Limiting What Goes to the Landfill When Decluttering

The Garage post struck a nerve with a lot of you. And it was a good lesson for me in two respects:

1. I need to be more specific when I say we got rid of something as to where it went. “To the Dumpster” will no longer be used as a metaphor.

2. We can be more mindful of what we are sending to trash and more vigilant in trying to find things other homes. I get impatient and want stuff gone, but I need to make sure I breathe and first think about where else stuff can go besides the trash. But I am also balancing that with the need for progress and some quick wins. The dumpster will not always be here. It’s here for one more week and presents the opportunity to get a lot of stuff out of our house. Is this the best environmental move? No. Is this a move forward for decluttering? Yes.

It’s a Marathon

You don’t start out at full speed doing anything. If you decide to run a marathon and you’ve barely walked around the block, you won’t be able to make it 26.2 miles on Day 1. Same with us. I’m sure we’ll anger a lot of people because we aren’t doing what they have deemed to be enough. But you know what? Right now we’re trying to make it to mile marker 1.

If everyone who decided to run a marathon was told by others on their first training day that they weren’t running fast enough or with perfect form, they’d be like, “No shit, Sherlock. Thanks for stating the obvious.” If instead, the ones who had already conquered running a marathon gave them helpful advice based on their personal experience, they’d be like, “Awesome, thanks!”

Thanks to Those With Helpful Suggestionsย 

You guys have taught me about Freecycle, which I am now using at your recommendation. We are recycling and donating what we can. We have also listed items for sale on CraigsList and Ebay. We have placed things on the curb that other people have picked up. (I just haven’t blogged about all of it yet.)

Unfortunately, right now the rest is going to the landfill. And I feel bad about it. It’s a great lesson in awareness. Which will be here for a lot longer than one week.

A year ago, I thought we were doing great by recycling anything at all. We haven’t always recycled. Then I discovered Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson and realized we can do more. But then I had back surgery and I was just trying to survive the surgery and focus on my rehabilitation, which is still ongoing. When I came home from the hospital I was taking about 50 pills a day and couldn’t walk without a walker or bathe myself. No lie. No exaggeration. My point being, I’m not completely healed from that. And working part-time and taking on this huge project is a lot. Does that mean I shouldn’t start? No.

I don’t have all of this figured out. I’m still learning. I thought we were doing pretty well, actually, in the donate/recycle department, but I acknowledge that we can do better. But it will take some time.

I’m telling you right now we aren’t perfect. Things will go the landfill that could have found another home. But, we’re making an effort to use other avenues first.

By the way, Katie S., we pulled the old kitchen and bathroom cabinets and listed them on Freecycle. So thank you for the suggestion.

38 Responses to Limiting What Goes to the Landfill When Decluttering

    • I couldn’t agree more. And I’m a perfectionist, so if I let my perfectionism slow me down I’ll never get anywhere.

  1. A suggestion for paint and chemicals (and electronics and many other things) check out website. They have a decent listing of available services. For example, I know where I can drop off paint in Manhattan to be properly disposed. I’ve read that Austin, TX has a community paint recycling center where they mix all the discarded paint up and then people can come by to buy a bucket of brownish paint for cheap to paint fences on their property. I’m sure Dallas has at least one place to recycle paint. I’ve also had luck posting things in the free section on Craigslist.

    AND today I dropped off an old cell phone battery at Radio Shack.

    You’re right, you’ll get better at this recycling as time goes on. And 80% recycled is better than 0% recycled.

    As I was reading the post this morning, I was thinking that you’d just post that you had a dumpster full of free goodies on freecycle and see what people came to get. I put things on my curb all the time in Brooklyn, and sometimes it’s taken and sometimes it ends up in the trash anyway. But at least I tried.

    Just keep moving forward. There are many “right” ways to declutter; don’t let the declutter police get you down.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. And for the RadioShack idea. And for the Freecycle listing on the dumpster. Our Freecycle list warns not to put a listing out for something and say first come first served, so I’m not sure if that would be a problem.

  2. You are inspiring and real to me and thank you! I like to have it taken care of immediately also, and I try to recycle as much as possible, but it takes dedication, time, and energy! I am just retiring from a 31 year teaching career and finding ways to help people in my small town declutter and minimalize. I enjoy the extra money, but I LOVE how happy they are with Less Stuff and feeling organized. It’s an on-going process for all of us…keep up the good work! Dara

  3. Ya know what, Kandice, no one is perfect. In fact, most of us suck at at least 15 things in our lives and could do a ton better. Me included. The fact that you put yourself out there, ask questions and share what you’ve learned makes you a better person than most.

