Making Decisions: Cleaning and De-cluttering Responsibly

Live Simply So Others May Simply Live,” ~  Gandhi

Recycle Feet Stock Image By digitalart From: ttp://
Recycle Feet Stock Image By digitalart From: ttp://

Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
~ Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

I am currently reading Bea Johnson’s book “Zero Waste Home” (She also has a blog I haven’t explored yet: ) and thinking on what does “cleaning” and “zero waste” actually mean…and whether they are something a suburban city dweller can actually achieve…

I have read books on simplicity in the past and many talk about downsizing and de-cluttering, some propose a system and others, even a “target” number of the “stuff” we are supposed to have…

I’m not so interested in the “cleanse” portion but in how simplicity helps us to be more conscious and responsible, even compassionate as our simple actions of what we buy or accept from others, what we keep and what we throw “away” do make a difference on ecosystems, economic systems and other beings and people’s lives.

Some time ago I become trapped by the “American Dream”: coming from South America and mostly modest origins, I was excited for all the beautiful things I saw (and could afford)…in a few years, our little townhouse became cluttered with all kind of things: mostly books and movies, but also board-games and Lego for my children…we got into the “you need to have a TV” game even when I rarely watched TV in the past and have stopped watching it altogether since 2011; I have lots of supplies for knitting, crafting, sewing, canning and gardening; camping and survival equipment and plenty of places for people to stay (we used to have visitors every summer and winter for the first four years in Canada so our home is full with sofa-beds, pillows and blankets: we look like a hostel)

My home is full of books...everywhere!
My home is full of books…everywhere!

On the top of this, I don’t like throwing things that may work for “something” in an uncertain future, so I have boxes full of glass jars and containers: even cardboard and newspapers may work for lasagna gardening projects and composting!

When you realize, your house is so cluttered that you can feel the burden on your shoulders…

De-cluttering and simplifying have always had a wonderful feeling attached: I feel light and energized when I see empty spaces and my house clean…my last de-cluttering happened two weeks ago when my co-worker and dear friend of four years left us and we were forced to move our office to a different space (now I’m the only counsellor for +140 clients and growing!)

It was easy, because even when I do have lots of books and materials at work, I am also pretty well organized and (they say) very efficient (it counts that I love the work I do)

My desk :)
My desk 🙂

But I am digressing…

The point I want to make here (and for me too) is that de-cluttering and simplifying as seeing through Permaculture lenses (i.e. systems thinking) needs to be responsible and conscious: when we clean our house (office, school, life) what we are “throwing away” is going somewhere else and will have an impact on others and the environment.

To be simple and de-cluttered the best way is to stop buying and accepting stuff…that’s it!

It is easy to say…not so easy to put into practice: we live surrounded by stuff, some of which comes to our homes uninvited in the form of gifts and mail or because other people who live with us bring them in.

Then we have all the (almost unavoidable) packaging: it is easy to make the decision on avoiding packaging…but very, very difficult to actually put into practice when almost all the things consumed at home comes in some sort of packaging and your busy life doesn’t allow you to do errands all around the city trying to find the stores where you could buy in bulk o bring a jar for the stuff you are buying.

As a suburban dweller I struggle with composting (I’m not supposed to do it in a townhouse) and forget about composting humanure (i.e. composting toilets) or any manure at all (I have two cats and a dog!)…so what can we do?

The magical “R’s” for de-cluttering and producing less waste:

Tick Reuse Represents Go Green And Bio Stock Image By Stuart Miles From:
Tick Reuse Represents Go Green And Bio Stock Image
By Stuart Miles From:
  • Rethink: our values and needs (this is a hard one for me: I love physical books, gardening, canning and craft material and I find a use for each one of these things in my life. However, I could go to the library instead, create a tool library for the gardening stuff and stop dreaming with knitting and crafting!)
  • Refuse and reject: what is not needed or wanted (working hard here and trying to find balance in my life: how to do grocery shopping with the least possible packaging and stress)
  • Reduce: what we have and what we bring into our lives (exception: when we bring friends, love, knowledge, hope…)
  • Re-give: you can swap, give away, sell or donate many of the things you have from children’s clothes and toys to computers, TVs and even cardboard!
  • Repair: we throw many things that are in good shape if only we take the time to repair them or send them to somebody who could repair them if we don’t know how. This does have a catch: if you won’t repair something within six months, better to give it away than becoming a hoarder)
  • Reuse and repurpose (also known as up-cycling): many of the things we get or buy are used just once: what if we find another use for them or reject using them only once? Example: I reuse glass jars as containers, glasses and decorated as gifts; some other ideas are using toilet paper tubes (the cardboard) as mulch or compost; old socks as cleaning mops and old towels for floor mopping; decorating old containers as pots for herbs; using plastic bottles as crop covers, etc.
  • Rot: most of the stuff that enters our house and we throw “away” may be good for some type of composting: from vermin-composting to regular composting to burying the stuff really deep in the soil to building soil and garden beds…
  • Recycle: this should be the last option when none of the above applies


Walking on the coast
Walking on the coast

I find that walking this path is a balancing act: I could live with what’s in my backpack and be perfectly happy as I have never been greedy nor attached to stuff or places…but I am also a “professional” working 9-5 (and as such I “need” to dress in certain way and use certain stuff I wouldn’t otherwise); a “student” taking classes at two colleges (and believe me, studying creates lots of messy “stuff”) and a mother (of teenagers who wouldn’t give up their old toys, movies and books and had trouble parting ways with their unsustainable habits)

However, I have hope: three years ago the cloth napkins I made brought a lot of bad reactions but now they know exactly which one belongs to which (they are different colours); they complained about the worms and fruit flies when they saw me three Christmas ago building my first (failed) composting bin and worm factory…now, they quietly ask me if the worms would like certain fruits or whether their leftovers are for the wormies, the compost or the dog (and I wish I had a pig and some chicken!); they accepted my canning and preserving until 2 am and the plants drying for seed around the kitchen…I have seen them separating the toilet paper tubes and leaving them for my composting and nobody ever complains when I mention I have yet another Permaculture trip, project or workshop…

My hope will be consummated when my 19-year old son accepts my gift of sending him to next year’s PDC in Cuba…or, at least, start helping me in the garden 🙂


The last flowers of the season...there is spring after every winter
The last flowers of the season…there is spring after every winter

Where you tend a rose, my lad, A thistle cannot grow.”
~ Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

One Comment on “Making Decisions: Cleaning and De-cluttering Responsibly

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