How to Declutter Without Creating Trash

Though I forgot to mention this in my review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo’s persistent mentions of the hundreds of bags of trash she’s helped her clients throw out…well, it made me a little twitchy.

Throwing all the clutter into a trash bag is quick and easy, but it makes me sad to think of usable items just sitting in the landfill.

how much do you regularly use

Though I do think speed and ease are key when you’re dealing with hoarder-level clutter, for normal household decluttering, I’m a big fan of decluttering without creating trash.

And while donating items is better than trashing them, I try not to just mindlessly throw things into a donation bag either.

(I don’t want the charity to have to throw my things away!)

Instead, I try to think about the best way to find a home for each of my old things.

jewelry drawer

Two caveats before I tell you my favorite ways to responsibly declutter:

1) Some things ARE trash.  I throw away broken play-doh models and recycle/compost paper scraps, etc. without a second thought.

2) I read one piece saying the trash thing in Kondo’s book might be lost in translation…that she doesn’t really mean “trash” but merely means, “bags of things we donated”.  Which makes me wonder why the word trash was used so liberally?  I dunno.

declutter papers


Freecycle is a GREAT way to find a happy home for things you don’t need.  This is especially true for items that wouldn’t sell well at a thrift shop.  One man’s trash is truly another man’s treasure, and freecycle is a great way to find someone who will treasure your stuff.

For instance, I’ve given away things like hole-y jeans (someone wanted them for crafts!), which thrift stores would have a hard time selling.

(Here’s more about how Freecycle works.)

Give to friends and family

I can give clothes and toys to Goodwill, of course, but there’s no guarantee that they will find a buyer for my stuff.  So if I can give things to friends or relatives, I prefer to do that.

For instance, when Sonia no longer wanted her Tinkerbell sleeping bag, my niece was very happy to receive it.

Or if I have a bag of outgrown kids’ clothes, I like to give them to my sister, who can take out whatever she wants and then send the rest off to Goodwill.

Donate to thrift stores/charity shops

This is the most obvious way to get rid of stuff, but it’s not necessarily my first choice, mainly because thrift stores get SO MUCH STUFF as it is and also because I’m not guaranteed that someone will actually want what I’m donating.

Plus, things you donate to thrift stores really need to be in salable condition, so that’s a little bit limiting.

Because of all this, I usually give stuff to thrift stores when I’ve tried the above two options first.

(Incidentally, if you have a bunch of fashionable clothes that are in good shape, you can ship them off to Schoola, where they will be sold to raise money for whatever school you designate.)

schoola pass the bag challenge

Give to a shelter

This is a great option when your things have some life left but are not lovely enough to sell.

Using stuff is preferable to recycling it, so although organizations like Goodwill do participate in textile recycling, I hate to give them things that won’t sell.

So recently, when I ended up with a bunch of fairly decent men’s socks, plus some too-short white undershirts that Mr. FG didn’t need any more, I gave them to a men’s homeless shelter (I called first to make sure they could use that sort of thing.)

As it turns out, though there’s not really a market for used socks and such at Goodwill, the homeless men are happy to have them.

In a similar vein, pet shelters often can make use of old towels and bedding that are too worn for freecycle or Goodwill.

Go beyond curbside for recycling

While curbside recyclers are great, they’re not equipped for everything.  For instance, shoes are difficult to dispose of responsibly.

However, if you have a Nike store in your area, you can drop off your old athletic shoes so they can turn them into new play surfaces.

Or you can recycle your flip-flops with Terracycle.


When I go through my kids’ clothes, there are inevitably some that are just no good for wear anymore.

So, then I pull out some of the ideas I shared in my ebook about repurposing so that I can make something useful out of things that would otherwise be headed to the trash.

(Here’s how I turned those holey pants into the ruffly skirt.)


Because selling things is a bit of a pain, I’m usually more inclined to give things away.

However, if books are the item in question and they’re worth $10 or so, I will list them on because it’s SO easy.   Books don’t seem to sell particularly well at Goodwill, and by selling mine on, I can match them up with someone who really wants them and earn a few dollars in the process.

If the item is quite valuable or large, I take the time to list it on craigslist.  For something that’s worth less than $50, though, the hassle of making a listing and organizing a pickup is usually not worth it to me.

If push comes to shove, I will also sell on ebay, but I usually feel like that’s a pretty big headache.

Give it to a local shop

This has limited application, but occasionally it works.  For instance, when I cleared out my laundry room, I discovered a pair of clips for biking shoes that I’d mistakenly bought but had forgotten to return in time.  So, I dropped them off at my little local bike shop, because the owner there can sell or give them to someone who needs them.

This type of thing tends to only work at very small shops, which don’t tend to have policies and paperwork and all of that messy stuff. ;)


So, those are all of my favorite ways to get rid of things, and to finish up, here are two ideas to help avoid trash in the future.

Buy Quality in the Future

Whenever I declutter my house and have to consider how to get rid of things, I’m freshly motivated to buy timeless, quality items.

(I often think of that handy-dandy, “Could this be an heirloom someday?” question.)

Cheaply made stuff usually needs to hit the trash after we’re done with it, but well-made things still have life in them and can be sold, donated, or given to a friend.

Buy Less

Decluttering my house is a good way to figure out what I’ve bought too much of or what I should avoid buying in the future.

If I find a bunch of expired medicine, I should buy more conservatively next time.

If I find sheets I haven’t used in a year, I should remember not to buy a spare set in the future.

If I find books that we only read once, I should remember to check the library instead of buying a book.


So, what did I miss?  Any other ways to declutter without making trash?

I tried my hand at zipper repair.

An embarrassingly long time ago, a pair of Sonia’s jeans developed a zipper problem.

how to fix a broken zipper

Or maybe they were Zoe’s?  I don’t really know.

The thing is, they sat in my mending pile so long, everyone here has grown out of them.

I couldn’t really hand down or donate the jeans in their broken condition, though, so I kind of wanted to fix ‘em.

Plus, I thought it would be good to learn how to fix a broken zipper, so I gave it a shot.

(Learning new skills on an item you don’t care about is perfect. No stress.)

I knew Pinterest had a few tutorials on this, so I poked through those to figure out what to do.

The basic idea is that you snip between the teeth near the bottom of the zipper, to free one side of the pull.

how to fix a broken zipper | cut bottom

Then you can rethread the zipper on properly, sort of like you would on a jacket, where one side of the zipper is free.


You can’t stop there, though, or every time you zip down the zipper, it’ll come apart.

So, you take a needle and thread and whip stitch right across where you cut the zipper, in effect making a new zipper stop.


The newly repaired zipper will only be able to open as far as your new stop, which is is why when you cut the zipper, you want to get as close to the bottom of the original zipper as possible.

My zipper was now lined up, but the teeth were still having trouble engaging.


I did a little more reading and discovered that the pull was probably bent out of shape.


Apparently when this happens, it’s really best to replace the pull, but since these were outgrown jeans that I didn’t want to pour money into, I decided to try using a pliers to squeeze it into shape..


And once I did that, I was able to get the jeans zipped up properly!

I’m not sure how long the pull will stay in shape, but at least I figured out that that’s where the problem lay.

So, there you have it.  You really can repair a zipper quickly and easily and you don’t have to replace it with a brand new one.

(Related: If the metal button on your jeans pops off, that’s also a quick and easy repair.)

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Have you ever mended a broken zipper this way?  Or do you have another favorite method?