On Taking Out the Trash

Every year at about this time, I feel the need to declutter my house some more. What can I say? I’m vaguely claustrophobic and after a winter spent indoors, surrounded by all the things, I crave space and airiness.

This year’s round got a major boost after I read the book The Art of Discarding by Nagisa Tatsumi. It’s the one that inspired Marie Kondo all those years ago, finally translated into English.

She talks about garbage a lot and how our fear of sending things to the landfill will cause us to hold onto something that is completely useless. It set my environmentally-friendly teeth on edge, but really, she’s right. Garbage is garbage, whether it’s in your house or in the landfill. Throwing actual garbage away isn’t making garbage, it’s just relocating it.

This reminded me of discussions my sister-in-law used to have with people who wanted to make her children clean their plates at every meal. She would counter  the “you’re wasting food!!!” argument by pointing out that eating food you don’t need is as much a waste as leaving it on your plate. Her kids quickly learned to gauge how hungry they actually felt at any given meal and fill their plates accordingly. Seconds were always an option. There was very little food wasted in their house.

Back to my recent decluttering. After reading that book and taking a look around, I realized that I was hanging on to a lot of garbage. And, believe me, my definition of garbage is pretty stringent. If there is any chance someone will be able to make use of my discards, I make them available. But if something is garbage (but not actually rotting) I tend to hang onto it out of guilt at the thought of adding to the landfill problem.

But it is still garbage and spreading it out over closets and drawers and basements instead of gathering it into one central landfill doesn’t actually solve the problem.

The solution to the landfill problem happens before we buy something that will end up as useless crap.

After looking at what I threw away on this go round, I am determined to be much more careful in my future clothes purchases. Fewer, better quality (mostly thrifted) and natural fibres that can be mended or reworked.

Food is another area of hellish waste. We’re cutting back on our produce purchases, taking note of how many times we will be eating out during the week and making more of an effort to use up what’s in the fridge before restocking. When it’s time to replace our 8-year-old fridge, it will be with a smaller model.

It feels strange to buy less food at first. We’re used to so much plenty that just enough can make you feel insecure. But we live in a mid-sized city. We can find what we need at a moment’s notice. And since we started buying less, there hasn’t been a single emergency shop for food.

Pantry items are another area I want to work on. I’ve resolved not to buy a bottle of whatever ingredient for one special recipe. If a recipe calls for something I don’t have, I’ll leave it out or look for another recipe. And if I do buy some spices or something, I will buy it in a reasonable size for two people to use up before the end of time. I mean, the kilogram tub of dried oregano can at least be composted when it no longer has any scent or colour. That bottle of long-past-its-expiry cooking oil is another matter entirely.

The bathroom declutter was an eye-opener, too. And I’ve cut down on my hope-in-a-bottle purchases! But there were gifts from friends that likely should have been donated before I opened them, along with a few impulse purchases I now regret. I’m now trying to make more things like toothpaste and deodorant from handy household ingredients. And when I want to feel better about myself, I’ll make a cup of tea and curl up with a good book.

I’m not sure how I’ll keep from falling back into bad habits. But I’m considering carrying a garbage tag in my wallet to remind myself that this stuff that I want to buy will eventually wear out and do I want to be the one responsible for its disposal or should I just walk away? And since I really hated throwing those things out, I have a good feeling it will work.

How about you? Does the fear of generating garbage hold you back from the decluttering you want to do? Is there something else impeding your progress? Let us know in the comments and maybe we can figure out a solution.

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