De-Cluttering without Wasting — 5 Tips for Conscious Downsizing


The topic of living a “clutter-free” lifestyle isn’t a new one around here. I’ve been through several downsizing/minimalism phases, each one varying in severity and longevity, and bits and pieces of my journey are littered throughout the online pages of this blog. Getting rid of stuff, it seems, comes and goes in trendy waves. I’ve ridden several and, I hope, crossed over into a balanced lifestyle of intentionally living with less without the guilt or restriction I once felt about the label “minimalist”. (A label I don’t subscribe to, by the way).

With the recent success of Netflix’s rendition of Marie Kondo’s not-so-new method of tidying up, it seems minimalism is on another trendy high, with folks all over the world declaring which items do and don’t spark joy in their lives. I love lots of things about Kondo’s method, especially the subjectivity, but one thing I’m hesitant to love about this “mass exodus” of ex-hoarders into minimalist territory is the sheer amount of waste that’s bound to be created, despite the KonMari warnings to dispose of things mindfully.

It’s inevitable, somewhat, creating waste initially when you begin to live a more conscious lifestyle. But I think it’s possible to Marie-Kondo your life without throwing all of your non-joy-sparking possessions into a landfill.

This blog post could go much more in depth, but, for sake of time and practicality, here is my quick two cents on how and why to de-clutter as mindfully as I think we should do anything else. Whether it’s your first bout of downsizing or you’re a veteran minimalist, living with intention requires you to be mindful in all areas of life, including where you put the things that don’t serve you anymore.

Infographic via  Trade Machines.  See the entire image  here  - it’s very eyeopening.

Infographic via Trade Machines. See the entire image here - it’s very eyeopening.

  1. Get rid of clothing responsibly

    Americans purchase one article of clothing per week and we keep our clothes for only half as long as we used to 20 years ago. It’s estimated that Americans toss about 70.5 pounds of textile waste into landfills each year, with a measly 15% ever being donated. The pictured infographic is wonderfully helpful for explaining more.

    Here are a few simple ways to be mindful with your downsized clothing:

    • Host a clothing swap

    • Sell or re-gift them

    • Send pieces to relevant charities

    • Send them to a certified textile recycling center (a full post is coming soon on textile recycling, but here’s some great info in the meantime!)

  2. Purge Heirlooms Carefully

    Sentimental clutter is one of the hardest areas for most people to purge. The memories associated often seem to attach themselves to the physical item. I’ve never ascribed to the “rule” that you can’t keep any sentimental items, but here are a few rules that I follow when getting rid of anything with sentimental value.

    • Send the most valuable to other family members

    • Keep what you love without guilt

    • Host a garage sale or “free sale” to purge the rest

  3. Declutter your Kitchen without Throwing it all in the Trash

    Things like spices, mismatched sets, and appliances that you never use all probably fall in the category of “not sparking joy”. Be careful that you don’t lump it all into the trash when, chances are, each item needs individual consideration.

    • Sell/donate appliances and supplies in good condition

    • Combine extra spices/herbs or use them up before recycling the packaging

    • Compost food waste

    • Recycle as many containers as possible

  4. Find charities/organizations that may need your miscellaneous extras

    For odds and ends that you don’t use and aren’t sure what to do with, there may be a charity or organization that will take it off your hands. Many schools will accept musical instruments, office supplies, or children’s toys. Homeless shelters often take clothes, unused food, and the like. Do some digging into local organizations and send some items their way.

  5. Carefully consider future new belongings

    The cornerstone of a mindful lifestyle with less clutter (which ultimately means creating less waste), is what you do moving forward. If you purge your belongings only to replace them shortly after with “new and improved” ones, you’ve missed the point.

    That’s not to say you shouldn’t shop or buy things that do, indeed, spark joy or fill a gap. However, once the initial purge is over, being extra cautious of what you buy/accept/bring in means that you’ll have less clutter and less to worry about downsizing later.

As you Kon-Mari your belongings, remember to do it without creating unnecessary trash. Here are a few ways to de-clutter without waste.

