Low Impact De-Cluttering

For 2011, I’ve chosen the theme word “space“. I’m trying to create space in my life for the things that I want, and for a lifestyle that reflects my values. I guess you could say I want to make space in my life for myself. I’m striving to create space in my schedule, space in my brain and space in my home.

That last bit – space in my home – has caused me to set out on a de-cluttering binge. I’ve realized that I’m using a lot of the space in my house for sentimental reasons. My crawlspace is full of boxes containing old letters from pen pals, old magazines I’ll never read again, and mementos of my childhood that I haven’t set eyes on in 10 years. My table is covered in kids’ artwork and sewing supplies that I don’t use and newspapers that I mean to get around to reading but I haven’t.

The buffet still needs work
An example of the clutter that can be found all over my house

I’m tired of the clutter. I want to clear out some of the memories (read: baggage) and make room for living my life today. I would like to simplify, minimize, and stop accumulating even more stuff. I think it’s a worthy goal. And it even has an undercurrent of sustainability. Embracing a simpler lifestyle helps us to reduce our consumption, and by extension, our environmental impact. In the long-term, I think that my efforts to minimize will be good for me and the planet.

But that’s in the long-term. What of the short term? What do I do with all the piles of stuff that I don’t want anymore?

Look, you can see the top of the entryway shelving!
Look, I cleared off a surface!

I don’t want the things that I’m finished with to end up in the landfill or an incinerator, emitting chemicals and carbon into the atmosphere. While simplifying, in general, is a good idea, simply throwing away the stuff I’m done with is not. After all, there really is no such thing as “away”. Everything that we toss goes somewhere, and we need to be mindful of that.

So, where does that leave me? There are a few ways I’m reducing the impact of de-cluttering.

Items I've de-cluttered
De-cluttered items in search of new homes

  1. Pass it on: One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, as we all know. My friends and I often exchange kids’ clothes, for instance. It keeps it out of the landfill, and your house, too. And if you’re not sure who would want it, sites like Freecycle can help.
  2. Sell it: If you have something good, you may be able to sell it. List it on Craigslist, find a consignment shop that’s willing to take your stuff, or hold a yard sale. They’re all good ways to clear out your house and earn a little bit of money at the same time.
  3. Donate it: Second-hand stores find new homes for your stuff. Some of the shops are operated by non-profit organizations, and the sales support their work. Other stores are for-profit entities, which may or may not partner with charities. While the ethics differ, both options help you keep your clutter out of the landfill.
  4. Recycle it: Recycling something beats trashing it, for sure. However, it shouldn’t be your first choice. It still uses energy and produces emissions. Also, many items aren’t so much recycled as downcycled. Sometimes, though, it can’t be avoided. As with the old letters my pen pals wrote me – they have sadly outlived their usefulness.

Hopefully, as I reduce the clutter and stop accumulating more, I will have fewer things that need new homes. That’s my overall goal – to reduce my impact by reducing my consumption and scaling back my lifestyle. For now, I’m just trying to do that in a way that is as gentle on the planet as possible.

What about you? What do you do with the stuff that you don’t need anymore? How do you get it out of your house, without sending it to the landfill?

I wrote this post for the Green Moms Carnival, which I will be hosting on Monday. This month it’s all about green de-cluttering, so check back here for a lot more great ideas on how to make space in your home!

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  1. http://unclutterer.com/ is a great place to keep you inspired and motivated!

    Some of the things we are trying to do:

    – We donate a lot to Goodwill and Salvation Army. We keep a box by the door, and when it is full, we drop it off. Diaper boxes are great for this.
    – We have a garage sale (or two) every year, sometimes making a bit of cash 🙂
    – We give stuff away, like baby clothes or useful items we no longer need to someone who needs them
    – We Kijiji!
    – We think about each purchase before it comes in the door, even if its a small thing. We’ve cut back on a lot of our non-consumable collecting this way
    – Every time a new toy comes into the house for our son, we look at his toys and pick the toy he plays with the least to go to storage for the next baby, or donated if we don’t want to keep it

  2. Mike is ALL about de-cluttering. He loves “Dump Day”. I try to freecycle or Craigslist things if I can since as you say, someone might want it.

