Overbuyer or underbuyer? Either way, you might be cluttered

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I’ve just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s latest book: Outer Order, Inner Calm.

As I mentioned in my April Community Newsletter, there aren’t many books I’ve not read on decluttering (see my Resources page if you’ve signed up to join the community for a list of some of them). Rubin’s twist on the topic is that she links the idea of clutter, wellbeing and happiness. That builds on the enduring theme of happiness about which she has written plenty.

Hands up, all you ‘under-buyers’? You may hold onto stuff because you seldom purchase something new. Perhaps you’re an ‘over-buyer’? If so, then you’re likely to stockpile things you don’t need.

I thought it would be interesting to explore this idea a bit further.

Overbuyer?

Courtney Carver is a self-confessed classic overbuyer; she would shop for fun, to fill an emotional void or as a way of treating herself. Did Carver need even more clothes? Of course not. But, as she wrote in her book, Soulful Simplicity, her un-intentional spending habits resulted in piles of debt, piles of clothes (still with labels on) never worn, and piles of stress.

Stockpiling

Of course, not all overbuying is about clothes. As Rubin writes, you’re likely to be an overbuyer if you stockpile stuff like toiletries; if you buy gifts for others without an intended recipient; or if you end up throwing away food or medicines because they’ve passed their use-by date.

Food waste

Food waste – an unintended consequence of overbuying – is a massive global problem. According to Friends of the Earth, the average UK family spends £470 annually on food that is binned. Even more shocking is that one third of all food produced around the globe is lost or wasted.

Inadequate storage

In terms of clutter, according to Rubin, overbuyers feel stressed because they end up being surrounded by things for which they have inadequate storage and feel hemmed in by all the stuff they’re holding onto.

Whilst I would probably class myself as a natural ‘spender’ as opposed to being a ‘saver’, I would not put myself in this category.

Underbuyer

Underbuyers may buy too little, so they’re unlikely to be prepared for bad weather or end up shopping for summer holiday clothes when the autumn/winter season stock has already hit the shelves.

Oh, that’s me!

Resisting replacements

Whilst I don’t resist buying the essentials, I do resist replacing worn out items such as household linens. Since we’ve been on a journey to improve our finances since January 2018, this has been largely cost driven, but I recognise the feeling of being stressed because I don’t have something suitable to wear for a special event.

Last minute shopping panics

There have also been times when I’ve had to rush out to get something for a holiday because I didn’t have the basics. This trait has clearly been recognised by others; my mother included a pack of tea-towels in my holiday gifts at Christmas!

Underbuying and clutter

If you’re an underbuyer, Rubin suggests that your distaste for shopping could actually contribute to clutter. This sounds counter-intuitive but it might be possible that you dread the idea of needing an item (thus being forced to go out and buy it) that you hold onto things, no matter how useless. That has certainly contributed to my clutter in the past.

Get Uncluttered

So, do you fall into either of these categories? And, if so, have they caused you to become more cluttered than you would like to be? If so, do take a look at my previous posts on how to tackle clutter. For some accountability and regular input, check out Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered Course, which is now open to new enrolments. Readers of my blog can now get 25% off the $89 dollar registration fee, so drop me a line via email if you’d like to benefit from this.


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Clutter is costly

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My other half has just received a copy of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. This is interesting and timely for a number of reasons, not least because my next post (a guest blog) will cover this very topic.

Plus, wait…., my husband has bought a book with minimalism in the title!

The first page we opened when Newport’s book arrived contained this phrase: Clutter is costly. This set my brain whirring. For me, this phrase suggests that clutter – when seen as excess – is not only costly on the wallet, it’s literally costing the earth.

Clutter is costly on the wallet

Whenever we buy stuff we don’t truly need, we’re spending money to satisfy a fleeting desire when these funds could be saved for a short-term financial goal or even invested for the future.

I recently pre-ordered my (digital) copy of Gretchen Rubin’s forthcoming book, Outer Order, Inner Calm. As part of a package of pre-order bonuses, I’ve been receiving some daily ‘outer order’ challenges via email. Today’s suggestion speaks directly to this theme.

