Image: Heather Ford & Brooke Lark on Unsplash
After what seemed to be the longest winter ever, the spring is finally rolling in. Feels good, doesn’t it? The days are longer and warmer, and everything seems to be waking up.
Spring is usually the moment when we think of decluttering. The season brings the sense of a fresh start, and Mari Kondo’s magic is again in the air. For about 78% of Americans, spring cleaning is an annual ritual. If you ever experienced the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment after a good clean-up, you’ll understand why.
Yet, before you throw everything out, you might want to consider the way you declutter. While getting rid of unnecessary things that clog your home can feel great, it is far from being good for the planet.
Ready to declutter sustainably? Then read on!
Every object, no matter how cheap or expensive, old or new, needs resources and labor to exist. As such, even if it doesn’t have any more use for you, it still deserves a chance.
Decluttering helps us be more organized, productive, and overall calmer. However, though clearing out your space (and mind) feels fantastic, an average American generates about 4.9 pounds of solid waste every day, out of which only about 32.1% can be recycled or composted. Adding extra waste to it is far from beneficial to the planet.
Think of it this way:
Every object, no matter how cheap or expensive, old or new, needs resources and labor to exist. As such, even if it doesn’t have any more use for you, it still deserves a chance. While we cannot always prevent things from ending up in landfill, your decluttering might be a chance for you to reduce our waste (instead of increasing it).
Decluttering sustainably is a practice of patience and mindfulness, so it will be slow. Don’t expect results overnight, or even over a single weekend. However, by sticking with it, you will likely be rewarded in making somebody else happy and maybe even in making some money along the way. PLUS you will still experience the same benefits of a clean home and mind.
One more thing before we go onto our tips. Sustainable decluttering doesn’t mean you need to overthink every single object. What you can do with an item will largely depend on where you live. The options we suggest in the rest of this article may not be available to you. Sometimes, it is simply not possible to give, sell or recycle things. In that case, don’t fret, but learn something from it. Below, we are giving you some tips and resources in the hope to make this easier for you.
1. Start small
It all starts with a good plan and organization. Attempting to clear out your whole house or apartment is not only ambitious but can be overwhelming and discouraging.
So start small. Start with a single room or even just a desk. Be realistic with the time you have and adjust your decluttering accordingly. For example, if you only have one afternoon free, you may want to limit yourself to tackling only your bedroom. Any place is a good place to start, as long as you can dedicate your time to it without any distractions. That means no calls or social media scrolling. If you live with other people, announce to them that you’ll need some alone time.
Now that you have done that, start separating the things you no longer wish to have in your life.
2. Repair or up-cycle it
Before discarding an item, see if you can repair it first. Often, we stop using something because it has a minor problem, like a hole in jeans or a broken zipper. Most of these things are easy to fix, with the tools you probably already own. If you’re not sure how to fix something, IFixit is a huge resource of repair tutorials and guides. Of course, you can always look for somebody else to fix your things for you.
Sometimes, we just need a little change. Instead of throwing away something, see if you can use it differently. For example, try repainting the furniture to give it a fresh look. Or try reusing things like teacups, bowls, or even metal cans as plant pots. To get some inspiration, we suggest turning to Pinterest, for nearly endless up-cycling and repurposing ideas.
3. Give it to someone directly
One of the most responsible things you can do with an item you don’t need anymore is to give it directly to someone. Be it a friend, family member, or a stranger, it is a good idea to find a person who actually needs and wants the item. This way, you can be sure that whatever you give will be used.
As with everything else, think local first. Maybe there’s a Facebook group or a website dedicated to donating or exchanging things in your area. You can also check out Freecycling.com (a fantastic resource with 5,000+ local groups and over 9 million members across the globe). Another place is BUNZ, an app for swapping items (though not popular everywhere).
4. Sell it
Is there anything better than earning some money for the items you don’t use anymore? We can barely think of anything.
The list of things you could sell is almost endless: from clothes and shoes to tools, books, and furniture. Keep in mind that you are more likely to sell a new or a barely used item. Not a bad way to get rid of the unwanted gifts that are just sitting on your shelves! Similar to the previous tip, selling is also a sustainable option as your items will end up with a person who will most likely use them. Let’s be honest, we are more likely to use something if we paid for it!
Many apps and websites make the process easy: all you need is your phone. Here are some places you can check out:
While the combination of earning money and getting rid of things in a responsible way sounds fantastic, it requires a good amount of patience. It often includes shipping the item, which can be a hassle on its own. Thus, if you don’t have the time for all of this, don’t worry. Use it when possible for you!
Image: Prudence Earl on Unsplash
You may wonder why donating isn’t higher on our list. While it may sound like a great thing to do, it is not always the most sustainable option, as you cannot control where your item will end up. Thus, there are some things to keep in mind.
You can donate your items to different places, from second-hand shops to shelters and non-profits. In any case, make sure that the item you are donating is in usable condition and clean. Donation boxes are not garbage boxes, so be sure someone would actually use what you’re giving up. Unfortunately, most of our donated clothes end up in the landfills because the processing facilities are overwhelmed with the amount they receive daily. So if you are giving them more clothes, try to give clothes they can sell or give to those in need.
If you are donating to a shelter (like women shelters, children homes, etc.) or an organization, it is good to contact the organization in advance. Check what they need and accept first. Perhaps they already have too many toys or clothes but they could use more food, books or hygiene items. Whatever it is, be respectful to both staff and the people using the shelter.
Speaking of shelters, animal shelters also often need donations. Many of them may need your old towels and sheets, even those with holes. So research those near you.
Finally, you can recycle things. We advise you to do this only if the items are beyond repair and use, since recycling of any material requires additional energy, and sometimes new resources. Still, it is much better than throwing things directly to waste. Many things can be separated into different components, which are then recycled individually (like paper, metal, and plastic).
Recycling options will largely depend on where you live. Some places have many options, while some accept limited items and quantities. You can always google recycling options near you, especially when it comes to things that are more complex to recycle. For example, for textiles, try googling: “Textile recycling + name of your city/town”.
Our best tip is to reach out to your local recycling center and check if they can take care of the things for you. Ask them what types of materials they accept, as well as if they can process things like electronics, textile, ceramic, wood, and anything else you may have. They will be your biggest source of information.
Apart from that, you can turn to some amazing companies that specialize in recycling particular items. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
Good luck in your efforts to declutter sustainably this spring! Do you have any tips we missed? Drop us a message or head over to our instagram to join the conversation.