    Personally, I don’t think our house is all that cluttered. I think we leave stuff sitting on counters, tables, etc (ahem, me mainly ;)) that just need to be put AWAY. So every so often a weekend is spent putting this back here, and that back there. Some is thrown out but mostly it’s just stored properly.

    Good luck on the decluttering. Kids make the task seem almost impossible sometimes
    Carrie’s last post … Red Writing Hood- The Empty PantryMy Profile

  3. Oh, forgot to mention. I have all my pen pal letters too…. I am a pack rat when it comes to sentimental stuff. 😉

    If you want to keep sentimental papers and letters, have you thought about scanning them and storing the copies on a backup drive, thus getting rid of the paper copies? Or, permanently storing them in an archived book or folder? Sometimes all it takes to reduce paper clutter is to store it properly, or more efficiently.

  4. Donate it, recycle it, pass it on, sell it: that’s what we do, and approximately in that order. I hate hate hate all of the clutter in our home, but I refuse to let my clutter end up in a landfill until I’ve exhausted all other possibilities. And so it’s taken years for us to purge all the stuff, and still there’s stuff to purge. The good thing is that most of the stuff to be purged can fit into closets, where it’s not forgotten, because I keep track of it all on my master to-do list.

    On the other hand, as we struggle to purge our apartment of the things we don’t need, we’re very careful now about what we bring into it.

    Oh, and one thing I’ll never get rid of is my box of notes from college. My husband complained, but I pointed out that that box cost a tremendous amount of money. Plus, I do actually refer to those notes from time to time. And it’s entertaining to me to look at the papers that I wrote in German but can no longer read. I wrote them, and yet I can’t read them? Very mysterious.
    Rachael’s last post … Why I WriteMy Profile

  5. Good for you Amber. Doesn’t it feel wonderful to declutter? I’ve become a big fan since the summer. I may have mentioned before that we moved in the summer from a house we had for 10 years. Oh the stuff! The amazing thing to me was that I thought I had decluttered – I had brought 5 van loads of stuff (toys and clothing) to donate, recycled bins and bins of paper, sold four large pieces of furniture and had cleaned the house up spotless while it was on the market. And then we moved. And we unpacked. And we were left with still 7 large rubbermaid bins of toys, three large boxes of clothes for my youngest to grow into, and a garage full of “stuff.” So I’m still at it as I’m trying to narrow my focus down to things we need, just the things we need.
    Tanya’s last post … MeMy Profile

  6. I am on a SPACE mission too!!!!!

    In my home: If I don’t want it in my home anymore….

    Option#1: If it’s really valuable or a complete set of something (like the FP Geotrax) I sell it online Craigslist and Kijiji. I sell it to get rid of it, and give it new life… so I let it go cheap and FAST. For other saleable things, I give them to my friend who is selling things to raise money for a great cause.

    Option#2: Donate it. If it’s something still valuable but not as marketable, I donate it to my favourite charity shops. The Restore takes good hardware and building stuff. Or hand it down to someone that could use it. I used to consign the good clothes, but now I find it FEELS better to just give it to the charity.

    Option#3: repurpose it. I have lots of worn out things that made excellent rags for my husband, or for the SPCA. I have disassembled broken things to scavenge usesful knobs, casters, tracks, etc…. turned a too-small T shirt into a cute throw pillow, made a nice pillow from a silk top, earrings from broken bracelet beads, atrium from a leaky aquarium, quilt from fabric scraps, etc, etc.

    Option#4: recycle, or dispose. It’s my last resort.

