Decluttering must at first glance seem like the enemy of environmentalism, and zero-waste lifestyles the enemy of minimalism. How can you claim to care about the earth when you’re throwing out dozens upon dozens of bags of what once sat in your home, away from fragile wilderness? And how could a box of stainless steel straws be a smaller source of clutter than a single throwaway straw from a fast food restaurant? The key lies in your intentions and how they develop as you go through your journey of organization.
When you declutter your home, you should not just be blindly sending things off to landfills. Not only is this incredibly wasteful, it makes it far harder to part with items that you see as still being useful or valuable. How much better do you feel knowing your old desk may be going to an underprivileged teenager studying for their SATs? How much lighter do you feel when you know your clothing donations will generate revenue for good causes? Now, think a step further. Donate with the intention not only of providing goods or money to those in need, but with the intention of making the production of new goods (and therefore the associated waste of production and pollution) unnecessary. This makes your decluttering a threefold benefit, to yourself, to the future owners of your unwanted and unneeded clutter, and to the environment.
Overproduction of goods was a primary factor in the development of our consumer culture. When posed with the option of either producing less or selling more, industrialists chose to sell more. To create the increased demand for their goods, their products had to become disposable, either in function or fashion (to learn more about how overproduction led to our modern throwaway culture, pick up Stuffocation by James Wallman). This development of throwaway culture is tied intrinsically to materialism and, therefore, clutter.
But, how could a stockpile of reusable goods take up less space than an item you use and then immediately discard? Wouldn’t a set of travel utensils, a drawer of canvas bags, a box of stainless steel straws, and a cabinet of glass jars and canisters require more space (and money) than accepting and then discarding the free packaging that is already provided with almost any purchase we make? And how strange must it look to go to a fast food restaurant and provide them with a Tupperware you brought from home? What sane person whips out their own spork in a cafeteria? Let’s tackle the issue of embarrassment first, as it requires the shortest solution: would you rather be slightly uncomfortable the first few times you bring a reusable thermos to Starbucks (for which you will likely receive a small discount) or be responsible for the constant stream of trash coming into your life and back out into the environment?
Now on to the topic of space. There is almost no home in America that is without a bag full of other plastic bags. Replace that with a collapsible set of canvas totes and your bursting drawer of flimsy, torn up plastic bags is gone. And what about the reusable containers, the jars, the canisters, the Tupperware? Chances are, whether or not you bring containers to salad bars and bulk aisles, you already have food storage. These may be matching glass sets from a high-end store, ceramic hand-me-downs from your grandparents, or plastic containers leftover from nights of takeout past. Why not use these, save money by buying your pastas, nuts, grains, etc. from the bulk aisle, and save yourself the pain of redundant packaging, why have the box of pasta in one cabinet and a container of the same size in another cabinet? And think of the beautiful shampoo bars and solid deodorants that take up less space as you use them, and whose packaging is not constantly urging you to purchase more (by virtue of having no packaging at all). Imagine never having to buy a pack of plastic straws before a party because you have the only pack you’ll ever need. Imagine buying one set of wool dryer balls and walking past the boxes and boxes of dryer sheets you used to restock every month. Imagine the mental clutter you’ll erase from your life and the money you’ll save.
This is the beauty of a low-waste lifestyle (I say low-waste rather than zero waste because no human can truly produce no waste). You erase so much waste from the earth and from your life, things can be more beautiful and less time consuming. The house you live in and the planet you live on are healthier and happier, all by making changes that positively affect your health and your wallet. For these reasons, and for many others, this blog will feature articles not only on minimalism, organizing, decluttering, and interior decorating, but low-waste living solutions. So for this first exploration, just begin looking at the areas of your life where you can reduce your consumption and waste. Think about the ways you can improve your standard of living by cutting back on disposables. And prepare for a new way to explore the organized life.