Let’s talk eco-conscious decluttering. It is nearly springtime here in Australia and most of the East coast is in lockdown. With the warmer weather often comes spring cleaning and with time on our hands, decluttering might move up the to-do list.
Spring always feels like a fresh start and the urge to have a good clear-out often over me. Decluttering is usually a part of that. However, I like to try and do it in the most sustainable way possible.
Decluttering begins before the stuff comes in the house
Decluttering, actually, starts before I even buy the stuff. Employing the Waste Reducing Principles of REFUSE, REDUCE and REUSE helps to minimise the amount of stuff that comes into the house. Then, of course, it doesn’t have to exit the house at some point! Let’s talk, however, about the stuff we own that we no longer want.
I was a bit horrified watching the Netflix series with Marie Kondo and seeing bags of ‘stuff’ just bundled up as trash. I am, however, inspired by a professional organiser who is also a personal friend. Virginia from WellSorted Professional Organiser shares my environmental values. When working with her clients, she goes above and beyond to donate, rehome and recycle items discarded during her sessions. I’ve learnt a tonne from her.
We need to divert as much of our unwanted items from landfill as we can. Sure there is going to be some stuff that no one else wants but let’s look at some things we can do to declutter in a more environmentally responsible way. Here are my ideas for eco-conscious decluttering.
Repair & Refurbish
Perhaps there are items that you’d keep if only they were not broken or tired. Look at ways to repair and rejuvenate them. There are plenty of clothing repairs you can handle yourself. You might also embrace the art of kintsugi, the Japanese art of visible pottery mending. A new coat of paint on a piece of furniture might give it a new life.
For things you can’t repair yourself, such as electrical equipment, see if there is a local tradesperson or someone at your local repair cafe who can. Recently I helped out at a mending, upcycling and refashioning workshop. Not only were we able to repair some clothes, but I was also able to teach some of my skills to others. Look for something similar near you or ask in your local Facebook groups for someone with the skills to help.
Repurpose & Upcycle
Before you get rid of something consider if there it might have another purpose. Examples:
- Old, worn-out t-shirts make excellent cleaning cloths.
- You can also turn them into yarn to make into things like dish scrubbers.
- Turn old towels into ‘unpaper’ kitchen towels.
- Jars are great for storage.
- The larger ones are useful to transport your lunch.
- Use unwanted crockery (such as cups and bowls) and old candle stumps to make citronella candles for the garden.
- Torn sheets yield heaps of fabric for all sorts of projects such as bread collection bags and reusable gift bags.
Pinterest is a treasure trove of ideas. Or just Google “Upcycle item“.
Items that are in good-nick can be sold or given away, of course. Selling items on platforms like eBay and Gumtree is straightforward. I have been successful in getting rid of a lot of things this way and added a few dollars to our bank account at the same time. The hurdle, for me, with eBay at first was shipping fees. Australia Post actually makes it pretty easy to work out how much you’ll be charged if you can weigh the item and estimate the size of the shipping materials. Plus eBay now has a built-in function for buying and downloading shipping labels.
Gumtree tends to be more face-to-face which isn’t for everyone, however, I’ve had some lovely interactions with people and, no nasty experiences *touch wood*. It is also more of a bargaining environment but don’t let that put you off either. It is a great way to pass on things discarded during an eco-conscious decluttering session.
Of course, you can also give things away for free. Consider the direct approach before bundling up stuff to give to a charity shop. They are overwhelmed by the volume of material coming to them these days and a lot of it still ends up going to landfill. (If you do donate to a charity shop, please make sure things are clean and in working order.)
Offer things to family, friends and neighbours in the first instance or join a group such as your local Buy Nothing group and offer things there. Baby goods and toys get snapped up instantly! I’ve been amazed by the things that people will put their hands up for – from craft bits and pieces to large furniture items.
Something to Consider: Sell or give things away before they are out-of-date. There is no point having something discarded in your garage if someone else could be using it, only to get rid of it when it is past its useful life. Things like electronics will lose their value over time.
There are plenty of organisations that will take specific items from an eco-conscious declutter. Dress for Success collect and provide secondhand professional clothes to those in need for job interviews and the like. Animal shelters often need old towels and blankets. Givit is an organisation that match up people who need certain items with items people have to donate. Community food pantries may accept food items. Lifeline holds huge book fairs in a number of places and is always happy to receive donations of not just books but also magazines, sheet music, postcards, CDs, puzzles… to name a few.
You’ll need to dispose of things that can’t be used (by you or others). The first option, as always, is to look at if the item can be recycled. Our ACT Government has a resource called the Recyclopaedia which is a searchable platform to find recycling and disposal options for particular items. See if your local government has something similar. You might be surprised at what can be collected, by a government or private service, broken down and recycled. I discovered Soft Landing for mattress recycling a while ago and have since had them collect two mattresses.
My friend Virginia, the professional organiser mentioned above, and I have started to build a collaborative resource for recycling options. We’d love you to participate in building this resource. Add your favourite recycling options in your area.
Businesses will sometimes take back their products at the end of their life for recycling (something that I hope will increase in time). One example I can make is Sheridan. They will accept used Sheridan brand bedlinen and towels at the end of their life.
Stores like Officeworks collect various types of items for recycling, recently increasing their program to include used pens and markers. Not all stores offer it yet so check their website to see what and where you can recycle.
Many waste management facilities have a drop-off point for ‘usable’ junk and then different locations for various categories of materials. In the ACT, we can drop off timber, metal, e-Waste, oil, paint, fluorescent tubes… There are lots of ways to recycle things at the end of their life to recover valuable embodied resources. Let’s not lose them to landfill if at all possible.
So there you have it – my ideas for eco-conscious decluttering. By adopting the Waste Management Principles, I find we have less and less to declutter but I don’t think it will ever be a job that is ‘done’. Do you have any other ideas for ways to declutter sustainably? I’d love to hear them.