    That’s what we do.
    *pol’s last post … Everyday MinimalistMy Profile

  7. Most of my clutter is paper and mail littering the kitchen table. What doesn’t get filed, goes into the recycling bin. Now that my sewing machine is fixed (yay!) I’ve been decluttering my fabric stash by sewing projects that have been on my To Do list for far too long.
    Condo Blues’s last post … Five Repurposed Home OrganizersMy Profile

  8. I agree with you that it is a worthy cause! It is hard to avoid the landfill sometimes and I certainly understand why you would want to. I don’t let that stop me from clearing my home to create more harmony if I don’t think I will get rid of something any other way. What I do is forgive myself for creating too much waste because I feel guilty about throwing so much out and focus on the future trying to be really careful how much I bring in knowing that it could eventually be waste.
    My experience is that de-cluttering is really worth it. It creates peace.
    Good luck!
    Wendy Irene (Give Love Create Happiness)’s last post … Does Meditation Produce Positive ResultsMy Profile

  9. I’m going through a decluttering binge right now too. I think many people do after the holidays…so much new junk comes in, old has to go out. My biggest decluttering tip is to be mindful of everything that makes it INTO your house from now on in the first place. Is it essential? Do you LOVE it? Is there something you currently own that you could use instead of getting a new one? We have a general one in one out rule for certain things too…like toys. If the kids get a bunch of new toys they have to be ready to let some go to make room for the new stuff. My four year old is really gotten this concept this year and actually is excited about donating his used toys. We donate everything and it feels like a huge sigh of relief to unload those boxes from the car at the thrift store, doesn’t it? We have three boxes in the entryway right now as a matter of fact!
    Amber’s last post … Candy Cane Ice CreamMy Profile

  10. Wow, I really need to declutter, but I am far from the point where I am ready to start getting rid of old letters and mementos! I may be a hopeless case, but if I can just cut down on the clutter of TODAY it will be making a big step in the right direction…

  11. What a great word for this year. It’s such a relief when things are in order and have a place!

    Adventures In Babywearing’s last post … message in a bottleMy Profile

  12. Doesn’t it make you feel so much more at ease when the clutter’s gone? I never realize how anxious it all makes me until it’s gone and I an breathe a huge sigh of relief.

    We’re in the process of de-cluttering AGAIN. We did it about 4 months ago when our house first went on the market. and we’re doing it yet again with what’s left. We donated about 10-15 bags of stuff. Luckily, there are red donate bins all over the place. Local thrift stores take the donations left in them. So we usually just toss a bag in the car and drop it in a donate box when we pass one.

    We decided not to bring a good deal of our big items when we move, so those things we don’t need were sold on Craig’s List and at a local consignment sale. The too small kid clothes and baby items were sold at the sale too. I priced them very low just to get rid of them. When the house sells and we’re ready to move, the other large furniture we’re still using, but not taking will either be donated (I’ll call for a pick up) or put on Craig’s List.

    A good deal of our clutter is paper, mainly mail. Our area doesn’t have recycling, but our synagogue has a big green box where we can drop off paper and then the synagogue gets a small amount of money in exchange for the paper that’s recycled. So we store our old paper in bags and drop it all off when we’re there.
    Dorothy’s last post … Thank YouMy Profile

  13. Just the word “space” helps me breathe.

    We live close to some of those charity drop boxes. All the old clothes, books, toys, go there. I try to keep the amount of paper that comes in the house to a minimum because something about paper makes me want to file it instead of recycle / reuse it. Even it if is totally non-important.

  14. Cleared off surfaces make my heart happy. I am nesting right now and I have to admit we’ve taken our share of garbage to the dump the past couple of months. Our first choice is to donate. We don’t have anywhere good to store a pile of things to wait and see if a friend wants them. Unless I know someone who definitely would, we take them to our local Goodwill store. Then, if it’s things like old papers no one can use, we recycle them. Some things do unfortunately go into the trash, like broken non-recyclable items. I know we could do a little better if we really tried. The beauty of it is that after we’ve spent hours and hours purging our house of junk, the next time we are tempted to acquire more it’s a heck of a lot easier to just say NO!

