Has decluttering been on your to-do list for weeks… months… maybe years? But it’s like every time you try to sort through your things, your eco-friendly values kick in and conflict with your urge to purge? Or maybe you’re no stranger to the phrase “But I don’t want it to go to waste!” and you know you want to declutter sustainably.
Then stick with me, my friend. I’ll show you the four steps to decluttering without waste… and with less guilt.
I hear ya – I also want to live in a calm, tidy home that doesn’t look like Mick Jagger just threw a raging party. But I also want to divert as much stuff from the landfill (and the oceans!) as possible.
The desire to declutter without making waste can be oh-so-strong, but it can be tough to know where to start. So if you’re wondering how the heck to declutter without feeling overwhelmed by guilt, I gotchu. In this post I’ll show you how to forgive your past decisions, change your future habits, and take charge of your clutter by re-homing them in a sustainable way. Each step is super important to help you declutter responsibly and – this is a biggie – get lasting results.
Pssst – want a free workbook to help you get started with your decluttering? Grab it here:
STEP ONE: MAKE PEACE WITH THE PAST
I see you, friend – you’re compassionate AF, and you want to do what’s right for the earth. So it totally makes sense why you might feel some “eco guilt” in getting rid of your stuff. But here’s the thing: that guilt isn’t going to serve you, even when you declutter sustainably.
It’s time to forgive yourself for decisions made before you knew better. Heck, forgive yourself for the crap you bought even after you knew better.
This is no place for perfectionism or shame – because if you’re anything like me, both of those mentalities will just make you want to procrastinate decluttering and binge-watch Netflix instead. (#BeenThere) Or those feelings of shame might drive you to seek comfort using old coping mechanisms (*cough* retail therapy, anyone?).
If you have an item you’d like to get rid of, but fear that it’s wasteful, here’s what I want ya to do:
- Reflect on why you got the item in the first place, and why it isn’t being used now. Focus on the facts, here, and remember that you’re not a bad person (or a bad environmentalist, or a bad declutterer) for having this item.
- Acknowledge the guilt or sadness or shame or whatever you’re feeling about getting rid of the object. Really feel them. Write them down, scream them into a pillow, cry about them while listening to a long-lost Backstreet Boys ballad. (I won’t judge… much.)
- Look for the learning experience. In all mistakes there are lessons to be learned… or something corny like that. If nothing else, this item taught you a little bit more about who you are (and who you’re not), and that’s actually pretty cool.
STEP TWO: FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
Sweet, you’ve started to make peace with past clutter! Now what? Many folks jump straight to sorting through their shit, but they’re skipping a seriously crucial step. And it’s going to be basically impossible to declutter sustainably without learning how to stay clutter-free.
For your results to stick, you have to change your accumulation habits. There’s no point spending all that time and energy decluttering, only to re-clutter your home again. I mean, if a sink were overflowing, you’d want to turn off the tap before mopping up the water, amirite?
If your clutter is mostly non-donateable, non-recyclable stuff, you may want to brainstorm some less wasteful versions of those things in your community. Otherwise, while shopping in the future, you can ask yourself:
- Do I really even need it?
- Do I already own something similar, or something that could do the trick?
- Can I borrow/rent/steal one (JOKES, guys, obviously stealing is terrible) instead of buying it?
One of the most sustainable things you can do is to buy less crap in general – especially new stuff, and especially stuff you don’t need. This shit is the real key to living a clutter-free and eco-friendly life.
STEP THREE: PRETTY IT UP
Want to know a secret for re-homing your things while you declutter sustainably? You’ve got to pretty them up a bit. Here are a few actions you can take to make your item more desirable to its potential new owners:
Repair or mend it
Ugh, no one wants to buy something exciting and new and…broken. Take the time to fix it up – sew on that spare button, get the lamp re-wired, or tighten up the screws. Broken shit is way less likely to get picked up, so it’s worth it to show it a little TLC before saying “see ya never”!