    I have really enjoyed your site and I love your candor/humor. (See โ€œNo shit, Sherlock. Thanks for stating the obvious.โ€ above!).

    Take life at your own pace. I have recent experience with wanting to just toss mounds of stuff in the trash, and guess what…some ended up there.

    Ree ~ I blog at

  4. I agree with everything said above. There is only so much time that one can devote to politically correct disposal of junk. Some stuff doesn’t belong anywhere. Dead furniture is a good example. Charities only want gently used items. You are clearly doing the best you can and learning as you go. I am 100% behind you in this venture. And on another topic, yes I still have the towel that my grandma gave me when I went to college.

    • Yeah, we had a sofa that the charitable organization refused to take. It was too used and abused for them. And thank you for telling me you still have a collegiate towel!

  5. Kandice- You’re doing a great job. I know the feeling of just wanting things to be gone. In fact, before we had weekly recycling, my neighbors and I all used to get a dumpster and do an annual purge. I sometimes long for those days when it was easy and I didn’t have to make a million stops to the paint place, the battery recycling, goodwill, the resale shop for my more expensive clothes and don’t even get me started on what to do with random pieces of styrofoam. I try to recycle it all but I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it since I use a ton of gas running things around to their respective places for recycling. Putting things next to the dumpster that you think might get used or posting on Freecycle and Craig’s list is a great way to soothe the guilt and give something a new home.

    Keep up the good work and know that a lot of us enjoy your blog!

  6. I give you a LOT of credit for sharing your simple year so publicly. It’s a brave soul who can show her true self, warts and all, on the internet. Let we who are without sin cast the first stones.

  7. Perfectionists have tendencies that lead to clutter, ironically. They like to have four hours to sort the junk drawer and research the best drawer dividers, etc etc. Kandice is right that if she werent taking wobbly, imperfect baby steps forward, getting some quick victories, she’d lose momentum. I think this is a case of losi g some small battles ( finding the perfect recipient for each item) to win the war.

  8. Kandice, I appreciate all that you are going through. It’s interesting to see everyone’s perspective and I find I have a different one as well. I have always been taught to recycle, reuse, and donate and I feel guilty accidentally throwing something away that can be recycled or used by someone else. But I now am in a position, where I know there are some things to get rid of and I am almost paralyzed by how to do it. It is hard just to take things to Goodwill. Do I take these items to a family I know who might be able to use them, do I try to sell them to get back some of the money spent, do I use freecycle or craigslist or?? In the meantime, some items sit because I can’t seem to find the right “home” for them and I am indecisive on what to do. When my one neighbor lived next door, she had frequent garage sales, so it was an opportunity to get rid of things (just like the dumpster is an opportunity). I think in general it is amazing how things can rule our lives not only in the purchasing process but in the disposal process as well.

  9. Kandice, you are doing a fantastic job. I am disappointed in the negative comments from the previous post. Don’t let them get you down. Donate, sell, recycle what you can, and don’t beat yourself up for what has to go the landfill. Do your best and let the rest go. The fact that you have taken on this simple year and are striving to make your life simpler is AWESOME. You are more aware than the majority of people in this country. And not only are you aware, you are doing something about it. Keep up the good work!

  10. Hi Kandice, I’ve been decluttering and reading decluttering/minimalist/simple living blogs for several years and NO ONE did things ‘perfectly’ from day 1! If ever you’re feeling down about the critics take a look at this blog: This blog, and his books are so inspirational and urge us all to be gentle with ourselves in the decluttering process. I think you’re doing a marvellous job.

    PS My sister and I had to clean out our parents’ home a couple of years ago, and as much as we wanted to do the right thing, we did end up sending a heap of stuff to landfill. I felt sick about it at the time, but I’ve gotten over it ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Hi Kandice, I really enjoy your posts because they’re down to earth and realistic. It’s encouraging for others that you are getting in there and giving it a go. You’re not waiting for the perfect time and conditions before starting your simple year journey. (The perfect time and conditions don’t exist).

    Please, please keep writing so openly. Your posts are really helpful and always make me think. Please keep sharing absolutely everything and please don’t worry if other people choose to be mean and judgemental rather than helpful.

