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.
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.
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?
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.)
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.
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.