How to Get Rid of Clutter One Room at a Time The Eco-Friendly Way?
Do you feel like you have too much stuff?
Do you like the idea of getting rid of the non-essentials but you’re not quite sure where to start?
Do you worry about waste and would like to find a way of letting go without contributing to landfill?
When we think about how we love to spend our time, we thing about things like connecting with family and friends and pursuing our dreams. We don’t think about cleaning and tidying.
Clutter stands in the way of the life of our dreams.
Today you’re going to discover zero-waste steps to a joyful and clutter-free home.
Ready? Let’s get started!
Zero Waste vs. Minimalism
What Is Zero Waste?
Zero waste is about purchasing things that were made to last and be easily repaired, repurposed or recovered to make new products rather than dumping them in landfills.
If you look at how nature works, there is no waste. Nature cycles and recycles everything. Humans are the only species who create waste. Many of the things we purchase are not made to last, are not easily repaired, and are made of mixed materials that are not easy to recycle.
Manufacturers deliberately design their products to break or wear out. It’s called “planned obsolescence”.
They do this to keep selling us their products. But there’s a balance they need to find – the product shouldn’t break too easily, that we may not go back to it, and shouldn’t last too long, that they won’t be able to sell us a new one. And the old item is tossed in the bin.
But we still have the power to make better choices and reduce the trash we create at home.
Zero waste is about refusing what you don’t need, reducing what you need, reusing what you can, and recycling as the last resort.
The goal here isn’t to reach a zero waste lifestyle – that can be almost unrealistic in today’s economy.
Rather, zero waste is a set of guiding principles to make better choices, not just with our future purchases, but also with how we dispose of the things we own.
Because the goal here isn’t to store things that are irreparable and useless in our home so we won’t send anything to landfill.
― Francine Jay
What Is Minimalism?
The world is teaching us that happiness can be found through shopping and accumulating stuff.
But minimalism is showing us that the things that make us truly happy aren’t things at all.
Minimalism is a deliberate decision to let go of the excess and get rid of the non-essential, and focus instead in what brings joy and creates meaning in our lives such as experiences and connection.
It’s about finding contentment with what we already have or less.
― Joshua Becker
Can You Be a Zero-waste Minimalist?
Zero waste and minimalism are both about being mindful and making conscious choices.
So they are not really that different. And while you can aspire to one lifestyle but not the other, you can still be both – or neither. You might not like labels and you might be a fan of moderation.
In the end, this isn’t about striving for perfection. It’s about doing the best you can.
This is about you, your relationship to your stuff and how you’re going to find the ideal balance that will fulfill your needs without holding you back from living the life of your dreams.
What Do You Do With Your Unwanted Things?
After identifying the things you no longer need, there are some options you need to consider before charging down to the charity shop or the trash bin.
This is the first option to consider. Reusing means someone take it and use it again without needing to modify it in any way.
These items could be passed on to people in need, or donated, or sold to people who want what we have, either online or in person.
The second best option to use an item is to be repurposed.
This means that the item will be modified in some way before being reused, or used for a different purpose to the on intended. Like using a cup as a plant pot, or pen holder.
Some items need to be repaired before they can be reused or repurposed. It’s so much easier to donate and sell products when they’re in working order.
You might need to stitch a button back on, replace a component, apply a fresh coat of pain, etc.
Keep in mind that donating broken items to a charity shop will most likely mean that it’ll end up in landfill.
The next best option is to recycle.
Even though recycling takes a lot of energy to collect, treat and process materials, it still is a better option to keep resources out of the landfill.
This is the last resort, so landfill should be the solution for the minority of the things we declutter.
Having the Right Mindset
1. Getting Clear On Values
If you want to succeed at making any change in your life, you need to get clear about your values – the reason why you need to make a certain change.
Because unless you get clear on what decluttering means for you, when the full excitement of trying something new goes, you’ll hit a stumbling block and you’ll give up all together.
Think about ways decluttering might give you the space and time you need to pursue the things you love.
2. Overcoming the Scarcity Mindset
Scarcity mindset is the belief that there will never be ‘enough’. One of the main reasons why you find it hard to declutter is having a scarcity mindset. We might want to declutter, but we don’t want to end up having too little stuff.
What’s the use of decluttering something and buying back again.
But the truth is, we can never know what ‘enough’ actually is. But the question here is whether the fear of letting go is justified, or is simply an excuse to hold on to something.
The key is to be realistic about your own situation and ask yourself what would happen if you let go of something and then realized that your needed it later?
You need to consider how easy it would be to find an alternative, how affordable a replacement would be and how practical it would be for you to physically get the replacement.
The majority of things that you decide you don’t need any more, you won’t need. But having a back-up policy can help you to overcome any fear of scarcity when deciding whether or not to let things go.
