Lessening the Environmental Toll of “Tidying Up”

As women who have all moved abroad at least once in our lifetime, each of us has experienced that act of tidying up on a full home scale. We have gone through the process of completely emptying our home, deciding which items were necessary or “brought joy” and which could be left behind. We have experienced the incredibly freeing feeling of releasing so much STUFF from our lives and starting out fresh in a new-clutter free home.

For me, it feels like the lack of clutter didn’t last long, either time we moved across the continent. We have been living back in Canada for a year and a half and as I look around our home we have accumulated SO MUCH stuff. As much as I’d like to place blame on us having a baby, or renovating the basement, or even the kindhearted family members who love to bring us gifts. It isn’t for any reason other than a lack of consciousness on my part. Part of me wants to “Marie Kondo” (yes- I’m using that as a verb) my whole house, yet again. However, the environmentally conscious part of me is cringing. I don’t want to create more waste.

I love the idea of living minimally, and it is something I am working hard towards. I truly believe we are happier with less, for many reasons. But my fear is that if we all go through our homes room by room with big black garbage bags (which I have done, many times) there will be millions of similar “declutter” garbage bags heading to landfill. So before I do yet another declutter of my home. I wanted to have a game plan of what I was going to do with the things I didn’t want to keep. So I began researching and racking my brain (and Clarrissa’s- fellow EARTHMAMA) for ideas we have used in the past. I have laid out the eco friendly solutions I found, as well as things to avoid.

Eco Conscious Decluttering ideas

I understand that intentionally organizing and then distributing your unwanted items to more eco friendly places than the dump will be more work. However, it makes me feel better and therefor I am willing to try! It’s a long list, but hopefully there are one or two things you may want to try out)…

Clothing

  • Clothing swap
    This is a fun one! It gives you an excuse to get together with friends, get rid of clothing items you no longer need and possibly leave with some new-to you-items. We (Natalie & Clarrissa) have hosted several of these! All you need to do is invite people to bring clothing/shoes/accessories they not longer fit or wear. Once everyone is in one place spread out the clothing and enjoy the company while you “shop” through and try on (if you’d like) the clothing others have brought. Hopefully you leave with a few new items and you have given the ones you weren’t wearing a new home. WIN- WIN
  • Local Buy & Sell Sites
    This is a bit of front end work as you need to take pictures and list your items but there are shortcuts. There are several options for where to post and it really depends where you live. Some examples we know of include: Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji, CraigsList. Depending how quickly you want the items gone and what they are worth you may want to consider listing them as FREE. Of course if you think you can get a bit of money for them, be our guest! Either way you are giving your clothes a new home.
    If you want to list the items individually you may get more of a response. However if you want to quickly find your clothes a new home, I often see clothing listed as a “lot”. So I could list a large pile of my clothing as a “women’s casual clothing lot size XYZ” or “women’s sun dresses sizes XYZ”, for example.

    There is also a non profit movement called FREECYCLE where you can list items and see wanted items in your area. Check it out.
  • Pass it along
    Do you have someone in mind that might like it/need it? It feels nice to give someone you love something. And as someone on the receiving end it’s nice to be thought of.
  • Donate to a Women’s Shelter
    Find out if there is a local shelter that is in need of clothing or other items. There are several places that take in women fleeing domestic abuse. They are often with children and likely only have a few items they can carry. Find one near you and see what they may need at this time. (If you are in the Edmonton area here is the link to items they are in need of).
  • Upcycle/Repurpose
    When you upcycle you reuse discarded objects/materials and create something new from them. Is there anything you can make this item into? Some quick ideas with clothing:
    • Cut up cotton clothing to make Kitchen “unpaper towels
    • Cut up old socks/boxer shorts for rags
    • Turn a t-shirt into a reusable bag (some sewing required)
    • If you like to craft you can sew baby/children’s clothing from unwanted/unwearable adult clothes (check out some of my ideas here)
    • If the fabric is colorful and can be cut into a rectangle or square, you can make reusable cloth gift wrapping

General Household Items

  • Local Buy & Sell Sites
    We addressed this above however clothing isn’t the only thing we can put on local sale sites. It is a bit of work as you need to take pictures and list you items but you could make a bit of money for your effort. There are several options for where to post and it really depends where you live. Some examples we know of include: Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji, CraigsList. Depending how quickly you want the items gone and what the item’s quality you may want to consider listing it as FREE.

    An item may seem trivial to you, or not the quality you are looking for but there is a good chance someone else needs that very thing. We recently had our stove break and were so grateful for a different family that posted their older but working stove on the Marketplace as it saved us having to buy new.

