Simplify and Reduce: How to De-Clutter

It is not what we have but what we do that changes us and helps up grow. Often the things we have get in the way” ~ Scott Nearing

You must live as you think, or sooner or later you will think as you live” ~ Paul Valery

simple-living-sign

This is a very straight post: I am asking you to consider de-cluttering as part of this New Year resolution

I started today (and just stop to quickly write this post)

Fist a disclaimer: the issue of “de-cluttering” is more of a middle and upper class thing and more of Westernized societies than anything else.

It is also a very new “problem”, the result not only of consumerism but the way things are made nowadays: stuff is highly processed and packaged. Most things are also made to last shorter and many of them offer no repair ways or incentives (either their pieces are all welded together or there are no parts available; some parts, if they exist, are as expensive as buying another full new item, etc)

The fact that many of us are also forced or coerced to work full-time outside our homes complicate things, as repairing and making homemade stuff take time and energy apart of skills that we have lost

Physical clutter, however, may become a barrier for your independence and growth as a person: the more stuff you have around, the more you have to worry and protect. The more space you’ll need and the more time will require for you to clean and look for stuff when you need it.

It keeps you grounded in a bad sense: stuff doesn’t allow you to think on moving or travelling or renting spaces at home you may not be using. It creates an “anchor” that keeps your soul stuck

Stuff also means you may have debt. The more stuff you have, the more debt. Stuff requires containers to be organized and even storage services when your house is overflowing

I have been “purging” my house for years but it seems to continue to attract stuff: it comes through my kids’ old toys (that they want to preserve), my addiction to books, gifts from birthdays and Christmas and all the variety of containers from food, cleaning and hygiene supplies as well as pet food

I tend to keep things for future projects that never happen (lack of time and energy, other priorities), so this year is my year to decide whether I continue keeping the stuff or change my entire behaviour around time/work and priorities so I can finally work on the many projects I have for that “stuff”

Il-decluttering

Here is how I’m doing it:

  • Take 15-30 minutes each day/week. It is better to do this when you don’t have an important commitment coming right after and when you have already eaten, so you don’t have the temptation to go away to do something else
  • Start in one spot and don’t move around until you finish it: this can be something as small as a drawer or as big as an entire closet or bedroom. Better to start small and commit to do some every day or week than starting something so big that you’ll be discouraged
  • Have five boxes or bags with you: one is for things that will stay; the next for things that will be sold; the next for things that will be donated/gifted and the next for things that may need to be upcycled after some work. The last is for things that cannot be upcycled, repaired or reused in any form (i.e. they will end up in the landfill or being “recycled” depending on the material they were made of)
  • How to make the decisions: for each thing ask yourself whether this object is being used a lot, it makes your life more meaningful or beautiful or is a really important gift from someone you love. If something is none of that, ask yourself why are you keeping it? What’s their use or function? Why is it taking space in your home and life? There are things you may use only a few times a year but are important to you and very useful, but there are others that may be doing a better job in someone else house…
  • Things that are keeping their value may be saved for later sell at a garage sale. Things that are not sold and are still in a god shape may be donated. If you choose to donate, make sure you donate directly to agencies or places you trust and not through donation bins. Many donation bins end up being shipped and sold to people in “developing” countries. Some bins are filled with stuff that is dangerous or damages the donations and things may then end up in landfills
  • If you have neighbours, friends or coworkers, you can ask them if they would accept second-hand items in good shape. Many would be happy to come and see what you have, people with small children may be grateful for second-hand but good shape clothes and toys, for example
  • Once you finish doing the sorting, put all the “staying” things in their right place (they may belong there or somewhere else in the house). If the boxes are full before you finish, just bring more boxes until you finish the process
  • If you do have the time, use this to clean the area before you put the “staying” stuff back into that drawer/closet or room. If you don’t have the time, leave it. Now that you have less stuff the area has already became easier to clean next time you have a moment
  • Move the “selling/donating/upcycling/repairing/recycling/throwing” boxes to the place where they belong (garage? Storing room? Closet?)

 

Throwing:

I have to confess that I struggle with the concept of throwing, but at the same time, I have a very small space to keep things. I don’t like throwing nor recycling because I know where things go and I know that recycling actually takes up more energy than it saves and in many cases all the stuff still go to the landfill or even worse: it is shipped to “developing” countries where children without any protection sort and break it down to obtain metals and other resources to sell

One way to avoid the throwing/recycling is reducing waste from the source: avoiding buying stuff that comes in containers. But the reality is that even that is almost impossible in the world we live: most of the things we buy do come in some sort of container or are made in such a way that they generate waste after use

