31 Comments

  1. I feel the same way. In fact, I was so bothered by the clutter-to-curb aspect of minimalism and decluttering, that my friend and I started an enviro-conscious decluttering business! (decluttergreen.com for those wanting to know more) We did a lot of research and found local places that will recycle scrap metal, electronics and even damaged clothes! These resources are local so they won’t help you, but you should be able to find places in your area that will take these type of items too. It does take more time and work to declutter and not create waste though.

    • I am so intrigued, Jody! Come to the Chicagoland area, ok? But seriously, make props for studying trends and figuring out how to problem solve. I can’t wait to follow your company’s growth.

  2. Oooh, this is a toughie. I think the key is to not re-fill the newly emptied spaces in my house with more crap. Whenever I buy an item, I visualize where I’ll store it in my house, as well as how often I’ll actually use it.

  3. Hey, Penny. Our secret to owning less is twofold. First, we don’t buy much stuff anymore. We may go clothes shopping once a year. If we buy a book, it’s the digital version. You get the idea. And when we don’t want something any longer, we give it away or throw it in the garbage. Last week, for example, we put two lamps by the curb. They were gone before lunch. My guess is that our “give away” strategy works 75% of the time. Twenty-five percent of the time, however, our no-longer-wanted stuff ends up in the landfill. I can’t give away or re-purpose my ratty sneakers. Thanks for the thoughtful read, Penny. Great way to start my week.

    • Thanks for always stopping by the blog, Mr G. I love giving things to my curb! 😉 In my next life, I’m going to find a way to follow the scrappers in my neighborhood. I’m always so intrigued by what they salvage. I truly admire the tenacity and creativity!

  4. This is definitely a worthwhile issue to debate, but unfortunately there’s no clear right or wrong. My partner has recently gone on a minimalism kick. Her philosophy so far has been to donate to Value Village all the clothes/boots/etc. that she no longer LOVES. All the half-full bottles of nail polish, make-up, etc. she keeps and uses until it’s all gone. We do use a few old hole-y or pairless socks to dust off shelves and stuff. Once they usually get gross (after one or two times) and saturated with the cleaning spray, we throw them out. My partner also has been going through all her CDs and DVDs that she never uses. We live in an apartment building and our neighbours on our floor tend to leave things that are free to take on this little nook in front of the elevator. She’s been putting her CDs and DVDs there and they’ve been gone within a day. She’s also looked into recycling depots in the city for electronics. All in all, she hasn’t actually thrown that much stuff into the trash, which is great. It just takes more effort to make some trips to Value Village/recycling depots and the other locations, in order to minimize your environmental footprint.

    • That’s terrific, Jen! I did recently read an article about Goodwill being oversaturated with donations. That gave me pause. We use a charity that also has a program that turns items they can’t/won’t sell into rags. They actually sell them to another company and keep the proceeds. That makes me feel pretty good about sending them my cast-offs! I will definitely have to borrow some of your girlfriend’s pages from her playbook. She sounds very resourceful!

  5. Sarah

    I would agree with you that the mass-decluttering is wasteful and probably damaging to the environment, but you can’t change the past and un-buy the things, so you have to figure out something to do about it so you’re not living in chaos. If you’re sure you won’t use the nail polish or outdated lipsticks, just do the next best thing with them. If that’s recycling, then do that. Because honestly, what’s the alternative? You continue to not use them, so they sit there and get more expired, and then you throw them away later? That’s not beneficial either. I can see the problem when people get rid of too much all at once so there’s no way they took the time to sort for recycling or donations, they just trashed it all to get it done with, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what you’re doing so you have my permission to feel less guilty 🙂

    • I will try to feel less guilty! I think that’s where I’m at right now. I have a handful of things in a bunch of places that I keep feeling guilty about tossing but honestly can’t come up with another solution for. Hopefully, inspiration will strike!

  6. I think there are things you can repurpose, and things you can’t, and you just have to live with tossing them. (although wornout cotton t-shirts and pajamas make awesome cleaning rags.) And, as others have said, don’t buy new stuff to fill the spaces.

    I’d also say toss the forgotten nail polish before HP decides it’s finger paint. (yep, real thing that happens…you should see the concrete on our patio.)