Of course, none of us do this perfectly. It’s impossible to exist without creating waste of some sort. However, I hope these tips inspire you to Kon-Mari your life away and dispose of the joyless items responsibly.

Did I miss anything? Leave me a comment below and let’s chat more!

50 Things To Get Rid Of Right Now

Whether your new year's resolution is to de-clutter your house, or your just looking to do a quick cleanse, getting rid of "stuff" can be incredibly freeing. It can be hard to know where to start if you're staying at a whole house full of things you don't necessarily use or need. 

Taking baby steps is by far the easiest way to tackle minimalism. As tempting as it may be to start tossing out everything without looking back — it is possible to go overboard (just as my husband after I accidentally "de-cluttered" his entire winter wardrobe). 

Working through this list is a great way to immediately reduce the clutter in your house, take inventory of what you have, and get a better sense of why you love the things you do love about your home. 

Adopting a minimalist lifestyle can seem daunting, unless you tackle it slowly, bit by bit. This list of 50 things to get rid of right now is a launch pad for jumping into a simple life with less stuff. And you can start right now.

50 Things to De-Clutter RIGHT NOW:

  1. Old batteries
  2. Old cell phone/accessories/chargers
  3. Cardboard boxes
  4. Old toiletries and make up
  5. Expired foods/condiments
  6. Extra magazines and subscriptions
  7. Those socks that don't have matches
  8. Shoes/clothes your kids have outgrown
  9. Broken/worn out toys
  10. Old costumes/special occasion wear
  11. Used up notepads/coloring books/journals
  12. Expired/unused prescriptions/medicine/vitamins
  13. Old gift wrap/gift bags
  14. Old calendars/planners
  15. Movies you don't watch
  16. CDs/records you don't listen to
  17. Board games you don't play
  18. Cookbooks you never use
  19. Used gift cards
  20. Old paint and craft supplies
  21. Appliance manuals (you can find them online)
  22. Appliances you never use
  23. Random bottles and jars
  24. Puzzles with missing pieces
  25. Plastic tupperwear with missing lids
  26. Worn out bedding/blankets
  27. Clothes you haven't worn in a year
  28. Extra hats/gloves/scarves
  29. Decor not on display
  30. Almost-gone cleaning supplies
  31. Dying houseplants
  32. Books you won't read
  33. Random keys
  34. Receipts
  35. Vases
  36. Extra hangers
  37. Extra totes/hampers
  38. Old purses/wallets
  39. Jewelry you don't love
  40. Spare buttons/thread from clothes
  41. Broken pens/pencils/markers
  42. Extra coffee mugs (you probably won't need to use all 20 at once)
  43. Old coffee/tea you won't drink
  44. Memorabilia that doesn't hold the same value it used to
  45. Old nail polish
  46. Anything that makes you sad
  47. Anything that's broken
  48. Anything that doesn't fit
  49. Anything you have duplicates of
  50. Anything you don't love

*Note: This post isn't meant to encourage waste. Please dispose of your items responsibly through gifting, selling, donating, upcycling and recycling. If you're looking for ways to responsibly get rid of things without throwing them in the trash or tossing them in a Goodwill bin, check out this post from Life, Style, Justice.*

Sentimental Clutter: 5 Tips To Learn To Let It Go

*This post is an excerpt from our course The Art of Simple Living, an all-encompassing guide to simplifying your heart, home, and wardrobe*

It may be difficult to de-clutter in general, but, in my experience, the most difficult area for most people is the items with special memories attached to them. The boxes of old photos from your childhood that you rarely go through or display. The antiques that aren't really your style, but that you keep around to honor their previous owner. Your old prom dress or jersey, or a stack of letters from an old pen pal. The thought of letting go of even one of these items may be unfathomable.

I know the struggle, really I do. Before I began my minimalism journey, I had boxes full of old birthday cards — not just recent ones either, like fifth birthday party old. I kept everything that my mom had saved for me, and anything that had any kind of sentimental value. An old t-shirt that I wore to my first concert? Check. A hoodie than an old crush once bought me? Kept it for five years. It took me a long time, and lots of moves where I had to haul all of these sentimental items around, to realize that my memories didn't have to be attached to things, and that it didn't mean I wasn't grateful for the special place they had in my heart if I got rid of them.

