Marie Kondo is the creator of the KonMari method of organizing that is taking the world by storm in a tornado of tidying up, but her seemingly magical process has people bombarding second-hand stores with unprecedented levels of donations. In this mindfulness about our homes, are we being mindful of where our junk is ending up?
What happens to our donated stuff?
We talked to Ivanka Siolkowsky, certified Platinum KonMari Consultant and founder of The Tidy Moose. She summed up the difference between the old way of minimizing and the KonMari way. “Rather than focusing on what we want to get rid of, we change the narrative to a more positive one of what we want to keep. More specifically, what sparks joy.”
“The popularity of this craze raises important sustainability questions. Where are we sending all of these joyless belongings once we’re done with them?”
But, after sparking all of this joy, the premier of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix created an inadvertent problem: thrift stores across North America were inundated with cast-offs. “The popularity of this craze raises important sustainability questions,” says Siolkowsky. “Where are we sending all of these joyless belongings once we’re done with them?”
Unfortunately, charities such as St. Vincent De Paul, the Salvation Army, and Goodwill can only put half of what they collect on the shelf, and only about half of that will sell. After approximately one month, unsold items are removed and replaced with the next batch of goods.
Bins of unsold items are then purchased by thrift store chain Value Village (Savers) sight-unseen, who is then able to sell only a quarter of what they buy. In the case of clothing, only a quarter of it is sold in the store. The rest is shipped to foreign countries or turned into rags. A small amount still ends up in the landfill.
Obviously, donating our goods can be problematic, and our society is giving underfunded charities the burden of saving our cast-offs from the dump. While they are doing their best to recycle, they just can’t do it all.
What can thrift stores actually use?
It may be easier to know what NOT to donate. Stemware, fine china and baskets are highly overstocked and don’t really sell. Trendy books like Fifty Shades of Grey are donated in such high quantities that there will be enough for years to come.
What charities and thrift stores do love are high quality cookware, jewelry, toys and games in good condition, and clothing that is free of stains and holes. Wash everything first, and try to sort it into categories to make processing easier.
Are there thrift store alternatives?
There are a variety of places that can take items based on their use. Do you have arts and craft supplies to get rid of? A ton of children’s toys that your kids have outgrown? Day care centers, preschools, clubs, and non-profits take donations and have specific wish lists. Women’s shelters also need a variety of toiletries, clothing, and children’s items. Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore is a great place to donate home renovation castoffs.
You can also donate to individuals by using giveaway sites. These have their pros and cons but can be an efficient way of giving stuff to people who need it. Freecycle is one of the most popular, along with Craigslist and Facebook.
Sometimes selling items instead of giving them away works better. There are many who don’t show up to pick up a freebie but will be there on time for a $15 item because of the perceived value. Facebook, Craigslist, and Kijiji are great places to list individual items that didn’t seem valuable enough without a price tag.
What about repurposing?
What’s the secret to getting kids to eat leftovers? Turning them into another meal like the casserole surprise we ate as kids. The same thing goes for items that no one wants. Once you’ve donated and given away the good items, repurposing what remains is a creative and fun way to keep even more items out of third world countries and the landfill.
For example, Oxfam’s Castle Street Swansea thrift shop built a fort out of their hundreds of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey in an effort to cut down on the donations, but if book forts aren’t your thing, these might be better projects:
Many neighborhoods have free libraries in the form of tiny waterproof cases on the street where people can swap books and magazines for free. Books can also be turned into journals, shelves and other fun projects.
Old calendars, prints and cards
Rather than throwing them into the recycling, turn them into gift tags. Pinterest has a plethora of projects for printed pictures that you’re done with.
Holey or stained fabric items
It may be time to return to the old ways and create scrap bags. Cut up items with holes or stains into usable fabric scraps which can be used for many projects later or turned into rags.
Old glassware can be repurposed into candle holders, succulent planters, office supply holders, flower vases and more. There are more than a few fun and easy craft projects on Pinterest that can give these items new life and make great gift ideas.
There are a ton of ways to repurpose old pottery as garden ornaments, household décor, and even jewelry. These are going to end up in the trash if you donate them, so this is one project where it really counts.
