Last month, I finished packing up my household (four humans, one dog) for our move across the Golden Gate Bridge, from San Francisco to Marin County. “We are moving mindfully!” I told my children—meaning we should all be socially and environmentally conscious as we cleared stuff out of our old home. My plan was to pack only what we truly needed, and to favor donation bins over trash bins for items we didn’t need. The ultimate goal: to initiate good habits for our new life in the wilds of Marin.
Here are six steps I took to a (mostly) waste-free house-emptying before our big move. If you’re just embarking on your annual spring cleaning, these rules should come in handy.
1. Start early and sell what you can.
Do you have closets full of clothing nobody wears? Sell those unused garments to companies like ThredUp, Copious, and Threadflip, or to a neighborhood consignment or vintage shop. You can sell furniture through companies like Chairish (we're big fans), The Home Consignment Center, or a similar service in your area. Amazon, Exchange My Phone, and Gazelle will all buy old tech gadgets. You can sell books you no longer want on Cash4Books, and a car you no longer want on CarDaddy.
Above: Bulk food stored in a bespoke larder designed by Plain English from our recent post 11 Favorites: The Classic English Larder.
2. Donate as much as you can.
Many of the sites listed above will donate what they can’t sell, which will save you time and energy. For items you already know you’ll need to donate, try the The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, a local eWaste center, or a public library. Another option is Freecycle, a service that connects you with people in your community who can use your unwanted items. To dispose of what’s left in your pantry, contact an organization like Move for Hunger, which distributes food donations to the needy.
3. Post a sign on your trash bin: "There is no such thing as 'away'."
Chris Magnuson, a middle school teacher I worked with in Washington, DC, used to put this reminder on his classroom trash can. It taught his students—and me—a valuable lesson. Sure, it’s tempting to throw things away, but it’s better to stop and think: Where will this item end up? Instead of discarding it, can I donate or re-use it?
Above: In need of a placeholder dining table? Consider making Alexa's DIY Sawhorse Table and Cinderblock Bench—both are easy to assemble and disassemble.
4. Only buy quality items that you'll want to keep.
From the beginning, our motto at Remodelista has been to buy better and buy smarter. We recommend choosing thoughtfully designed products that will last a lifetime. After my family’s move to Marin, I had to resist the temptation to go on a shopping spree to fill up the empty spaces in our new house. Instead, I followed the advice of San Francisco interior designer Mead Quin, who told me it’s better to furnish your home slowly with things you love. While you're saving up for that coffee table you covet, consider using found wood and cinderblocks to make a temporary version—if you're like Remodelista editor Julie, you'll end up falling in love with the stopgap solution (see DIY: Cinderblock Tables).
5. Follow the five R's: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.
Our fellow Marin dweller Bea Johnson's book, Zero Waste Home, is full of helpful tips, starting with this rule. (See our post with Bea on 10 Ways to Live with Less from Zero Waste Home.) To get everyone onboard, consider making your compost bin the largest bin in your home. The recycling bin should be next in size—and maybe (gasp!) you should have no trash can at all. In her book The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard (an expert in sustainability and environmental health) dives into the devilish details of what happens to the things we “throw away." Annie's book and the short film based on it are good reminders: We should carefully consider the implications of everything we purchase.
Above: An Ambatalia 10-in-1 Wrapping Cloth is available at Quitokeeto. For more see our posts, Q & A with Molly de Vries, Mill Valley's Queen of Green and DIY: How to Wrap a Furoshiki Cloth.
6. Buy everyday household items in bulk when you can.
In some communities, you can fill your own reusable containers with items like shampoo, conditioner, cereal, and snacks in bulk. Reusable grocery bags, water bottles, and snack containers all reduce the amount of waste created in your home—and reduce the need for those giant, seasonal clear-out sessions. Have a look at our post in which Sarah Lonsdale chronicles trying out Bea's Zero Waste Challenge with her family for a day.
Looking for more tips on how to cut down clutter for good? See our recent Happier at Home posts: 10 Ways to Declutter Your Tech Experience and 7 Tips for Mindful Shopping. On Gardenista, read Michelle's Great Closet Cleanout: The Only 10 Pieces of Clothing You Need.