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How to Declutter Without Creating Trash

Last updated March 30, 2019.

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.

How to declutter without creating trash

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.

I do think speed and ease are key when you’re dealing with hoarder-level clutter.

But 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. Maybe she meant “donations”?

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

Ok! Here are my favorite ways to declutter without creating trash.

Give away on craigslist, Freecycle, OfferUp, etc.

These options are a GREAT way to find a happy home for things you don’t need and 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 these online options are great ways 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.

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. Or you could try sending them to ThredUp.)

schoola pass the bag challenge

Give to a people or pet shelter

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

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.

(Goodwill does participate in textile recycling, but it’s better to use items than recycle them.)

Go beyond curbside for recycling

Curbside recycling systems are 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.

Also, Terracycle offers some recycling options for unusual items.


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

Those are perfect for refashioning, using for mending, or turning into rags.

pants to ruffly skirt

(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 Amazon or eBay.  Books don’t seem to sell particularly well at Goodwill, and by selling mine myself, 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 or Facebook Marketplace.  

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.

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.

1. 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.

2. 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?

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Linda Karenson

Monday 11th of October 2021

I know you can donate cardboard and pallets on BoxGiver

it's me, Sam

Friday 29th of March 2019

For clothing, another idea is contact a women's prison and see if they offer clothing for inmates being released. ( or places like Elizabeth Frye Society, I'm Free, are two examples that offer clothing in the community). Many of the women that are leaving have only the clothing they wore in, and flip flops don't work in the winter! If you have children's snow gear, call a local school. Many children do not have proper clothing for winter. If you're crafty, make hats and mitts out of old sweaters and donate them to a shelter, school, food bank, church. Old rags braided make a great mat that could be donated to your local animal shelter.


Friday 29th of March 2019

Don't forget your local abused women's shelter. They literally leave with the clothes on their backs. Many times they have a child. I have brought all of our kids clothes and toys that friends and family don't want. They are so happy to receive them. They also take stuffed animals which I know most places don'r want.

Heidi Louise

Friday 29th of March 2019

So important! Books and magazines might also be welcome there, and good bedding and towels, and school supplies.

People have mentioned motel soaps and such: Those might be used at the shelters and some food banks will distribute them. The family shelter in my town has a list of things they need for when the families move out on their own, as they receive a laundry basket full of cleaning supplies, toiletries, personal products, paper products, linens.

Jody S.

Friday 29th of March 2019

I don't have a problem with throwing away trash (or recycling). BUT I struggle with throwing away something (or donating something) I know nobody will want to wear. However, we have so many clothes too worn out for others, so I set the clothes aside "to do something with". And the piles keep growing.

For those of us who really could use/need extra money, there is money to be made on such things. I have sold denim belt loops. I plan on selling more plus the other parts of worn out jeans. I let my daughter have free rein with those piles of things; she's enjoyed making beds, blankets, and sleeping bags for her Calico Critters-- plus a little rag doll.

Other trash I've sold: toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, empty medicine bottles, heavy-duty cardboard tubes, altoid tins, cardboard baskets from berries, empty ammunition casings and hulls, and egg cartons. I've also noticed people selling clothing I would put in the "in-good-condition-but-nobody-would-ever-want-it" pile. Shocking.


Friday 29th of March 2019

Great post Kristen! I struggled with decluttering for so many years because my family was not wealthy & if we spent good money on it I felt the need to get the most out of it, as well as sentimentality. I don't aim to be a minimalist but I am so grateful to have been able to develop over time an increasing ability to part with stuff I just don't need. Many years ago I found out charities in Australia spend huge amounts of money disposing of "donations" that are really only good for landfill and I was horrified - it made me really consider my donations in a new light especially as a person who was raised and trained to "make do"-if I want to donate something now I look at it really objectively and decide "would I pay good money for this today?" and if the answer is no it goes to recycling or if I have to landfill. Lots of great ideas from people I would just add: 1. I really struggled to part with high quality clothes I never wear (felt guilty spending the money) until I discovered donating to a women's shelter - it brought so much joy to think someone who really needed it was getting something really nice. 2. Donate old doonas/blankets to animal shelters 3. Many mechanics could use rags or ripped/holey material/linen to soak up grease etc 4. Part of my decluttering journey has been surprising to me in that now I buy much less than I used to and really think about a purchase eg will I REALLY want this long term? 5. Our area has lots of recycle options including e-waste eg even old appliances are collected 6. I shred confidential papers and add to compost 7. In Australia we have "men's shed" which are small community groups for men to get together & make stuff; for their own enjoyment, socialising, and well-being - if you are in Aus you could donate shed stuff/wood etc to them


Friday 11th of June 2021

I use a rotary cutter to shred well-worn natural fiber textiles that have been washed many times and don’t have much left in the way of dyes (think natural cottons, wools, linen, silk, hemp, and other non-synthetic fibers), and sprinkle the bits in the compost piles.

I’m hesitant to add papers to the compost, as the chems in the binders, finishes, and inks show up in the earthworm castings, per a couple of articles I read years ago.

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