3. Storage is Not the Solution
Decluttering is about letting go of the non-essential, not organizing it or hiding it.
4. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
If you have a lot of stuff to sort through and would like to find the best option to declutter your unwanted items, then the process will take more than a single afternoon.
The more you let go, the more you loosen your grip on your stuff. If it gets too much, then just slow down, or stop and take a break.
5. Dealing with Gifts
Many people choose to express their appreciation for others through giving gifts. You still can be gracious and grateful that someone thought highly of us, but if you don’t need the gift, you don’t have to keep it out of guilt.
The value of the gift lies in the act of giving and not in the physical object that is given.
Ready to take action? Great … let’s go!
#1. Setting up a System
Taking a ‘room-by-room’ approach can give you the instant satisfaction of making progress. But the ‘category-by-category’ approach can work better, especially if items of the same category are spread around the house.
It’s easier to tackle stuff when they’re grouped than when they’re spread over several rooms. And once a category is done, you can tick it off!
The categories may include:
- Books, newspapers and magazines
- Coats, jackets and outerwear
- Tools and batteries
Start with the easiest so you can build momentum and not feel overwhelmed and give up.
Grouping the decluttered items together will make it easier to find new homes for your unwanted items.
For that you’ll need at least six boxes for different purposes. You don’t have to buy new boxes, repurpose what you have.
In this box, gather items that are in good condition to give away to a charity shop, a school, or someone in need.
Charities and social enterprises that use or pass on items
- cristina.org: works to promote technology reuse by connecting nonprofit organizations and schools with donors.
- freethegirls.org: a non-profit organization working with sex-trafficking survivors in El Salvador, Mozambique, and Uganda. They accept donations of new and gently used bras of all sizes and styles, including camisoles, via their drop-off locations, or by mail.
Community gifting platforms and networks
- buynothingproject.org: a hyper-local movement that operates as Facebook groups, where items can be given away or borrowed.
- littlefreelibrary.org: a non-profit organization that fosters neighborhood book exchanges around the world with more than 75,000 micro libraries in eighty-eight countries.
- nextdoor.com: a private social network for neighborhoods that launched in the US in 2011 and currently also serves France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK, and Australia.
- olioex.com:a mobile app for food sharing. Donated food can be raw or cooked, sealed or open, but it must be edible and within its use-by date; the primary guideline is that it is ‘good enough for you’.
For some items you might consider selling them, especially if you spend a lot of money on something you’ve barely used and are feeling guilty to let it go.
The internet has made it easier for people to sell successfully. The following are some platform to consider:
- craigslist.org. Most features are free, and the site encourages face-to-face transactions, which means no payment processing fees.
- ebay.com. An online auction site but also allows ‘Buy It Now’ purchases and has online classifieds.
- ebid.net. An online auction site. They charge fees for casual sellers and offer membership for regular sellers with extra features.
- etsy.com. An online marketplace that allows selling of handmade, vintage(minimum twenty years old) and art-supply goods only. Etsy charges the seller a listing fee (fixed price) and a final sale fee (a percentage of the sale).
- facebook.com/marketplace. A digital marketplace where users can sell or trade items with other people in their local area.
Lots of things can be recycled, whether in your domestic recycling bin, or at a specialist recycling place for things like textiles, metals, electrical waste, etc.
- about.hm.com: a global fast-fashion brand that accepts old clothes and unwanted textiles (any brand, any condition) at many of their stores worldwide.
- nike.com/help/a/recycle-shoes: an international footwear and sportswear brand that offers a reuse-a-shoe service, recycles any brand of athletic shoe (not sandals, boots, or dress shoes) through most of its Nike stores in the US and Europe.
- terracycle.com:a private company that specializes in recycling hard-to-recycle consumer waste (particularly packaging).
This is for items that need fixing to be usable, but that are simple to fix, or worth the fixing time and cost.
If you want to fix it yourself, there’s a great online resource called iFixit.com empowering people to fix the things they own, with over 44,000 manuals online and even more solutions.
Community-based repair networks
- repaircafe.org: repair cafes are free meeting places that are all about repairing things (together). At the repair cafe location, you’ll find the tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need.
- fixitclinic.blogspot.com: started in California and now active in other states, US-based Fixit Clinic holds pop-up community events where anyone can bring broken items to disassemble and fix.
This box is for items that are not recyclable or unfixable.
The final box is for items that don’t fit into the other boxes, whether you’re undecided on, or still thinking about.
Once a box if full, act on it. If you wait until you have towering stacks of boxes to act on them, you’ll feel overwhelmed and you’ll probably put it off.
Papers are easier to get rid of because we don’t hold much attachment to them. Checking off this first category will give you a big motivation to continue.
