How to declutter your home without making your stuff someone else’s problem.
Stuff is suffocating. It creeps into our lives unsuspectedly, fills our cupboards, and clouds our minds. The more stuff we have, the more time we spend cleaning, repairing, moving, and maintaining it. Batteries, buttons, laces: they all need to be considered and replaced, and that takes time and mental energy. The more time and energy you spend maintaining stuff, the less time and energy you have for the people you love, and enjoying experiences which create real, long lasting happiness.
With the rise of minimalism, and sudden awakening of our ‘stuffocation’ (I’d highly recommend reading Stuffocation by James Wallman), we’re decluttering left, right, and centre. But the common question is: where should our ‘stuff’ go instead?
The first thought (don’t worry, it runs through my head occasionally too)… dump it on the steps of your local second hand shop in the dark.
Please. Don’t. Do. That.
Second hand stores spend millions of dollars a year on landfill fees: that’s money that doesn’t go to people in need who the charity exist to help. You can read more about second hand shopping issues and correct etiquette here, but right now… we need answers and alternatives to the drop and run technique.
Second hand shops are not your free dumping ground.
Whether you’ve just completed the #12daysofminimalism challenge, or been on a rampant spring clean, listen up.
How to get rid of your things the best way:
Before we go into a breakdown of items, the first step, above all else, is to find a home with a friend or family member first. Do you think that top would look good on your sister? Would your younger nieces like your old makeup pallet to play with? Is that old speaker something your brother would enjoy revamping and using in his games room? Finding new homes for your items is more fun than it sounds. Your friends and family will LOVE you for it, and seeing your old items re-loved is a priceless feeling.
Depending on the quality of the clothes, you’ve got options.
If the clothes are good quality and wearable:
- Donate washed and repaired clothes to the second hand shop (after checking with the volunteers first- sometimes they don’t need clothes)
- Consider consignment stores (Australian options here)
- List on your local online trading platform (Gumtree, Trademe, Ebay)
- Donate to your local homeless shelter
- Attend a clotheswap
- Donate costumes to local schools or theatre groups
If the clothes are unusable:
- Cut them up and turn them into rags, cleaning cloths, paper towel alternatives, or handkerchiefs
- Donate to your mechanic
- Drop off at your local textile recycling group (if you’re in America, you’re spoilt for choice)
If you’re feeling crafty, here’s a few ideas:
- Use old scarves as wrapping paper
- Turn dresses into simple square cushions (tried and tested: works a treat!)
- Repurpose old t-shirts: 50 ideas here
Shoes are one of the hardest items to recycle. Because they’re made up of so many different materials that are difficult to separate, it’s hard for them to be recycled at all. Make sure you care for your shoes properly throughout their lifetime, to avoid them ending up in landfill.
If the shoes are good quality and wearable, re-read the tips above on clothes re-homing.
If the shoes are unusable:
- Take your running shoes to a Nike store, and they’ll recycle them for you through their Reuse-A-Shoe program
- Fill your old shoes with soil, and turn them into pot plants
- If you’re lucky, you’ll have a household waste recycling center that recycles shoes too (Google is your friend in this case!)
Stuck on how to get rid of fabric scraps, rolls of unwanted fabric, or untouched craft projects?
- Donate to your local high school’s fabric technology department
- Donate to a sewing group or fashion school
- Drop off at your local textile recycling group
OLD UNDERWEAR, BRAS, AND SOCKS
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what they should do with their old underwear, I’d be rich. I’ve spent so long Googling how to dispose and recycle old underwear, that it’s starting to get weird.
- Cut them up and use them as garden ties
- If your underwear is 100% cotton (most are), cut off the tags and elastic (these aren’t compostable and need to go in your waste bin or be upcycled in another garment), cut the underwear into tiny pieces, and throw in your compost bin
- Turn them into pet toys
- Donate clean, old socks to preschools for sock puppets
- If you live in Australia, donate old bras to Support the Girls. If you live in America, donate old bras to The Bra Recyclers
Dispose of these correctly at a suitable recycling plant. DO NOT throw these in your waste bin. Batteries contain highly toxic chemicals, and need to be disposed of properly so the chemicals do not enter the environment. Some supermarkets and schools have battery recycling points: ask around.
Most communities and cities have their own e-waste recycling systems. Googling ‘e-waste recycler’ usually helps to find results in your area. Arrange a pick up for larger items, or drop off to the appropriate facilities. If the appliances do not contain sharp points or harmful chemicals, preschools and families with children will welcome fun gadgets to their playrooms!
If the furniture is still in good shape, ask your local second hand shop if it would be valuable to them. Sometimes they will arrange for a pickup, or ask that you get the item to them yourself.
But if your couch is past it’s used by date, and let’s be honest, a bit manky, you’ve got a few options before taking it to the dump.
- Leave it at the end of your driveway with a ‘free’ sign: you never know what games room it will end up in, or who would love to upcycle it
- List it on your local online trading website for $1: state it’s poor condition clearly, so the buyer knows what they’re in for
- Search online or ask on your local group Facebook page for a professional recycler: often they’re looking for old couches to turn into all sorts of weird and wonderful things
- Donate to a local veterinary clinic or pet store
- Cut up and turn into rags
- Donate to a homeless shelter
- Turn them into a bath mat (if you need one)
Return unneeded or expired medication to your local chemist so they can dispose of them responsibly. Some chemists also donate particular medicines to projects overseas!
Women’s refuge and homeless shelters welcome donations of unwanted beauty products, but if the products have gone off and are unusable, it’s best not to flush them down the drain. Dispose of toxic beauty products in the household hazardous waste section at your local dump, or find out if the company you purchased the product from, has their own recycling system. If you cannot recycle and dispose of your products locally, contact Terracycle.
- Donate old and out of date magazines to preschools for arts and crafts
- Donate current/relevant magazines to libraries (ask before you dump!)
- Keep them for making cards (if you’re that way inclined)
- Donate to churches, schools, and doctor’s surgeries (they use them in the waiting room)
- Donate to the second hand shop (after checking with the volunteers first- sometimes they don’t need toys)
- List on your local ‘free stuff’ community Facebook page
- Donate to your local library
- Donate to a second hand shop (after checking with the volunteers first- sometimes they don’t need books)
- If textbooks, donate to a high school or university
Now that you’ve decluttered your wardrobe, chances are, you’ll have a bundle of unused clothes hangers to get rid of too.
- Donate to your local dry cleaner
- Donate to the second hand shop (they need hangers to hang their clothes too!)
If you’ve made it to the bottom of this list, I applaud you. Thinking about the environment when decluttering, rather than throwing everything in the dump in one giant sweep, is hard to justify when we are all so time poor.
If we are to continue existing on this planet, we need to take responsibility for our resources, and make sure they are kept in circulation, so their value is not lost to landfill.
Make the most of your community Facebook pages, signup with Terracycle, become best friends with the volunteers at your second hand shop, and don’t give in when you just want your stuff outta here.