Decluttering, Zero Waste Living

The Eco-Friendly Magic of Tidying Up


Does Netflx’s Marie Kondo show got you decluttering like crazy? Or, maybe you’re part of my 8-week decluttering challenge and feeling motivated by the group. Or, maybe you’re just inspired by the new year to start fresh and get rid of clutter.

As a decluttering fan myself, I’ve definitely been indulging in the show. One thing that quickly struck out to me as I’ve been watching is how much STUFF gets thrown out and ultimately to a landfill. During one particular episode, I physically cringed when I heard the declutter-ers (yep – just made that up) mention they had over 150 bags of trash.

Of course, I don’t know their situation. Maybe it really was all trash. In that particular episode, they were going through two generations and 60+ years of stuff. But I wasn’t able to shake the thought and relate it back to some of my pre-low/zero waste days when I would throw a lot of stuff away when I was decluttering just because I didn’t know what else to do with it.


Maybe right about now you’re thinking that this doesn’t apply to you because you donate everything! Well, another issue I’ve seen come up with the rise in recent decluttering popularity is that donation centers are running out of resources (space and personnel, especially) to sort the sudden influx of items from all the decluttering. See examples here and here.



While we’re still on the topic of donations, a common misconception (and one that I believed for a long time as well) is that when you donate to a donation center, your items will get sorted and put out for sale for someone who needs or wants them. Are you guilty of believing this as I was?

Did you know that this isn’t necessarily the case?

According to one Goodwill source, 40% of all donations end up in the trash due to a variety of reasons such as being soiled, recalled, unsellable, out of date or fashion, etc. This not only is not good for the environment but also costs organizations like Goodwill money, which in turn drives up their prices to consumers.

I’m certainly not advising we all stop donating to location charities/donation organizations. I have and still do so myself on occasion. But how can we work to ensure as hard as possible that our items don’t end up in the landfill; either via donation center or by our own doing?

For more information on what happens to our clothes and other items we donate, check out this amazing article with an interview from a Thrift Shop manager.


And speaking of the landfill…


What about the items we just don’t know what to do with, or we think we don’t have time to figure out how to properly dispose or donate it, so we toss it?



Let me tell you where that way of thinking has gotten us:


251 million tons of consumer solid waste is generated each year in the U.S. (source).


I don’t know about you, but when I see that big of a number, it can be super hard for a visual learner like me to imagine. If you’re like me, let me break it down for you:

  • 5 million tons is the equivalent to:
    • 6.5 billion Harry Potter novels, or
    • The weight of 714, 285 African elephants


But notice that says 5 million tons.

So putting that into 251 million tons (I estimated on the math here, so please don’t come after me with corrections. I think you get the gist):

  • Approximately 326, 300, 000, 000 Harry Potter novels
  • Approximately the weight of 35, 857, 107 African elephants




THIS IS EACH YEAR! AND JUST IN THE US!



If that doesn’t convince you why we should start taking measures to avoid the landfill, let’s discuss money because as we all know, money talks. According to one source:

“…about $200 billion a year {in the US} is spent on solid waste management and lost energy resources from disposing of trash.”

So, while it may seem harmless to just throw something away because you aren’t sure what to do with it or if it can be recycled, all that waste adds up and literally costs billions of dollars to manage.

Convinced?

Now, how do we work to make sure our unwanted stuff doesn’t become just another item in the landfill?


This list is not exhaustive but includes non-landfill options for some of the clutter-causing items my family and I were keeping – simply because we weren’t sure what to do with them.


Before we jump in…





Gift and give away

A great way to ensure your item will be used and not immediately end up in a landfill is to find someone who wants it! There are a few different ways to ensure this:

  • Ask friends/family members if they are interested in the item
  • Gift it to someone you know would love it. I know, I know. Regifting…gasp! It’s time we get over the mindset around regifting. The act of gifting is in that itself…the process of gifting. It’s not about the item itself. And if there are people in your lives who live for the gifts and would be appalled that you didn’t buy something you didn’t even want to buy, or went into debt to gift them something, it’s time to reevaluate having that person in your life.
  • Post it for free online. Here are some great sites:
  • Selling is also an option using either the sites above, or the more specific sites mentioned under each category below.