Rubin asserts that impulse shopping is a “serious happiness stumbling block.” In her eyes, buying on impulse (so easy to do in the era of one-click shopping), creates unnecessary clutter. I’d go a step further and say it has a serious impact on your budget, too.

Costing the earth….

This week, there were more news stories on fast fashion and its negative impact on the environment. The UK Government was said to be considering a number of measures to tackle this, including the possibility of adding a 1p tax on every item of clothing sold, the revenues from which would pay for improved recycling solutions. This seems like a no-brainer, especially if it’s true that around £140m worth of clothing is going into landfill every single year.

Style not fashion

One of the problems with fast fashion is that it appeals especially to teens and youngsters who don’t have the means to invest in good quality clothes that would last. And why would they want to? When brands like Zara are bringing out new ranges every other week, my daughter’s generation are not going to be interested in saving up for something that would count as ‘investment dressing’.

Still, it’s good to remember that the late Karl Largerfeld, who died this week at the age of 85, said, “Trendy is the last stage before tacky.” That’s fine with me; I’m not a great follower of trends and have always been a late adopter when it comes to the novel or new (particularly when it comes to technology).

Declutter your life and save money

So, consider these tips to avoid costly clutter. We can all do more.

  • Get rid of the excess and you’ll be able to see – and enjoy – what you already have, before you buy more
  • Make money from selling unwanted stuff (especially higher-value items)
  • Remember the 3 Rs: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle
  • Consider ‘style’ over ‘fashion’ for long-term investment dressing (quality over quantity!)
  • Spend out! That is, use up all those consumables you already have and see how much you’ll save

So, what about you? Have you let go of clutter and reaped the benefits? Have you changed your clothes-shopping habits to create a more sustainable wardrobe? I’d love to know; do comment by replying below.


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Tidying up with Marie Kondo

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We don’t have Netflix at home, but I had the chance recently to take a sneaky peak at Marie Kondo’s new show, Tidying up with Marie Kondo. Have you seen it?

The family whose story I watched were overwhelmed with stuff in their modest (albeit still spacious by UK standards) home.

This certainly wasn’t the worst example you might ever see on the telly; hoarding programmes show far worse examples. Nonetheless, there was stuff on the surfaces; clothes bursting from cupboards; inadequate storage; and mountains of unwashed dishes in the kitchen.

In particular, the couple (with two young children) seemed jaded and disconnected and were generally out of sorts. Could the KonMari Method™ make a difference in their lives?

Spark joy

I’m always surprised when I see the neat and diminutive figure of Marie Kondo on the television or in YouTube clips. Seemingly unconcerned by the sheer volume of the clutter her clients have to deal with, she immediately embraces the task in hand, repeating her tried and tested approach with unwavering positivity. The trick, of course, is that that the families – her clients – are doing the hard work under her expert guidance.

The key question Kondo asks of every item being considered is this: “Does it spark joy?” She invites the owner to handle every item, consider it, then thank it for its service, before it is placed in the relevant pile (trash, donate, keep).

Gratitude

Gratitude is a practice that brings about a great many positive benefits. Yet, how many of us show appreciation for the homes in which we live (or for the items that serve us)?

Our own house is coming up to being 30 years old, so certain aspects are really starting to show their age. Instead of expressing gratitude for our home, we invariably see the downsides (for example, the shabby kitchen or the myriad areas that need redecorating).

Kondo begins her time with clients expressing gratitude. In the episode I watched, she placed herself in a kneeling position on the rug in the family’s living room. Closing her eyes, and encouraging the family to join her, she performed a little ritual in which she acknowledged the house and said thank you. To the viewer, this can seem a little quirky, but it seemed to create a collective ‘deep breath’ before the family set to work.

Start with your closet

All minimalists say it, but I’ll say it again. Your wardrobe is the very best place to start if you want to lighten the load. Like a room within a room, your closet presents an opportunity to sort through a discrete space and derive some immediate benefits.

I’ve written about this before, so head on over to my earlier blog post if you’d like to follow my step-by-step approach.

Simple techniques

Kondo is very good at demonstrating how it’s useful to store similar things together. In the kitchen, for example, she shows how putting similar sized utensils together helps them sit more neatly in the drawer.

