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the ventilator test
April 20th, 2011     |    Exfoliating

A post worth reviewing. Via March 9, 2009.

The Ventilator Test

As I’ve started to post old exfoliations like the Throw Out Fifty Things Challenge, I’ve gotten a few emails about what I do with the stuff that I’m perpetually exfoliating. So today I’d like to talk about my frank and honest views on trashing, treasuring, and passing on exfoliations.

First, I will say that last year after the Throw Out Fifty Things Challenge, I did a big Free Garage Sale on MML. It was a huge success and most of my things found new homes across the country.

But what about you and your stuff? What should you do with it all?

As you look around your home for things to exfoliate, you might find that there are some things you don’t need, but have no idea what to do with. In my experience, there are three general exfoliation categories: trash, recycle, and pass it on. Recycling is a pretty straightforward group. If it is plastic, glass, or furniture, chances are it can have a new life. “Pass it on” stuff is still in working order and useful- it’s just not working or useful for you personally. These items can be given to friends, donated, or sold at consignment stores. Clothing is the most popular item in this group.

But what about the trash? This is where I find the most difficulty when working with people who are making under. The idea that something might be end up in a landfill is sometimes enough to scare someone into keeping it for months or years longer than necessary. We are good people looking to make a positive impact on the planet, and imagining that our past purchases might one day end up in a landfill is downright depressing. But the harsh reality is that even if something enjoys years of future pleasure with new owners, eventually everything that is not recyclable has an expiration date… and will one day end up in the trash.

So here is a little test I like to use when I find I have resistance to getting rid of something in this “trash” category: If I was suddenly killed, moved to Timbuktu, or put into the Witness Protection Program at a moment’s notice; what would my family do with my stuff? Would they donate it to a charity? Send it to the recycling center? Sell it on Ebay? Or put it in the dumpster? If the answer is the latter, it’s safe to say that if you don’t throw away that really old prom shoe, someone else will.

If something can serve no purpose for you or someone else, it doesn’t deserve to sit in purgatory at the bottom of your hall closet. Pull the plug. Give it a proper funeral. Say a few kind words (you can even take a picture). And let it go.

You might feel a lot better once you come to terms with the death of that thing. And you won’t feel guilty every time you struggle to close that closet door.

  • This is such a wonderful post. In August I started the Less 365 Challenge where I thrift, recycle, or toss one item a day. It’s been an amazing challenge but I use the same visualization that you do to decide if things are necessary in my life.

  • Ugh, I definitely struggle with this. I’ve often got a box full of random pieces and parts of things that I hold onto in hopes of being able to reuse them or craft them somehow. Things like broken bobby pins, plastic hangers and hooks and bags from some other item’s packaging, and other totally useless junk. But I never ever find a use for these things! When we moved a few months ago, I finally just threw it all out, despite any guilty recycling feelings, and I think that was the best choice.

    Maybe when we are taking the action of throwing these things away, we can simultaneously re-commit to being more conscious of what we bring into our homes. We can remind ourselves to avoid things that have excessive packaging, try to avoid packaging completely in some cases (like buying bulk foods and bringing re-usable bags to the store, and buy quality items that won’t break or wear out and become trash quickly. If we know we’re doing our best with the things that come in, then maybe we can feel guilt-free about the things that go out.

    After all, who needs a box of guilt sitting around in their house?

  • Natalie, I feel exactly the same way. I hold onto things for too long, either because I think I’ll use/need them later or because I have an emotional attachment. I’ve started to come around and realize that I probably won’t need these things. Like you, I can’t go back and change what I purchased, but I can make more conscious purchases in the future. Plus, if these things will eventually wind up in a landfill, that landfill shouldn’t be my closet.

    We’re moving at the end of May so hopefully I can edit and get rid of things before then. If nothing else, it’s less for us to schlep around!

  • Anna

    Tossing stuff in the trash can be so difficult! For me it is the guilt of not being able to “do better” than the dumpster.

    My grandparents have recently moved into assisted living, and my husband and I are in the process of cleaning out their home. After over 65 years of marriage there is A LOT of stuff to exfoliate and I had to get over the guilt of tossing items that cannot be recycled or passed on because the item’s condition was too poor or serves no practical use. The guilt faded when we realized a mouse infestation in the cellar made nearly all items unsafe to pass along and we would need a dumpster. With each trip to the dumpster it got easier…

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