Sustainable Minimalism: How to Declutter Without Hurting the Environment
Hi there! I'm Makayla, maker and founder of Huckleberry Bonnets Co where I create handmade capsule wardrobe pieces and baby bonnets for women and their littles. I've loved following alongside Make It Slow for about a year now and my favorite part about the shop is Victoria and Donovan's commitment to creating long-lasting heirloom pieces that bring life to my home and cause me to slow down and savor each moment.
At Huckleberry, my main passion is to be sustainable. I work hard to create sustainable pieces that will last a long time and truly benefit the receiver. I'm also committed to helping my audience live a more sustainable lifestyle - and make it simple! That's why I'm so excited to share how you can live a minimalist life and be sustainable while decluttering.
I'm sure you've caught wind by now of the minimalist theme. The idea is the less you own that makes you unhappy, the lighter and more meaningful your life will be. It's all about making room for experiences, things and people you love instead of clutter for the sake of a knick knack.
I fully believe in the power of living a minimalist lifestyle, but there's an issue that I see come up a lot and few people are willing to address it. While everyone goes around decluttering the items in their home, their space gets more enjoyable, but the question remains:
Where do the decluttered items end up?
For most of us, a simple trip to Goodwilll or a local donation-based store is our first option. You donate items like clothing and they get sorted and resold in store, helping your local community.
The journey your clothing (and other items) take after being donated to goodwill is much longer than a simple unbox, tag, and sell.
In truth, places like Goodwill are frequently overwhelmed with items - even more so now that people are decluttering left and right. They can't process the amount of items that arrive at the store. According to the EPA, an alarming 84% of donated textiles get moved to landfills and incinerators.
It's not exactly the dreamy "help out the less fortunate" ideal we have when donating our used items. It's true that secondhand stores like Goodwill will also bring items to textile recyclers if/when they don't sell. In theory, it's a great alternative to the landfill.
However, Readers Digest writes, "Many textile recyclers will take a portion of the clothing that they don’t think they can sell in the U.S., package them up in by gender, size, and season, and create huge bundles of clothes they then sell by weight to be shipped to less developed countries.”
RD goes on to explain that exported textiles are then sold cheaply at “bend over” street markets, a place customers have to bend over to sift through garments laying on the ground. It's devastating impact on local indigenous markets has caused countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Burundi to seek to ban imported clothing and shoes to protect local businesses.
This all leaves us wondering, is there a sustainable way to donate unwanted items without hurting the environment and indigenous economies?
A Sustainable Solution for Donating Unwanted Items
When decluttering your space to live a life focused on minimalism, here are some ways you can feel good about where your items are going.
When you decide to let go of clothing and other textiles in your home, think through these steps before donating. Are these items still in good condition? Consider if there is someone in your life who could use them. Be mindful to not use your friends and family as a dumping ground for your unwanted items, instead see if there's truly a need and try to fill it.
If the items are worn, consider upcycling them into a new piece. For example, make old worn jeans into a jean bag. Take and adult size garment and turn it into a toddler piece.
If the items are too damaged to be upcycled, or you find yourself intimidated by creative endeavors, you can always cut your garment into rags to use for cleaning around the house.
If no friend or family member is in need of your clothing, consider your local homeless shelters or women's shelters. Call and see if they need items and what kind. Typically I find that these organizations are looking for attire that is professional to be used in job interviews. You can also call your local thrift stores to see what items they are in need of. If you donate what they need, it's more likely your item will be sold in store instead of dropped off in Uganda or burned at the landfill.
As a last resort, you can always recycle unwanted clothing and textiles.
Have gently used bras lying around that you don’t use? Donate them to women in need through Uplift Project.
What about old shoes? Donate them to Soles4Souls which will work with Zappos and take care of the shipping for you, distributing them to people in need.
Books, DVD's and Video Games
Books, video games, and DVDs are sometimes a one and done. If you've read it, played it, or watched it once, it's enough. When decluttering your these items, look into the following option before donating to a thrift store.
One amazing organization I just discovered is Books for Soldiers. This company takes book, DVD, and video game donations and distributes them to deployed soldiers. How amazing! The next time I have books or movies to donate, I will be taking this option. All you have to do is sign up to view open book requests, choose someone to send a book or other media and brighten a soldier's day when they get the mail.
For children's books, another great organization is United Through Reading where children's books are sent to deployed parents where they can record themselves reading the book and send the recording back to their children. I don't know what I would do if Elodie's dad was deployed or if I were deployed, but to know that reading could still be a shared connection is so beautiful!
For even more places to donate books, check out this helpful article.
Building Materials and Furniture
What happens when you've finished your DIY project or home renovation and have leftover furniture and building supplies? You can donate these to HabitatRestore. Running solely on donations, this store resells construction and building materials, furniture, and appliances.
On the same topic, check out Used Carboard Boxes if you've just finished moving or got one too many Amazon packages and need to declutter some cardboard. This company responsibly repackages carboard boxes and resells them in eco-friendly bundles, providing a more sustainable cardboard purchasing option than buying new.
Wanting to live a more intentional life but you don't know where to start? Here's 3 ways you can start living slowly and intentionally right now.
Nearly Everything Else
For most other unwanted items, look into DonationTown. This organization is perfect for you if you don't want to take all the steps above or are unsure of how to responsibly donate items in your area. They accept most items and will distribute them to the charitable organizations that need them most.
Have extra produce from an exciting growing season? Donate excess produce to Ample Harvest.
You can even donate broken and unwanted crayons by giving them to The Color Initiative which melts down the crayons to form completely recycled new ones and donates them to hospitalized children.
Have unique or vintage fabric yardage lying around? At Huckleberry, I'm always looking for unique and secondhand fabrics to create one of a kind bonnets and clothing pieces. If you'd like to donate fabric to us at Huckleberry, simply follow this link and send me, email about what fabrics you have and I'll send you an address that you can ship the fabric too. Plus, just for donating, you'll get a coupon for your next purchase from us.
Next Steps for Living a Sustainable Minimalist Life
Whether you've been living a minimalist lifestyle for a while or you're looking to declutter all the clutter, there is a sustainable way to get it all done. Next time you're decluttering, try these donating to these amazing organizations before turning to your local thrift shop.
We'd love to hear from you! Tell us how you're living more sustainably or if you've tried one of the centers mentioned here by messaging @huckleberrybonnets or @makeit_slow on Instagram. We love seeing how you choose to live slowly.
featured photo taken from pinterest