After Marie Kondo’s hit Netflix show Tidying Up launched this year, people around the world have been asking themselves if their stuff “sparks joy” and decluttering the items that don’t. While I love that the show has inspired people to think about their stuff and what they actually need and love, and personally I’ve experienced so many benefits of decluttering and being more mindful of my possessions, I think there’s a missing element of how to get rid of all the stuff in a responsible way.
Often people’s first response is to trash it as it’s the easiest and fastest way to get rid of things, but obviously this creates a ton of unnecessary waste. Thrift stores have seen an uptick in donations which might seem like a great thing (if you’re an avid thrifter get out there and enjoy it!), but actually comes with a series of issues as thrift stores and charity shops already get way more donations than they can sell.
Donating isn’t always “Good”
I’d like to clarify this because I don’t want to give the wrong impression – donating your unused stuff instead of throwing it away is definitely the way to go, but let’s look at ways you can do this more responsibly. People often feel that by donating their clothes and home goods to thrift stores they are doing something altruistic and helping others when this might not be the result.
The reality is thrift stores get piles of cheap, fast fashion clothing which no one wants to buy. If you can get a $5 top brand new, are you likely to buy the same top for $3 used? Also with cheap clothing often comes quality issues. A lot of donated clothing doesn’t even make it onto the floor and ultimately only about 25% of donated items actually get sold.
So what happens to the other 75%? They might be turned into rags, some end up in the landfill, but most clothes seem to get shipped to other countries. Africa has become a huge market for used clothing and some countries are fighting back, claiming that it’s damaging their local apparel economy. A few countries including Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda have attempted to ban used clothing imports to try and grow their own textile industry however the US hit back hard, threatening to impose tariffs. As a result Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda backed down from their ban. Rwanda however is moving forward and plans for a total ban by the end of 2019.
Another issue with this system is we are essentially selling our garbage to someone else. Clothing is packaged and sold in large bales, then the purchaser goes through and sorts out what they can sell, but what about the rest? I couldn’t find detailed information about what happens to it but I assume it most likely ends up in a landfill.
How can you donate better?
Make sure everything is clean and in good condition. If you wouldn’t wear/use it, it’s better to recycle and not donate it. Sorting out unusable items at donation centres requires time, resources, and energy and it might just end up in the trash anyway, so only donate good quality, good condition, saleable items.
Check with shelters, charities, and other local organisations who might want your stuff. It’s really important to contact them first though as most of these organisations only need specific items. Don’t just drop stuff off and make them then deal with things they can’t use as this ends up costing the charity time and sometimes money.
Do some research into any charities, thrift shops, and organizations you’re donating to. Do you support their causes? Organizations should be transparent about what they do with donations – are they given to local charities, sold, etc and what happens to items they can’t use/sell? It’s especially important to look into the charities with clothing donation bins as some of these have been found to be fakes.
Consider selling instead
Selling your clothes and household goods can actually be a great way to ensure the item goes to someone who will use it. You can use local buy/sell sites or groups, sell through consignment stores, or through online marketplaces.
This can be a great way to make some money back or you can donate the money you made instead. Donating funds to support your favourite organizations can be a lot more helpful than donating stuff as it gives them the flexibility to do/buy exactly what they need.
How else can you get rid of your stuff?
See if any friends or family members want your things. An easy way to do this is post what you’re getting rid of on social media and see if there are any takers. This way you know it’s going to someone who will use it. You can also see if there are any local Freecycle groups where you can give away stuff.
If you’re really into tidying up you might not want to bring anything new into your closet but if you’re getting rid of clothes and possibly also looking to add some pieces to your wardrobe, a clothing swap can be a really fun and sustainable way to update your closet. Invite friends to bring clothes they no longer want and make an event of it! Although be sure to also have a plan for any leftovers.
If you’re crafty you can also look into some upcycle projects. Pinterest, youtube, and blogs have endless project ideas – just make sure it’s something you will actually use/wear.
Anything that is broken, in poor condition, used up, or unsalable should be recycled instead of donated. Depending on the product and where you live there are different options:
- Check if the brand has a take-back program.
- Look into local recycling facilities and what they accept. If they don’t take certain items like textiles ask if they know places that do.
- Do a little research – if I ever have items I’m not sure about recycling, I always do a quick search “How to recycle _______”, sometimes you get some good tips or find organizations that will take the item for recycling.
- Check out TerraCycle as they recycle many items that recycling facilities won’t take.
After the Tidy Up
Something else very important with the whole decluttering process is making sure you don’t just re-accumulate the stuff.
First, enjoy your new space! Hopefully you will get some of the wonderful benefits of a tidier home and closet – less stress, easier to find things, only having items that you use and enjoy, etc. Recognizing and remembering the benefits you experienced will help with maintaining that space.
Consider your shopping habits or how you got all the stuff that doesn’t “spark joy” in the first place. Do you shop for fun or stress relief? Easily get tempted by sales? Make a lot of impulse purchases? Changing shopping habits can be very difficult but trying to find your routines and triggers can really help with making those changes.
Try implementing rules for new purchases. Some people find this really helpful to change their shopping habits. The “One In One Out” rule is pretty popular – so in order to bring something new in you have to be willing to let go of something else. Other people will wait a certain time, like a week, after seeing something they want before they can buy it – this helps you to think and make sure it’s something you really want. I’ve also seen people impose a strict budget which not only helps you save money but also means you really have to think about what you do buy.
Whether you find rules work for you or not, something that’s always helpful when faced with a new purchase is to ask yourself these questions before buying.
Do you have any other tips for tidying up and getting rid of stuff responsibly?
Read some more Marie Kondo/Tidying Up Posts from fellow EWC Members:
- The Eco-Friendly Magic of Tidying Up from The Mindful Mom
- What Marie Kondo Taught Me About Conscious Consumerism from Restitchstance
- 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
- Spark Joy: One Simple Change to Organize Your Space from Honestly Modern