Today’s blog post is by Kate from Writer In Residence, sharing how to declutter sustainably. As much as I love a tidy and organised area, I have always been sceptical of how sustainable decluttering is. In this post, Kate shares these worries with solutions. On her blog, you can find short, conversational essays about navigating the writing life, minimalism and lifestyle.
‘Decluttering’ has become such a buzzword in recent years. Ever since Marie Kondo asked us all to question whether our belongings ‘sparked joy’, thousands of people have jumped on the craze of reducing their wardrobes and household junk in order to make space in their homes and their lives.
I am no stranger to this. I began with decluttering my wardrobe around 5 years ago. It ended with myself and my family downsizing to a lovely apartment after shedding around 80-90% of our stuff.
But although I can vouch for the freeing feeling decluttering your stuff can give you, there is also an increasing concern around the sustainability of resources on our planet. Not to mention, charity shops have had a huge influx of unwanted items donated to them. Often so much that they cannot cope with the sheer amount of stuff.
As I live close to a large University, I have seen the problems for students coming to the end of their semester and having to get rid of lots of items they no longer need. Bins begin to overflow, and having volunteered for a charity shop in the past, they often have to dispose of items when they can’t be sold.
A More Sustainable Solution
So, in an effort to make life easier, whether you are thinking of having a spring clean, or needing to clear out your student house. I have put together a few things I’ve learnt on my own decluttering journey.
Repurpose, Repair or Upcycle
One way to declutter sustainably is to repurpose, repair or upcycle. I am not what you’d call a handy person. The most I can do is sew on the odd button! But even I have been known to repurpose an item or two.
Take things like glass jars. I now clean out any food items which come in glass jars for refilling with dried goods, putting in leftovers for the fridge, or using them in my cupboards to hold other items. For example, hair bobbles or elastic bands. iPhone boxes make great containers for placing in desk drawers to keep stationery from rolling around.
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Other items such as old t-shirts make great cleaning cloths and socks can be good as dusters. I even use the plastic lids from my tin of coffee to put over canned food stored in the fridge! It sometimes just takes a bit of imagination to put something to good use rather than trashing it.
If you are handy or have somewhere local that you can take an item to consider getting it repaired. We have a local shop which will fix broken zips or mend clothes, also an electrical shop which often takes a broken item such as a vacuum and fixes it for a few quid. This way, everyone wins!
Finally, upcycling takes this idea to another level. I haven’t done this myself, but there are loads of good YouTube videos out there that talk you through projects. ‘The Simple Environmentalist’ is a good place to start, she also has loads of free/cheap ideas to live more sustainably by reusing what you have.
Selling Your Stuff
I know it can sometimes feel like a bit of a hassle, but something I had never thought of until somebody pointed it out to me was that if you sell something, even for a tiny amount of money, it is much more likely that the person buying it is going to have a use for it. Whereas just carting bin bags full of stuff to the charity shop means it may never sell.
There are lots of places you can sell things online, such as Gumtree, eBay, Depop, Vinted and Facebook MarketPlace. I have most often used Gumtree, because it attracted local people for larger items, such as bikes. I was happy to post out smaller items, such as handbags or clothes.
Related post: 8 reasons to choose second-hand
To give your items the best chance of being bought quickly, try to take a decent photograph and display them well. I wanted to get rid of items quickly so put them at a low price. But if you are seeing this as an opportunity to make more money, you might need to be patient for the right person to buy.
Giving It Away
If you really want to declutter quickly and sustainably, (particularly if you are moving out of a shared house soon) I have found that offering items for free have worked well. Try friends, family, neighbours, co-workers. WhatsApp groups are good for this, or even just use a site like Freecycle or Gumtree. I have given away a chair, a bike, a suitcase, a rug and a tumble dryer this way!
So if you’ve tried repurposing the item, and you’ve considered selling or giving it away, eventually you might have a lot of decluttered items to still get rid of.
Obviously, donating them is preferable to throwing them in the landfill, but try to be mindful of where might be best to direct your unwanted items. I used to be a volunteer sorter for a large charity shop, and they had quite strict rules on what could be sold on the shop floor or online. Ask in charity shops before donating to ensure your items will go to good use.
Any clothing that was stained, ripped, zips broken, dirty, or really dated (unless it was suitable for the ‘vintage’ range) had to be disposed of. The charity did have a facility whereby these ‘rags’ would be collected and some of them recycled. It could be worth asking your local shop if it’s worth donating them separately. But otherwise, these will have to be disposed of.
Things like old blankets and towels are often used by animal charities such as the RSPCA or smaller animal shelters. It could be worth checking this out if there’s one nearby.
If you have decent clothing that you no longer want, try to donate it in a clean state. It’s worth checking with the charity shop whether they accept certain items. For example, some can take electrical goods but many can’t. If you have items like sharp knives and cutlery, it is a good idea to wrap these up carefully and put a label on them.
Other ideas for places to donate items other than clothing are things like unopened, new toiletries. These are great for putting into foodbank collections. They often have collection bins in your local supermarket. If you’re moving out of a shared house, it might be worth checking your cupboards for any in date, non-perishable foods (such as tinned goods), which you can also drop off.
Doing Your Best
At some point in your decluttering, you will have to dispose of some items directly into the rubbish. This is going to be inevitable, and you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself about this. If you have done your best to re-home or re-purpose your items, and you have donated responsibly, you can go ahead and let go of the rest. Try not to overfill rubbish bins or leave items on the floor, because they often will not be collected or emptied.
Letting go of clutter does lift a weight off your shoulders. If we can all just be a bit more sustainable about it, then we can help ourselves to feel lighter at the same time as helping others and the planet!
Happy decluttering : )
Has this inspired you to declutter more sustainably?
Best wishes, Cx