Letting go of most of those things wasn't an overnight process, and I don't expect it to be for you either.

Sentimental clutter is one of the biggest things keeping people from simplifying their lives. With these five tips in mind, you'll be able to determine what pieces can go and learn how to let go of things without letting go of the memories attached to them.

If you're especially sentimental, or have a large amount of keepsakes, mementos, or "knick-knacks", this section might be the hardest part of simple living. Because, unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all method for learning how to downsize these items. It will look differently for each person.

One very difficult example is if you've lost a parent, grandparent, or loved one and are left with their belongings. I remember watching my mother go through the pain of sorting, purging, and donating my grandmother's things after she died, and thinking that it was a burden that no one should have to bear. Unfortunately, the scenario of being left with a large amount of special items from a loved one isn't uncommon, and the grip those objects have on our hearts can be tight and hard to loosen.

After researching a bit, and combining it with my own experience of letting go, I came up with five steps to help you through the process of learning to let go, a bit at a time.

1. Let go of guilt:

More often than not, the first thing that holds us back from letting go of sentimental clutter is guilt. We feel guilty about moving on, or like we're somehow loosing a piece of the memory or person the thing belonged to. However, that's simply not true. Chances are, the person the item belonged to would never want you to feel that way, and letting go of something doesn't make the memories any less real. 

Knowing that you're not a horrible friend/daughter/mother/sister/etc. for wanting to downsize something that may have a great deal of emotional weight is the first step in letting it go.

2. Separate the memory from the "thing"

It may feel like the item is your only way to remember. Whether it's a photo, an article of clothing, or a keepsake, your memories may be so intertwined with it that you forget to separate the two. The trinket/object is nothing more than a thing — objectively speaking. The memory you hold won't be lost just because you choose to get rid of an object.

3. Start small, go slow

You don't have to jump off the deep end and get rid of all of your sentimental items at once. In fact, keeping a few is a great way to compromise and make it easier on you. Start small, maybe choose to get rid of one thing each week, and soon, you'll realize that it gets easier and easier. 

4. Keep a few:

Don't feel like the pieces in your home can't hold any sentimental value. A home is supposed to be sentimental. It key is striking a balance between too much and just enough. Keeping one or two photos and uploading the rest, or choosing your favorite of a set of items will help it feel less dramatic. 

5. Donate:

Donating or selling the items you choose to downsize is a great way to give them a second life, where even more memories can be made. 

Want more tips for simplifying your whole life? Sign up for The Art of Simple Living for all our best tips, lessons and more in one place. 

It's More Than Downsizing: Why Minimalists Should Care About the "Big Issues"

Let's interrupt our normal slough of posts on practical simple living tips to talk about what I believe is the heart behind minimalism — or at least, one of the many benefits of it. 

I could talk about why I love capsule wardrobes, or the benefits of de-cluttering your house all day long. I probably have, in fact. But one thing I don't talk enough about on this little corner of the internet is the why behind it all. Besides benefits like less stress, a more cohesive home and wardrobe, and (I would argue) the ability to enjoy life more fully, why do I preach simple living night and day? 

Although it's not the only reason to jump on the simple living bandwagon, I believe that living with less and adopting a simpler view of life opens up the doors to care about issues beyond your home. 

Minimalism is about more than capsule wardrobes and perfectly styled houses. Once you've done the hard work of downsizing, there's room for far more important things. Read why I believe minimalists should be champions for the causes they believe in.

Even though most of the pieces we share discuss topics within the walls of your home, as you become more content with where you're at in life, there opens up a whole new realm outside of your home. A realm where injustices occur and life is far from simple. 

I believe that the minimalist should be a champion of these causes — regardless of your religion, or social or political status. When we're not focused on accumulating more, how can we not speak up for the issues laid on our hearts? 