    Clearing clutter is a long and imperfect process. When I first started clearing my clutter I put quite a few things in the trash as I didn’t think anyone would want them. As the clutter starts to clear, there’s more space and time to think harder about what to do with each item.

    It also takes time to work out whether someone will accept your used items. In our local area, nobody wants used sofas or office chairs (even if they’re free and still in very good condition).

  12. You are doing an awesome thing and your blog is fantastic,very well written,honest and inspiratonal.The people who need info about recycling are the folk who do NONE at all.You are obviously very aware of all the different disposal methods.we can all only try and you are doing amazing.please carry on as you are and don’t let this change the honesty of your blog xxxx

  13. You are doing great!
    And I love that you are honest about what you are doing and what is just too much for you at the moment.
    Personally, I don’t use freecycle, because our city has an own online bulletin board where you can place “for free” or “to sell” adds. It is very well used, so I’m going that way – I think it is pretty much like freecycle though.
    Apart from that I mainly used the thrift store, just because it’s nearest from my home and taking almost everything (except electronics and furniture). Sometimes another possibility showed up like a child care that asked for donations for doing crafts, where I also could get rid of many half-used pencils, glue bottles etc.
    For too worn things I often used a “for free box” on the curbside.
    I did mainly use those easy for me ways to get rid of stuff. Also, I can only encourage to just jump on every possibility to use up and pass on. A relative complains about her broken tea pot? – pass on your spare one. A friend is taking up a part time teaching job? – ask him whether he could use your excess pens, paper and other craft items. Your hand soap needs replacing? – think about using up one of your 43 bottles of shower gel instead. Etc.
    These little things also do add up and accompany the larger efforts very well.

    But whatever your methods are: don’t feel bad about yourself. It’s your life, your simple year. You make the rules. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. We struggle all the time with the ‘Are we doing enough?’ question. Although it is always good to be challenging our thinking and trying to do the best we can, there is no real ideal solution. The danger in feeling like we’re always failing a little bit is stopping trying altogether. I think you’re doing a fabulous job – you’re at the beginning of a path to a simpler, happier and more ecological life. Take it one step at a time!

  15. I’m sorry if people have been giving unconstructive and unsupportive comments. It’s not exactly an easy thing to substantially change the way you live, and even if you yourself have got the spirit and enthusiasm for your project, it’s often difficult to keep the others around you motivated. I myself have been actively trying to change my relationship with my possessions since January and it is difficult having to constantly justify my actions to my family. I don’t have my own transport so getting my unwanted things to the right recycling point or charity have involved a lot of patience, stockpiling things to go until I can reasonably ask a family member to take me again. With these difficulties, I can easily see the pull of filling up that dumpster while you have it. Apart from anything else, sometimes you need to see the dramatic results of getting rid of that much stuff in one go to keep up your enthusiasm for the project. So I say take those good tips on board, particularly about Freecycle etc., but above all don’t pay heed to anyone who has anything unhelpful to say. It is far too easy to play the holier-than-thou card on the internet.

  16. I read your previous posting about using the dumpster. But I missed the comments – I seldom read the comments on any post – but I just doubled back to see what all the hoop-la was about. Yikes, that first commenter was blunt.

    I find it amazing at times to read the comments people feel comfortable leaving in a public forum. What sounds right in their head, comes out rude in the printed word. I learned that lesson myself a few years ago. So much about communication is non-verbal.

    That aside, you are doing a great job – yes, we all need to use the dumpster less and this blog is about your journey to do just that! This is part of your story … even the bumpy parts. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hopefully that commentor who knows so much about de-cluttering the right way …. has learned something about the right way and the wrong way to give feedback. I guess we all have something to learn.

  17. We all have to start somewhere. When I finally got the opportunity to start decluttering I took several truckloads of stuff straight to a landfill. Admittedly at *least* half of it actually was trash – as well as cleaning out liveable rooms, I had to clear out ruined stuff from a cellar and a large shed – but a good amount of even the trash could have been recycled, I’m sure. For example, piles of moldy, ancient mail/newspapers/magazines are still paper, right? So perhaps I should have taken the time to go through it all and separate out the recyclables.

    But I didn’t. And honestly, I don’t feel bad about it. Getting started was a HUGE undertaking, and if I’d had to stop and nitpick through everything, or even contemplate nitpicking through everything, I don’t know how I could have taken a single step forward.