  15. Oh yes–I forgot to say that there are a few things I do repurpose, as someone else said. Like today I made a draft snake for under our sliding glass door out of my husband’s old pants. But I just can’t hold onto things forever waiting to repurpose them. It’s a slippery slope to hoarding, and I don’t have the space!
    Jenny’s last post … Mommys day offMy Profile

  16. I have to admit, managing clutter is one of my strong suits. I’ve always been a minimizer. Does that mean I do an environmentally friendly job of it. No. I need to work on that for sure. And certainly my kids have made it a bit more complicated. But in general, I’m pretty clutter free. I need to be. The state of clutter in my house co-relates directly to my state of mind. It makes for interesting discussions between my husband and I.

    Good luck with your project!
    Christine’s last post … MantraMy Profile

  17. This is the bonus of living in an apartment. There is no extra room to keep all that misc. extra items. We have to regularly go through all of our things and donate items we no longer need or use. We have to carefully pick out the items that we want to keep and I’m constantly thinking of ways to use my space more wisely.
    Mama in the City’s last post … Sad Sleep Musings From Apartment BabyMy Profile

  18. Books are the one thing I have problems disposing of. They don’t enter any of your low-impact categories, and I just hate to throw away books, even if it’s in the paper recycling bin. So, our books are now being piled up on our stairs, as well as everywhere else.
    Francesca’s last post … Merry Birthday!My Profile

  19. Great post. I’m an extreme: either I keep insane amounts of stuff in a single category (books, e.g.) or I de-clutter/purge too much of another category and wind up tossing things I actually *use*. But usually I try to do decluttering on a monthy basis, roughly. Otherwise it gets too overwhelming and the extreme tendencies kick in. Your list is a good one to remember. Like you, I keep thinking that it never goes “away” – always has to end up somewhere. Personally, I tend to pass-it-on or recycle; selling things (online or otherwise) weirds me out for some inexplicable reason.

  20. Decluttering feels soooo good. And so does dropping off a van load of stuff at Value Village!
    the mombshell’s last post … 2010 parenting failsMy Profile

  21. A great new way to clear some clutter and to get some things that you are in search of is http://www.swapmamas.com The entire site is people trying to swap for things they no longer need (clothes that don’t fit, movies they no longer watch, etc) and get something in return (a different movie, bigger clothes, maybe you want to start cloth diapering).

    It really is all about one mans trash…

  22. Sigh. I wish I had a good way to declutter. I keep all kinds of junk in the basement with the idea of having a garage sale or selling it on ebay. But I’m too lazy to do that. So there it sits. Perhaps I’ll get motivated this summer.
    Melissa E.’s last post … My Famous Little ChefMy Profile

  23. We just gave a carload of baby toys and our old crib to our housecleaner, who has two new babies in her extended family. That was a blessing for us – we didn’t even have to transport the crib somewhere! I finally have a friend who expecting a boy in the spring (somehow, there has been a flood of girls), so the last box of baby clothes went to her last week. There’s still too much stuff in the house, but getting better. Good luck with your purges!
    Lady M’s last post … Chocolate AmbitionMy Profile

  24. LInda Anderson says:

    Amber, thanks for hosting the Green Moms Carnival this month. You do a great job. Lots of good information.
    LInda Anderson’s last post … Decluttering Should Be Eco-FriendlyMy Profile

  25. I leave a leave a response when I especially enjoy a post on a website or if I have something to add to the conversation.
    It is caused by the sincerness communicated in the article I looked at.
    And after this article Low Impact De-Cluttering | Strocel.com.
    I was actually moved enough to drop a thought 😛 I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright.
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    heart attack symptoms women over 40’s last post … heart attack symptoms women over 40My Profile

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