Weddings are not a minimalist or eco-friendly affair by their very nature. The cultural custom that is an American wedding involves tons of waste both physically and often emotionally: The Dress, the food, the cake, the transportation, the family squabbles, the flowers, the decorations, the spending! You know what the most minimalist wedding is? No wedding at all. Not even a legal marriage. It’s saying, “I love you and I am committed to you” and actually meaning it. The next option is to get legally married in court or by an officiant with just the three of you and maybe witnesses.
But I like weddings. I like tradition (most of the time) and I like excuses to throw a party. Which is exactly what a wedding is and don’t let anyone tell you any different! However, parties can be wasteful and I don’t like that. So this is my official guide to creating a balance between tradition (whatever that means to you) and minimalism/environmental consciousness. *This is not an all-inclusive list. I wanted to add things that maybe you haven’t considered.
- Set a Budget. It’s the first step in planning a wedding or party of any sort. It doesn’t have to be final or finite but know a ballpark number. Are you looking to spend $1,000? 5,000? $10,000? $50,000? Or closer to $100,000 or more? This is important because some options cost more money like compostable plates instead of paper.
- Figure out what traditions you want and skip the ones you don’t. By “you” I mean both of you as a couple. This is a union, after all. Because weddings are a cultural ceremony built on tradition this is where you should start and build from. Do you really love flowers? Then have flowers. Don’t get into the details right now but write down “flowers” (I suggest you keep a notepad nearby for this exercise or an electronic notepad). Do you really love food and the idea of feeding people? Write it down. Common wedding elements include: a ceremony (involving an officiant, an audience, and a sequence of words), a reception (involving food, drink that is often alcoholic, and music/dancing), flowers, an indoor space, an outdoor space, photographs (often taken by a professional), cake (and a ceremony around cutting it), gift giving (on both ends), toasts, a white formal wedding dress, suits or tuxedos, a receiving line, and general partying behavior. If you don’t like a tradition, skip it altogether and save on costs and time (e.g. skipping a guest book saves on paper and items for you to bring home). Write down the fantasy you have in your head when you think of your wedding. It’s ok if you don’t have one.
- Chose a fitting season. This should be slightly connected to your selected traditions. If you really love flowers (I do, so that’s my example), maybe a wedding in the spring or summer would be more wise. If you love big, hearty meals, I would suggest a fall or winter wedding. Also, if you naturally have more money at one point in the year or have an easier time to bring together family and friends, chose that season.
- Chose a beautiful venue. If you get married in the mountains in a lodge with a view everyone will be focused on the view and care less about the decorations. Same goes for getting married in a garden in the spring or in the woods. The more basic the place the more you might feel like you need to add. However, if your venue has clean lines and a modern design that you like then go with that. The more you like it without decorations the less you’ll want to add later. Some ideas: churches with architectural details or stained glass, a museum or art gallery, the woods, a park, a garden, your home or someone else’s home, the zoo, a college campus, the beach, by any body of water (including pools), in the mountains, in the desert surrounded by beautiful rocks, underwater (hard to pull off), on a boat, a historic building, and in a rentable loft space. Also chose a venue that involves less travel for everyone when possible.
- Invite less people. If your wedding includes 500 guests and you have a larger budget then go for it. But it will be harder to be minimalist with that many people. Also think of all the transportation and the effect on the earth that many people have. My suggestion is 100 or less. I have a relatively big and intimate family (I am planning my mom’s wedding right now) but the groom has a very small family. Our total is under 50 people which is great because it’s a backyard wedding. Less people means less stuff to borrow/buy and less trash/waste/pollution. In addition, you get to spend more time with those closest to you and things become less stressful when you only have to worry about 20 people. Or 100 instead of 500. Here’s a secret: you actually don’t HAVE TO worry at all. But you might because parties can be a stressful thing to coordinate. Hiring a planner might help and don’t hesitate to ask your friends and family to lend a hand. Most people are not only willing but eager to help. I like employing a lot of people and giving each person one or two tasks so they aren’t overwhelmed or outright refuse.