We do a similar thing at home with knives. Sounds a bit nerdy? Maybe, but you’ll find what you need and avoid the frustration of having to rummage through a jumble of objects when you want to find something.

Folding

Kondo’s method of folding items into little rectangles looks, at first, like a type of game-show challenge. Yet, how much more easy it is to locate what you need, when things are stacked neatly into drawers? If you have a lot of items to store, the KonMari™ folding method is certainly a very good way to making more visible what you own.

Instead of stacking items on top of one another, as in the above photo, Kondo’s approach allows you to see everything you own when you open the drawer.

For smaller items, compartmentalising drawers with little boxes certainly helps in this regard; it’s something I’ve done for a while and you don’t need special containers to do it successfully. A shoe box, or a smaller cardboard presentation or gift box can be used to great effect.

By the end of the episode I watched, the whole group was busy folding (a family that folds together stays together!?)

Enjoying the special souvenirs

If clothes are the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of tidying up, then ‘souvenirs’ (as Kondo calls them) or sentimental items are the ones that sit highest on the tree of decluttering.

Wedding DVDs and photographs (for example), can end up being consigned to the garage and never enjoyed. That’s certainly what had happened to the KonMari™ family in the Netflix episode.

In our case, we have a small collection of DVDs that are very precious to us. Kept in a small basket inside the cupboard of our TV stand (and in paper envelopes, not bulky plastic cases), these little videos offer a glimpse of our family’s past.

In particular, my father – an amateur videographer – has captured some lovely moments from when our daughter was little. These priceless momentos take up little room and while we don’t watch them every day, we do enjoy them. So, bring them in from the garage or dig them out of the loft: you’ll never watch them if they’re inaccessible.

Togetherness

In the concluding part of the ‘Tidying up’ episode, it was clear that the outer order generated through the family’s efforts had resulted in a much greater sense of inner calm and togetherness.

It’s hard to know if this was simply a result of the couple’s shared enterprise, or if getting rid of the excess had truly made a difference to the life of the family. I’d like to think it was a bit of both. Just 3 days ago, the New York Times published an article, which cited recent research on the impact of clutter on wellbeing.

So, are you a KonMari™ fan? Does her method of tackling clutter by category work for you or do you prefer to go room by room? Let me know by replying to this post below.

Next up on the blog: Circadian rhythms and 2 meals per day…


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Maintaining minimalism

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Having recently bought some Christmas stocking fillers online for our teenager, I am now using the cardboard delivery box to do a sweep of our home prior to guests arriving over the festive season.

Simplest is best

It occurs to me that the ‘one in, one out’ rule is arguably one of the most powerful (but simple) tools in our minimalist toolkit. So, why am I finding things to place in that box, if this is something I believe in? It’s because I didn’t stick to the rule! That summer hat I found in Corsica two years ago was to replace the floppy one I wasn’t wearing, but I just found the original in my chest of drawers,….

Keeping on top of your stuff

As I mentioned in my last post in which I reviewed Joshua’s Becker’s The Minimalist Home, achieving a minimalist environment is one thing; maintaining it is another (especially during life’s key transitions, which seem to be associated with moving stuff around!).

As I wrote previously, it’s a bit like deciding to lose weight by going on a low carb diet (for example). All diets work if you stick to them; you’ll benefit from letting go of the excess pounds and will feel physically and mentally lighter. Decluttering is similar. Let go and you’ll enjoy the benefits but unless you have a strategy for maintaining your new-found lifestyle, the chances are you won’t embed it and be able to stick with it.

Going back to ‘one in, one out’

This is where the ‘one in, one out’ rule comes into its own. When we decluttered my late mother-in-law’s house during the summer and early autumn, I brought home a white vase that had belonged to her. When I subsequently chose an even prettier one that no-one else wanted, I actually let the white vase go (and got rid of another one at the same time). So, that was one in, two out!

The hardest part of being a minimalist

Next week, I’m being interviewed by a media student who is making a documentary on minimalism. In our pre-interview correspondence, he has asked me a number of questions, one of which is, “What is the hardest part of being a minimalist?”

