Minimalism and green living go together like peanut butter and jelly. In fact, the mindfulness of a minimalist lifestyle leads to less waste, less purchasing of mass-produced goods (often generated by destructive manufacturing practices), and less stuff ending up in a landfill.
However, if like me, you have recently decided to embrace the minimalist lifestyle, you are trying to get rid of all those things in your home that are not useful or beautiful. Along the way you are filling bag after bag with unwanted, useless items to donate, sell, give away, or dump into your garbage bin. After a while, you start to worry that, though you are doing something extraordinary for yourself, your castoffs are generating another mile of landfill.
Like you, I don’t want to fill a landfill with my junk. But at the same time, I want to get rid of it. I want it out of my house. Now!
But the process is as important as the goal. The piles of stuff in my home are a reminder of the mindset that I have left behind, and the responsible disposal of those items is the price to be paid for my past folly. After all, nothing is life that is worth having comes easily. If I could twitch my nose and make all my unwanted stuff disappear, well, sure, that would be great. But what would I learn from that? How would I grow? Without sorting through the things that I have accumulated, how I would address lingering issues associated with those things? How would I uncover the hidden reason that I accumulated so much stuff in the first place, buying things even after my house was already full? And without the hard work of clearing all my clutter, won’t it be that much easier to allow new things to creep back in?
The process of sorting through my belongings, evaluating each item, and deciding if I will keep it is an important part of growing into my new simpler life, a life that I will appreciate even more because of the hard-work it took to get there. Sorting and disposing of my stuff may not be a lot of fun, but it is highly cathartic. Still the question remains – what to do with all my stuff?
Some things can be sold. Try eBay or Craigslist, or local consignment stores. After all, just because I no longer need it or find it useful does not mean that no one else will want it. And if I can sell it for $5, so much the better! Some stores, like McKay’s Books and Plato’s Closet, will even buy your stuff outright.
Some things can be gifted. Freecycle is great program that puts your unwanted stuff into the hands of people who want your stuff. No money changes hands, and it’s easy-peasy to use. Some parts of the country have neighborhood programs for this purpose as well.
Some things can be donated. We give clothes to Goodwill, shoes to Soles For Souls, and toys to the Holiday Bureau. The Salvation Army and local thrift stores, like Southern Thrift, are good sources for donations as well in our area.
Some things can be recycled, reused, or repurposed. Old t-shirts can be turned into quilts, or cleaning rags. Old socks can be used to clean or dust. Worn-out sheets can be turned into pillowcases. Towels can become dishrags. The life of the unwanted item is extended, so that when it does eventually end up in a landfill, every bit of usefulness has been wrung out of it.
But some things have to be thrown out. Anything dirty that can’t be cleaned, moldy, badly stained, damaged beyond repair – these things unfortunately must be thrown out.
Luckily, another facet of the simple lifestyle, every bit as important as the elimination of unwanted things, is intentionality of consumerism, and its better-looking sister non-consumerism. Only items that are useful or beautiful to me are allowed into my home. If I can find something that I need second-hand, even better. I don’t purchase anything for which I don’t have an immediate use, no matter how cool it is. I would rather pay more for a quality item that will last forever, than buy a cheap item that will break in a week, a month, or a year. Each time I chose the better quality item, or to purchase second-hand, or to not purchase at all, I reduce the amount of stuff in the landfill for which I am responsible.
Though we have only cleared a tiny fraction of what needs to be done, we already have practically eliminated the inflow of new purchases into the house (if it is not a true and immediate need, it stays at the store). No more resources will be depleted to provide my gratification for a new purchase. Even though I may toss that broken cheap plastic chair today, I will not be buying a new one to replace it, and I will not be tossing that new one into a landfill in a few years when a better model captures my eye. Even though I dump that pile of Happy Meal toys into the garbage, there will not be any new ones coming into our home in the future.
So while there may be some landfill casualties today, my freedom from the desire for “even more stuff”, my thoughtful and mindful consumerism, and most importantly, my non-consumerism, will lead to better and greener living to all my tomorrows.