“Don’t just declutter, de-own.” ~ Joshua Becker

Minimalist living is starting to catch on. As more and more people come to realize that we all live in a world with scarce resources, they’re looking to minimize their own impact and learning how to be happy with less. It certainly helps that having less can actually make you happier.

This trend towards minimalism is undoubtedly a good thing, but it’s important that as we transition to simpler lives we don’t compromise the very principles underpinning such a life. Taking everything that you’re done with and tossing it in the trash or, worse, tossing it out on the street is not the way to go. Instead, here are five ways to declutter for minimalists and do good at the same time.

1. Be responsible for hazardous items.

One obvious way to do good while you declutter is to respect the environment. You don’t need to be told the obvious ways to do this, recycle what can be recycled and don’t pour paint down the drain. However, there are some lesser known environmental harms that can be just as bad, if not worse.

Perhaps the most insidious of these are the harmful chemicals present in some household appliances. Things like refrigerators can contain chemicals such as Freon which, if disposed of incorrectly, can seep into water supplies or cause ozone depletion in the atmosphere. This is one instance where you wanna get help if you’re not sure about how to properly dispose of these chemicals.

2. Don’t get stuck with constant clutter.

Here’s a common problem. You say to yourself “it’s time to clean,” so you pick an area of the house where you notice clutter stacking up and you just go for it, plowing through that clutter like nobody’s business. I used to do this a lot in my living room back when I was in grad school. I’d accumulate a ton of papers and handouts from various presentations or dissertation defenses and they would just slowly find their way into large piles strewn about my floor.

In just a few short months I was right back where I started, saying to myself “it’s time to clean.” Of course in reality what I was doing is accumulating large quantities of stuff that I was just going to throw away. This put an extra burden on me since I’d have to clean more often, and it created more and more junk that I’d end up throwing away, making it a waste of resources.

The solution, it turns out, was to organize better and make places for things. To this end, I got a series of lockers and set them up against the wall furthest from my desk. This was great for me because I was able to hold on to all of those important papers, just like I wanted to, without just dumping them somewhere and hoping that I’d get around to them. I was also able to split up papers by topic, making them more accessible, and store office supplies that only came out occasionally, like my stapler and hole punch. All in all this was a great compromise that helped me keep the things that I really needed while holding on to a very simplistic living room aesthetic. If that’s not for you, there are plenty of other ways to stay organized.

3. Donate what you can.

Not everything that you want to get rid of is junk and there’s no better way to do good than to donate to those in need. When I was cleaning out my closet this weekend I found myself with piles of old shirts from high school, of all things. I grabbed a few to use as throwaway shirts at the gym and then made a huge stack of things to bring down to a Goodwill dropoff.

The shirts aren’t much good to me anymore, but I can make some space and do a good thing by donating them. Whoever gets them is probably more concerned with having some clothes on their back than they are staying up on cutting edge fashion (not that I was ever very fashionable in high school).

4. Upcycle your stuff.

We’ve all heard of recycling and do it as often as we can, but there’s a new trend out there for those of you handy with arts and crafts, or even just those of you who’d like to be. Upcycling involves finding a new purpose for old junk, just like recycling does, but instead of breaking down the raw materials you find new and creative ways to use the old items. Check out what one lifestyle blogger did with her old jars, turning them into a cool looking and easily accessible storage area.

5. Have a garage sale

Not everything can be recycled, upcycled, or donated. For those miscellaneous items that don’t seem to fit anywhere else, a well-organized garage sale is definitely appropriate. My advice would be to pick a day in late spring. The weather will be warm enough that people have no problem getting outside and they’ll be more likely to pick up an item or two if they feel like they’ve made the room after their own spring cleaning efforts. You should also prepare everything the evening before so that you’re not scrambling when potential buyers have their eyes on the goods.

These are my tips to do good when you declutter. Tell me all about your altruistic decluttering hacks!


Nick Cesare

Nick Cesare is a violist and writer. When he’s not writing or practicing his instrument he loves to go mountain biking and cook great food. You can reach Nick on Twitter @cesare_nick with any questions or comments.

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