Just like broken things, dusty or gross things are kind of… ick. So make it look its best by giving it a wipe down, a polish, or a scrub before sending it off.
Part with the whole set
Take good photos
Craft a detailed write-up
STEP FOUR: RE-HOME RESPONSIBLY
I know how appealing it can be to dump bags and boxes of stuff at big box thrift stores. The problem is that lots of the stuff we donate doesn’t actually make it onto the shelves. *Insert Homer Simpson’s “D’OH!” here.* According to CBC, only 25% of clothing donations actually gets sold in stores. So it seems like despite the warm fuzzy feeling we get with donating our stuff, there’s a very good chance it’ll end up in the landfill anyway.
We want to be sure that our items are going to find their way into the hands of someone who will value them. So here are some tips for how to declutter your stuff without throwing it away or donating it to a thrift store!
This might involve selling it to a person or a consignment shop, but selling items is one of my favourite ways to declutter – for a few reasons. First, it means more money in your pocket to put toward your financial goals. Second, if the future owner pays for it, it actually helps them value the item more (and likely take better care of it). And third, if you set an expectation that anything you bring into your life, you’ll have to sell one you’re done with it… well, you might think long and hard next time before bringing any new clutter into your home.
Trade or barter it
There are a number of apps and Facebook groups these days for trading or bartering unwanted stuff. I’ve used Bunz and a couple of others to trade my clutter for things I can use: transit tickets, pantry items, bags of coffee… I once even traded a bunch of old wine corks (someone wanted them for wedding decor) for a new bottle of wine. Basically, you can exchange your clutter for consumables you would buy anyway, and IT ROCKS.
Donate to a shelter
This is one of my favourite ways to re-home items, but PLEASE always call ahead to ask what items they need. For example, some animal shelters and wild animal sanctuaries will gladly accept your stained, torn, or otherwise non-donate-able bedding and towels. And there’s a women’s shelter in my area that was looking for coats and space heaters recently. But it’s not fair to saddle them with your old stuff if they don’t explicitly need it.
Donate to your community
It often just takes a quick Google search to find creative places in your community that might have a need for your stuff. Old magazines can go to little free libraries. Tools and construction supplies might find new life at high school woodshops, or the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Tote bags and elastic bands might be super useful at your local farmers market. Some independent cafes in my area even accept mismatched mugs to use for their “for here” coffee drinkers. A little research can go a long way in helping you find sustainable ways to declutter!
Freecycle or “Buy Nothing” it
This is a great way to pay it forward in your community. Cut out the thrift store middle-man, and offer up your stuff to people nearby who might need it! And be sure to implement the tips from Step 3 before you post. 😉
Like freecycling, curbing (or kerbing, if you’re British) your items can be a great way to get your belongings into the hands of someone who can use them – without having to donate to a thrift store. The downside is that people may not be looking for that specific item, and might pick it up “just in case” or just because it’s there – so I prefer freecycle, where it’s more likely to end up in the hands of someone who is already looking for it.
This option is great for things that can’t be or otherwise used. But overall, this is actually my least favourite option – and I’ll tell you why. I’m not immune to keeping things for years, with brilliant plans of finding a use for them or “upcycling” them… one day. So if you know you’re the kind of person who will likely never actually get around to that repurposing project (and that’s okay!), then this ain’t the option for you. But if you can transform something (like make a planter out of a chipped teacup or cracked rubber boot) today – like RIGHT NOW – then this could be an awesome solution for ya.
It took time to acquire your stuff, so it’s natural that it may take time to let it go. Remember that in order to declutter sustainably it needs to be a lifestyle change, not a fad. And going too quickly can actually be detrimental to your decluttering success, especially if it leads to yo-yo decluttering.
I definitely recommend processing one category of stuff at a time, so that you can re-home the excess all in one go and not have to keep making trips for the same purpose. For instance, if you can, try decluttering all your magazines on the same day, rather than having to make like 27 different trips to the little free library.
I hope these tips help you declutter without waste, in a way that’s in line with your rockin’ sustainable values.