My response will be that anyone can live a minimalist life; it’s not hard. However, there was a moment when I realised that because I use and enjoy all of my things, some of them will actually will wear out! The one in, one out rule very much applies then.

The easiest part of espousing minimalism

The easiest part of adopting a minimalist lifestyle is when you receive something you both wanted and needed. Here’s where the ‘one in, one out’ rule really comes into its own.

With Christmas just around the corner, chances are you’ll receive something during the holidays that will replace something you already own. We are so fortunate to live in an age where we can (and do) ask for a ‘new X’ (insert watch, coat, pair of gloves, scarf, laptop… the list goes on). So, consider the ‘one in, one out rule.’ If, like me, you don’t own many items in a particular category, a replacement item of great quality can enable you to let go of the existing item you already own that may be past its best.

A great way to maintain minimalism

So, intentionally review your existing items when you receive something new and stick to the ‘one in, one out’ rule. This way, when you reach for something you need, you’ll find your best and the loveliest things just waiting to be enjoyed. A very Happy Christmas to you.


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The Minimalist Home

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When I was invited recently to preview Joshua Becker’s latest book, The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Focused Life, I was keen to oblige.

Now seems a very good to time to consider how the items we bring in to our home have an impact on our lives, especially as the ‘season of excess’ is truly upon us. Only on Saturday morning, the speaker on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day quoted, “We are all choking on the fumes of excess.”

I was particularly curious to see what Joshua Becker had to say in The Minimalist Home, especially since he has already written a number of books on the subject. This work is a distillation of Becker’s knowledge and expertise gained over the last 10 years. So, if you’re keen to read (or gift) a book on minimalism during the holidays, this is an excellent place to start.

Case studies

Becker describes not only the benefits of minimalism experienced in his own life (and in the lives of those closest to him), but he also shares real case studies (some of them gleaned from members of his Uncluttered online course community).

Imagine if you could find a more fulfilling purpose in life, simply by letting go of what no longer serves you. In the book, we read of the nurse who, freed of the burden of ‘stuff,’ is able to use her skills to help others in Honduras. There’s the couple who discover unexpectedly the benefits of living in a smaller space when the husband is deployed to an air base in California. And there’s the woman who simply states, “I cannot work or be creative in a cluttered environment.” This one really very much resonates with me.

Home is where the heart is

Starting with that evocative line from The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home,” Becker reminds us of the importance that ‘home’ plays in our lives. He suggests that if you make-over your home, you ‘make-over’ yourself, all of which is without the help of a Sarah Beeny or a Kirstie Allsopp.

As a minimalist myself, I don’t disagree; I have experienced what Becker calls ‘the minimalist dividend’. This is the unexpected bonus you’ll enjoy through adopting a minimalist home. For me, I’ve freed up time and have more capacity to enjoy a variety of activities, rather than spending time chasing after stuff or (worse) managing the stuff I already own.

I’ve also found, like others quoted in The Minimalist Home, that minimalism and money go together in a positive way (I’m in the process of editing my own little e-book on this very subject, so watch this space!).

Step by step

Rather than declutter by item type (e.g. the KonMari Method™), Becker’s method takes us room by room. I particularly like this approach, as there are some quick wins to be achieved by decluttering shared family spaces first.

Becker’s checklists also help the reader know when they’ve achieved all of the potential benefits of decluttering each room or space.

Experimentation

Experimenting is a very good way to evaluate how living with less can add value to your life; Becker suggests doing some mini-experiments to gauge the extent to which you might actually have a real need for something.

The temporary removal of things you may no longer need (a classic minimalism tip) is a terrific way to deal with something over which you’ve been procrastinating. Not sure if you want to keep it or if you truly need it? Box it up, wait for 29 days, then let it go if you haven’t retrieved it.

Reflecting on my own approach

Becker’s easy-going prose is not at all directive in style, but some of his suggestions caused me to reflect and question my own approach. Too much screen time a concern? Becker suggests removing a TV or games console. I would argue that it’s the truly personal devices (that controversial smart phone, especially) that consumes our attention and impacts negatively on our real-life relationships.

