Of Spring Cleaning, Gently Used, and Landfills

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As spring cleaning time draws near, I’m having a bundle of thoughts about the relationship between spring cleaning, the words “gently used,” and landfills.

What do these three things have to do with each other? Well, actually quite a bit.

Spring, of course, is the time that many people aggressively go about decluttering their homes and getting rid of the things they don’t need or want anymore. And this is a good thing.

Much of what goes out of our homes goes either to organizations that can pass our “rejects” on to others who can use them; or into recycling receptacles; or into the trash. (And sadly, the stuff that ends up in the trash goes on to landfills… 😦 )

So the best thing to do, from a community health and an ecological point of view is to try to minimize the amount of stuff that ends up in the trash.

And the best thing, from the point of view of those who sort through our “rejects” in thrift stores, churches, shelters, libraries, and other places where people donate used things, is to not have to spend a lot of time sorting through stuff that really should have gone into the trash. This is why these organizations tend to stress, beg, cajole, and otherwise urge people to only donate those things that are “gently used.” And this is completely understandable. (Moldy items, for example, create unhealthy fumes for those people who are sorting through the stuff to breathe while they’re sorting, and may also contaminate things that are still usable with things that are not. This is not okay!)

But one of the big problems is what to do with the stuff that is between “gently used” and trash. We have written several posts on this blog that can help people find ways to recycle hard-to-recycle items, such as textiles, shoes, carpeting, and so on. Here is the link to a section of our blog where you can find some of those posts.

We also wrestled with this problem when we were writing our book, and what we found is that if people are committed to finding ways to reuse items that are more than gently used rather than trash them, there are ways. Just one example of this is the idea of donating old towels to an animal shelter. (The dogs. Don’t. Care!!!)

I suspect that not many people are aware of the magnitude of the problem of too much clothing going into landfills. Earth 911 reports that “the EPA estimates that Americans discarded over 14 million tons of textiles in 2010…about 5.7% of the total municipal solid waste (MSW). And while 5.7% may seem like a ‘small’ percentage, that is still 28,000,000,000 lbs. of clothing that could have been reused or recycled – every year.”  Earth 911 points out that the textiles dumped in landfills burden the environment and artificially decrease the lifespan of the products. This, they say, is where clothing recycling comes in. You can learn more about how to recycle clothing  here and about some of the initiatives businesses are taking to encourage reusing garments here.

I think it may also be time for all of us to think through the consequences of rejecting  items, whether clothing, books, or furniture, as soon as they are “gently used.” Do we really need to give away, or trash things the minute they are no longer “gently used”? And do the standards really need to be as high as they are at some of the places we donate things? Do we really imagine, for example, that one slight stain on an otherwise very serviceable (and attractive) garment, or (perfectly comfortable) chair, means that it should be trashed? That it could not still prove useful to someone? Do we really imagine that a “well-loved” picture book cannot be enjoyed just as much by a young child who has it at second or third (or even fifth?) hand, as much as they would enjoy a “gently used” one? After all, what is the most important thing about reading a picture book to a child? It is the pictures, right? And the closeness? And the voice of someone reading to them? And all of that can happen quite easily with books that are definitely more than “gently used.”

I think if we can all just become a bit more aware of what happens when we lose sight of the things we’re letting go of, and what the long-term consequences are of what we do with them, hopefully we can all become a little more thoughtful, a little bit less picky, and a lot more “green.”

Out of sight may be out of mind, but it shouldn’t be. It’s good to know that we’ve done the best we can to ensure that when we’re done using something, it doesn’t turn into a problem for someone else.

Happy spring cleaning, everyone!!! 🙂

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

 

One Response

  1. So nice to see the photo of my father’s ties! The ones I took when he was downsizing from his home of 50 years to an apartment. I always thought I would make something with them but, in one of my decluttering sessions, ended up donating them. — Linda

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