Decluttering vs Wasting
The idea of less stuff, clean surfaces, and an organised home is appealing to most. That thought that you could spend less time cleaning, that it would be so simple that your 3-year-old could do it and that you could enjoy your home is so attractive that many of us have been on and off the decluttering bandwagon for years.
But if you are also trying to be environmentally friendly and reduce your contribution to landfill, it can be a conflicted experience. Likewise, if you are someone who is budget conscious you might be looking at your possessions in terms of the monetary investment that you are potentially throwing away. Alternatively, you might be more a sentimental type who sees the love in the gift (wanted or not at the time) that you are now trying to disconnect from.
Personally, I struggled with all three. I punished myself for purchasing or acquiring the thing in the first place by trying to find a use for it when clearly it was not for me. The thing would hang around my house, then in some storage space making it difficult to get to other more useful things, then it would be relegated to the shed before I’d finally admit defeat and move it on. I felt guilty and ashamed of my relationship with stuff and that I had been outmanoeuvred by marketing to buy things I really didn’t need.
There are two ideas that made the difference for me.
- I started thinking of stuff as having its own needs – a need to be used as often as possible. Was I ever going to use this to its full potential? Would anyone I know use it more? Could it be recycled so that it could have a new life as something with purpose again?
- I also started thinking about waste more generally to do with my things. What other waste am I creating because I am holding onto this thing when really it needs to go (even if it needs to go to landfill)? Was it impeding my ability to use other things to their full potential – like the bowls I couldn’t get out of the cupboard because I had too many serving dishes in the way or the room that we only half used because it had a stockpile of stuff to find a use for? Was I wasting time moving and reorganising this thing that I don’t use, instead of using that time to live more sustainably? Was I wasting water and electricity cleaning it but never using it?
I follow the waste hierarchy pretty religiously:
Refuse – stop buying things or bringing things home unless I need them
Reduce – aim for the smallest amount of things that I serve my needs
Reuse – find a new purpose for an underused item or pass it on to someone that can use it more
Recycle – break it down into its core material and give it another life
Rot – some things can be added to a compost pile to at least build your garden on
Then if it has to go to landfill so be it.
We are all learning and growing. We make mistakes. In other areas of our lives, we have learnt to forgive ourselves, let it go and move on. This is just one more area to practice this. Stop punishing yourself for your past and give yourself permission to step lightly into your best future.