In the coming weeks and months, you're going to hear more and more about topics near and dear to my heart — as uncomfortable as they may be to discuss. Things like human trafficking and the injustices of the fast fashion industry, namely. 

I don't think this is a shift in focus from where we're at now. On the contrary, I think it's the natural progression of the discussion we've been having. As I worked tirelessly to minimize my physical clutter, I also downsized my "heart clutter" as well (a topic we discuss frequent on SL&Co.), and with less overall clutter in my life, I had room for passions bigger than my home and my closet to ignite. you become more content with where you’re at in life, there opens up a whole new realm outside of your home. A realm where injustices occur and life is far from simple.

Obviously, I'm not saying that you have to be a minimalist to care about social injustice—  far from it, actually. I'm simply noting the correlation I've noticed between simple living and taking action. Once you've simplified, don't be content, at least not fully. 

Be content with what you have, but remember that the willpower you used to downsize (because we all know it takes actual guts to get break the hold our "stuff" has), to speak up for the voiceless, to shine a light on the issues not everyone knows about, to be a champion for whatever cause tugs at your heart. 

Because if we de-clutter only for the sake of de-cluttering, is it really worth it? 

This fall and winter, although you'll still see our usual content full of tips, tricks, and real life stories, I'm going to use this platform to raise awareness for the 4.5 million victims of sex slavery worldwide. I will be participating in Dressember (you can join my team, read more, or donate here), using the funds from my still-in-the-works course to donate to the cause, and sharing facts, interviews and stories from women and brands who are committed to making a difference. 

Will you join me? 

I truly believe that your voice matters. What will you use it for? 

Mindful Living: How Mementos Translate To Memories

I have a trunk filled with mementos from all my early years of travels. Some may even call it a “footlocker,” although it’s never lived at the foot of any bed.

If nothing else, the description gives you an idea of its size, which is substantial. It has those nifty silver-colored latches on either side. It also has a place for a padlock, should I decide to have an extra layer of protection for these things that represent local and foreign places I’ve been and things I’ve seen.

I have stopped counting how many times the trunk has been moved from new place to new place. With each move, I open the treasure chest and peer inside to see what I could get rid of to lessen the load. As you might expect, I have rarely removed even one item from the smorgasbord it’s become. I also haven’t added anything new in over a decade because those items have found a public place somewhere in my home.

Now that I am even more committed to mindful living, every time I go through a phase of actively purging things, I review the items in this trunk. Over the last several years, I have even made a point of mentally preparing myself to remove as many items as I can; yet every time I close the trunk and put it back in its place, the mementos remain intact.

Because each review of an item turns into a wonderful reminiscing. So I convince myself that it’s OK not to throw anything out.

After all, I’ve contained it only ONE trunk.

And we have the space.

And it’s so sturdy, it’s a great base onto which we can stack other boxes.  

And…you catch my drift.

What I have a learned through the countless attempts to throw away things from the trunk is that they are not “things”.

When it comes to day-to-day items from my closet, my kitchen, or my office, I can purge with reckless abandon. I have no problem quantifying, if you will, the value of the item and its importance to my daily life.

But year after year I’ve found that this trunk of mementos falls into an entirely different category. As I hold each item, I have a sensory experience with sights and sounds. The clarifying details of each interaction become more heightened instead of what would have been only general recollections.

It is as though these items contain the very heart of my early travel history.

And while it seems counterintuitive - therein lies the beauty of mindful living for me. I am making a mindful choice to keep this trunk and dispose of things only when I am able.

What I have a learned through the countless attempts to throw away things from the trunk is that they are not “things”. I am so grateful for everything I’ve learned and gained from these opportunities that I am unwilling to dispose of the things that unlock these visceral reactions.

So this year, I will once again attempt to remove from the trunk but will be more forgiving of myself if, after the lid is closed, the garbage can remains empty.

What mementos of yours are your “memory keepers”?

Do you struggle to let go of sentimental clutter? Enroll in The Art of Simple Living to kickstart your minimalism journey.