10 Quick Ways to Deal With Clutter Without Tossing it in the Trash

If you’re like me, you’ve probably felt at one time or another that you just have too much stuff.

More toys than your kids use.

Overstuffed closets.

Drawers that won’t close.

Cabinets filled to the brim.

All things you think you may need or wear or use someday.

But oftentimes, someday never comes, and instead this clutter increases stress and anxiety, and decreases productivity. You waste time and energy caring for it, cleaning it, reorganizing it, and trying to make it fit in your life. It’s not always physical items that add to the clutter, either. Inboxes full of junk emails or constant calls from solicitors can have the same effect. This article from Psychology Today, examines five of the reasons (and I know there are more than five) that clutter is harmful to your mental health and general well-being.

My family and I have been working toward our version of pseudo-minimalism and living more intentionally with less stuff. It has been a long process and we still have a way to go, but it has been very freeing, and definitely one of the best things we’ve ever done.

So if you’ve been wanting to minimize your possessions and free yourself of the burden of owning too much stuff, or if you just feel you need to declutter a bit, this checklist is a perfect starting place. I’m not one for resolutions, but the beginning of a new year seems like a perfect time to clear out, and begin a new outlook on how and what you consume and keep around in your life. So here is a list of 10 simple steps to begin your decluttering, and maybe even your journey to minimalism.

Happy purging!

As always, in the spirit zero waste practices, please remember to sell, donate, or recycle what you can rather than just tossing everything you don’t need anymore in the garbage. Some things will need to be trashed, but as much as possible, it is best to try and find things a useful new home to keep them out of the landfill. And of course, resolve in the future to refrain from overbuying or replacing the items you have decided you no longer need.

1. Unsubscribe from junk email or promotional sites.

This is an easy step, but it is also something you may need to continually stay on top of, as signing up for emails from one store can quickly snowball into constant emails from several places you don’t even shop. Also, by unsubscribing from these advertisements, you’ll feel less compelled to buy more stuff just because you see that a store is having a sale.

2. Remove yourself from physical junk mail distribution lists here.

This is a great step toward decluttering and helping the planet. Nobody needs the amount of physical junk mail that is still sent out. So remove your name and save a few trees!

3. Put your name on the Do Not Call list to stop solicitation calls here.

This should help to reduce interruptions and maybe even improve your sanity–those solicitation calls are so annoying!

4. Organize your important papers, mail stash, and/or file cabinet.

File what you need to keep and recycle what you don’t. We often keep statements and papers way longer than one needs to (if you even need to keep some of them at all). And while you’re at it, change your bills and statements to electronic versions to save even more trees.

5. Remove 10 pieces of clothing from your closet that don’t fit or you never wear.

Unless you already have a perfect capsule wardrobe, I would bet just about anybody can take five minutes, walk into their closet, and find 10 items they don’t wear anymore to donate or sell. (Sites like thredUp, Tradesy, Poshmark, or Kidizen are great for selling gently used items. And Goodwill or your local textile recycling center will take unusable or damaged clothing to recycle.) I used this method to start my clothing purge last year because I felt overwhelmed, and it was so easy, I ended up going back in two more times and removed 30 items from my closet the first day.

6. Remove 2-3 pairs of shoes you never wear or that don’t fit.

As above, unless you’ve perfected a minimalist wardrobe, most people can get rid of two or three pairs of unneeded shoes from their collection. I got rid of about 10 the first time around because my feet had grown a half size after my pregnancies…and I had a shoe problem in a prior life.

7. Go through your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, and separate the items that have gone bad, need to be used soon, or you don’t think you’ll eat.

Here in the U.S., we waste over one third of the food that we buy. Not only is this a waste of water, resources, and money, but the decomposing food produces large amounts of toxic methane gas in the landfill since it is not exposed to oxygen (as it would be in a compost pile). To combat this, you can start by donating unexpired, non-perishables that you don’t plan to eat to your local food shelf, and keeping leftovers and foods that need to be eaten soon in a designated place in the refrigerator so you remember to eat them. It also helps to make lists of what you really need at the store and avoid overbuying food.   

8. Go through your medicine cabinet and dispose of any unneeded or expired medications properly.

Unneeded or expired medications don’t do you any good sitting in your medicine cabinet and can sometimes pose a threat if other members of the household inadvertently ingest or misuse them. Most communities have drop off sites where you can drop off your unused medication and they will dispose of them safely (for example, in my community, there is a 24 hour medicine drop box in the lobby of the police department). You can also contact your local waste management company to see if they have a disposal program. Please do not throw the medicine in the trash or flush it down the toilet unless done so properly (more information can be found here).

9. Walk through your home and remove 10 pieces of “stuff” that you don’t need, want, or like anymore (picture frames, vases, dishes, decorations, trinkets that don’t have a place, etc.).

As with the clothing, unless you’re already a seasoned minimalist, this should be very easy and take less than 10 minutes. The key here is do NOT replace them.

10. Clean your car out (if you own one).

Whether you have kids or not, the car can become a dumping ground for random crap, or a black hole for lost sunglasses, lone gloves, or missing jewelry. Having a clean car will help reduce your stress and you may even find that thing you’ve been looking for forever. (And while you’re at it, find a good place to stash your reusable bags for your zero waste grocery trips.)

BONUS: If you have kids, reduce their toy collection.

My rule as of the past couple years has been to get rid of the same amount of toys that come in (this rule began after a fairly extensive toy purge). So if your child gets three new toys for a birthday or holiday, help them go through and donate three old toys. Also get rid of anything with broken or missing pieces. Ideally, if the toys are in good shape, the best thing is to sell or donate them so they may avoid the landfill a bit longer and find a new home. (Please do not donate broken toys. See if they can be recycled or upcycled, if possible.) The key here for the future, is to just plain buy less! But if you do get your kids a new toy, try to only buy eco-friendly, non-plastic, or second-hand toys to reduce the waste your children produce. Or get them my personal favorite, experience gifts.

But we want to hear from you! What are you doing to minimize unnecessary stuff in your life? Tell us in the comments so we can try it out! 

Kate Marnach recently moved to the Minneapolis suburbs with her husband and three kids after ten years of city living, and she’s still adjusting. She has a background in biology and a passion for helping the environment, but unexpected health challenges several years ago ultimately set her on a path toward clean eating and zero-waste living. She enjoys spending time outside with her family, hiking, traveling, and staying up way too late (because that’s when the house is finally quiet). In 2018, Kate is hoping to show that even suburbanites can live zeroish waste lifestyles. She also plans to continue her minimalism journey, learn to be a more productive gardener, and join a gym for the free childcare.

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