Five things challenge

This week I’ve been working on a simple decluttering challenge: Five things a day, out the door.

Doesn’t that sound so manageable and innocent?

I’m keen on this project because we’ll be hosting a couple of middle school Japanese students next week. Nothing like strangers staying in your house to make you look at it with fresh eyes. Plus Eric and I have always done our best cleaning when guests are involved.

We’re minimalists and aspiring zero wasters, but we still have stuff. Some of it is from before we knew better; some of it we should have known better than to bring home but we did anyway. Some is because someone else didn’t know better. 😉 And of course, we’ve got three people in the house fulltime, and all of us have different ideas on what minimalism and zero waste means.

So paring down five items a day seems like a great challenge — it doesn’t take a lot of time but you can still see results. I gleaned this from my friends at Nourished Planner (okay, imaginary friends); they suggested putting a box or basket someplace inconspicuous, adding items each day and, at the end of the week, taking the whole ordeal to the secondhand shop.

Um, I’m not quite doing that.

I am loathe to admit this, but most of my five items each day are ending up in the recycling or … the trash.

Here’s why it’s happening:

  1. There are items I should have recycled or  thrown away ages ago, but didn’t because of environmental concerns.
  2.  Um, I guess that’s pretty much the only reason.

It’s an easy thought process: If I don’t throw things away, then they don’t get added to the landfill. If I don’t recycle, but simply reuse, those items also don’t get added either. *

And yeah, I mean, that’s one way look at it.

The problem with this approach is that my house is being taken over by stuff we don’t want, don’t need and don’t use. (Hello, glass jars from my sunflower seed butter!) Mentally, I also do better when I don’t have a lot of clutter, or projects, or anything, really because “things” tend to trigger my anxiety — when things are crowded or left undone, I can’t breathe.

So there’s some landfilling going on in my house this week. Case in point: Five kitchen towels that have seen better days. And the last time I was at Goodwill, I asked if they took rags and was told in no uncertain terms that THAT is a lie. Okay then. Trash it is.

I’m disappointed in this result, the landfilling of items. I’m disappointed in myself. But … I came to the conclusion long ago that there are no best-case scenarios when it comes to environmental solutions — we’re just making the best choices we can from a list of really bad options. That doesn’t mean I just toss things into the trash without thought. I’m just not sure what to do about it: Continue to hoard it and delay the inevitable, or get on with it and appreciate a clutter-free home.

I’m going for the latter. And feel like a jerk. But wow, my anxiety is doing awesome!

* HERE is a rather depressing article by The Atlantic about the recycling situation in the States right now. Recycling pretty much equals throwing away at this point.

8 thoughts on “Five things challenge

  1. MaryAnn says:

    There are bins in parking lots all over our city that collect clothing and shoes, to either reuse or recycle. So if it is fabric, my first choice is a local thrift store (I use a particular one because of the charity it supports), second is cut it up for disposable rags (instead of paper towels), and if it’s not good for that (like paint-splattered jeans), I put it in the fabric recycling bin. But I still feel bad about throwing away the little bit of fabric that I just wiped out a greasy frying pan with. Got to get over it!


    • Trisha Walker says:

      Oh, I wish we had such bins to recycle fabrics — that’s awesome! And it sounds like you’ve got a good system down, so I think you can let that greasy fabric guilt go. 🙂 I know, it’s easier said than done.

      We’ve got too many rags everywhere, but I hadn’t thought of cutting up cloth to use as disposable paper towels. I’m going to do that. (I’ve still got a clothes basket of “rag” material that I had vague plans of converting into … something … when I discovered I couldn’t donate it to Goodwill for rags.)


  2. Roberta says:

    Contact your animal shelter about the towels! Ours is always grateful for towels, sheets, even pillowcases for animal bedding. I know it’s still on the way to the landfill, but at least it’s useful to someone else on the way there — and they are not buying bedding if they’re reusing yours.

    Thanks for the depressing article from the Atlantic. It will help me redouble my efforts to eliminate instead of recycle. I’m still hooked on plastic bins of spinach from Costco, but I know I can do better.


    • Trisha Walker says:

      Our animal shelter is small and at capacity for towel and blanket donations, so that’s not an option here, unfortunately.

      Ha ha, right after I posted this, NPR came out with its own depressing article. Maybe I should link that one too?


  3. sarahn says:

    I recall with one move, allowing myself to toss a collection of bathroom items that I wasn’t using and wasn’t likely to. I felt such a weight for landfilling but also then noticed how little space they actually took up in the bin!

    Another move, I recall getting rid of the shelf of boxes I keep for whatever and whenever. You know, Marie kondo style, using cardboard boxes to corral items. And empty glass jars. All that went to recycling as I didn’t want to move it – but if I’d not beenoving I’d likely have kept it all.

    For me, the attempting to sell often leaves things to languish in the outbox. After many weeks someone messaged about boots I had online and now I’m $70 richer – patience pays off!


    • Trisha Walker says:

      Oh, good for you for being patient — when I decluttered the first time, I tried to sell items and it ended up just depressing the hell out of me because A) it took forever and B) when someone finally expressed an interest, they wanted it for about half of what I had listed it for. (I did newspaper classifieds, maybe that’s where I went wrong.) Now I just donate. I admire your persistence!

      It IS mentally freeing to be able to let go of things, although I know exactly that weight you’re talking of (it’s a weird combo of happy and guilt). That’s the minimalism vs. zero waste debate in a nutshell.


  4. Chris N says:

    I think the 5 a day is a great idea. Really anything to get items out of the house. My sense is you don’t really over consume so you’ve broken that cycle so it’s time to let go of the million empty jars to be recycled. I agree about the anxiety with clutter or just things out of order. I suppose it’s kinda an OCD thing( not officially) but enough that I start to feel boxed in if there are too many things around. We really need to work on our garbage. Our pail is filled every week and honestly I can’t figure out what is making it so full. I think I might start separating things even more just to see.


    • Trisha Walker says:

      This is it exactly. I’ve been trying to figure out how I ended up with all this junk and it’s occurred to me that it’s a Simple Year holdover — I saved so many things because I didn’t want to add to the recycling or the trash, and I’ve held on to them because I feel the responsibility of being “the zero waste year.” But now it’s time to pay the piper, so to speak.

      We’re a bi-monthly pick up for both recycling and trash (recycling because that’s the service they offer, trash because we don’t have enough to go weekly). I actually did sort through our trash during my Simple Year and it was enlightening. I’ve got a little more trash to deal with now that my diet has changed (when you can’t eat anything, you eat what you can, packaged or not). I find that disappointing, yet I want to live, so … 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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