Becker also asserts that keeping items visible – and conveniently close to where they will be used – creates a visual distraction. He calls this ‘The Convenience Fallacy’. I would submit that not keeping things in a convenient location is what Gretchen Rubin calls a ‘happiness stumbling block’. So, whilst I concur with the idea that unnecessary clutter is counter to the minimalist ethos, I do advocate keeping items where they will be used.

I also found puzzling the inclusion of two recipes for natural cleaning products. Whilst they might be a complementary idea to reduce the variety of items you might use for cleaning or laundry, I felt this small addition was a little incongruous.

As with any book on minimalism and simple living, it’s useful to consider to what extent ‘The Becker Method’ chimes with your own thinking. Indeed, as any minimalist would advocate, I’d evaluate then adopt the things that resonate with you, but let go of anything that doesn’t.

Maintain

For me, where the book really comes into its own is the section that considers how we maintain a minimalist home. Including this aspect is important; it’s a bit like a maintenance plan for the successful dieter: how to lose the weight and keep it off. In this case, the ‘weight’ is excess stuff without which you will feel lighter.

Becker also encourages the reader to consider how we live throughout our changing lives, especially during life’s important transitions. Here, he also includes some thoughts on how we can ‘right size’ our homes and gain in the process, perhaps experiencing the joy of less work; fewer financial commitments; and more time.

Rest

I particularly love Becker’s idea that a minimalist home supports our well-being and helps us get a good night’s sleep. A home that, “… promotes peace, serenity, relaxation, calmness and sleep…,” has got to be worth pursuing.

So, as you look forward to some down time over the festive period, consider putting your feet up with Joshua Becker’s new book. By reading it and in adopting its core principles, I’m sure you’ll also nurture gratitude whilst being more generous with your time, your money and your attention. Your presence, not presents, may be just what’s needed this Christmas.


About Joshua Becker

Joshua Becker is the founder of Becoming Minimalist, a community of 1 million + monthly readers and Simplify Magazine (100,000 subscribers). He’s a national bestselling author and his new book The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Focused Life releases December 18 and is available to pre-order now. Joshua is a contributor to FORBES and has been featured in Real Simple, Wall Street Journal, CBS Evening News and more.


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The most poignant kind of decluttering

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I’ve been a bit quieter on the blog over recent weeks. During the time when I would normally have been writing, I’ve been involved in what is arguably the worst – and most poignant – kind of decluttering. Along with family members, I’ve been clearing the home of my late mother-in-law who died in July.

Whilst I know you can get professional companies to do house clearance for you, as a family, we decided to get stuck in ourselves. Last Sunday (“Skip Sunday”) was the final event in a series of days when we finally felt we had achieved our goal.

Here’s what I learned during the process.

Go for the low-hanging fruit first

There are some obvious things you can do early in the process. These require relatively little thought and can be done quite quickly. Cans of food in the cupboard? Get them straight to a Shelter or take them home and eat the contents. Take clothes to the charity shop (check pockets first!) and return any borrowed items. In doing these tasks, you’ll make a solid start and create a bit of space in the process.

Sort paperwork away from the space being decluttered

It’s worthwhile sorting out paperwork at home in your own time. I brought back papers to be sorted, laid them on our dining room table and went through them with care and attention. This is important; you don’t want to shred or throw away something that you might need later. For example, we had an invoice that needed to be paid. I didn’t know that it hadn’t been paid until we received a reminder, but I was able to deduce that it hadn’t been paid from the document I had held onto.

Pace yourself

House clearance is really hard going. I have huge respect to those who do this for a living; it’s physically demanding work. Plus, for those who have an emotional stake in the items being decluttered, it can be tough emotionally.

Give yourself (and others) time to consider what you might need to keep (at least, in the short term). If you’re not sure about something, it’s worth consulting with other family members in case there’s a good reason you might need it.

Get jewellery valued

If you find a little bit of jewellery – even something like a 9ct gold dress ring – don’t assume it’s worthless. You may get £20 scrap value for each item, which might perhaps generate a little bit of surprise pocket money for the children. Check out your local jeweller who will be able to give you a price on the dot.