    I don’t have a blog where I talk about this so I haven’t had to deal with anyone giving me crap about not disposing of things the way they think I should. But if I did, I would probably tell them to suck it. Good for them, that they have the time/energy/ability/emotional bandwidth/whatever to follow all of the golden rules of environmentalism. Some of us have to struggle a bit before we can fit ‘doing it right’ onto our massive to-do lists, and that’s okay.

    • I’m not a liberal nor do I adhere to the “golden rules of environmentalism,” however I do have children. I don’t cart off truckloads of stuff to the landfill because I think that not putting the time and energy into proper disposal of waste today is burdening my children with a waste problem I caused. I don’t want that for my children or Kandice’s, or yours, if you have them.

  18. I’m way too lazy and impatient for listing things on Craigslist or Freecycle or Ebay (though putting a sign in the apartment building’s elevator is to ditch furniture before moving out is something I’ve done). Everything just gets shoved in a black trash bag and taken to Goodwill. They’ll take blenders, toasters, computers (even non-functional ones! They take them apart and sell the memory, the screens, the fans, etc. as parts or use pieces from multiple computers to build a whole one to sell. I’ve bought memory, fans, and heatsinks from the Goodwill Computerworks in Pittsburgh to fix my parents’ computers), plates, shoes, and as everyone knows, clothes.

    I just moved into a house, and for the two weeks I owned it without living there, I was getting all twitchy about the fact that our soda cans and the packaging from the new sump pump and used packing tape and all the other junk involved in fixing the place up for move-in was all going in one trash bag. On the plus side, it all only took a single trash bag. On the negative, aaaahhhh it all went into the trash! Finally brought the recycling bins over from the old apartment yesterday. Order is restored. No more freak out.

  19. Your blog has made me want to get our house more organized and work for us. I am great at decluttering and getting rid of things but I’ve decided that I need to make the house work for us. So today I am cleaning the (what was diningroom but we don’t use it as that) soon to be familyroom it is right off the kitchen so it’ll be nice. Got the carpets cleaned and woodwork done so far. Took all the pics off the wall and are cleaning those to.

    You are an inspriation to me and I can see to others also. I have taken lots of things to goodwill and the salvation army lately so this really makes me more motivated to make our home work for us and if we sell next year then I’ll have to readjust but for now it is ours and I will work it for us.

    Keep up the great work and good luck letting things go at 1st it was harder but now I see what we don’t use why keep it. I’m even going thru the dog and cat toys and taking some to the humane society cause they all deserve something nice to.

  20. Ah, we’re all hypocrites…That is, we all fall short of our ideals, and that’s a good thing, because it keeps us striving to become more than what we are. Honestly, Kandice, you are going to grow a LOT from this process, and I’m excited to see what crazy place it leads you too. (I mean, look bat me–it led me to move onto a boat…)

  21. Hi Kandice – keep up the good work! I am so inspired by the fact that you are doing all of this while recovering from back surgery. Decluttering is a challenge at the best of times when we have all the strength and energy in the world. It would be impossible for me to even contemplate while recovering post surgery. Someone said to me once “Done is better than perfect” and you are definitely on the road to getting it done.

    Blessings to you. Please keep writing.

  22. Your blog is causing people to think. And that is a good thing. We are all learning; you, us, the world. keep the blog coming. you’re great with words and i personally enjoy your candor and appreciate your honesty.

  23. Pingback: Freecycle and the Curb | The Simple Year

  24. I’m a bit behind! But, from someone who knows Kandice, has lived with Kandice and would still be living with Kandice if it weren’t for our husbands, I am super proud of her too! We all have different perspectives and situations that lead us to “a simple year”. The irony of it all is that the “simple year” isn’t simple at all and that’s why so few people take the charge (and even fewer share their experiences while doing it.) On another note, Kandice is very strong, and when she says her pain is “still ongoing” that actually translates to being upright a few hours a day, and sitting on her tiny tailbone even less. She does most of her research, blogging and freelance writing while she’s horizontal. She would never use it as an excuse, but it is definitely a good reason for her to run the marathon and not the dash. So, good on you, sister!

  25. Keep taking your shuffling small steps toward your worthy goal and one day you’ll happen to look over your shoulder and be amazed how all those little steps added up to big change. Flo Jo once said that if she’d stopped to yell at every barking dog she’d never gotten to where did – winning Olympian medals!

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