This category includes receipts, bills, invoices, letters, scribbled notes, instruction manuals, etc.
To sort through papers, try doing the following:
1. Gather together all of your papers.
Clear your desk and gather paper from other rooms.
2. Organize them into piles.
Anything that you don’t need anymore, will go into recycling.
If your bills and other documents are available online, maybe you don’t need the paper copy.
If a product is out of warranty, you don’t need the receipt and if an instruction manual is available online, you don’t need the paper one.
If you keep magazines for a single article, cut the article out for later. Try keeping an electronic to-do list and add events and reminders to your calendar.
3. Return the newly sorted papers to their place.
Notice the space that you’ve created and how you feel about it.
This is the first space you walk into when you enter the house, and the first space others see when they visit your home. Ask yourself how do you like to use that space for?
To declutter your entranceway, try doing the following:
Remove coats, scarves, umbrellas, bags, shoes, and anything else. Ask yourself the following questions:
Which items haven’t been used in the last week?
Is there anything that is broken or doesn’t fit?
Do you love your decorative items? Or do you just have them to fill the space? Does cleaning them bring you joy or dread?
If there are items that you do not use or are broken or don’t fit anymore, declutter them. Put them in the corresponding box.
If there are things you don’t use but you’re reluctant to let them go, remove them from the entranceway.
#4. Living space
Before decluttering your living space, you need to consider what you want to use it for and how you’re currently using.
Is it full of activity, or is it an area where you relax and chill-out?
1. Remove excess furniture
Consider the furniture in the room and ask yourself the following questions:
Do you use it regularly and for its intended purpose? Or is it just another surface to gather clutter?
Sit on the chairs. Are they comfortable?
Removing excess seating will free up space and removing excess surfaces will get rid of clutter.
2. Sort through your stuff
Look at your bookshelves and consider whether you like the books, intend to read them or refer to them regularly. If not, and you struggle to part with them, put them aside and set a deadline. Once the deadline is reached and you didn’t read them, or didn’t refer to them, let them go. There might be far better books on the same topic.
CDs and DVDs
Look at you CDs collection and only keep ones that you play constantly. Also consider digital music subscription service.
Consider the stacks of DVDs that you have. Can you imagine yourself watching it again? If it’s available at the library, or via file-lending services, consider letting them go.
Do you have unread magazines or magazines you know you’ll never refer back to?
Unless you can’t wait to read the latest edition, cancel your magazine subscription. And with the copies you have, remove the articles you want to keep and recycle the rest. Or you can take photos of these articles and donate the magazines.
For the decorative items that line your shelves and cabinets and the artwork that hangs on your wall, ask yourself whether you like it and you want to see it or you’re just keeping them to fill the space?
#5. Dining Area
Before you start decluttering this area, ask yourself whether you’re using this area every day or on special occasions? If so are these occasions regular enough to justify owning a separate set of furniture?
1. Assess the furniture
Consider the chairs you own. Do you use them all for seating, or some are used for collecting stuff instead? Let go of the chairs you don’t use.
2. Take everything out of your drawers and cupboards
If you keep cutlery and glassware here as well as in the kitchen, it might be useful to combine it all and see how much you truly need, or wait until you tackle the kitchen.
Ask yourself how many do you use regularly? And how many do you need when you have guests? Remember that, all of it has to be washed, dried and perhaps polished and put away.
3. Go through table linen and placemats
Consider anything you have multiples of and keep the maximum number you need of each item. If you have anything damaged, stained that you don’t use anymore or table linen that doesn’t fit your table, declutter them. Also ask yourself whether or not you really need any novelty items that are only used once a year.
The thought of tackling the whole kitchen at once can be overwhelming. This is why you might consider splitting it up into two categories: crockery, gadgets, etc and food.
Crockery and gadgets
1. Remove anything that is hanging up
Start with utensils and cookware that are hanging up and ask yourself why is it there? Do you use it regularly? Or is it clutter that has accumulated there?
If you don’t use you fridge magnets or don’t love them, let them go.
If you don’t love your artworks and don’t clean them, let them go. If you don’t use your wall calendar or don’t need your wall clock, declutter them.
2. Empty your drawers and cupboards
Remove your cooking utensils, cookware, saucepans, bakeware, etc. organize them by category and go thought each group item by item.
Pick out the things you use every day. Then consider the rest – everything you don’t like, don’t use anymore, or never used. Can you sell, donate or recycle them?
Pantry and Fridge
1. Remove the food items from your pantry
If you have food stocked in other cupboards or on the counter, add it to the stockpile.
Check for expiration dates. Anything that has exceeded its expiration date should be discarded. Put aside any products that are close to their expiration date so you can search for recipes to help you use them up.
