Green Funerals for The Minimalists

Could minimalism be the next influence in greener funerals?

At first glance, you might think you've heard about minimalism before. The phrase "Less is More" was the motto of German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 to 1969).   Regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture, Meis along with post WWI contemporaries including Frank Lloyd Wright, helped define a trend in design and architecture wherein their subjects were reduced to their necessary elements.  Post WWII America experienced a wave of minimalism, especially in the music and art of the 1960s and 1970s, reinforcing the appeal of pared down design elements.  London and New York witnessed another revival of minimalist architecture in the late 1980s where architects and fashion designers collaborated on boutiques to achieve simplicity using white elements, cold lighting, and large spaces with minimum objects and furniture.

There's another revival of minimalism in this new millennium.  As described by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus and their two million followers (, Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives.  It is a matter of living a more meaningful life with less stuff.  While each one of us embraces minimalism differently, our paths lead to the same place:  a life with more time, more money, and more freedom to live a more meaningful life.

Before we apply minimalist thinking to greener funerals, let us explore more deeply some examples of minimalism and how it might affect our choices.  My journey into minimalism began last summer.  After reading a few articles on Joshua and Ryan's blog, I quickly realized that "the clutter" in my life was a liability.  Not only did these things fail to bring joy into my life, many of these things were actually the cause of anxiety in my life.  The clutter in my life included clothing that hadn't fit in years, unfinished projects, spare parts, leftover building materials, books, papers, furniture, and a plethora of other things I had acquired, inherited, or purchased.  As a family, we began paring down.  More than ten truck loads left our home destined for garage sales, friends & family, and Goodwill where these things went to good use.  Even my 1978 BMW motorcycle, in boxes of parts, near and dear to me more than fifteen years ago and yet untouched for as many years went to a new home freeing up both storage space and my conscience.  It felt great.

More than 10 truck loads of stuff left our home.

Minimalism isn't a matter of living more cheaply or making painful sacrifices.  If fact, let us illustrate with a pair of shoes.  A minimalist might choose to keep just one pair of shoes… instead of 14 pairs like so many of us probably have right now.  One very nice pair of lace-up wingtips made by Allen Edmonds might cost more than $300.  However, these fine shoes will work for almost any occasion casual or formal, will last several years (even if worn daily so long as they are cared for), and be truly comfortable to wear.  For the person who keeps 14 different pairs of shoes, wearing just one very nice carefully selected pair of shoes might bring more joy into his/her life.  We might actually spend less money on shoes overall if we choose a pair of shoes that we will enjoy more thoroughly and for longer.  If we're only buying one pair of shoes, we can afford to pay a premium price for a pair that meets all of our needs.

Minimalist thinking can be applied to all of the choices in our lives.  Are we making choices that add to the joy in our lives?  Or are we making choices that add to the clutter and anxiety in our lives?  To live a more meaningful life, it helps to clear the clutter from our life's path.  That path is different for each and every one of us.  While possessions are the easiest place to start clearing away the clutter, the same thinking can improve the quality of our lives when applied to our health, relationships, the company we keep, in our careers, and yes, even funerals. 

As funeral service professionals let's ask ourselves, are we minimalists?  Are we helping our families make meaningful choices in funeral service?  Do the choices we present our families and the guidance we give them truly bring more meaning into their lives?  Do we propose a feature, aspect, or element of funeral service because that's just what we do?  …or because this element will bring meaning to the family?  While every family embraces the end-of-life sacrament differently, as professionals in funeral service we can lead our families to the same place: a meaningful funeral service.

Could a minimalist funeral be a greener funeral?  That depends on the family, but I'll bet more often than not that a carefully planned and meaningful funeral is greener than the "standard package" funeral.  Like the wingtip shoes, I'll also bet that many families are willing to spend more on carefully selected elements that are truly meaningful.  Many funeral directors tell me about a trend wherein families are choosing to spend less money on a casket and monument, but significantly more money on food and refreshments for a celebration.  Perhaps these families are asking themselves if their choices are bringing more meaning into the funeral service.  If we help our families ask exactly that, we could not only bring more meaning into funeral service, but we might also notice that many of these "meaningful choices" are also greener.

Good choices can bring more meaning into the funeral service.