How to declutter sustainably

It’s February 2020 as I write this, and I keep noticing that people are still working on kicking off the year well. Let’s face it, January is a bit of a ‘soft start’ month, but February is when the rubber really hits the road, right! A big part of that kick off and positive energy is decluttering your space/home and getting rid of things that no longer serve you. If you’re keen to declutter your life, I’d welcome you to join my simple 7 step declutter challenge, which I’ll share in the next blog post.

I’m a BIG fan of decluttering, but I have noticed in a range of videos and posts online where many people seem to throw most of the stuff they don’t want straight in the trash. I’m sure a lot of people do the right thing and sell, donate and recycle things behind the scenes. But if most of the declutter goes straight in the trash, this breaks my heart a little, because it’s both wasteful and irresponsible.

I know that in the past I have definitely thrown things in the trash that should probably not have gone there, and over the past few years I’ve promised myself to do my bit in reducing my footprint on this planet. My philosophy is that we are just as responsible for HOW and WHERE we get rid of things as we are for bringing those things into our life and home in the first place.

It can be frustrating, because most of us prefer things to happen instantly (once we have decided to declutter something, we want it done and out of our house ASAP). That’s why it can be so helpful to approach decluttering with a bit of a method to tackle one area or room at a time. This way we have time and space to do it properly and sell, donate and throw away anything that we no longer use. You may want to use a specific method (Konmari is a popular one), or you might be like me and prefer to tackle one physical area at a time, rather than going by category. In my next video and blog post I’ll share the 7 step declutter method I tend to use and welcome you to join me on the challenge if you’d like to!

First I wanted to cover a few very important ground rules before you get started on your sustainable decluttering:

  1. Have a ‘declutter zone’ for the things you’ll be clearing out
    With a dedicated space before you start, the declutter is a lot easier to manage. I can assure you that you’ll get a bit overwhelmed otherwise! A garage, storage room, corner of a spare room or similar is ideal if you have a lot to go through. I would recommend you don’t keep things (except the things you’re selling) for more than a week, otherwise you’ve just moved the clutter from one room to another. My partner and I have decluttered a lot over the past few years, so nowadays we normally just have a small bag or box in our closet where things go for donations and one shelf for things to sell.

  2. Think repurpose!
    Often when I have decluttered one area I find great use for a storage bin, container or lamp in another room. This is why you have your dedicated space to put the things in, sometimes it helps to take the item out of its first space to see how useful or pretty it could be somewhere else.

    Now a word of warning here if you like the idea of DIY projects and repurposing an object (like painting a picture frame or something). Only keep these things/projects if you know for 100% sure you’ll get around to doing them in the near future. Otherwise you’re just holding onto clutter and wishful thinking. Be honest with yourself and be OK with getting rid of things that you know you’ll never get to repurposing.

  3. Sell things that are in good condition!
    Selling things might take time, but you’d be surprised how much you can get for an item that you no longer use. I’ve had great success with Facebook marketplace, eBay, gumtree.com.au (or similar pages if you’re not in Australia) where people have collected the item same day and I’ve got some of the money back that I originally paid for the item (#winwin).
    This also goes for things you list for free collection (we did this with our old printer/scanner) to get someone to come and take something for free that you can’t sell.

    I’d recommend if you’ve got a lot of things to sell, only list 2-3 things at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself dealing with people asking questions about the item. Local buy/swap/sell Facebook groups or noticeboards can also be a good thing to check out to get rid of things that still have value.

  4. Give to friends and family.
    If you have clothes, makeup, shoes, toys, books, bedding, towels, movies, kitchenware or anything else you no longer need, it’s worth asking friends and family if there is anything they need. Often when I’ve moved countries, I have donated most of my old kitchen stuff, bedding etc to a friend setting up their place.

    If you have people in your life with hoarding tendencies, I would recommend to not give them anything, unless it’s to replace an item that is broken or no longer working. It’s not your responsibility to manage other people’s choices, but hoarding is a difficult pattern to break, and you can help a little by not bringing more stuff into their home.

    Please don’t just bring your stuff over and force people to take your old stuff if they have not asked for it, make sure to ask them first and don’t just dump your clutter onto someone else!

  5. Donate responsibly
    Once you’ve checked with people in your life, feel free to donate most of the remaining things. Remember to only donate clothes, furniture and other items to charity that are in good condition to be worn or used. Otherwise you’re creating unnecessary work for the charity shop to go through your old stained t-shirts and chipped kitchenware. You can always call your local charity before you head down there and double check what sort of donations they accept.

    Old socks can be recycled via organisations like this instead of going to landfill. Shops like H&M and Zara in Australia accept clothes in any condition to be recycled through them, instead of going to landfill. Old towels and blankets can often be donated to a local vet clinic or animal shelter. Some non expired food items (especially canned things) and hygiene products can be donated to local charities who support disadvantaged people in the community. Google is your friend here, so just look up what you can donate in your local area.

  6. Always recycle what you can
    Every city and country is different, but there are some things that should NEVER go in your garbage bin! Electronics, paint, old mattresses and batteries are things you can normally drop for free or a small cost at your local recycling centre. Your normal recycling like metal, paper/cardboard, glass and plastic can naturally be recycled in most places (just check the plastic packaging to see if it has a recycling symbol on it). Soft plastic/plastic bags usually need to be taken to designated spots for collection.

  7. Learn from what you have to throw away
    Some things that are broken, stained or expired products will need to be thrown out in the trash and that’s ok. If you’ve gone through the above steps, there should be far less trash than it could have been otherwise.

    Depending how much trash and recycling you accumulate through this challenge you might need to divide it up over a few weeks to fit in your bin. After a declutter it can be difficult to look at all the waste you find in your home, but use this as a learning for the future and don’t beat yourself up about it! By being honest with ourselves we can do better in the future.

Keen to get started? Keep an eye out for my 7 step declutter coming out soon!

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