Let’s Declutter Without Being Wasteful

by Kelvin Belfon



In the United States we throw away 40% of the food we produce. That’s approximately $165 billion worth of food each year. That’s like the average American household tearing up $2,200 in cash each year. That’s mind blowing!

We are also wasteful in our consumption of non-essential goods. This is anything ranging from precious metals, like jewelry, to electronics, trendy gadgets and appliances. It’s a shocking 1.2 trillion a year on things that we could be happy living without.

Yet, economists argue that purchasing them is the key to our economy’s growth. I get it. We have to keep dumping fuel in the fire to keep it going. But, for what?!

Doesn’t that habit only put Americans on a cycle of wastefulness? We buy things we don’t need that give us a temporary sense of fulfillment. When we are tired of them or they quickly lose our interest, we just toss them without giving a second thought to the matter of where they will end up.

One recent article on money shows that about 10.5 million tons of clothing hit the landfills each year! And while clothes are essential, this study includes that Americans are now buying 5 times the amount of clothes than they actually need.

When I began to embrace minimalism, I did so partly because of my concern for how I was contributing to such a wasteful lifestyle. In minimalism, we are called to minimize our needs and haves, de-clutter, downsize, reduce and just simply, get rid of our stuff.

One blogger, after reading Marie Kondo’s, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up took 20 garbage bags of stuff straight to the trash. Some bags contained outdated and obsolete gadgets while others contained items like uncomfortable shoes, never-used handbags and scarves. They were all discarded, even the new clothing. “Out. Out. Out. Damned clutter,” wrote the author.

Such an all-out-war on clutter is a commendable decision. Our clutter mostly comes into our lives as amicable friends. But over time, this innocent relationship quickly turns into an unhealthy obsession, consuming our lives and physical space.

Yet, along with many of Jessica’s readers, I thought as I read, “why such waste?”

As I read, I reflected on my life as a boy. I was raised on little so I had to care for and cherish what I did have. I repurposed old things to make new uses for them… over and over again. I wore shoes till they had holes and then would take them to the shoemaker for repair. So as I read Jessica’s post, I cringed at the degree of wastefulness implicated by her throwing away perfectly good things.

A balance between decluttering and being wasteful was recently brought to my attention by our 8 year-old son. My wife and I had wanted to get rid of extra kiddie cups and dishes, some of which our son was still very fond of having.

As my wife insisted that he make a choice on just a few of his favorite cups that he wished to keep, tossing the rest, he reasoned to her, “Why should we throw away something that is in perfectly good condition just to add it to the landfills, where it will sit there for a long time without breaking down?”

This led me to ponder his question.

Can we become hoarders by sticking to the old waste not want not adage? Yes, yes, yes! But minimalism doesn’t have to be wasteful either. You can live with less without filling up landfills with your want-nots. What to do with unwanted stuff  provide some alternatives to throwing out clutter.

If you are like me and can de-clutter your possessions…good. Consider yourself blessed. Fortunate. Comfortable and better off than many people around the globe!

So let’s be grateful for what we’ve been given. Let’s think about others. It’s not always about us, even when pursuing a simple lifestyle. And let’s remember to care for and be responsible to our planet.

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19 thoughts on “Let’s Declutter Without Being Wasteful

  1. Calla says:

    Welcome back! Great post. Personally I have found the hardest part of decluttering is finding the “right” place the items should go. The obvious things that can be recycled are a no brainer. I try to give things to those that have remarked about an item before or if I think they would like it.

    I had great fun when five different people remarked about 5 different pieces of wall art. Each time I went over took the piece down & handed it them & said enjoy. People were shocked to say the least.

    I’ve also had garage sales, donating the money raised to causes I want to support. As a last resort I take things to the goodwill.

    I’m very thankful for the abundance in my life & am grateful that I’m able to share. While the items are good & useful they should be useful in someone’s else’s life.

    My 2¢ worth

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Hi Calla!
      Thank you. Israel was amazing! I’ll be sharing about it soon. Stay tuned.
      I like your 2¢ worth on the topic. I agree, sometimes finding the right places can be a challenge. Over the years I’ve learned about animal shelters, schools, libraries, homeless shelters and so on as alternative places for donations. I also try to give away to friends and family.
      I like what you did with the art pieces. That’s pretty cool when you can put a smile on someone’s face, especially when it’s unexpected. Well done!
      I know these all require a extra effort, time, inconvenience, and creativity. They can even slow down the minimalism process. But it’s worth it.