Some ideas to avoid containers and waste are:

creative-containers-for-succulents-container-gardening-flowers-gardening

  • Ban plastic bags from your life: carry vegetables and food reusable bags with you and reusable grocery bags for the big stuff. You can even make them with old clothes such as jeans (for sturdy bags) and sheets (for fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, etc)
  • Some food may require other type of containers (for example, when you buy things such as meat, fish, beans, pasta, cheese, etc). For these ones try carrying a couple of big glass jars with plastic lids, make sure they are weighted before you put the stuff inside so you are charged for the right cost
  • Buy bulk food from the no-container aisles in the grocery store: most stores now have a bulk area for things such as pasta, grains, beans, coffee, nuts and even spices
  • Make as much of the stuff you need at home. If you organize yourself you may be able to make cheese, yogurt, kefir, soups and sprout seeds for salads and sandwiches once a week. Making bread, pasta and pizza may take a bit more of your time, more if your family consume these things on a regular basis
  • Even pet food can be made at home and ensure your pets eat healthier, avoiding the many containers for wet food
  • Carry your mug, a clean cloth napkin and some basic cutlery with you so if you “need” to eat or drink something, you avoid contributing to more waste. Better: make your own sandwiches, juices or coffee/tea and carry them with you
  • Avoid buying processed or frozen food. They all tend to come in containers
  • When you need to buy things that come in containers, choose glass over plastic and cardboard over plastic or Styrofoam
  • Make your own house cleaning supplies, your own soap and shampoo
  • Grow as much of your own herbs and food as you can or buy them from local farmers and/or CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture)

I make most of the things above, for now…

Upcycling

scarf-giftwrap-furoshiki-irene-loves-crafts

Upcycling has been done for centuries and is not a new concept for me or for many in Latin America and other “developing” countries…it is rapidly disappearing as people move to middle and upper classes and are made to believe that upcycling is only for “poor” and somewhat “miserable”

Upcycling is just finding creative new uses for stuff whose original function no longer applies. Sometimes it requires transforming, breaking apart of fixing parts, sometimes the stuff can be just used in a different way

An easy example is using old metal cans as containers to grow herbs: they may take a little painting or decorating, or may be used as they are

Some upcycling examples I do:

  • Old towels: may be used to dry my pets after a good bath; as mops for cleaning the floor; cut into smaller pieces to use as kitchen towels or for cleaning rugs. The trick is separating them by colours or making a mark to know where each belong
  • Jeans and other sturdy clothes: I make totes to carry stuff and buy at the market
  • Clothes in general: I make napkins, handkerchiefs, vegetable and fruit bags for shopping, gift bags to use instead of wrapping paper, small crafts and decorations and throws, tapestry, carpets and bed covers (quilts)
  • Old glass jars: to save leftovers; store grains, beans, rice and pasta; to store buttons, nails, pencils and other small stuff; to sprout all kind of seeds or store them
  • Egg cartons: great as seed starters or even for growing micro-greens
  • Egg shells: I bake and then smash/pulverize them and use it on top of soil or compost
  • Vegetable scraps: vermin-compost (composting with worms) and/or regular compost
  • Fruit scraps: making vinegar
  • Glass bottles: to store my vinegars and infused vinegars, home-made kombucha and the like
  • Old underwear/socks: make soap bags to use small soap pieces; if too worn, they can be cut and mixed with soil or used as mulch/compost in areas where you don’t mind looking “beautiful” (please cut them first! And this can only be made with cotton/organic fibers/textiles); make panty-liners or use as stuffing for cushions or toys
  • Cardboard, junk mail, old mail/paper, paper bags and newspapers: I cut them in strips and add it to the compost or vermin compost or as mulch
  • Old cans: depending on the size, shape or whether they are safe (some may cut you!) I use them as containers, crafts, to start seeds or to grow herbs that may not need too much space
  • Old plastic bottles (there are not many around the house but sometimes they come through my kids’ friends or parties): I cut them and use them as cover to prevent pests or heavy wind/rain on my seedlings. The bottle butt is actually good as cover for seed starters as it acts as a small greenhouse, keeping the warm and moisture and allowing the light through
  • Old books, magazines: donate to a library or ask a daycare if they need them for crafts (daycares/childcares may welcome other things such as plastic and metal lids, buttons, fabric, and safely cut cans for their craft projects, however, these things may still end up at the landfill after the craft project, so use the opportunity to educate teachers and children about their disposal and better: avoid consuming items that produce waste!)

The list is almost endless, do you have any other ideas? Please share them here!

3 thoughts on “Simplify and Reduce: How to De-Clutter

  1. Well said! And a good resolution – one I made last year. It is however an ongoing process so the resolution continues.

    Training people not to give me unnecessary stuff is the biggest challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said! And a good resolution – one I made last year. It is however an ongoing process so the resolution continues.

    Training people not to give me unnecessary stuff is the biggest challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it is for sure ongoing…I have been doing this for about five years, but things continue coming into the house through gifts or stuff packaging/containers so my challenge this year is how to manage that while working full-time as reducing packaging requires one to be more at home!

      Like

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