It’s that time of year again, when we realize we may have overdone it and are faced with holiday debt and even more stuff. Decluttering becomes a main topic of conversation in January for a reason – it is now part of the buying cycle. Instead, let’s shut off the consumerism tap and be mindful of the water we are using, so to speak. The metaphorical sink is overflowing and there is simply too much stuff.
When we have already begun to reduce our waste and change our buying habits, decluttering might seem especially overwhelming. There is a disturbing use of the words “trash” and “toss” and “discard” and “get rid of” among minimalism experts with little to no discussion about what this actually means. This is a lost opportunity for a mainstream discussion about the full life cycle of products and how to responsibly let go of items we are no longer using.
The first step in reducing clutter is to stop buying things we do not need, but what about the *stuff* we already have?
It might feel good in the moment to purge, but pause instead.
Donation centres are completely overwhelmed with cheaply made goods that cannot possibly all be resold. We donate with the best intentions, but it also makes us feel good about buying more, and so the cycle continues. Facing up to your things in a more mindful way of letting go is likely to have an effect on your consumption habits in the first place. Taking the time to responsibly “discard” your items gives you a sense of ownership throughout the item’s life, making you more conscious about the life cycle of items you are considering purchasing in the future.
It takes more time this way, but that is the point.
Instead of passively discarding your items in a big donation dump, I urge you to consider *actively* giving them away where appropriate. This might look like:
Offer to Your Network
Post items you no longer want on your social media channels for friends and family to claim, or list for free on places like Buy Nothing groups, FB Marketplace, FreeCycle, or local selling apps. This is much more effective than leaving things out at the curb or the donation centre with a wish and prayer. I always add the line “I would love this to stay in use and out of the landfill” as a way to make my intentions known.
Trade items with family members or friends. I recently swapped a collection of amber bottles with a friend for a shave soap and box of cornstarch she wasn’t using. Look into “stuff” swaps in your area, or host your own clothing swap. Apps like BUNZ are also based on trading items and strengthen the circular economy of goods by redistributing resources and connecting you with people in your community.
We all have clothing we are not wearing. Buying fewer items (of better quality) is one part of the solution, but making the most of what already exists is another. Have you ever considered swapping clothing with your friends?
Have you seen the meme that says something like “All that clutter used to be money?” It could be again, but be honest about what items are reasonably worth. The number of platforms for the resale market is expanding, which is awesome! Resale is great for furniture, collectibles, appliances, and designer/high end clothing. The time it may take to sell items this way is time to reflect on future purchases.
While sorting through your things, you might stumble on something you could use again in a new way. For example, an old lingerie bag makes a great produce bag. Search on Pinterest for ways to upcycle your interesting items. The line between saving and hoarding usable items is razor thin, but such is the push and pull between zero waste and minimalism.
Donation is still an option for many items, but be intentional about it going where it is needed and likely to be used. Research local organizations and be sure to call first to arrange your donation. Here are some options for specific items:
- Tools – donate to a local tool library or high school wood shop.
- Sporting Equipment – check with local organizations to see if they do an “exchange” program or similar. For example, our youth soccer club as an area where you can exchange cleats for free.
- Construction Materials – consider donating to Habitat for Humanity (or their ReStore chain) or a similar organization in your area.
- Linens – animal shelters accept bed linens and towels, but please call first.
- Clothing – shelters, food pantries, resettlement or employment non-profit organizations may be in need of specific items for their clients.
- Book and Magazines – inquire at the public library, local schools, hospitals, or retirement homes.
- Art and Craft Supplies – call your local schools or childcare centres.
- Toiletries – food pantries, churches or mosques, or shelters may be in need of unopened personal care products.
- Food – Food pantries, shelters, and other non-profit organizations may accept your extra food items. Call ahead and check your items carefully to meet their requirements.
Some items will not have another use (old school notes, anyone?) and should be discarded responsibly. Always check with the rules of your municipality first before an item hits the blue bin.
Some items are destined for landfill, no matter how hard we try. Be sure to dispose of items appropriately by checking with your municipality (or an app like Recycle Coach) about proper disposal. Items like old paint, batteries, light bulbs, cooking oil, etc may need to be taken to a special drop off location for proper handling. Let your friends and family know your intended drop off day and offer to take theirs as well.
As you begin to live with less, you gain clarity on what you truly need. Be as mindful of how you remove objects from your life as what you are bringing in. Going slowly and with intention will bring purpose to both your unwanted objects and your newfound space.
For more information and inspiration on sustainable decluttering, check your local library for the book New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici. I loved this book!