Yes, I love Marie Kondo’s “Tidying Up” concept! But how can we declutter consciously, so we are not simply dumping hundreds of plastic garbage bags in a landfill? By having a plan for the stuff we get rid of—a plan that makes conscious, eco-friendly decluttering possible. I know this dilutes the KonMari commandment to “start by discarding, all at once, intensely and completely”. However, I propose that discarding of stuff responsibly can ultimately spark even more joy.
So, you dumped all of your clothing in a huge pile, as advised, and you’ve pulled out the keepers that spark joy. Instead of sending your rejects to a ginormous garbage pit, sort them further:
Items in good condition can be sold or exchanged. For nicer pieces, try local second hand or consignment shops. Or sell them online or through the many resale sites and apps including Poshmark, thredUP, the Real Real (designer brands), Facebook marketplace, or good old eBay.
Clothing swaps are a fun alternative to selling. Remember though, try to hold out for joy sparks…the swap-frenzy has led me to bring home more than a few dud duds.
What about old clothes in poor shape, or not even ironically in fashion? Some communities have textile recycling facilities. If you’re in NYC, there are textile drop-off locations at many City parks. Also, your building may be able to get a regularly serviced Department of Sanitation clothing drop box. If there is no such service where you live, consider creative repurposing. After a little cutting and hand stitching, one of my worn out cashmere sweaters is now the coveted cover of my cat’s favorite mat. Another great resource in NYC, FabScrap, will pick up your bags of garments to responsibly process them for reuse or recycling. For national options, search online for textile recycling/upcycling in your area. Upcycling is a form of creative reuse that results in a higher-value new product. There is a whole upcycling movement, including the zero waste brand tonlé, which uses scrap waste from mass clothing manufacturers. Overall, it is better to extend the life of garments and textiles before recycling. Where recycling systems are available, they struggle to make a dent in the massive volume of fashion waste. Also, the market for recycled textiles is seriously underdeveloped.
When choosing to buy something new, Marie mentions the example of buying a shirt mass-produced in a factory, as being “unique to you”. But what about the factory workers, and the environmental footprint of that shirt? The sustainable fashion movement is taking off across the apparel industry. From haute couture brands like Stella McCartney to H&M and thousands of small designers, change is happening. As usual with product claims, beware of misleading statements and greenwashing. Read up on fabrics, manufacturing practices, how workers are treated, and health impacts. For a quick start, try the app Good on You and stay tuned for an upcoming UrbisEco post on sustainable wardrobe essentials.
Papers, Books, Photos
You guessed it, put paper in the recycling bin. Important papers can be scanned first. For financial and other sensitive records, shred and then recycle. In some areas, books are recyclable too. Otherwise, they can be donated or sold if they’re popular titles. I’ve also seen community book repositories in public spaces, where people leave or take books from a box. In my apartment building, we use a specific window sill to share books or any other worthy stuff we are getting rid of. Photos are a tricky one. Older photos are printed on non-recyclable, chemical-coated paper. They can be repurposed as cards, or made into small albums or collage art to give as a meaningful gift to family and friends. Some old pics will undoubtedly go to landfill, unfortunately. To those, we can say thanks for the memories, and embrace practicality. If we are talking about digital photo prints, those are printed in a way similar to glossy magazines, and can be recycled in many places (check with your local Department of Sanitation).
Marie tells us a cellphone story: her phone died just as she was thinking it was time to replace it with a newer one. We’ve all been there. But what to do with it? Smart phones, computers, and other electronics are a major source of toxic trash. Luckily, they have decent resale value for newer models (I’ve had good luck selling on Facebook marketplace). There are also take back and recycling programs available, like the one at Best Buy. They even accept appliances. If Best Buy doesn’t work for your needs, check with the sanitation department where you live about proper disposal. NYC has electronics recycling programs for drop-off and pick up, and they take peripherals, batteries and cords too. Check Earth911 for national recycling solutions.
By now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the plastic pollution crisis. The plastics story is a great example of unintended consequences. Amazingly versatile and cheap to produce, plastic evolved into the material of choice for many designers and manufacturers. Everyone loved the convenience too—lightweight, and…disposable. As the world tries to dig out of the plastic problem, consuming as little as possible is where it’s at. NYC has a state-of-the-art recycling facility, but even that can’t handle all plastics. Globally, plastic collection and recycling is limited by tech constraints, funding, and lack of markets for the recycled material. It’s best to search online for what is currently recyclable in your community. For well-designed reusables to replace single use plastic stuff, see this post on easy ways to shrink your plastic footprint.
Organizing & Storage Containers
Speaking of alternatives to plastic, when choosing organizing or storage containers for your newly tidy home, check out metal, bamboo, plant fiber, upcycled wood and recycled paperboard. If you already own plastic bins, by all means use those for as long as possible.
“Appreciate your possessions and gain strong allies.”
Absolutely, being grateful for our possessions and the benefits they bring gives a feeling of connectedness to our stuff. Taking this feeling deeper, what if the things in our homes also embodied positive impact on people and the environment? How good does it feel to look at a favorite pair of shoes, and know that they’re made sustainably by workers treated well? Or that you got them nearly new for $10 at resale shop and extended their life? Same thing goes for our clothing, home furnishings, and accessories.
Marie speaks of the “destiny that leads us to each of our possessions,” and how “All of your possessions share the desire to be of use to you”. Budgets, creative impulses, people we resonate with, the art and beauty of the universe, emotions, and random inspirations—are all influences on what we acquire.
The KonMari method recommends saying “thank you” to the stuff that serves us. What if sustainability becomes part of the selection criteria for our possessions? As Marie says, “your possessions want to help you”. What if your possessions helped the larger world, too? Extra thanks for stuff that reduces the suffering of others, and the planet. And extra extra thanks for stuff that actually improves lives and the environment (regenerative products).
“By putting our house in order, we can live in our natural state. We choose those things that bring us joy and cherish what is truly precious in our lives.”
Yes, and, our natural state is also to be in harmony with nature itself. Adding a sustainability lens to the KonMari method can make those sparks of joy that much brighter…and truly natural.
(Note: All quotations are from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo)