Help me throw away without guilt!
January 1, 2008 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Sustainable decluttering: how can I cull my stuff without feeling horribly guilty for throwing it out?

Last June, I moved from a beautiful, light-filled, very spacious three-story apartment in Cambridge, MA, to a still very nice but significantly smaller (by two rooms) apartment in Queens.

I've got too much stuff, and I know the quickest way to solve that problem is to just toss things, but I hesitate to just throw things out because, well, landfills are atrocious. I've pretty much done the reuse and recycle part as much as I can, and the excess I'm left with is stuff that really doesn't have a purpose and wouldn't be taken by places like the Salvation Army or Goodwill.

What should I do with this useless stuff? (And I should mention that I don't have the time to craft, etc.)
posted by ocherdraco to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
posted by selfmedicating at 3:32 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

What kind of stuff are you talking about? Is it things that would make good craft materials? (I'm guessing this based on your comment that you don't have time to craft.) If it's things like fabric, paper, yarn, etc., you might have some luck donating it to a community centre with children's art programmes. They don't usually have a lot of money for supplies and might be happy to accept donations of this kind. Or if you know any elementary school teachers, they might be able to use it for art class.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:32 PM on January 1, 2008

I'd say throw it out, all at once. You've eliminated every other option. Use the image of that big pile of trash to stop yourself from buying so much stuff in the future. You could even take a picture and put it up on your fridge or something to remind yourself.
posted by ssg at 3:32 PM on January 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Slowly put it on the street (not all at once or you'll annoy the neighbours). A few items at a time, in a clean cardboard box. I'm always amazed at the crap people will take.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:33 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

pseudostrabismus has a terrific suggestion. People will take ANYTHING if it is free.

I have struggled with the same problem (understatement of the year since I am a bit of a hoarder). I absolutely hate to throw out things that are "good" even if they are good to no one else but me.

I have found that the best way to go about this process it to set a goal of throwing out a small number of objects a day, let's say 3 or 5. Select the objects or just pull them off the pile. Then make sure they get out of your apartment. Put them in a box on the walk for another to take, give them to a friend or toss them in the nearest public trash can. Just move the objects out of the door.

You can also supplement this method with throwing things away as you bring new objects in. Let's say you buy a new book that you have to read. Before you crack it open, throw away 3 objects.
posted by delosic at 3:43 PM on January 1, 2008

New York City Stuff exchange is actually pretty helpful--you can search by category of stuff aand borough.

Materials for the Arts takes art/craft supplies and lots of random surprising things.
posted by beckish at 3:45 PM on January 1, 2008

If it is crafty-type items, senior centers or nursing homes, or any place with a therapeutic art program might also be able to find a use for something you have.

If it really is a bunch of "stuff", maybe an artist could use it to incorporate into some kind of art project. A broken dish could be used in a mosaic? Pieces of cloth could be used in a quilt?

And nthing the idea of a "free" box at the curb or freecycle.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:47 PM on January 1, 2008

After a divorce from a twelve-year marriage almost two years ago, I'm still sorting through things I have in storage after moving from a three-story house to an efficiency apartment. I'm an art student and I truly have to battle the urges to save every little thing that could possibly be used in a piece. Things I haven't touched in six months and don't foresee a need for in the future get sorted into SELL, DONATE/FREECYCLE, or DUMPSTER. There must a proximity alarm or a sentry for the storage unit's dumpster because 9 times out of the 10 I toss a box of things, the same lady pulls up in a nice sedan and digs through it all.

Getting those unwanted things out of your life will give you the room to make better decisions and free your mind of the "weight" of that crap. David Allen has joined my personal pantheon of deities.
posted by bonobo at 3:50 PM on January 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Personally, I can't get rid of stuff all at once. But if I decide to eliminate, say 20% of my paperbacks, I can do that twice a month for half a year and get rid of a good amount by the end. YMMV.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:08 PM on January 1, 2008

I've always found that the guilt is overwhelmed by the lovely feeling of being RID of things. That is, I'll feel bad when I'm sorting through stuff, and when I'm actually hauling it away, but then the second it's gone it's all relief and smiles. Almost like dreading some event, and then after it's over you wonder what you were dreading in the first place. Try a box of the junkiest stuff at a time, and see how much better it makes you feel.
posted by anaelith at 4:43 PM on January 1, 2008

Yes, Freecycle. It really is great and people are usually quick to pick things up and get them out of your life. I learned about Freecycle on this site and joined a few weeks ago. Go to the website and sign up for your area and then start posting your stuff. I have gotten rid of stuff and also found stuff I needed, like a computer monitor after mine crapped out. Even if you think no one could possibly want whatever it is you are getting rid of, trust me, someone on Freecycle will want it (except cats).
posted by 45moore45 at 4:44 PM on January 1, 2008

Try listing it as a free pickup item on Craiglist. Some installation artist may be looking for exactly that item. I paid $25 for a rusty old gas can on eBay that I needed as a prop on a photo shoot.
posted by xo at 4:45 PM on January 1, 2008

Just throw it out. Just do it. Really. That's it. Once you start, it's tremendously liberating.
posted by Doohickie at 4:47 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I culled a lot of my stuff using the three boxes: Keep, Throw Away, Donate. It's less painful than you think, and quite liberating. Be generous with yourself on the first sweep. Keep anything that you feel an emotional attachment to. But then go through a second time and be merciless. You'd be surprised how much easier it is on the second time through. All of a sudden you realize that photos you've been treasuring are just crappy, badly lit shots, and you don't even remember where you were when you took them. Out they go. You realize that you haven't worn a pair of pants in a year, and you're not likely to any time soon, and out it goes. And on.

Do it in one sitting. Put everything in a pile. Don't allow yourself to be distracted. Turn off the phone. Tell people you won't be accepting visitors. Ask yourself, if there was a hurricane and I had to flee, what would I take with me. That can be enormously clarifying.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:54 PM on January 1, 2008

I think I recently read a blog entry that said something along these lines: If something was stolen from you, and no one told you it was stolen, would you notice it was gone? If the answer is no, throw it out.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:10 PM on January 1, 2008

I'd like to put out another vote for freecycle nyc. As amazing as it feels to get rid of clutter, it is doubly so when you know you've actually diverted it from the waste stream. And in NY, you will be surprised at how easy it is to get rid of "junk". I had about a dozen hanging file folders that I put on freecycle and was rid of them in a day or so. It was absolute rubbish to me but the nonprofit that picked them up were psyched.

The advantage of freecycle vs. a free box on the sidewalk is you're likely to hit a much larger audience who are actually in the head space of looking for stuff. Also, a rainy day will lay your best intentions to waste.
posted by funkiwan at 5:49 PM on January 1, 2008

My boyfriend is about the most organized, minimal person I've ever met and he actually has a schedule set up in his calendar that every four months, he goes through all of his stuff and throws away anything he doesn't need. That seems pretty reasonable to me. Every time I move I notice that I've accumulated a LOT of stuff and I have no idea how. A system like this would nip the problem in the bud.

I would advocate for including "things with emotional attachment" into the "need" category, but only to a point. Yes, I need that jewlery box because my great-grandmother owned it, no I do NOT need to keep the blue rock that my ex-girlfriend gave me. YMMV.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:55 PM on January 1, 2008

Another vote for a combination of putting things on the curb and using Freecycle or the Free section of Craigslist. My bf and I are both moving (he just finished a move, and I'll be moving in February). After selling off things that had value, we used the free section of Craigslist for the odds and ends. EVERYTHING was taken. And then while in the process of finishing packing up, we would put boxes of odds and ends, books, and albums out in small quantities... and EVERYTHING was taken. The amount of stuff that ended up in the trash was surprisingly small. Just give things up to the NYC ecosystem.
posted by kimdog at 6:25 PM on January 1, 2008

Is it really useless stuff, or just useless to you? Do you know people in Queens already? If you have a circle of friends with similar interests (and maybe more time to craft), you could have a "Come take away ocherdraco's stuff" party. Clearly mark which things you want to part with (no backing out!), pick a time, and invite people over to take what they want. Ask folks to bring any friends who might be interested as well. You get to meet new people, see old friends, the things get new homes, and everybody leaves with some new (to them) treasure.

After the party, freecycle, sidewalk box, or donate the remaining stuff, as others have suggested above.

I had this kind of "housecooling party" just before i moved across the country several years ago, and it was a great relief for me to see that the things i liked weren't just going to be unceremoniously trashed.
posted by dkg at 7:35 PM on January 1, 2008

People WILL take anything. In my old building in Manhattan someone left a half-empty jar of mustard in the spot where stuff was left in the lobby, and by the end of the day someone had taken it. I use Craig's list and it's been great for me and have heard great things about freecycle.
posted by kenzi23 at 10:17 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Living in Toronto; but in a very urban area (i.e. close to downtown). In our experience putting anything out has it disappearing within an hour, or five. Once the record was an old trunk (big! not that light!) disappearing by the time I went back out with the trash (so, 5 minutes later). If you live near a lot of houses, scavengers know to hunt in that area (I think), so things go away.

kimdog: I like the "ecosystem" concept. :-)
posted by olya at 3:55 AM on January 2, 2008

Mercy buckets, folks.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:54 PM on January 2, 2008

Last time I did a huge cleanout of my junk, I made a list in a spreadsheet, emailed it to my friends and family with a note "Want any of these? First come, first serve". I got rid of a huge amount of stuff, then donated anything that was left (and useful) to various charity orgs. Freecycle could probably handle the rest.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:53 PM on January 3, 2008

Welcome to New York City.

Craigslist in the free section is good, but it has the same problem as Freecycle - I don't want to wait around for someone to come to my house nor do I want to give strangers my address and say "it's next to the dumpster out front." I don't have a concierge or a doorman or anything of that ilk so I can't just leave it with them.

Keep in mind that there are people in our city who just walk the streets of every single neighborhood and go through the garbage to find things to eat, things to wear. We have small places to live so people need to get rid of things. When I was in college we would hit the streets the night before garbage day and we furnished our entire four room apartment in Astoria from castoffs (I wouldn't do it now because of bedbugs, but that's another story).

The point is that if you are considerate and strategic in throwing away you will not be throwing away. For example, you don't put clothes in the garbage can, put them in a shopping bag next to the garbage can for a couple of days. I guarantee that most of them if not all of them will disappear.

People in this city leave stuff on the street, on corners, near their dumpsters all the time with signs saying "FREE" or "take me" or something similar to attract attention, not that it really needs it.

I put a stack of books on the sidewalk as I left the house Sunday afternoon. They were gone before I got home Sunday night.

Finally, Goodwill is going to be doing a drive for clothes and other things that people want to keep out of the landfill, at Grand Army Plaza in BK this Saturday. There was news about it on Gowanus Lounge (it's a blog, google it or check Gothamist).
posted by micawber at 1:25 PM on January 3, 2008

I find that if you are having a hard time deciding if you really need/want something or you can toss it, using the "put it in a box in the closet and wait six months" method works wonders. More often than not, when you come back to that box, you'll think "gee I didn't miss this at all" and will feel better tossing/donating/etc.
posted by radioamy at 1:40 PM on January 3, 2008

well, landfills are atrocious

After asking whether you've done all you can reasonably do to reduce, reuse and recycle, the next question is, "do I want the atrocious landfill in my house or in the landfill?"
posted by Skwirl at 2:00 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older It's never the creepy janitor.   |   What is this quote and where is it from? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.