Ahhh, the sins of our past hoarding and impulse purchases have haunted us for years. And now that minimalism and Marie Kondo have come around the block again bringing a declutter craze with her new Netflix Special, take a second and pause.
Though I’m excited for everyone who finds value in it, it is likely resulting in a whole lot of STUFF potentially heading for a landfill.
Now, before you exclaim “I WILL DONATE THEM!”, pause again.
Charities around the world are overwhelmed and burdened with item donations, and often treated as a convenient dumping ground. The rise of fast fashion, fast furniture, fast everything in our ramped up consumption culture have caused charities to spend millions of dollarson dealing with well-intentioned but unusable item donations.
No, the clutter shouldn’t stay in your homes. No, this green chick isn’t going to tell you to upcycle everything and reuse them.
As someone who has been pursuing minimalism herself for the past year (The Minimalists are my jam) , I am all on board pursuing a clutter-free life.
But before we start lugging garbage bags of stuff out for the trash collector in our enthusiastic attempts to get the clutter out of our lives, here’s how to declutter in a more eco-friendly way.
Rehome The Items
Stuff that doesn’t serve us anymore can always serve someone else. But don’t just mass dump everything on a charity.
The dumping problem on charities has escalated as underfunded charities struggle under the mountain of the modern excesses of consumerism. It leaches a lot of resources with not much gain; not only do charity shops have to sort through everything, they will only be able to sell or rehome a small fraction of it.
Here are some of the ways you can give your items a second life, in a more targetted manner. Some may work better for you depending on the resources available in your area.
Buy Nothing Project Facebook Groups
A Buy Nothing group, and similar offshoots, is exactly what it sounds like, a group where people buy nothing, give freely and share creatively.
Have something you no longer need? Give it away on a Buy Nothing Project, and someone interested can come and take it off your hands.
It could be anything; an extra set of cutlery, your old Taekwando uniform from high school, a collection of CDs, clothing, knick knacks from a hobby you’ve lost interest in, the possibilities are endless.
The group allows you to find someone who needs or wants to repurpose the item you no longer want. It also relieves the burden off charities.
Your stuff gets reused, often by people that live near you and they avoid having to buy a new item. This saves a lot of carbon miles that may be incurred by recycling or donating to a charity that may transport it longer distances .
Note: your stuff may not always get a response of interest. These groups can sometimes be over saturated with the same items (everyone has mugs they want to get rid off) or the item may not be substantial enough for the effort it takes to pick it up. Don’t worry, if they’re not snapped up here, there are still alternatives to it being reused.
Swap Your Unwanted Clothing
Turn your ‘trash’ into treasure. Clothing that still look great but may no longer fit you well can be brought to a clothing swap, where you’ll be able to swap your unwanted clothing with others.
Check out your local resources and Facebook Groups. In the Klang Valley, the popular ones are Style Swap and The Swap Project. It is very rewarding to see someone else getting value out of your unwanted items.
Bonus, I’ve scored most of my ‘new’ wardrobe in the past year by swapping, either with friends or strangers. I have even held my own swap parties (easier than you think and really fun! I’ll write about it soon).
If you are afraid of introducing new clutter into your home by bringing home MORE clothing from a swap (a valid fear, I assure you), go with the intention of just giving away clothing.
If you do bring home clothing, set a rule for yourself. For example; for every 10 pieces I give out, I can choose one piece for myself. Surprisingly, the restraint I often see people exercise in a clothing swap is a lot greater than if we were to outright purchase clothing with cash.
Specific and Targeted Donations To Charity
There could still be a use for your items, even if they aren’t snatched up on the Buy Nothing groups. A better way of making sure they are reused is to do targeted donations rather than a wholesale donation to a charity. Some examples are :
- Clothing donations to refugees or the underprivileged
Keep clothing donations to shirts, pants and sensible shoes in good condition. Children’s clothing are also very donation-friendly and have a high demand. Do not include soiled or torn clothing and remove any clothing that would not be useful to someone in need i.e. that crop top you wore to a festival or a pair of very short shorts.
- Books And Toys
Donate your old spectacles / prescription glasses to charities that work with providing underprivileged communities in developing countries with the gift of sight. The Hive Bulk Foods does a collection for the underprivileged community in Myanmar.
- Old and outdated electronics
The outdated electronics and media that we’ve grown out off may not serve anyone else again. For electronics, I try and gift them immediately after I upgrade so that they still have ‘relevance’ and use to someone else. The longer your old phone sits in your drawer, the less likely it’ll see a second life and will have to head straight for recycling. Donate them to charities that are equipped to handle them, like the Tzu Chi Foundation Malaysia . They direct it to the needy or if it is not salvageable, the proceeds for selling the recycling will contribute to their charity work.
For original and rare cassettes, vinyls, DVDs, Bluerays etc. try gifting it on your local Buy Nothing Project first.
Wholesale Donations To Charity
If you feel any of your items do not fit in any of the above categories but may still be of value and use to someone else, make a wholesale donation to a charity.
Tzu Chi has a large number of volunteers who are well trained to deal with donations. Use your judgement and edit, edit, edit the pile before sending it to them.
If it can’t be rehomed, RECYCLE it
So we’ll have to accept the fact that not everything will find a new owner. Here are some categories that you should be recycling
- Paper, plastic, metal, and glass
- E-waste – Old, broken or outdated electronics, accessories (remotes, batteries, cables, powerbanks) and media (CDs, DVDs, X-Rays, Film, etc.)
E-waste is one item should never go into the trash because of the rare and finite minerals in them that need to be recovered (minerals in e-waste discarded in 2016 were worth $65 billion) so that we can reduce the harmful mining that is required to extract them from the earth. I like donating mine to UrbanR Recycle+ who try their best to salvage and fix anything that may still be usable and recycle the rest.
- Soiled, torn or unusable clothing
The clothing and textile scraps that are not fit for donations can be sent for recycling. Kloth Recycling has several convenient pickup points such as The Hive Bulk Foods and Free Tree Society. As an alternative, you can also donate cloth for recycling at all H&M stores.
And our last resort, the Landfill.
If it can’t be rehomed, donated for reuse, recycled, it’s destined for the landfill.
Zero waste living encourages the act of REFUSING before all others because REUSE and RECYCLE only delays an item’s imminent last destination – becoming trash. You can only rehome, reuse, or recycle an item a finite number of times before it is unrecoverable, and most items don’t get past that single use.
If your heart hurts as well while you are decluttering, the positive side of it is that it serves as a lesson for us to be more conscious consumers so we do not unnecessarily create “things” that would eventually end up in a landfill.
Marie Kondo shows us the “How-To” in a brilliant and entirely achievable way to an organised life. But if we don’t review the habits that led us to a life of clutter, the clutter creeps back in again.
Buy less, or you may find yourself back at the start not knowing how you got there.
For the “Why To” in journeying towards a life of meaning and how to keep the unnecessary clutter out of all aspects of life , I would highly recommend to check out The Minimalists, Joshua Becker, and many others.
Good luck in your journey of achieving a clutter-free life!