Updated: Apr 12
Decluttering or "editing" our homes is what all the hype is about right now. From Marie Kondo's to The Home Edit series on Netflix....who wouldn't want to dive into transforming their space?! If you spend any time on social media, you know that the ritualistic spring clean-a-thon has begun. If you're anything like me, that means that you've at least given decluttering your home and editing your closet some thought in the past few weeks. This season is also a popular time for moving so some of us may be preparing for that. Regardless of the project you are working on, it can be a challenge to figure how to sustainably remove your unwanted items.
Now, I don't want to discourage anyone from putting in the work but there's a right and a wrong way to sustainably approach decluttering - in terms of ecological footprint. Here at The Modern Steward, we can't resist getting on our soapbox when it comes to discarding and donating responsibly, it's kind of our thing. Our goal is to find a balance, we avoid putting unnecessary burdens on local donation centers, prioritizing donations when possible, and we discard responsibly. It may take some time to identify the organizations that align with your personal values but building relationships within your community is worth the effort. I'm sure that this guide will help you to achieve your organizational goals, while also contributing to a cleaner planet.
How to Donate Sustainably
For many, there is a pretty good feeling once they drop off their donations at a center, it's like mission complete. The thought is that you've done a good deed and that your items will help someone possibly in need. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Why? Because not every donation center is the same and not everything we donate is useable.
More and more nonprofits are having a hard time accepting donations due to the excessive amount of donations that were made in the past 2 years. When people indiscriminately dump all of their unwanted items, local centers struggle because they don’t have the space, resources, or time to manage it all properly. Rather than benefiting others, recklessly donating items - including broken or damaged goods - puts a strain on these centers and eventually those items end up in a landfill.
Keep in mind that donation centers are not a dumping ground.
Tips to Donating Properly:
Donate items when they still have life = value, no matter what your initial investment was. This allows others to experience the joy of receiving as well.
Consider direct donations when possible. Local nonprofits generally keep a list of what they are in dire need of. Take the time to make sure your items go to the right person, or the right organization.
Be creative with finding the organization that can make the best use out of your stuff. For example, some centers specialize in furniture, in old textiles, or in books. Make sure you're bringing your items to the correct nonprofit.
Once you find a location, call ahead to make sure they can accept your donation.
How to Discard Sustainably
If you have to discard something, discard it the right way. Trust me, this is NOT as hard as it may sound. What's the best practice to "make it easy?" Well, environmental sustainability seems to be on the minds of most, including big brands such as Target and HomeDepot for example, that's why you'll find designated bins for recycling at the front of the store. As you clean and declutter this Spring ask yourself: 'Can it be recycled?' If so, create a catch all for that category and place it near the door, this will make it easier to incorporate drops as you go about your day. It’s important to know what can be recycled and how to do it. Also, organizations like H&M and Levi have launched a sustainable effort through 'retailer take back programs', which could be an option for you.
There are a variety of things that we may want to get rid of during our decluttering session such as old wire hangers, e-waste, and other materials, but do they have to be discarded a certain way? These are questions that we need to consider. For hard to recycle items such as paint & chemicals, check your local municipality website most host a free or low-cost event throughout the year especially in April for Earth Day.
Now, I will be the first to admit that there will always be stuff that cannot be used or saved anymore, in those cases we just want to make sure that we are discarding them properly. While we can't always control if our items end up in a landfill, we can work hard to avoid overly discarding. To help with this, we want to develop smart sustainable shopping habits - that is, purchase good quality items that may cost more but will last longer. This is one of our best practices to slow down our consumption.
Tips to Discarding Properly:
Research which items can be recycled and how.
Bring the items to the proper location for recycling.
Develop sustainable shopping habits to avoid constant replacements.
Once you've decided which route you want for your unwanted items, you have to decide where the best place is to take them. See below where you can take your unwanted items.
Due to the pandemic some donation centers may be closed, or they may not be accepting certain donations, so it is best to call ahead before you drive over. Additionally, not all donation centers accept the same types of items so make sure to check online for the list of items that your preferred location accepts.
Local Organizations - Pittsburgh
Like I mentioned earlier, when it comes to discarding, we want to be good stewards and do our part, we want to try our best to donate & discard responsibly when possible. Honestly, I could never cover it all in a blog post, I encourage you to do a little research to identify how you can comfortably make a small change. Search online for how you can recycle a specific item and find your local recycling centers.
Spring is the perfect time to get started on your home organization projects so don't allow the thought of "how to do it" cause you to procrastinate, remember practice makes progress. Now that you have some tips to get you started, you can cultivate habits that will help you get the most use out of your items from the moment you decide to buy them to long after you no longer need them. Ultimately, the most important principle of responsible and sustainable decluttering is making our items last.