Clothes and Shoes

Each year, 12.8 million tons of textiles end up in landfills each year, which comes out to be around 80 pounds per person in the US (source). Along with giving away, selling, repurposing, or recycling are all great options for your unwanted textiles. Of course, donating can be a great option, but as I mentioned above, 40% of items donated end up in the landfill, so I would recommend trying other options first. Here are some ideas:

  • Reuse un-givable and unsellable clothes as ‘paper’ towels, tissues, or cleaning rags.
  • Look into companies that accept textiles for recycling such as:
  • Check with your local recycling company or local county to see if they offer textile recycling
  • Host a clothing and shoe swap with friends or in your community!
  • Shoes: use old ones for gardening, mowing, cleaning the garage, playing outside, muddy walks/hikes, etc.
  • Sell:
    • A garage sale
    • Consignment shops
    • ThredUP (an online second-hand site for brand names – kids and womens)
    • Poshmark (second-hand clothes sold by individuals)
    • Sites listed above (Facebook Marketplace, Nextdoor, etc)
    • Ebay
  • Dress clothes: There are a number of organizations/non-profits, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, etc., that will take dress clothes to help people do interviews, etc. Check around your town to see if there are any organizations. For example, my husband had a number of suits that didn’t fit, and he was able to take them to an organization that helped men get prepared for interviews.

  • Wedding dresses: There are a number of options for getting rid of your wedding dress. Here are some of those options:
    • Sell: You can always try to sell your wedding dress online or through a consignment shop. Check your local area to find one in your area.
    • Donate: There are some great organizations out there that are willing to take wedding gowns. Here are some:
      • NICU Helping Hands: This organization is a well-known one for taking in wedding gowns and through the help of volunteers, creating gowns for babies who passed away in the hospital. However, at this time, they are not accepting more wedding gowns, but I wanted to point it out in case you or someone you know may want to try and donate to them in the future.
      • Adorned in Grace: This is a bridal shop in Washington, but they accept mailed donations. All the proceeds from sales go towards human trafficking.  They also appear to take other wedding attire, not just wedding gowns.
      • Wish Upon a Wedding: This organization takes professionally cleaned dresses that are less than three years old and provides them for couples dealing with a terminal illness to help them get married. It’s Make a Wish, but for couples.
      • Brides for a Cause: This organization accepts donated wedding gowns, sells them, and then makes donations to charities.
      • Mary Madeline Project: Similar to NICU Helping Hands, this organization accepts wedding gowns and through the help of volunteers, sews gowns for babies who passed away while in the hospital, or for stillbirth babies. Note: At this time the organization cannot accept any more wedding gowns, but I wanted to include it in case you or someone you know wants to donate at a later date.
      • Brides Across America: Recognized by Michelle Obama and Joe Biden, this organization accepts wedding gowns and donates them to military brides in need.
      • Every Girl’s Dream: This organization accepts not only wedding gowns, but also other wedding attire and prom dresses. The donations are tax deductible. The organization donates dresses to girls in need in Michigan, but you can mail in any item.
      • The Brides Project: The Brides Project is a bridal boutique in Michigan, and proceeds from sales of wedding gowns go towards the Cancer Support Community.
      • The Bridal Garden: The Bridal Garden accepts wedding gowns and bridal accessories. Proceeds from the sales of gowns and accessories go towards education for disadvantaged children in New York.
      • Cheri Amour Bridal: This organization will accept bridal gowns up to 10 years old. Proceeds from the sale of bridal gowns go towards Success in Style, an organization helping women re-enter the workforce, prepare for interviews, etc.
      • Rest in His Arms: Like NICU Helping Hands and the Mary Madeline Project, this organization accepts wedding dresses to be made into gowns and outfits for babies who passed away in the hospital. Note: they are also not accepting donations at this time.
      • Fairytale Brides: This is a bridal shop whose net proceeds go towards charities focusing on women empowerment.  
      • Donation Town: Find a charity near you that will pick up your wedding dress for donation
    • Upcycle: Ways to upcycle wedding dresses:
      • Remove lace pieces from the wedding gown to make lovely embellishments for the hair, a customized garter belt, a wrap for the flower stems on the bride’s bouquet or special keepsake holiday ornaments.
      • Cut a 3-4″ heart shape out of the dress fabric or lace. Give to a daughter, granddaughter or any special bride to stitch into the inside of her wedding dress bodice on the left side so that it’s close to her own heart. This can easily be done to the inside of the groom’s jacket as well.
  • Bridesmaid & Prom Dresses:
    • Sell: You can sell your dresses at local consignment shops
    • Donate
      • Becca’s Closet: Chapters all around the country accept prom dresses and accessories to distribute to high school girls who can’t afford them.
      • Operation Prom: There are a handful of donation stores around the country – check the site for specifics – that accept prom dresses and accessories for a teen in need.
      • Cinderella’s Closet USA: Find a donation store near you to donate your formal gowns and accessories to send a girl in need to prom.
      • The Princess Project: Donates a dress and accessories to a girl in need to go to prom
      • David’s Bridal: They accept prom dresses seasonally – check back occasionally to find out when they start accepting more.
      • Donation Town: Find a charity near you that will pick up your wedding dress for donation
      • Project Glam: Send in your prom dress to benefit a girl in need
      • Priceless Gown Project: Accepts prom dresses year-round to help benefit a girl in need


For a complete and comprehensive guide on getting rid of/recycling clothing, check out my post on the topic here.