    There is also a non profit movement called FREECYCLE where you can list items and see wanted items in your area. Check it out.
  • Pass it along
    (Same as in clothing) Do you have someone in mind that might like it/need it? It feels nice to give someone you love something. And as someone on the receiving end it’s nice to be thought of.
  • Donate to Schools/Teachers
    Plenty of schools and classrooms are in need of supplies. There are so many things that can be useful from books, toys, office supplies, recycled containers and storage bins. If you know a teacher, ask them. Chances are if they don’t need or want it they have a colleague who might.
  • Recycle
    This may take some research, but certain items can be recycled. For example our broken stove, which wasn’t useful and took up far too much space. We discovered there is an appliance recycling center near us that takes these items for free! We also recently learned that Crayola takes back old markers and recycles them. Let us know if you find anything cool that can be recycled!
  • Upcycle/Repurpose
    Is there a way to use the item or parts of it for something else? Some quick ideas we have:
  • Donate to the Goodwill
    Non profit thrift stores support communities so they are a win-win for donors, employees and customers. There are likely goodwill stores in your area, find out the items they accept and drop them off.
  • Community Swap/Swap Meet
    This depends on your community, but there are places that organize a community wide recycling initiative. In Stony Plain and Spruce Grove Alberta (where I am from) once a year anyone can put items on their lawn/driveway to be given away. People drive around and can take anything they may need. (We were able to get a light fixture for our bathroom and a table for our daughter to play at). After the “freecycle” days are over the city collects the remaining items and takes them to landfill. If your community has something like this or a local swap meet can you save the unwanted items for these events?

Children’s Items

  • Local Buy & Sell Sites
    We addressed this above however baby/children’s items are very popular local sale sites. And since kids outgrow things and move onto new interest quickly, usually these items are in good condition and have plenty of life left.
    Parents in need search these sites frequently so if you list it for FREE it helps you minimize your home and helps them out as well.

    There is also a non profit movement called FREECYCLE where you can list items and see wanted items in your area. Check it out.
  • Buy-back stores
    There are stores that will buy back (at a reduced price) gently used children’s items from you and they resell them at low prices. If you are in Canada here is a link to “Once Upon a Child”, check out the items they buy.
  • Children’s charities/organizations
    FInd out if there are local charities or organizations that take children’s clothes or toys. You may just find a new favorite place to donate to!

Things to avoid doing with your unwanted items

Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash
  • Toss it all out without thinking
    Although it’s tempting for simplicity sake. There are certain to be items that can find new homes, be repurposed or recycled. Zero waste lifestyle is about making use of the items you have and reducing your waste.
  • Donating to Certain Thrift Shops/Second Hand Shops
    Sadly not everything you donate actually finds itself a new home. According to CBC only 10 to 20 % of donated clothing is actually resold in Canada. Check out the link if you want to read what happens to what doesn’t get resold. To summarize some of it gets resold to developing nations (which isn’t as lovely as it sounds) and much of it goes to landfill.

    To make matters more complicated and not exactly our topic of discussion, most second hand shops are wonderful and designed to benefit communities and people with special needs who work in these stores. Others may not be as beneficial for communities as they claim to be. It’s good to do a little digging before you take to the nearest thrift shop.

    Lastly, thrift shops are for quality items to reuse, not a place for our worn out socks with holes in them. So we should be mindful of what we are donating to these places. Here are some quick tips on donating responsibly.

Maintaining your Clutter-Free Life

This I believe, is the hardest part. And the very reason I am “tidying up” YET AGAIN. It’s a mindset shift I need to make. Since a very young age, we are all told repeatedly that we need to consume more things. Plus, there are societal pressures that add to this psychological trick corporations have been playing on us. We want to fit in, we don’t want to seem cheap or frugal, we also want to be socially agreeable and give gifts when appropriate. All of these things add up to more items we don’t need. This is where the hierarchy of consumption comes into play. I need to remind myself of this daily. Refusing is the first step, and buying new is the last step.

I will do my best to refer to this when I find I am in need of something. I will let you know how my decluttering goes, and more importantly how I work to make it stick.

If you had success with one of these ideas or found another way to save your unwanted items from the landfill please share with us!

4 thoughts on “Lessening the Environmental Toll of “Tidying Up””

  1. Hello ,

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    1. Hello,

      Thank you so much for your interest in our site. We appreciate the offer to include us on your site however we are just looking to promote awareness about environmental problems and solutions. We are not a business and aren’t looking for such interactions at this time.

      Regards,
      The Earth Mamams

  2. Pingback: A Former Shopaholic Shares Simple Steps to Help Reduce The Environmental Toll of Your Closet - Earth Mamas International

  3. In the Chicago suburbs there’s an organization called SCARCE that takes used textbooks, children’s books, records, any teaching materials. Anyone with a teacher or nonprofit ID can shop for free – with a suggested donation of $5 per bag. They also recycle random things like used cooking oil/fat, bread tags, etc. and do a lot of teachings/trainings. I know in Portland OR there is a similar place where teachers can get textiles, yarn, art supplies for free. Not sure what you’d call this category of place but they’re great places to donate stuff.

    Also- I’m pregnant too and would love a post on eco pregnancy and/or newborn considerations beyond cloth diapers. Thanks for all you do!!

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