  7. kddomingue

    Uh huh, the guilt….. it’ll get you every time. There are times that I feel like I’m walking around with two scarlet Cs emblazoned upon my chest for all to see…..
    Conspicuous Consumption. Those times generally occur after I’ve decluttered or tied up two bags full of trash. Sigh. But, when you stop to think about it, humans are consumers by nature. We consume air, water, food. We consume the Earth’s resources to have shelter and to cover our vulnerable nakedness. Personally, I’m not willing to go back to wandering naked across the face of the earth, eating berries, roots and nuts and sleeping under a pile of leaves to stay warm so I can get those two scarlet Cs off of my chest. I like living in a house, wearing clothes and shoes and eating cooked food…..and you can pry my Instant Pot out of my cold, dead hands. But I want to be eco conscious and responsible in my…..ummmm….. consuming. That’s a tricky balancing act and I certainly haven’t mastered the art of it yet. I’ve read about the Minimalists challenge and it would have worked for me only at the very beginning of my decluttering journey when there were hundreds of unused and unloved things cluttering our household. Actually, that was made easy by two severe hurricanes that struck to either side of us within a couple of months of each other one year. We had too much and others had lost everything they owned. Furniture, clothes, linens, pots/pans, dish and glassware, small appliances, books, backpacks went flying out of the house and into the truck again and again with very little hemming and hawing on anyone’s part. It’s much harder at this stage of the game because so much of the actual excess is gone. So, I do a little at a time. I have a box that I put things in during the week and bring it to Goodwill on Friday. No set number of things, just whatever is in the box at the end of the week. I say “mea culpa” as I throw away what can’t be donated, that’s worn out, that can’t be repurposed, the bottle with a few drops left in it. And I bring less and less into the house. It’s a much slower process than the Minimalists challenge is but suits were we are in our journey much better.

    • I need to go the mea culpa route and be done with it. No sense in beating myself up over it! I really like your process. It sounds like it would work better for me than this game (though I’m going to try to stick it out until the end of the month!).

  8. About 15 months ago, I took a band aid approach towards decluttering using the “Magical Art of Tidying Up Method” or whatever it is called.

    I don’t talk to my socks, and I have to say that my house is not magazine worthy, but we’ve done a great job on keeping our stuff to optimal levels now that we’ve gotten rid of a bunch of it. I’m much more cognizant of giving things away as soon as the useful life is done.

    I also embraced the idea that the optimal level of waste isn’t zero. I don’t feel guilty throwing things away, even if someone, somewhere could possibly use it. If my rag bag is full, then old socks get thrown out. If the t-shirt is embarrassingly distressed, and I don’t need a new rag, it goes into the trash.

    PS- Nail polish can be given to your students

  9. You make a very good point about the environment, but I’m still at the point in my decluttering (let’s call it the beginning, because I don’t do it often enough to get past that point) where things can be sold, given away, or recycled in some way. I think once you get down to the items that don’t fit any of those categories, you need to throw stuff away, because as Sarah said, you can’t just change the past and in-buy the things. You can avoid buying them again, and you can help educate others, as you do with posts like this. And that’s just the best you can do.

  10. Step One: Stop feeling guilty for trying to be better. It’s hard enough as it is. Do what needs to be done and don’t look back. We spend too much time analyzing our motives and methods and not enough time on the porch with a glass of wine.

    Step Two: Never hesitate to refill the wine. Despite what anyone else might say (including the naysaying little voice in your head), a good day’s purging requires celebration.

    Step Three: Keep repeating the first two steps until you can fit your belongings in the back seat of the sports car you bought with the money you’ve saved by not buying more crap to replace the crap you threw or gave away.

    • Oldster, you’re a genius! I very much look forward to your best-selling decluttering book when it comes out. The Life Changing Magic of Fitting All Your Crap in Your Sports Car has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

  11. Morgen

    I’ll go with: If it’s trash when it leaves your house, it’s trash IN your house. If you are unable to pass it on, to give it away, to recycle, to upcycle, etc then it’s just garbage. Now, you can stockpile garbage but that doesn’t keep it from still BEING garbage.

