How to Declutter In a Way That Sparks Joy for the Environment

declutter in a way that sparks joy for the environment
Audrey Cade

By Audrey Cade | Apr 19th, 2023

Spring is coming, therefore it’s time for the obligatory spring cleaning! As unpleasant as a bucket and scrub brush sound, I am actually looking forward to days of open windows allowing fresh air to flow through each room of my house, and the annual purge of unwanted items. There’s nothing like the glisten of clean floors and dust-free woodwork, or the satisfaction of opening a cupboard free from the risk of concussion because of clutter tumbling out!

READ MORE: How Spring Cleaning Can Make You Money

Like millions of others, I gave Marie Kondo, the supreme goddess of decluttering, a test drive on Netflix. Of course, I’m impressed by anyone who can turn a home ready for its own episode of Hoarders into a Zen-like oasis of t-shirts folded into neat little bundles and families freed from anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” I appreciate the concept of eliminating meaningless nonsense; but, I also struggle with the guilt of dropping off a U-Haul load to my local Goodwill or abandoning it on the curb for trash day (whether I thanked the discarded items for their service or not).

Somewhere in the middle, I need my own spic-and-span island of joy-inducing wants and necessities while not contributing to the waste filling landfills or inundating the thrift shop with more than they can use! Goodwill stores are reporting more than double the amount of donations have been made since the start of 2019, all thanks (presumably) to Ms. Kondo! While many of those items may help others who need them, the excess may end up in dumpsters.

How To Declutter Responsibly

As I turn to spring cleaning, this is how I will tackle decluttering while trying to be responsible in how I downsize:

Pass it along

I like that unwanted items may find the opportunity for new life in someone else’s home, but I’d rather not contribute to the avalanche of donated goods now choking second-hand shops coast-to-coast. I have cultivated a network of other moms who I can pass clothes down and around to. By targeting my giveaways to others who I know are in the correct size range, there’s less of a chance of my unwanted goods never finding a home.

If I strike out finding a place for outgrown clothes through my circle of friends, I can also look for specific people in need of what I have by listing it on community rummage sites on social media. In most cases, the benefit of unloading mountains of unwanted stuff outweighs the monetary value of the items, so I will still be happy to just give it away; but, the option of selling remains a possibility!

If all else fails, I still have no qualms about donating to a thrift shop or other charity. I know that my local women’s shelter is always looking for clothing and household goods, and there are many wonderful community programs that take gently used winter coats and other items and will put them to good use.

Upcycle it

You know the old saying “one woman’s trash is another’s treasure”? Well, I guarantee I have all kinds of clutter to get rid of that someone else can do amazing things with. They’ll get something useful, and we’ll both do the environment a favor! Unwanted house paint, craft supplies, and mundane domestic items (e.g. empty cans, bottles, rope, and even tires!) can be transformed into amazing works of art! Just down the road from my house is a day program for adults with developmental disabilities. They make and sell a variety of beautiful pieces of art made from such objects. Why not contact a school art program, summer camp, or other community art program to offer them your “treasures”?

Think before you pitch

We all know glass, aluminum, and paper products are recyclable; but, many of us don’t think about how clothing, electronics, and other items can find new life after we’re done with them. Did you know that old shoes can be ground up and made into such things as playground equipment, and hopelessly worn out clothing can be shredded and re-used for stuffing in furniture or home insulation? A STEM program at your local library, school, or summer camp may welcome your old electronics to teach kids how to make tomorrow’s tech! It’s worth just a little extra leg work on each of our part to discover what can be done with our unwanted items so that we can be responsible stewards of our planet and help amazing projects take flight!

Remodel magic

Good riddance extends beyond just old clothes and outgrown toys. If you’re thinking about remodeling or upgrading around the house, many building materials, appliances, and fixtures can be recycled through programs like the Habitat for Humanity Re-store. Amazingly, your old windows, counter tops, and even toilet can be donated to help support charitable programs and provide low cost building supplies for others who need them.

Use it up before throwing it away

Understandably, some items are too far gone to expect anyone to use them again in their original form; however, that doesn’t mean that a tattered t-shirt can’t serve a second purpose as a dusting rag, or an old bath towel can’t line the bottom of my guinea pig cage.

Staying Ahead of the Clutter

Because I want to make better choices that will keep me ahead of the clutter:

I will avoid “fast fashion.” Trendy, low cost clothing for now makes up the category of consumerism known as fast fashion. These clothes aren’t made to last because they will go out of style quickly. Unfortunately, many of these articles of clothing result in wasting money, valuable resources, and go to the trash! In fact, 85% of the potential 95% of used textiles that could be recycled end up in the garbage!

Instead, I will seek out more classic staples that are more likely to always look sharp instead of trying to look like I stepped right off the catwalk. I will also make an effort to put quality over price so that the items I purchase (whether furniture, cookware, or clothing) are not so disposable.

Quality over quantity. In addition to selecting items that are timeless and made to last, I will opt for the quality of an item over quantity. I can make a statement and express me personal style without having what I like in multiples. In Marie Kondo method, I will choose items for my world that truly spark joy instead of surrounding myself with stuff for the sake of buying or having things.

Experiences over “things.” I will make a more conscious effort to prioritize memorable experiences over more stuff that eventually has to be purged. I pledge to make more of my gifts dates, such as tickets to a show, a weekend away, or passes to an excursion because memories are forever!

I’ll use my creative eye. When I am on the receiving end of new items, I will try to do my part to up-cycle, recycle, or in other ways embrace something I already have or something gently used by another before buying a brand new item. I recognize that there are some items I am unwilling to take second-hand (such as a mattress); but there are many other treasures that I can refresh with a coat of paint and my imagination. Case in point: I made an island for my kitchen from an old coffee table and pieces to a futon that a neighbor was throwing away. This became a fun project to work on, saved me a lot of money, and rescued some nice materials from dumpster doom!

As spring fever prepares to overcome us all, we can look forward to tidy closets and drawers, shiny floors, and a fresh feeling that mirrors the change in seasons outdoors. If you’re like me, you’re probably hoping to eliminate excess clutter and odds and ends from all around the house; but, you may not want to feel like your mess will be inherited by our planet! It is possible to blend elements of sparking your joy and effectively unloading what you no longer want while being environmentally friendly. Finding a new place for all your castoffs will initially require some extra effort, but the benefits to you (and your community) can be remarkable when you make sure that your junk lands in someone’s hands who will consider it treasure! With some insight and creativity, what was once old can find new purpose and inspire joy in new ways!

Audrey Cade

Audrey Cade

Audrey Cade is an author and blogger focusing on the interests of divorced and re-married women, stepmoms, blended families, and co-parents.


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