There’s something about living in a clean, calm space, that is so satisfying. However, getting to that space often involves a lot of waste (a Green Freak’s nemesis). Good news is we’ve gathered some tips on how to sustainably declutter some of the most mess-prone rooms in your home. Which one are you most excited to tackle first?
Dry goods cabinets, the snack drawer or our favorite, the alcohol shelves, can easily get cluttered. Items in these categories need to be replenished frequently and they typically get quite packed, which means reaching the items in the back can cause complete disarray. A few tips to keep things organized:
Get rid of items that haven’t been touched since your last extensive cleaning journey (to truly sustainably declutter, compost them if possible). Trust us, those crackers that might have been stale last time are definitely stale this time. Pitch ’em. The exception here is wine bottles. Let those babies age as long as you want, just make sure to dust them off every once in a while.
It’s helpful to move items from store packaging to labeled glass containers. These ones from West Elm are perfect (but before purchasing new, try upcycling old glass jars from pasta sauces or nut butter spread). Not only will you be able to select containers more conducive to your pantry space, but the transparent canisters will allow you to determine what’s running dangerously low with just a quick glance. Discarding all of the packaging at once also creates a striking visual representation of how much you throw away / recycle after a grocery trip. This can help you consider where you can make changes and even encourage you to shop bulk (either value sized or the fill stations).
An organized fridge is key in limiting food waste. If you don’t have a system, items can easily be lost in the depths of the fridge / freezer.
- Make Space – Coming home with fresh groceries and jamming everything into the fridge is not only a huge pain, but actually accelerates food spoilage because overpacking can create warm air pockets. Discard any expired items before you head to the store (keep reading to determine what really constitutes “expired”). Then as you pack in the new groceries try to move items already in the fridge to the front (since they’re likely closer to expiration than the newcomers).
- Mind the Expiration. Organize your food based on what will spoil quickest. The sooner the expiration, the more visible the food should be (so you don’t find its unidentifiable remains in the back of the fridge two months later). It’s important to note though that “use by”, “sell by” and “best if used by” dates don’t indicate a hard cut off. Many foods can actually be consumed past these dates according to the USDA. We simply need to look for signs of spoilage before consuming. Does the food give off an odor? Is the texture or flavor odd? Is there mold? If the answer is yes, discard it (compost if you can), but if not, that “expired” food is probably ok to eat today. And tomorrow. And maybe even the next day. The confusing expiration language leads people to prematurely discard perfectly good items resulting in an abundance of food waste. Luckily the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute are trying to make the language more clear, which could be a big win in the prevention of food waste! (more information here)
- Separate. While both fruits and vegetables are key components of a plant-based diet, they don’t always cohabitate well. Storing these nutritious munchies together can actually increase spoiling rate. For example, some fruits produce a chemical called ethylene as they ripen. Too much of that can cause greens to turn yellow or brown. This article touches a bit more on which foods should be stored alone and which are okay to intermingle. (*For a deeper dive on how to make specific foods last long see here)
Anyone else “never have anything to wear” yet somehow find themselves under a mountain of clothing after trying to pick out one outfit? Same. A good sustainable declutter may not cure your indecisiveness, but following these steps will at least make your closet (and bedroom) easier to navigate:
1) Good Riddance
Deciding which items to get rid of can be difficult. Here is where you’ll use the same logic as you did with the stale crackers. If you didn’t wear it since the last deep clean, and it’s not for special occasions or sentimental (like really sentimental, not your high school Hollister tee that reminds you of the “good old days”) it’s time to toss in the give away pile.
2) Pile it up
Once you’ve determined what you don’t want you have to decide its fate. Start by forming 3 piles:
- Unusable. Look at each item of clothing. Remove any bias or emotional connection and consider: is the condition of this garment good enough that another human being would actually want to wear it? Not would they be able to wear it (because yes, someone can wear a stained t-shirt), but would they want to wear it? If the answer is no, if the item is stained, ripped or stretched out, if you cringe at the thought of putting it on your own body, it is unusable. From here you have 2 options:
- Upcycle these items by turning them into rags, reusable cotton rounds for makeup removal or even making them into a tote bag. For more ideas check out this post from Good on You.
- Recycle them. Thrift stores often don’t have the capacity to properly recycle clothing that can’t be sold, so it ends up in the landfill. Good news is many cities offer textile recycling programs, like this one in Chicago. Do a quick Google search to see what options your city offers. For those without a city-wide program a variety of other options exist:
- Blue Jeans Go Green will take your old denim. American Eagle and Madewell partnered with them to offer in-store take back programs.
- The North Face Clothes The Loop Program: Drop off clothes of any brand at a North Face Retail store or outlet to be recycled.
- I:CO partners with retailers like H&M & Levi’s to offer in-store drop off. Toss your unwanted clothes in in participating stores and then I:CO closes the product loop by either finding reuse for the item or properly recycling it.
- Terracycle Zero Waste Box: pack up one of their boxes with your unwanted clothes and send it back to them for processing. Simple enough, but it is a pricier option since there’s a fee to purchase the box.
- Donate. Before handing your clothes off to the donation bin, see if any friends or family members would like them. For items they don’t snatch up, consider donating to a worthy cause, but remember that not all donation sites are created equal. Do some research to make sure your items are going to good use and not ending up in the landfill. This post by Green Matters offers some good suggestions. Remember you can also check with your local shelters to see if they are in need of any donations.
- Sell. If you have high quality gently used items your decluttering could likely lead to some cash. Poshmark, ThredUp, Tradesy and even Ebay all offer easy ways to post and sell your garments so someone else can give them a second life.
After you sustainably declutter you’ll inevitably have the urge to replace your discarded garments. Stay strong and eco-friendly by utilizing our tips on sustainable ways to refresh your closet here!
Beauty Products Drawer
Like closets, makeup bags and drawers also tend to overflow with products that are rarely (if ever) used. Identify your fave items and sustainably discard the rest.
- Donate unused samples / beauty products to women’s shelters or programs. Share Your Beauty collects unused products and delivers them to organizations that serve women in crisis.
- For your foundation that’s on its last squeeze, or that eyeshadow palette with one color left, disposal time has come, but make sure you do it properly. Most beauty products can’t be recycled curbside, so it’ll require a little bit of research to determine the most eco-friendly approach. Refinery 29 provides a great deep dive on the topic.
- After the purge, reorganize what is left by utilizing old jars or candle containers to keep make up brushes, cotton balls, or headbands in their place.
Medication is necessary, but often comes in not-so-eco-friendly packaging making it a difficult area to sustainably declutter.
- If you find your shelves overflowing with empty pill bottles, try repurposing them into something useful. Apartment Therapy provides a bunch of different ideas.
- Some pill bottles can also be recycled depending on which types of plastics are accepted by your local recycling program. If the plastic is recyclable in your area just make sure to remove the label before tossing it in the bin.
- Medications in blister packs can be difficult to recycle. They typically are comprised of aluminum, paper and plastic. In theory each of these materials can be recycled individually, but together they’re problematic. Although it doesn’t feel like the best way to sustainably declutter, this packaging should be tossed in the garbage. More guidance on how to dispose of unwanted medications here.
- If you have expired or unwanted medications make sure to dispose of them properly or search for a take back program in your city here. They’ll recycle and properly dispose of your medications.
Once you’ve finished sustainably decluttering, then it’s time to clean! Check out our recommendations for eco-friendly cleaning products here.