- Borrow instead of buying or use what you already own. When I say borrow, I mean getting items for free for a temporary use. I do not mean renting, but I will get to that later. Let’s say you have a wedding of 50 people and you want an array of desserts to serve because you love desserts. Ask friends or family members to brings pies or cakes. If you get just 5 cakes or pies that feed 10 people each then you’re set on dessert and it didn’t cost you anything. Bonus points if these desserts are homemade and involve reusable pie dishes and washable serving utensils. Things you might be able to borrow: clothing, accessories, transportation, glasses, plates, utensils, decorations, chairs, tables, and services. Bartering for services is also a great idea. If you’re a graphic designer, offer to make business cards for your photographer. Or if you have a friend who does photography ask them to take photos in lieu of a gift. Also this all applies to using what you already own. Do you own a white dress (or any colored dress, or any clothes) that you’d like to wear? Do you own string that can be used to decorate mason jars that you also own? Think hard about using your own stuff before going out and getting more items.
- Rent instead of buying or resell what you buy. Ok, so you don’t own an outfit you want to wear. Rent it instead. Rent the Runway is great for dresses and jewelery. You can rent everything from outfits to decor to plates and napkins. Think about renting to keep your personal belongings to a minimum and encourage others to use the items after you. If you can’t rent it then buy it and resell it. There are multiple sites dedicated to reselling wedding items but you can also use Craigslist or Freecycle. If you don’t need the money then donate. You can also do this with flowers by donating them to a local nursing home or letting your guests take them home.
- Give the leftovers to your guests. Did you make too much food? Pack it up and send it off with the relatives. I don’t think this is tacky at all because I would do the same thing at a party. Offer to everyone but only give to those who agree. Don’t force people to take stuff home if they don’t want it. This also goes for decor. Send them home with the flowers, vase and all if you want, to avoid taking home 20 arrangements (or 6). Balloons, streamers, lights, table cloths, basically anything you did not rent or borrow and do not want to keep. Try this first and then donate or resell/recycle the rest.
- Use less stuff, especially decor. Do you love the look of a single daisy in a glass bottle? Make that your centerpiece. You don’t need a dozen different types of decorations when three or four will do. The most minimalist design I would imagine looking good is a great venue with simple centerpieces (see daisy idea) on rustic tables or over table cloths. Maybe something hanging from the ceiling like lights or garland. That’s it. No giant swaths of fabric or elaborate tablescapes with disposable items. If you don’t like flowers, skip them all together! This is becoming a more popular idea and some people make reusable flowers or recyclable ones instead. Removing flowers from your wedding cuts down on pollution (from transportation), water, and general waste (the wrappers around the flowers, floral tape, those food packets, the vases). However, as I said, I love flowers but I would take away other elements to focus on that and get them local/organic when possible and use as few as I feel happy with. The venue will help.
- Skip the favors or chose wisely. I hate the idea of favors. The guests came to your wedding and the free food (and booze maybe) is the gift they get. I don’t give gifts to dinner guests besides food and good company. But if you really want to give favors I suggest spreading your eco-friendly attitude. Give away baby trees (seedlings) or seed bookmarks. Donate to charity in their names (or instead of asking for wedding gifts ask that they donate). Food is also a good choice. I went to a wedding last year that had specially made chocolates (no wrapper) as a part of the centerpieces and I ate like three. If you seat 10 people to a table then you can arrange 10 little items as the centerpiece and ask them to take them as they leave (e.g. little succulents).
- Have separate bins for recycle, compost, and garbage. Make sure to label these clearly like they do at most stores and list what can and cannot go in each. This is a really simple way to cut back on waste and if you use real plates etc. it’s possible to have no waste. That is assuming you have access to a compost heap or facility. Also, if you chose compostable plates or other items make sure your facility can take them otherwise they’ll have to go to the landfill (I know, it’s kind of a flawed system).
Do you have any tips or ideas for an eco-friendly or minimalist wedding? Have you been to one? What was your favorite part? I highly suggest using Pinterest to look up “minimalist wedding ideas”.