trash or treasure? what to do with old “stuff”

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?

The Ventilator Test

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.

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  1. This was a great post, I’m glad you did it becuase I was wondering the same thing!! Sadly, I’m a paper snob and I keep all things paper… but my trash is easy to recycle! 🙂

  2. Kate

    Just found your blog and LOVE it so far. I really struggle with throwing things out…there HAS to be a way to repurpose this, right?!! I am getting better at putting my “HAS’s” into a box, and eventually realizing that no, there isn’t, and sending them to the landfill (cringe!). I love your ‘make under’ concept and am working on my own 50 things! I look forward to more 🙂

  3. There’s a site called “How can I recycle this?” (http://www.recyclethis.co.uk/)

    with the goal of reducing the amount of stuff that has to be thrown out.

    I’m also lucky to be at MIT, where we have a very strong reuse community and a functioning listserve where practically anything will get taken off your hands. You never know what people will take on freecycle or similar listserves unless you try. And sometimes knowing that your item will be used and loved makes it a lot easier to let go.

  4. lydia

    Yep, I know that feeling of hanging onto something just so it doesn’t have to go to landfill! But you’re right that if it really can’t be used somehow else, and you can’t get rid of it in any kind of recycling way, then it has to go – no point in it just hanging around. I think the positive thing to do when you do this is to somehow make sure you use the throwing away to inform how you acquire stuff in future – e.g. if you find yourself throwing away rubbish shoes, you could consider investing more in a pair you know will last much longer and will reduce the amount you send to landfill over time. Or if it’s broken down furniture (I’ve had some of this recently) you can remember not to buy the cheap tat from Argos, and try to hang on and save up next time you need something!

  5. Erin

    I’m very lucky that Goodwill is only a few blocks away from us and I can easily stop there on my way to work. We have a Goodwill bin in our closet that we toss things in all the time, and I probably bring things to Goodwill once per month. One of the things that drives me CRAZY is when I see people bring trash to Goodwill. They do take old clothing (the bad ones they sell for rags) – but do not bring broken things. A children’s game with 50% of the pieces missing, an alarm clock that doesn’t work… re-read this post and put these things in the trash! 🙂

  6. I think it is easy to forget the REDUCE and REUSE portions of the green trifecta. I have been working hard reduce the new things I bring into the house and re-use or re-purpose when I can.

    Clothing excess seems to be my biggest problem, but I am finding that if I buy nicer quality, timeless pieces (new or used), I am less likely to shop or need to replace items. I have a 3 year + rule with expensive items like coats and boots. I have a friend who is doing a two month “NO new clothing” challenge. It is testing her creativity and really allowing her to appreciate her existing wardrobe. Fashionistas might also like the clothing exchange party idea. And as much as I enjoy online shopping, the packaging is pretty “trashy” itself.

    Though I am not all that crafty (I don’t sew), I have found I can reuse containers and take items like old t-shirts and make them into dust rags/cleaning tools.

    Check out– http://www.storyofstuff.com/

  7. Julie

    What a great post – I wholeheartedly agree. Having just cleaned out my grandmother’s house after her passing, please do your heirs a favor and throw out (or recycle) the empty margarine tubs. 🙂

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