never miss an episode. Tune in each Monday, and together we can create a better outdoor space as we recreate.

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