Clothes Hangers

  • Offer them for free or give them away by asking friends/family or posting in one of the local community groups mentioned above (Freecycle, Buy Nothing Group, etc)
  • See if local donation organizations need them
  • Check with local daycare and childcare centers
  • See if any local women’s or homeless shelters could use them
  • See if your local school could use them
  • See if your local dry cleaners could use them
  • Wire hangers can sometimes be recycled into scrap metal. Contact your local recycling center to see if they accept them
  • Your best bet for plastic hangers is to try and donate them. Because you can’t be 100% sure what type of plastic the hanger is made out of, it’s best not to recycle. If it’s broken, simply toss it if you can’t repair.





Kitchen items/appliances

Small kitchen items and appliances usually have a long shelf life, but what do you do if you’re upgrading or one breaks? Here are some ideas:

  • If the item is still in working order, consider selling it at a garage sale, online (using the sites list above – Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, etc.)
  • Donate it to a local organization
  • Give away to someone you know or via one of the free sites listed above (Freecycle, Buy Nothing Group, etc.). This can be an option even if it is broken – sometimes people want broken items for the parts!
  • Best Buy will accept small appliances for recycling
  • Small appliance repair shops will sometimes accept items for recycling
  • Check with your local county to see if they accept small appliances, or if they have a particular day will they will collect
  • For large appliances, often companies will come and pick up the old one when replacing the new one.
  • For crockpots, you can reuse the ceramic liner (mine broke this past fall and I plan on using it for a planter come spring). The metal part did have to go in the trash (I tried calling a number of places).
  • Hamilton Beach offers a recycling program for their products
  • Seattle Coffee Gear accepts espresso machines and bean grinders for part recycling. It appears that it doesn’t matter the brand, but I wasn’t able to confirm 100%. Worth a shot though if you find yourself with one of these items to recycle.





Electronics and Computers

You may have heard of e-waste. You may know that throwing any type of electronics (also known as e-waste) into the landfill is a big no-no. But why? According to one source:

“When electronics end up in landfills, toxins like lead, mercury, and cadmium leach into the soil and water. The electronic waste problem is huge: More than 20 million tons of ewaste are produced every year.”

Yuck. So how can you properly dispose of your e-waste? Here are some options:

  • Check with your local county to see if they offer any type of electronics recycling.
  • Find places to recycle electronics using this finder
  • Places like Best Buy offer electronics recycling
  • NCDAV: Collects old phones or small electronic items such as MP3 players, laptops, digital cameras, video game systems to refurbish and resell for charity
  • Apple will take Apple products back in exchange for a gift card (based on item value) or if it is not worth anything, they’ll recycle it for you for free
  • Staples
  • Target (MP3 Players)
  • World Computer Exchange (working items only)
  • Location finder for computers and other electronics





Cell Phones

Anyone else like me and my husband and have old phones stuffed in a box somewhere? Part of the reason we have kept them is ‘just in case’ our current phones break and we need a backup. But really, I think the biggest reason is we don’t know what to do with them. And like electronic waste, phones contain toxic materials that can leach into the surrounding environment.

Luckily, there are TONS of options for recycling your cell phone. Here are some:

  • Many cell phone providers offer a recycling program (see Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon)
  • Secure the Call: Accepts phones for domestic violence victims, senior citizens, and law enforcement.
  • Cellular Recycle: you can print a shipping label and mail in old phones for recycling
  • NCDAV: Collects old phones or small electronic items such as MP3 players, laptops, digital cameras, video game systems to refurbish and resell for charity
  • Lowes
  • Staples (Smartphones)
  • Target


Wires and cords

Along with a box of old cell phones, we also have the dreaded box of tangled cords that no one can seem to figure out where they came from or where they go. Here are some places you can recycle wires and cords:

  • There are kiosks at any Best Buy
  • Check with your local county
  • See if local high schools can use them for their STEM program
  • World Computer Exchange (working items only)




