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Decluttering? Here’s How to Responsibly Get Rid of Your Stuff

tips for tidying up and donating old things

Written by Alice Robertson, a professional organizer and tidying consultant, for StyleWise

A note from Leah: In today’s fast paced consumer economy, where items are purchased and discarded without a second thought, it’s important to remember that “tidying up” can function merely as a release valve for overconsumption, personal guilt, and overwhelm. We should be careful to cultivate a type of consumption that releases us from this cycle, but in the meantime, it’s good to know how to start the process of paring down for good. 

It wasn’t too long ago that decluttering one’s home meant stuffing garbage cans and dragging oversized items out to the curb. Diminishing landfill space — today, 2,000 landfills hold more than 200 million tons of municipal waste — and a growing environmental consciousness have altered the way Americans dispose of waste and objects that create clutter. Eco-friendly decluttering is a deliberate, purposeful process that emphasizes recycling and finding ways to dispose of objects that can’t be simply thrown out. Protecting our environment requires everyone’s participation, so consider the following ideas for reducing, recycling and reusing.


Textiles account for a massive amount of the total material that’s sent to landfills. In 2014, more than 16 million tons of textile waste was produced, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The majority of that bulk — over 10 million tons of clothing, bedclothes, and mattresses — wound up in landfills. Old mattresses make up a considerable amount of textile wastage, despite the fact that much of the material inside a mattress is recyclable. So, contact a local recycling center to see if they have a mattress reclamation and recycling program. The American Textile Recycling Service has collection bins in communities across the US where you can leave old clothing, bedding, and other textile items instead of throwing them away. Find a drop-off location near you by calling 866-900-9308 24 hours a day.

Instead of tossing old clothing into the trash, make a trip to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or a local thrift shop with a mission that aligns with your values every month to keep textile waste from overwhelming your living space (call ahead to make sure that the shop has the infrastructure to send unsaleable items to textiles recycling facilities).

Or, take advantage of the second-hand economy by taking your unwanted clothing to consignment stores, holding a garage sale, or by selling them online on Ebay, Poshmark, or Etsy. It’s a great way to make decluttering pay off (literally) and recycle items that could benefit someone else. It’s certainly better than sending more waste to the local landfill; you can learn more by clicking here.

Appliances and Electronics

Decluttering can become a hassle when it comes to disposing of oversized items such as appliances and electronics. Check with appliance retailers who sometimes offer buyback programs to encourage consumers to recycle. If that old refrigerator in the basement still works, consider donating it to a homeless shelter or an orphanage. If, like many people, your drawers are jammed full of old computer keyboards, cast-off cell phones, cracked tablets, chargers, and other debris from outmoded electronic items, be aware that most communities have recycling facilities that make it easy to declutter all that drawer space in an environmentally responsible manner (many electronics retailers also have buyback programs).

Digital Decluttering

Not only has technology made our lives easier, but it can also be put to work to help Mother Nature. What you need to declutter all those old documents and photos are a computer, an internet connection, and a scanner. Once you’ve scanned everything you want to keep, simply upload it to the cloud, where it can live forever at your fingertips and readily accessible.

Digital decluttering also lets you clear out computer downloads, unsubscribe from newsletters and email lists, clear out browser extensions, and better organize your images.

Clean and Green

Another not-to-be-overlooked benefit of eco-friendly decluttering is the opportunity to give your home a thorough cleaning. In keeping with the environmentally responsible theme, use natural and non-toxic cleaning substances that won’t threaten your family or the environment. Supermarkets and hardware stores offer many green cleaning options these days so you don’t have to default to the same bleach-based products you’ve always used.

If you prefer a more homespun approach, use common household substances like baking soda, lemon juice, or vinegar to clean the bathroom, get stains out of carpeting and upholstery, and deodorize your indoor air. Some of the safer cleaning products on the market are instantly recognizable (such as Bon Ami), while others, such as Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, are made from natural substances and can be used to clean everything from floors and dishes to your body.

Decluttering frees you from the stress and strain of agonizing over what to do about unwanted and unneeded possessions. It’s a way of preserving the natural environment and making resources last longer. The next time you look around your house in despair, try thinking of decluttering as a freeing and self-empowering initiative and an opportunity to recycle and reuse.

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tips for tidying up and donating old things

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