    🙂

  12. Oh man – if you want to go down the rabbit hole on minimizing garbage, you should check out Zero Waste Home (zerowastehome.com). We’re still a long ways from their level, but have made a huge impact. We downsized from the big garbage bins (96 gallons) to the little ones (31 gallons) and usually don’t have much of an issue. Once our twins are done with overnight pull-ups, we’ll be doing even better. It’s been a slow progression getting here over the last few years, but totally worth it.

    As far as the stuff you already own, I’m with Morgen on this. The damage was done when you purchased it – not now. If someone can reasonably use it, it’s worth a shot. I’ve had pretty good success with freecycle.org if you’re not concerned about getting any money back. You’d be amazed what people will take on there. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find a home for all your half-used bottles of nail polish!

    Also, give yourself grace. We’ve taken the approach that we’re happy if we’re doing better this year than the year before. We’ll probably never get perfection, but we can do pretty well!

    • I read that book two summers ago before I started my blog! We do some green things like compost and grow/regrow veggies. But holy cats…only one little jar of trash a year. Wowza! Thanks for all of the motivation and support, Chris!

  13. Over the weekend, our 12 year old leather recliner bit the dust. The reclining ‘mechanics’ were starting to grind pretty badly, finally there was a snap, and that was it. A guy without is recliner. 5 or 10 years ago, I would have grieved some, then convinced myself I needed a new one. I’m sure it would have been replaced within a week. Instead, it was by the curb within 30 minutes, and I pulled the ottoman up to my non-reclining chair, without another thought.

    Someone driving past the house picked up the recliner overnight. Landfill avoided, and I won’t bother adding to the waste by buying a new one anytime soon. It felt good! : )

  14. I’m not sure about getting rid of it all. Not that my house is a mess full of stuff. Really though I’ve learned over the years to really think twice before I get rid of something. It never fails when I do get rid of something my husband will need that very thing next week. Those looks have kept me from throwing things away many times.

    Even old clothes I put them in the garage for rags. They come in so handy even when I’m out there.

    • That is my fear, too! We do love to turn our old clothes into rags. But our “rag bag” is currently overflowing. It seems wasteful to just toss things, though.

  15. I also struggle with minimalism for many of the same reasons. I’ve tried in the past to eliminate stuff I don’t use that often but the amount of garbage it creates absolutely makes me feel guilty about it. Instead I’ve been focusing more on not anymore things and donating/repurposing what I already own. It will never be a perfect system but I’m willing to admit that I’ll never be a proper minimalist.

    • I’m right there with you, Sarah. We’re working really hard to stop the flow of baby items. We were given so many newborn outfits that I’ve started exchanging them for the same prints in larger sizes. That way (hopefully!) people will see I liked their gift but we actually get things we need. And I’m also guiltily returning things. But I don’t want him to grow up with the clutter I have!

  16. jb

    I would not call myself a minimalist but i definitely decluttering and getting rid of things i dont need. But i am with you, I hate the environmental damage of just throwing things away.

    i agree with others that these things are already in your house and its too late. the best thing you can do is take this eco-conscious/minimalist thinking and apply it to your shopping. I try to do the usual things – wait a few days on big purchases, think through if i can reuse something in the house rather than buy new, try to find an item at the goodwill / thrift stores / freecycle before buying new. It definitely helps. I also tell myself, the less I have in my house and the less I buy, the less i have to clean up around every week. That last one definitely helps! Who wants to dust a bunch of junk they dont care about??

    I do a few things to try and find items another home, and if it doesnt work, then they go to goodwill or landfill.
    – others mentioned freecycle – this is usually my first stop, and its really easy
    – some places recycle torn / unuseable clothes – north face stores will take any shoes or clothing and they recycle them. https://www.thenorthface.com/about-us/responsibility/product/clothes-the-loop.html
    – homeless shelters will take some things – i have given them used outdoor gear, winter coats, etc.

    I always reach a similar point as others, and when i am decluttering i want these things out of my house RIGHT NOW. I keep a garbage bag for clothes i want to get rid of in my closet, but when i am decluttering other things, i try the sources above for a couple of days, and then I immediately put these things in my car for goodwill or in a garbage bag.

    We have to do what we can – but keeping a house full of junk doesnt help the environment either.

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