Living a Greener Life Step 1: R-E-M-O-V-E (embracing minimalism)

“Materialism is the only form of distraction from true bliss.” – Douglas Horton 

I believe the foundation of green living is minimalism. Before you can start recycling, reducing, and reusing, you should first remove unwanted items from your home. Purging your home of items you no longer want will not only give you peace of mind, it could be lucrative, too. How many times have you bought duplicate items because your cabinet was too full and you didn’t notice you already had something? How many times have items ended up lost or broken because they got trapped under a pile of junk? Not only can you save money by getting organized and decluttered, you can make money by selling those items you don’t want. That’s why the first step for green living is to REMOVE.

Minimalism has many benefits. More and more people are embracing a life of less by enjoying experiences instead of stuff and valuing relationships over things. So what is minimalism?  It is the belief that you can live with only the possessions you need, without excess. The concept of minimalism is not new, however. Depression-era Americans knew how to live within their means and make the most use of all their belongings.  Broken possessions were repaired because the luxury of buying new ones didn’t exist. Everything was used and then reused. All items served a purpose. There was no room for extravagance, and nothing was wasted.  I want to embrace the same values my grandparents had by buying less, and saving more. 

The remainder of my belongings after an enormous purge! 2015

It was in 2015 when I first embraced the concept of minimalism. I accepted a job abroad and decided to rid myself of almost all of my worldly possessions. I can’t explain the exhilaration that comes from parting with all the junk and embracing a simpler life. Some people think in order to be a minimalist, you must live an extreme lifestyle with less than 100 items and stop using toilet paper. This is, of course, is an extreme version of minimalism and may not suit everyone. You don’t have to get rid of everything you own, but the less you have, the less you have to maintain. The cost of consumerism is not limited to the price tag. You have to pay money to maintain the items you have. And the toll this consumer-driven lifestyle takes on the planet will last for millennia. Even after an item is throw away, it will continue to take up space in a landfill. But where to start? The task of parting with items to sell, trash, or give away can be daunting, but with a proper plan, it’s quite doable. 

“Simplicity, clarity, singleness: These are the attributes that give our lives power and vividness and joy as they are also the marks of great art.” —Richard Holloway

So where to start? There are multiple methods for minimalism including a favorite, the KonMari method: as described by Marie Kondo. She’s emphasizes keeping items that “spark joy” as a more productive way to declutter as opposed to the traditional method of seeing what to get rid of. I’ve taken a course in the Kon Mari method and apply it to my own decluttering process. But there are other ways to organize and declutter. I like to follow a simple 3-step plan loosely based on Marie Kondo’s method: prepare, clean, and organize. 

Step 1: Preparation 

First, you’ll need to get prepared. Do you have proper cleaning supplies and plenty of boxes? You’ll need them for the sorting and organizing process.  Try not to do everything at once or you could get overwhelmed. To get prepared make sure you’ve set aside enough time to work, choose one room to start with, gather some cleaning supplies, get several large cardboard boxes or storage bins, and crank up your favorite music. 

Step 2: Clean 

Next, you’ll want to clean your work space. I do this mostly for peace of mind. I start by setting aside all items either on shelves or in a designated corner of the room. Marie Kondo’s method encourages putting all items to sort in one place. For instance, if it’s a closet, you’ll remove all the clothing and put it on the bed to be sorted. Only then is one able to see just how much they have. Next I thoroughly clean the room or area I’m organizing by wiping down surfaces, dusting, and vacuuming if necessary.

A brand new pile of junk to sort, sell, and organize!

Step 3: Organize

After you have sorted a tidy work space, set up your boxes and start placing items to get rid of according to the following categories:

  • Items to sell
  • Items to donate
  • Items to repair
  • Items to recycle
  • Items to discard

Sell – If your aim is green living, the goal is to throw away as little as possible.  If you can make money on something like gently used clothing, old appliances, or other knick-knacks, try selling them.  Have a yard sale or get on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace and post some listings. You probably won’t become rich off a yard sale, but there’s no harm in trying. 

Donate – If it’s not worth selling, but it’s in good condition, consider donating it.  Most items can be donated, but refrain from dumping useless junk on charitable organizations. Get in touch with your local Goodwill or similar stores and see what items they’d be willing to take off your hands.  You’re lightening your load while doing a good service for the community.

Repair – Set up a designated box for items that can be neither sold nor donated, including ripped/stained clothing, broken appliances, and other items in need of repair.  Before you toss something in the dumpster ask yourself if it can be fixed. There are many items you can repair yourself, but some things require a professional. I like to use ifixit as a guide for repairing items. 

Recycle – If it can’t be sold, donated, or repaired, it must be discarded. But before you fill up the dumpster, make sure you’ve separated anything that can be recycled. Some items can be recycled curbside including paper items, cardboard, rigid plastics, and metal containers made of steel, tin, and aluminum. Other items such as old appliances and electronics can be taken to a specific center. When in doubt, consult your local recycling center.

Discard – Finally, some items don’t meet any of the criteria above.  These are the ones to discard. I have on occasion put useless junk in the front yard with a free sign and posted an ad on Craigslist. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Remember, just because it’s broken or useless or not recyclable doesn’t mean someone might not want it. 

If you want more information on de-cluttering and minimalism, check out some of these resources:

The Minimalists

Becoming Minimalist

Kon Mari

I’m in the process of becoming a professional organizer so that I can help people in the minimalism process. I’ve taken a course in the Kon Mari method and I’m currently getting an online degree in professional organization from the International Association of Professions Career College. I can’t wait to get started organizing!

Published by That Hippie Looking Chick

I'm a traveler, adventurer, upcycler, and bus dweller.

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