      • Anny says:

        But isn’t it very common in America to compliment stuff just to be polite and friendly?
        Personally I would not be happy if someone decided to gift me anything I just politely remarked on. I wouldn’t want the responsibility.
        Maybe that is because I myself am on the “minimalist” path, but this is a very common thing now, so I wouldn’t burden anyone with anything they have not explicitly asked for.
        But I agree that it is very hard to find people who want de-cluttered stuff… everyone seems to have too much already, so it will definitely going to the landfill sooner or later.

        Just my 0,02€

        • Kelvin Belfon says:

          Hi Anny!

          I love your 0,02€. It brought a smile to my face.
          You are right…many people in America have enough stuff. Gifting them our de-cluttered stuff is abetting their hoarding tendencies. Also, some people wouldn’t want our junk.
          As stated in the post, if you are like me and are able to de-clutter, then you are fortunate.
          However, I’ve been working as a food bank manager for the past 2.5 years and have seen lots of needs. Yes, right here in our affluent America. These people don’t have the luxury of minimizing, downsizing or de-cluttering like the rest of us. In my community I see them often and they break my heart.

        • Calla says:

          I understand your feelings, but my friends would tell me if they didn’t want something & they have. I don’t see any of them asking for an item outright, but they have the right to refuse anything that is offered & I tell them that when I offer them something. Friends have remarked on many things with no offer of the item.

          I personally don’t feel that I have caused any added burdens or added to hoarding tendencies by my offers.
          My 2¢ upgraded to $1

  2. Dottie Roseboom says:

    Thanks, Kevin, for this much needed article about decluttering without being wasteful. Over the last 15 years of decluttering our place as well as two other homes, I’ve discovered that everything except moldy items can find a new home. Yeah, I know that many people will dispute that, but there are so many needy people who are grateful for even older items – we just need to find them, thru FB give-away groups, church pantries, etc.
    And I’ve also found extremely creative, artsy people who have enough money to buy whatever they want … but the stores no longer sell some of the items that I’ve found in basements & attics … such as old machinery, old posters, old kitchen tools, etc.. All those items found loving homes – many times with the DIY touch, transforming them into wonderful works of art 🙂

    LOL .. well, time for me to look for some more items to give away 🙂

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Hi Dottie:
      There are things we should discard. I don’t believe we should give people our trash.
      But as you said, many of our possessions can find a new home. There are needy people who could use some of our surplus.
      And older does not mean useless. That’s a great point. In some cases, the older possessions are more durable and of better quality. Many of the items we buy today are inferior and are not made to last.
      “…time for me to look for some more items to give away” I hear excitement, joy, gratitude, and generosity in those words. It’s inspiring and I commend you for thinking of others.
      Thank you for sharing your story Dottie!

      • Dottie Roseboom says:

        Yes, Kevin, we definitely should not be giving away trash – it’s our responsibility to dispose of our own trash (hopefully by recycling). I also don’t like guilt-giving (where a relative takes an item ONLY because we “gave” it to them)

        Luckily, I stopped buying things a few years back, so most of our give-aways are of the more durable type.
        One example of “one’s man’s trash is another’s treasure” are the 200 gunny sacks that the previous owner left in our barn. I thought about using them as mulching material for my garden, but decided to first give them a shout-out on one of the freebie sites. WOW – someone was having an old-time family reunion, and used those sacks for the old-fashioned sack races – later, she told me that the race was the hilarious, and everyone had a great time. After the race, she used the sacks to carry recyclables to her recycling center.
        And I have many other such stories of items that were re-purposed. LOL .. it’s a bit of a game with me to match up the right person with the right item 🙂

        Probably the major problem that I’ve discovered with giving away items, are hoarders. Sadly, there are a few people on the FB free sites, who accumulate as many things as they can. As soon as I realize the problem, I gently tell them that I’m giving the items to someone else.
        Thanks, Kevin, for your great articles!

        • Kelvin Belfon says:

          Wow…awesome story about the 200 gunny sacks Dottie. Seems like you have lots of fun giving away your stuff.

          Yes, there’s always the potential problem of giving away your possessions to hoarders. It’s easy when you know the family member or friend. What makes it tough is when they are strangers.

  3. Christy King says:

    I’m so glad you addressed this. It always concerns me when people suggest throwing perfectly good items in the trash, when they could be sold or donated. Even not-so-good items can often be recycled or repurposed.