Batteries

  • Check with your local county
  • Call2Recycle: Offers options to mail in batteries for recycling
  • Home Depot recycles through Call2Recycle but offers options for drop-off sites
  • Staples (rechargeable batteries)



single use plastic


Plastics

Ah plastics. What exactly can you recycle when it comes to plastics? With so many different plastic options, and so many differences from city to city, it can be hard to navigate the plastic recycling world. Here’s what my recommendations are:

  • Reduce: I talk about reducing overall below, but it’s worth mentioning here as well. With the rise in zero/low waste popularity, easy plastic swaps are becoming more mainstream. For the sake of decluttering, I’ll mention some single-use plastics that can often cause clutter, such as, single-use silverware, plastic bags, and more.
  • Check with your local waste collection company for the items you can recycle and which ones you can’t. For the ones you can’t, check with your county – sometimes they’ll accept more items
  • The one deviation from this is plastic bags. You can’t throw plastic bags in your regular recycling receptacle. The bags can get caught in recycling machinery and cause all sorts of havoc. So what can you do? Plastic bags can be recycled, as well as any other type of stretchy plastic (all-plastic mailing envelopes, ziplock bags (minus the zipper), cling wrap, produce bags, bread bags – basically any plastic you can ‘stretch’) can be recycled at special bins located in Target, many grocery stores, your local recycling center, etc. But remember, all these types of stretchy plastics can be avoided by using reusables!
  • When in doubt, throw it out. What? Yes, I’m serious. Items that end up in the recycling that don’t belong there can cause all sorts of havoc, and ultimately end up in the trash (along with any other recyclables the item was with). This is because recycling facilities don’t have the resources to physically sort through every bag of items that comes in. Wrongfully recycled items can also clog sorting machines and other machinery which takes time and money away from the facility. If you want more information, check out my post on wish-cycling (which is what this is called).
  • Check out my post on plastics: Why Plastic is Not the Enemy. Our Mindset Is.





Papers

Paper clutter is the bane of my existence. It is one of the items that I find hardest to keep from coming into the house, and often, the items don’t have a clear and immediate home (psst: for tips on reducing paper clutter – I focus big on reducing here too – check out my post on that here.)

Even with taking great measures to avoid it coming in, it inevitably does, and you’re left wondering what to do with it.  To answer that question, here is a great guide from Going Zero Waste with tons of information about how to recycle paper the right way.






Kids Items

  • Broken toys/toys with missing pieces
    • Little Tykes has an option where you can purchase missing or broken parts to fix a toy
    • Lego also sells individual pieces for missing or broken items
    • Have a lot of people in your community who may benefit from broken toy recycling? Terracycle has a zero waste toy box which accepts broken toys. It does cost money, so going in with other families or through an organization can be useful!
    • Use broken toy pieces for arts and craft projects!
    • Use broken toys as an exploration experiment. Allow kids to take it all apart, try and figure out went wrong, put it back together, etc.
    • Check out sites like Angie’s List for people in your area who may be able to fix broken toys
    • Have some pieces that could be considered e-waste (which should never go into a landfill)? Check with your local county to see if they accept e-waste, or try places such as Best Buy or using this e-waste recycling locator.
  • Stuffed animals:
    • Stuffed animals in new or like-new condition can often be donated to local police departments for police officers to give to kids during emergency situations. Check with your local law enforcement department to see if they will accept stuffed animals
    • Stuffed Animals for Emergencies: similar to above, this organization collects and cleans stuffed animals and provides them for kids in emergency situations. Visit the website for details.
    • Some dog owners will happily take stuff animals for dog toys
    • Offer them for free on local groups
    • Call your local recycling center (or anywhere that recycles textiles) to see if they accept stuffed animals, or if they will accept certain parts
  • Second Chance Toys: This organization is only located in a handful of cities, but if one of them is yours, this could be a great option for getting rid of toys.
  • Consider a local toy library: we have a toy library and it is an amazing resource. We literally check out toys – just like you would books at a book library. It is a great way to save money and reduce waste
  • Host a toy swap with friends and community members! Mama Minimalist has a great infographic about how to host a toy swap.



decluttering your bathroom



Medications

Old medications should be disposed of immediately (plus the bottles contribute to so much clutter), but what is the best way? You may have heard that trace amounts of antibiotics, hormones, and other prescription medications have been found in drinking water, partly from people dumping medication down the toilet. To prevent this from getting worse, here are a couple of options:





Furniture

Furniture is not always what comes to mind when we think of clutter ending up in the landfills. But the statistics are pretty staggering:

“…U.S. EPA reported that furniture accounted for 9.8 million tons (4.1 percent) of household waste {and that} furniture is the number one least-recycled item in a household.” (source)

But it is not just household furniture that is ending up in the landfill. Office furniture makes up a huge amount of landfill waste as well. According to this source:

“…up to 8.5 million tons, or 17 billion pounds, of office assets end up in US landfills annually, and that waste management represents up to 4% of a business or organization’s costs.”