Okay, most underwear should just go in the trash, but old bras can still have new life. If you have a gently used bra that you don’t want anymore, it can go to The Bra Recyclers to help women who really need the right size.
Is there a repair café near you? Local people with a variety of skills volunteer their time to fix things for free so they can be saved from the trash. This includes electronics, sewing machines, beloved items of clothing, food processors, and more. Don’t give up hope on something that may be a simple fix.
When something can’t be repaired, reused, or donated, then it’s time to consider recycling. Your local recycling center will take items that aren’t taken at regular pickup, including electronics, small appliances, books, power tools, paint, and packaging. Electronics are dismantled back to their base elements: plastic, copper, aluminum and other materials. Some plastics are shredded and sent off to become other things. These centers do a pretty good job of salvaging every last bit.
Your local recycling depot will have more specifics on which items they take, but generally donatable items include televisions, computers, stereo equipment, CDs, cords and cables, medical devices, vacuums, electric toothbrushes, microwaves, clocks, lamps, drills, and more. You won’t be able to donate items that contain refrigerant, such as air conditioning units and dehumidifiers, but they will take most things as long as they are clean. For more information about household recycling, read our guide, Recycling Basics for the Home.
Clothing has its own category of recycling. If your own ragbag is overflowing, there are textile recycling centers instead. Some of them are run by your regular recycling depot and others through the fashion industry. These can be found through a local search. Or, if you are a gardener, natural fiber clothing can even be composted if it is cut down to small enough pieces. It can also be used for animal bedding.
Paring down for good
It’s not enough to just get rid of what we have. How do we stop the tide of things that somehow fill our homes over time? “Alongside our enthusiasm to rid our lives of excess, are we addressing our patterns of accumulation at the source?” asks Siolkowsky. “The number one way I prevent myself from unnecessary accumulation is by practising gratitude. Be grateful for that which you already own, and you won’t be wanting for more.”
As Siolkowsky points out, changing old habits starts with an attitude shift. Once we have minimized what we have, we can follow some simple personal rules that stem from the way we think about belongings.
- Choose quality over quantity. Spend a little more to get something that will last longer and work better. Sometimes the simplest way to follow the Reuse and Reduce in the three Rs is by getting the right product and using it far longer. Avoid plastic wherever possible.
- Get away from advertising. Cable television, magazines, junk mail, and the internet are bombarding us with suggestions, and they are more targeted than ever. Advertisers know that if we even only subliminally see a product three times we are more likely to buy it, so the more you unplug the less you will even unconsciously want to buy things.
- Stop impulse shopping. Go to the store with a list and stick to it. If you see something you want, make yourself wait until the next time you are at the store, or if you see something on the internet, wait until the next day. More often than not you will probably change your mind after 24 hours.
- Share. Get to know your neighbors and be the kind that lets them borrow stuff. Work together with your family if there’s something big you want to purchase. They will probably do the same for you. Consider joining neighbourhood share programs for items you don’t use every day.
- Don’t get it just because it’s free or cheap. Honestly, this is my biggest problem – I am the one who is finding those cast-off items thinking that I will use them and justifying it by thinking I am helping to recycle, but in the end I’m just one more stop on the road to the thrift store.
- Consider zero waste. Another lifestyle choice taking the world by storm, zero waste involves paring down single-use items used in daily life. For example, instead of buying shampoo in plastic bottles that will end up in the landfill one day, consider no-waste shampoo bars that take up less space in your cupboard by doubling as body bars. Opt for non-disposable household supplies that can be composted at the end of their lifespan.
Eco-cleaning as part of your tidying routine
Once your space is free from clutter, simplify your cleaning cupboard by using all purpose, eco-friendly cleaners to keep dust and allergies at bay. Making your own simple recipes from household ingredients saves you from stocking a shelf’s worth of supplies. You can also purchase basic cleaners for most jobs in your home. For more information read our Natural Non-Toxic Cleaning Guide.
As spring cleaning swings into full gear, I am personally grateful that Marie Kondo is such a positive craze. So many of us are working together to spark joy in our own lives that it is becoming a shared effort. We can take this to the next level by being mindful of where our things end up.
What are some of the creative ways you have repurposed some of your own unwanted items?