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Reduce, reuse, recycle — really

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life, Making Time, Uncategorized, do more with less


I had a housework-related epiphany of sorts the other day, and realised two things:

1.) My well-documented tendency to clutter isn’t about hording but about time management. A gut-wrenching first-person story about hoarding, written by my friend and former colleague Mike Rosenwald for the Washington Post Magazine, made this clear to me: It’s not that I can’t bear to part with things, or feel a need to own multiples of things, but that I feel like I don’t have time to sort through it all and so I save it until such time that I do. And, let’s face it: All working moms know that huge chunk of free time isn’t coming soon, no matter what the researchers say. So I might as well get to it.

2.) The biggest thing preventing me from clearing out the clutter was the fact that our storage areas are already full of stuff I probably don’t need to keep anymore. And I need to empty them out before my husband has a cleaning tantrum and does it for me.

So I ventured down to the basement to see what I had. And then ran back upstairs immediately, overwhelmed. And then took a deep breath and started trying to figure out what to do with all that… stuff.

It’s easy to vow to reduce, reuse, and recycle, and then trash day comes and you find yourself standing there with plastic tubs in each hand, wondering which numbers go to the plant and which go to the dump. And what about all that half-used paint in the basement? The computer monitor that’s older than your kids? The not-at-all-HDTV you just replaced? The old cell phones? The piles of CDs you never listen to? The old concert T-shirts? The baby blankets your teenagers aren’t going to take with them to college? The tricycles, toys, and sports equipment your kids have outgrown but were barely used? Not to mention all that other stuff?

Reduce is easy: You simply buy less. Chuck out the junk mail as it arrives, don’t let things accumulate. I do this religiously, which is why the living areas of our house are nowhere near as bad as our storage areas.

Reuse is also easy: I try to be frugal and green and throw things away when they’re worn out, make do with older things, and buy things that do double duty as often as possible.

And recycle? It can be done.

Old electronics: Best Buy stores recycle electronics, and are willing to take all kinds of stuff, even the outdated equipment in my basement that’s older than my kids. They pick up for a fee, or you can haul it to a store yourself and they’ll take it off your hands, usually for free, sometimes for a fee, and if your items are in good shape and not obsolete, maybe in exchange for a gift card. Costco offers a similar program, but doesn’t accept things like TVs and monitors (details are here). Be warned: You’re not going to make a ton of money by selling your old electronics, but you will get them out of your house, which is the point, right?

Books: I have a lot of books. My favorite ones are on shelves in the family room, living room, and various bedrooms; the rest are down in the basement. I’m going to list some on, which is owned by eBay and works in a similar way, but is focused only on books, DVDs, music, and video games and has a different (easier-to-understand) fee structure. I’ll also check with the folks at and see if they’re interested in buying any of them. And the rest will go to my local library. And, to be honest, probably to several other libraries in nearby towns, too.

Everything else: Clothes that are decent will go to one of the zillion charities that can put them to good use — Goodwill, Planet Aid, The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, The Salvation Army. Housewear that we don’t use, small appliances, and furniture will go to a local charity that’s willing to haul them away from the end of my driveway — Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Epilepsy Foundation are two that swing through my town often. I’ll take an idea from “Toy Story 3″ and give the toys my kids have outgrown to a local daycare. Anything else that’s so worn that even I wouldn’t buy it back at a yard sale goes in the trash.

I started implementing my plan yesterday after warning my husband that the living room was going to be my staging area until the charity pick up on Tuesday and, as such, would look even worse than usual. There are 12 bins and bags of stuff sitting in it now, and a glance into the basement shows that there’s plenty more I can add to the pile.

But it’s a start.

Do you tend to clutter? How do you keep it — or clean-up — from overhwelming you?

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2 comments so far...

  • I don’t clutter all that much. Some, yes. Because I hate to “waste,” so I will keep things until I’m pretty sure I will never use them again. Once in a while I go through a no-more-stuff phase where I will use up the less-popular stuff in the cupboard before buying new. I should really do this more often, actually.

    Once I reach a point where I know I won’t use something again, I’m pretty good about getting rid of stuff, because I really hate clutter. First I consider whether I have any relatives or young, newly-independent adults who might want the stuff. Then, there are a few specific charities that get specific types of stuff. Next, I donate to charities that will come and pick stuff up from my porch. It has to be pretty bad for me to put something in the garbage, because as long as the distribution methods are sound, there is someone, somewhere who will have a use for even a worn pair of shoes. I do draw the line at holey socks and underwear . . . . Interestingly, even stuff I’ve put in the garbage has sometimes been taken by what appear to be professional garbage-pickers. More power to them.

    Life would be great if I could get the other adults in my house to adopt clutter-minimizing practices. They do give to charity, but they keep buying faster than they give away. And in the shared spaces, no sooner do I clear out a bunch of “my” stuff than the space gets filled in with “theirs.” Don’t even get me started on what happens if I boycott a whole storage area all together. Oh, well. Perfect is in Heaven.

    SKL  |  June 28th, 2010 at 2:49 pm

  • I pretend that I’m staging my house to sell. So far, it has worked and I’m still getting rid of mess, but not the house in this economy (lol)! I find it hard to get rid of books and donate clothes or housewares to local charities. I clean the garage constantly, so that I know where everything is….right down to power tools and car parts. My husband doesn’t miss what he hasn’t used in years.

    It’s much easier now to find/use items that have been stored without the extra mess. Moral of this saga is….don’t buy, keep or save things to use later.

    Barb  |  June 30th, 2010 at 3:18 pm