Declutter the Home, the Mind, and the Planet - Using the 5 R's of Waste Reduction
I've been stuck at home a lot - as most of us have been - and all this being stuck at home has made me realize just how cluttered my home is! To be completely honest, this is not the first time I've noticed, but I've always put this fact on the back burner as I've rushed around doing normal things outside the home in normal times. But now the clutter has come to the forefront of my mind, which is a problem, because it makes my mind feel cluttered too. So I've started doing some research on decluttering and am putting together a plan to get rid of stuff using the Five R's of waste reduction. I know I'm probably not the only one with this problem, so I've decided to share what I've learned with all of you lovely people.
Firstly, let's talk about the why. Why get rid of stuff? The most straightforward answer is that too much stuff creates a 'stuffed' home that can be difficult to keep organized. Plus, if this trend keeps heading where it's headed, I might end up on Hoarders. I must remind myself that the home is not a series of storage boxes for things, but rather a space where once can cultivate peace, do hobbies and/or work, and perhaps raise a family.
This brings me to two other points. One is that when there is less clutter in the home, your mind feels less cluttered, and that in of itself is a key reason to declutter. The other is that it teaches kids a very important lesson; that things are just things, and it's more important to have a comfortable space and to cultivate experiences rather than to pursue too many materialistic things.
What are the Five R's of Waste Reduction?
Refuse - Refuse to purchase things you don't need and that may cause clutter in the future
Reduce - Reduce what you already have (declutter)
Reuse - If something is broken or torn, see if you can mend it so that you can reuse it instead of buying more stuff that may cause clutter
Repurpose - Find a new purpose for an old thing instead of buying something new that may cause clutter
Recycle - When you have to get rid of something, see if you can recycle or donate it first
How to declutter
The essence of decluttering, as far as I understand it, is just this: getting rid of the things you don't need. This is the second R out of the five: Reduce. I don't think it's a stretch to say that most of us have things we don't need, or things that we used to need but that are only taking up space now. Decluttering is all about going through the categories of things in your home and sifting through the necessary and the unnecessary. Here are some categories:
We all have items in our closet that we never wear anymore. Some things we may have grown out of physically, other things we have grown out of stylistically. For example, I lived through the 80s, and as I go through my closet, I must ask myself: do I really need the blazer with the shoulder pads? Probably not.
A good test for whether or not you should keep an item in your closet is asking yourself when was the last time you wore the item. If it's been months or years (or decades), maybe it's time that that piece of clothing goes. Of course, some things are seasonal, such as summer dresses or winter sweaters, and other things are for special occasions. But on the whole, it should be pretty clear which things are no longer needed.
You can also go through your things and ask if anything is too damaged to be kept. Maybe you have some shoes that you once loved but that are now falling apart. Now is not the time for sentimentality… the shoes must go!
However, we do not want to promote waste. So, if there is anything that you love and that has minor damage, invoke the third R of the five R's of waste reduction: Reuse. Learn how to mend that tear and put it back to use!
If you have children, do the same for their clothes. Which things have they grown out of? Which things are too damaged to be used again? Which things can be mended? For children's clothes, however, sentimentality is absolutely allowed, and even encouraged. The term 'clutter' does not apply to your child's coming home romper for example, or the outfit they wore on their first birthday. Plus, if you're planning on having more children, you can Reuse once again!
Does your child have too many toys? Is it causing issues with their ability to keep their rooms tidy? Well… prepare for battle! No, in all seriousness we do not want to promote any kind of childhood trauma or feelings of lost personal autonomy for your child. Instead, bring them in on the process. Go through their toys together and talk to them about the importance of tidy rooms and peaceful, decluttered environments in language that they can understand. But, if your child is just an infant and cannot tell a shoe from a doll, go ahead and rid yourself of the toys causing the clutter.
Food is definitely the grossest perpetrator of clutter. Especially if it's perishable. I have noticed, on a number of occasions, that I don't always know the exact contents of my refrigerator. When there is too much clutter in there, it's easy for food to become forgotten and lost, only to turn up later in a new and unpleasant form. I have already gone through all the old food in my fridge, and I've vowed to remember to eat things before they go bad.
The same can be done for the pantry. If there is too much clutter in there, go through all of it and see if anything is old, stale, moldy, or simply won't be eaten.
It's time to go through the kitchen and get rid of any utensils, pots, pans, tupperware, etc. that might be damaged and taking up space. Then organize the remaining items into easily discoverable stacks in designated areas. Remember, a place for everything, and everything in its place.
I work from home so I probably have too many paper items. My office can often be described as a disaster. I've just bought three ring binders, folders, boxes, and even a new filing cabinet to keep track of everything, and I'm going to go through everything and put them into proper categories and storage areas. I swear.
Any other spaces in your home can be dealt with in much the same way. Remember, the key is to determine which things are necessary and which things are not, and then to dispose of the unnecessary things in some way. Which brings us to our next section:
What to do with all the unnecessary stuff?
Some of the unnecessary stuff can be disposed of. These things might be old food or unimportant papers. But before you heap everything into the trash can, think first of the fifth R: Recycle. For example, the unimportant papers can be recycled, and the old food can be composted - which is kind of like recycling. This way, we also help to declutter our wider home: the planet.
Before you throw anything away, check to see if you can recycle it. Most metals, most plastics, and glass items can be recycled (for instance) as long as they are clean. For example, if you find some old, moldy spaghetti sauce in the refrigerator, you can rinse out the glass jar before you put it in the recycle bin. Or, you can invoke the fourth R of the five R's: Repurpose. Maybe that glass jar wants to be a drinking cup or a vase. Have you asked it? Go and find out now before you throw it away. Also, before you compost, make sure you remove the food from any non-compostable packaging first.
Other things you might be able to donate. If you're getting rid of clothes or toys, see if you know anyone who might want them. If not, donate them to Goodwill or to another cause that is meaningful to you. You can also bring many food items to a food bank.
If you have kids, this is another teachable moment for them. Talk to them about the importance of giving and compassion. Let them know that their old toys and clothes are going to other kids who might want them or need them.
A step further
Once you're done decluttering your home, you can take it a step further by invoking the first R: Refuse. By refusing to purchase too many things that you don't need, you can help to prevent clutter from happening in the home in the first place. This has wider, very valuable repercussions. When you have fewer things, there are fewer things that you need to get rid of that might later end up in a landfill or in our oceans. Some of us (like myself) might already have too many things. But I will do my best to invoke the five R's that will help to declutter my mind, my home, and the planet that we all share.
If you have any other suggestions, we'd love to hear them in the comments section below.