Empty any open packets of food into glass jars or see through containers. It will keep food better. Stick the label with the name and expiry on the jar. And recycle the packaging. If you don’t have enough containers, prioritize the things that are more likely to spoil.
2. Empty the fridge and freezer
Clean the empty fridge and discard any expired food. Again, put aside food that is close to its expiration date to use it up.
For the food that is going to be discarded, look into composting options – backyard compost, community compost options, etc.
As in the kitchen, you’ll need to gather things of the same category together starting with what’s out in the open.
1. Inspect what’s in the open
For the decoration, do you enjoy looking at it? Or is it simply there to fill the void? Use these questions to decide if they need to go or stay.
For towels and bath mats, if there are more than you need, you can donate it if it’s in good condition, or recycle it.
For electronic gadgets such as shavers, electric toothbrushes, hairdryers, hair curlers, etc, ask yourself if you really need them, or are they just clatter? When was the last time you used them? Sell, donate or recycle.
For other non-consumables like scissors, tweezers, soap dishes, mirrors, combs, brushes, sponges, etc, are there any duplicates? Do you need them? Could one of them serve the purpose of several? Is it broken?
For consumables like shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion, soap, creams, make-up, perfume, toothpaste, etc, are there any you don’t use anymore? Do you keep empty bottles? Most packaging can be recycled and products that are unopened or barely used can be donated.
2. Pull everything out of your cupboards and drawers
Do you keep duplicates? If they’re replacement items that you need, keep it. If not, let them go.
For the items you don’t use, how long have you had them? Can you imagine yourself needing them? If they have expiration dates, have they expired?
Inspect the medicines. Remove anything that has expired.
For make-up, perfume and toiletries, check their expiration date. Look at the ingredients, are they harmful for your skin? Is there anything you don’t like or can’t imagine yourself using?
The bedroom should be a place where you can relax and distress. This means that it should be as clutter free as possible.
1. Focus on the clutter that gathers in your bedroom
Start picking up any clothes off the floor, the bed, the chair, etc. put them away to sort through with the rest of the wardrobe, or put them in the laundry.
2. Work your way through all the non-clothing storage in your bedroom
Empty all the drawers and clear all the surfaces. Only keep what you use regularly and what you love.
3. Look at the decorations in the room
Let go of anything that you don’t like anymore, or is dusty and you no longer notice.
Decluttering your wardrobe isn’t just about letting go of what you don’t like anymore, it’s more about keeping what you actually wear. You might love clothing and jewellery items, but if you’re not wearing them, then you don’t need them.
1. Empty your wardrobe
Group similar clothing items together so you can see exactly how many of every different type of item you own- underwear (including swimwear and nightwear), casual tops (T-shirts and vest tops), smart tops (shirt and blouses), jumpers and cardigans, trousers and jeans, etc.
Notice a type of item that you have a lot of. You may notice that you have four black jumpers that are surprisingly alike.
Assess each item you have. If it doesn’t fit, or it has been more than a year since you last wore it, or you don’t like it anymore, then let it go.
If you never wore an item ask yourself why. Is it because you have nothing that matches? Is it because it’s too dressy or too casual?
2. Monitor what you actually wear
Once you put everything back, tie a scarf to one end of your wardrobe rail. For the next three to six months, you will monitor what you actually wear. Every time you wear something and put it back, hang them on the other side of the scarf.
At the end of the chosen timeframe, everything you haven’t worn will more likely be sitting at the other end of scarf. You’ll need to reconsider these items.
This approach can also be applied to other clothing storage or any other area of your house.
#10. Home Office
Offices are usually places where we get stuff done. Therefore it’s important to optimize the space in a way that will increase your productivity and keep distractions to a minimum.
1. Assess the equipments you keep in your office
Consider how much of equipments you keep is really useful and how often do you use each item. Declutter anything that is broken and anything you can do without.
2. Clear everything from your desk
Open all the drawers and empty them. Consider whether the items you keep are making you more organized or not.
Declutter any stationary you no longer use and place them in the donating box. If you don’t refer to your filled-in notebooks anymore, consider recycling them.
The garage is designed to store bicycles, cars, outside equipents, tools and accessories that relate to these.
Anything that you consider do belong in the garage but you don’t use, you might need to consider decluttering them.
Even for the things you use, keep in mind that just because you use something occasionally, that doesn’t mean that you should keep it. If it’s something you can do without or you can borrow from someone, consider letting it go.
One of the main reasons why people struggle with letting go of what they don’t need, is the fear guilt and regret. Letting go means accepting that maybe we made poor choice, but also remembering that we can choose better.
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Portions of this article were adapted from the book Less Stuff, © 2019 by Lindsay Miles. All rights reserved.