    Another option, which I’ve done with items we don’t have too many extras of, is to simply declutter by attrition -wear out the extras without replacing them. This works well for things like clothing and linens, and has the added advantage of saving money.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Thank you Christy.
      The idea of throwing out perfectly good items is an unfortunate consequence of living in an affluent culture. It’s sad, not only because of the needy people around the world who could use them but also of those who reside within our local communities.
      Most people are busy and don’t have time to sell online or host a Saturday yard sale. But there are other options like donating as you suggested. Some companies will even pick up items at our residence.
      I also like your recommendation to recycle, repurpose and simply wear out our items.
      Thank you for your input on the topic.

  4. Those statistics are astonishing. We are living in such a crazed way! Thanks for doing all you can to lead us in a new direction that will actually bring us more happiness and fulfillment too.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Hi Sandra:
      You are welcomed! Together we can all do our part in helping the world become less “crazy.” Thanks for all you do as well.

  5. Cathy says:

    Thanks for such a great article about decluttering without being wasteful. I have been on a downsizing journey since 2007 when I sold my house. I have moved through a series of apartments, each smaller than the last. I think I have found my forever home now in this small, cozy one bedroom space. Having just spent 5 months (!) clearing out my Dad’s home and workshop after his recent death, I look around my little space and think I still have too much stuff. I never want my children to have to go through what I have had to do these past 5 months.It has been heartbreaking that even after giving things away, selling things and an auction,that there was still so much stuff that went to the dump. I am going to continue to reduce my “things” by hopefully passing them on to someone who can use them.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Hi Cathy.
      I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s death. I’m sure that was more than your typical decluttering project. The memories…talk about a tough emotional experience. To his defense, I think his generation saved everything because of their lack and uncertainty of the times.
      But you are also right, going through an experience like that is good motivation to begin the decluttering process. I’m not sure my children would appreciate having to sort through all my clutter.
      I’m glad you’ve found your sweet spot. A cozy home is priceless!
      Thanks for sharing!

  6. noelietrex says:

    Great article! Thanks for posting! My husband and I have begun a no-waste lifestyle alongside embracing minimalism in preparation for the new baby we’re bringing into the world this July. It’s been our version of nesting and has been working out stupendously! The hardest question we’re regularly faced with is “how do we minimize and downsize while still not creating any trash?” For us the biggest answers have been donating, selling, upcycling, and recycling. There is still some trash produced in minimizing, but we have to take responsibility for the trash we’ve created and hopefully looking at it with a critical eye will help us from making the same mistakes in the future

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Congratulations on the little one in July! How cool.
      We have 4 little ones…8 year old, 5 year old and 2 year old twins. Super happy for you guys.
      In our experience, the preparation for our twins helped us downsize. We had limited space at the time and so had to give things away, sell, etc to make room. The little ones had priority…not the stuff.
      I think you guys are on the right track donating, selling, upcycling, and recycling. Your no-waste lifestyle will continue to evolve (especially when the little one arrive). Be patient, you’ll get to your comfort zone.

  7. Terri says:

    This hit home for me. When I prepared for my big move to the western part of the country, I got rid of so much. I tried to take as much as I coudl to the salvation army or good will and then at the end, as time got closer to my departure, I didn’t have the time adn ended up throwing a lot out. I tried to leave it in the “trash room” so that others could pick through it if they wanted. But I still felt wasteful when it all came down to it And now that I have moved from the RV into the apartment, I have stuff that i used to organize stuff in the RV but no longer need. So it’s in storage, but i want to find something better to do with it, repurpose, etc.

    I can imagine cringing as reading that blog post. Being out in the western part of hte country where recycling is not the norm, also makes me cringe. I have been bagging my stuff up and driving it to work where they do recycle. I am grateful for that option. There’s an attitude out here of we have all this space, why do we need to bother recycling? And that is sad.

    So I very much appreciate this post. We need to consume less, period. And I like your little boy and his thoughts and the ability he has to really make his parents ponder things too. 🙂 Hugs to you and Camilla. 🙂

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Like always, it’s so good hearing from Terri.
      I’m also glad the post resonated with you. It’s something that’s been heaving on my heart since January.
      I keep reminding myself, “Kelvin, in your minimalism…don’t forget to think about others and your responsibility to the planet.” Those of us who are blessed with abundance have a responsibility. We can giveaway, donate, recycle and son on.
      Again, thanks for stopping by sis.

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