May 03, 2011

Does decluttering help the environment?

"[...] Getting rid of inspiring artwork/fixtures etc. just creates more waste (what really happens to stuff that no one buys from Goodwill?) . I completely agree with reducing what you buy/bring into your home--but, if its already in your home will getting rid of it really help anything?" - Jasmine in Maine

In response to the comment above, I need to clarify a few, very important things before going on the subject of decluttering a specific space, as promised in Less is More. While the comment above ignores the financial, health and time saving benefits of decluttering (i.e, "make room in your life for the things that you enjoy doing"), it calls for a further look at the environmental benefits.

Does decluttering help the environment?

1 - Decluttering forms better shopping habits. Less shopping means less strain on our resources: Only thru decluttering will you find epiphany in reducing future purchases. A process better lived than described, but I will try my best.

Many of my clients are thrifty shoppers, but all their "cheap" purchases do not seem to impact their wallet. But the accumulation eventually strikes them to use my consulting services. Hours of work and piles of donations later, they realize that the seemingly harmless shopping is the cause of clutter, stress, unhealthy dust collection, and a waste of time and money ($1 here, $1 there, really add up). The exercise of decluttering change their shopping habits forever. They now think twice about buying and bringing anything new or used into their home.

I remember having that same revelation after simplifying my home. It directly lead me to stop shopping as a hobby, stop the online searches, the spontaneous trips to Target, and the unplanned stops at garage sale or thrift shops. Not that I ever considered myself a big shopper before, quite the contrary, as I was considered frugal by friends and family. But thru decluttering, I learned to really understand and restrain resource depleting accumulation and shopping habits, and choose (repairable) quality over (disposable) quantity: A must in the long term future of Zero Waste.

2 - Decluttering supports sharing with others: Many complain that thrift shops are full and use this as a pretext not to declutter. But thrift shoppers with a targeted list will disagree. I am one of them. Many times, I have gone to a thrift store to look for a specific item and have come out empty-handed. I have struck out on backpacks, school supplies, sheets, pillowcases, kids books, boy's suit, shoes... and yet I have found these items unused, in homes that I have consulted. Storing unused items, is not considerate, but selfish to the Earth, as it forces those who care about the environment to buy new.

The future of Zero Waste holds great resale shops. Sharing is key to the large scale success of this lifestyle. As they say: Someone's trash is someone else's treasure", and I truly believe that. The recyclers want your 30-year-old paperwork (to save trees today) and the fashionistas, your 1990's accessories.

That said, while thrift stores can be a convenient way to initially let go, many other outlets exist and are often more appropriate. The key, is finding the best match for the items that you do not use or need. Among the countless possibilities, here are some examples, not in order:

  • Diggerslist (home improvement)
  • Freecycle
  • Consignment shops (quality items)
  • Habitat for Humanity (building materials, furniture, and/or appliances)
  • Craigslist (large items and free items): My experience is that anything posted for free can disappear within 15min.
  • Ebay (small items of value)
  • Amazon (books)
  • Local Women's Shelter (toys)
  • Local SPCA (towels)
  • Auctions houses
  • Antique shops
  • On your curb with a free sign
  • Friends
  • FamilyRegifting
  • Operation Christmas Child (in a shoe box, only new items)
  • ThredUp (kids clothes trading), or Relash (clothes and book trading)
  • Homeless shelter or hot meal locations
  • Crossroads Trading Co
  • Nike Reuse-a-Shoe (any brand of worn-out athletic shoes)
  • Tool co-op
  • Schools (art supplies, magazines, dishes to eliminate class party disposables)
  • Churches (dishes for reuse in lieu of disposables, but also ministries occasionally need specific item donations, such as warm jackets)
  • Nurseries and Preschools (blankets, toys)
  • Garage sale
  • Rummage sale for a cause (our school held one last weekend to raise money for Nepal Freed)
  • Friends for their own garage sale
  • Flea markets
  • Return to the source (for example, bike tires to the bike store, recyclers reuse them)
  • Optometrist (used glasses)
  • Dress for success (workplace attires)
  • Recycling (paper clutter, and empty boxes)

More, local resources:

As for the "stuff that no one [will] buy from Goodwill"....or from the sources above, chances are, it has past its useful life. Whether you dispose of it or you successors do, it is waste. Holding onto it does not make it into something useful.

3 - Decluttering makes Zero Waste manageable: I have said it and will say it again. Simplifying (which starts with decluttering) makes it easy to organize and stick to the logistics of Zero Waste. How many reusable bags does one need to be Zero Waste? In my case, 3, not 10. Less means less to worry about, clean, store, repair or dispose of later.

Jasmine: Even if you did not see the point of decluttering in order to form better shopping habits, share with others, or make Zero Waste manageable for environmental reasons, don't you value time saved from not caring for the unnecessary? I personally do... Time has allowed me to re-connect with the outdoors, green my home, create this blog... Time is the most valuable commodity needed in caring for the environment -it is our lack of time that created the problems that we now want to fix (e.g, SUP's in the great garbage patch).

Overall, it seems that Decluttering items already purchased "helps" the environment more than Storing them. Wouldn't you agree?