Do as much good as you can with the stuff you have

My most recent post considered what to do with stuff you don’t want to sell. Here’s where you have the chance to do something good with the belongings that you aren’t going to retain. That said, be prepared to reach a point where the only things you have left will (unfortunately) need to go into landfill. For us, this required a skip, which enabled us to give our house-clearance project a final push.

Don’t forget out-of-sight places

When we first sat down to consider the task that lay before us, a couple of us had clocked that we were going to need to shine a light into some dark corners that maybe hadn’t been looked at for quite some time. The words ‘shed’ and ‘loft’ were uttered.

The loft yielded a surprising amount of stuff, including some dining room chairs that had originally belonged to my own parents and which we had used when we first got married.

It’s likely that anything you find in the loft may have been what I call ‘Procrastination Pieces’. These are things that are unlikely to be needed (because no-one has been using them), but you’ll have to go through them nonetheless.

Looking forward

At least, with a project like this, there’s the end goal to look forward to. This was an intense period of time, but it’s behind us now.

Still, while we’re looking forward, it’s worth considering how you manage your own space.

In a recent ‘Happier’ podcast, Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft proposed the creation of a very useful item – a Facts of Life document. How much easier would it be for those around you (if/ when something happened) to have access to a folder or simple document that detailed ‘Facts You Need to Know’? This saves family members going on a metaphorical voyage of discovery at a time when they could do without playing detective.

In addition, consider the impact of your own stuff on those who might have to deal with it after you die. You may have heard of a more recent phenomenon in the decluttering space; Swedish Death Cleaning. It’s certainly worth considering and there are lots of articles out there that tell you how. If you want to read more, I’ll leave you with a post from my friend, Angela, over at Setting My Intention.

Right now, my intention is to put my feet up and take it slowly this weekend. After all, we’ve earned it.


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What should I do with things that I don’t want to sell?

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In the second of this series of mini-posts, I’m addressing a question I received from my friend, Emma. She asked, “Any tips or advice on where I can get rid of stuff I don’t want to just throw away but don’t have the time or energy to sell on eBay?”

Well, you already know that I’ve taken a raincheck on eBay, so these are my suggestions.

Offer to friends and family

When you’re having a clear-out, friends and family members will often swoop in and take things you might have otherwise given away. They say charity begins at home and it’s great to be able to help others that are close to you. What you don’t need might just be what someone else was considering buying (especially when it comes to kitchen gadgets, for example).

Donate

Charities – especially those that support families in need – will often welcome household items that you might otherwise find difficult to shift. We’ve recently become aware of a couple of charities in the Midlands, including Loaves n Fishes. This organisation helps people in poverty or those who need help to get back on their feet after a family break-up. It’s gratifying to know that you can help others just by giving stuff away that no longer serves you.

Re-use, recycle

Don’t forget your local recycling centre; it will inevitably have a ‘tip shop’ where you can donate items that your local charity shop might not choose to stock. So, when you take your items for recycling, you can also leave other things that are still serviceable but which might not be accepted in a high-street charity store.

A penny in the jar

If you have something for which you’d still like to get a few pennies, see if there’s a local community Facebook group that you can join. Ours is Things for Sale in Kenilworth, which attracts interest from towns and villages close by. People on there are looking for a bargain and it’s ‘selling’ but in a low-key, unstructured way. People come and pick up the stuff they’ve agreed to collect and you get a pound or two for the pot.

Cash4Clothes is similar. Your clean and re-useable clothes and shoes are distributed to countries like Ukraine and Romania, so you’re doing some good whilst getting a few pennies (currently 45p per kilo) for your efforts.

Of course, there are networks such as Freecycle that might also enable you to pass things on.

Finally, see if you can find a local group that needs support with fundraising. Often, such groups will welcome things they can sell at car boot sales to help swell their funds.

Throwing Away

There is no such place as ‘away’. Throwing away really means disposing of stuff via landfill. If you can avoid this by identifying alternative options, like the ideas suggested above, so much the better. You’ll maybe put in a little more effort to achieve it, but by doing good, you’ll feel good. Plus, you’ll be a little lighter in the process.


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