I know it can be much easier to just throw that old chair out with your garbage on waste pickup day, but there are many other options out there! Here are some ideas on how to properly dispose of furniture:

  • Donation companies that pick up: do a Google search for donation organizations that pick up for your area. Out of the ones that do, many will take furniture (at least in our area)
  • Green Standards (for office furniture): Will recycle office furniture by partnering with local non-profits
  • Check with your county/waste collection company to see if they have a furniture collection day, or their rules around dropping off to recycle
  • Put the item out on your curb with a free sign!
  • Post the item for free on one of the sites mentioned near the top of the post (Freecycle, Nextdoor, etc)
  • Repurpose/reupholster it: Youtube and Pinterest are your friend here
  • Break it down and recycle the pieces individually (ex. cloth = textile recycling)
  • Check with junk removal companies in your area to see if they offer furniture recycling/pickup





Change your mindset

Finally, we need to work on changing our mindset around ‘stuff’. More specifically, we need to work on changing our mindset to make sure we don’t accumulate more stuff after decluttering and going through all the work of disposing our unwanted items properly. How can we do this?

  • Be grateful for what we have – start a gratitude practice. Seriously. Write down 10 things you’re grateful for each day.
  • Adopt a one item in, one item out rule. Any item you bring in, you must also get rid of one at home. This has helped tremendously make sure we are only purchasing things we LOVE since we know we have to replace something at home.
  • Is shopping an outlet for you when you’re feeling down or upset? It is for many people. But shopping as an outlet can lead to a vicious cycle of guilt, shame, and sadness – not to mention clutter. See if you can find another outlet such as going for a walk, calling a friend, doing a random act of kindness, or writing down a few things you’re thankful for.
    • Another trick is if you are shopping online, put the item in your cart and then WALK AWAY. Seriously. Close the tab and don’t open it again until the next day. At that point you can revisit the item when you’re not in the moment of feeling upset (or as upset) and reevaluate if it is something you truly want or need.
  • Hold on to a reduction mindset! You’re working on decluttering. It can be really hard! Why would you want to bring more clutter back in? Remind yourself that clutter takes up so many resources – time, money, emotional and physical energy, and more – anytime you’re feeling inclined to bring an item into your house.




Looking for additional places to donate items? This list from Miss Minimalist has a TON of great resources.


Want more resources on how to declutter? Check out my posts on decluttering and minimalism.


Finally, can’t get enough Marie Kondo? Check out these awesome posts:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up [Marie Kondo Book Review] from the Curious Button

WHAT MARIE KONDO TAUGHT ME ABOUT CONSCIOUS CONSUMERISM from Restitch

YOU’VE WATCHED MARIE KONDO’S TIDYING UP, NOW WHAT TO DO WITH ALL YOUR STUFF THAT DOESN’T ‘SPARK JOY’ from The Green Hub



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Decluttering but not sure what to do with all your clutter? How do you properly dispose of all those hard to recycle items? This giant list provides tons of resources to help you declutter without sending your items to the landfill.
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Chloe Daniels | Clo Bare
Guest

This was EYE-OPENING. I love that you finished up with it’s the mindset that needs to change, not the plastic. And you’re so right. I think so many of our world problems would be solved if we were mindful about the actions we take and how they have a collective effect on the rest of the world.

Thanks for sharing <3

Erin
Guest

This is such an interesting and useful article! I didn’t realize so many companies/organizations would take products to recycle. That’s good to know! It’s amazing how much impact you can make by doing a little research before just throwing something in the trash! Thanks for sharing!

Mandy
Guest

This is a great post! I have been thinking of KonMari a lot lately, and it is nice to know some ways that our discarded things can be repurposed or reused instead of just wasted! I did not know that Goodwill trashed so much stuff.. Alarming!

Mandy
Guest

This is so helpful! I always wonder what to do with the stuff I don’t want to keep. I usually donate it but I do feel bad knowing that much of it may end up in trash. Thanks for all the tips!

Natalie
Guest

Thanks so much for posting such a wonderful resource list. I have been attempting to move our family towards lower waste over the last couple of years. It feels good when we’re successful. It’s amazing, though, how much waste we all contribute to this planet every year. Thanks for putting it in perspective.

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