The Use It Up Challenge, and Our Nothing New Year

Our last post was about our theme for 2017: Learning to say no, to make room to say yes in the parts of life we care most about. But there’s one area of our life where we are resolving say no this year, not just as a means to say yes.

First, some context:

The Pressure and Problem of Decluttering

Minimalism and Marie Kondo-inspired decluttering are both reaching near-hallowed status these days, and if you’ve ever felt the pressure to winnow your belongings down to some impossible standard, you’re not alone. I think there’s some tiny voice in the back of my brain that’s constantly saying, “You really should be decluttering.”

And the idea sure sounds great, that if we get rid of the stuff that’s stressing us out and taking up too much time to keep it organized and clean, we’ll feel better. And maybe we will.

But, let me ask you: Could you imagine your grandparents who lived through the Great Depression ever going on some massive decluttering spree and getting rid of all their belongings that don’t “spark joy”? Of course not. People who’ve known true hardship have a different appreciation for the value of things than those of us who are willing to toss bags of stuff without another thought. That’s why that generation would never dream of tossing a margarine container when it could be reused to store leftovers. Not to mention that throwing it out is wasteful when it could serve another purpose.

Decluttering is a massive privilege, born from the trust that we can always buy that thing again if we find that we tossed it in error. Not that that makes decluttering bad, but I do wonder sometimes if we’re succumbing to the pressure to take it too far.

Which is important, because:

Your Donations Don’t Go Where You Think

Recently we learned this alarming fact: Only a small portion of donated clothes actually get sold in U.S. thrift stores, approximately 20 percent. Most donated clothes either don’t ever make it onto the racks at thrift stores, or they don’t sell and end up getting shipped in bales overseas. Some of that clothing is sold in poor communities in other countries, but even that is not without costs — doing so kills jobs of local textile makers who don’t have any of our safety net programs to fall back on. And worst, more than 10 percent of clothing donated to Goodwill in the U.S. goes straight to the landfill.

In fact, between 10 and 12 million tons of clothing end up in U.S. landfills every year. 

This is all part of the clothing deficit myth, this idea that there are people out there who don’t have enough clothes. But it’s just not true. We collectively buy five times more clothing now than we did in 1980, per person, and that means that the clothing waste stream has multiplied many times over. No one — not even the poorest people — are lacking a shirt on their back.

What that means for those of us who have more than enough is that we shouldn’t use the excuse of donation as a way to absolve our guilt of tossing out something we don’t need. And there’s more:

Your Recycling Mostly Isn’t Getting Recycled

Ready for more bummer news? Just as the stuff you donate to thrift stores isn’t all getting resold to people who need it, the stuff you put out for recycling isn’t getting recycled at very high rates either.

Sadly, only 33 percent of recyclable materials put out in bins actually get recycled. More than half of that stuff ends up in landfills, and some of it — more than 10 percent — ends up getting incinerated, which is about as far as you can get from the green image we have when we put something in the recycling bin.

Some materials have higher recycle rates than others, of course, and more durable materials like aluminum and glass can be recycled infinitely, unlike plastic, which can only be downcycled into things like those flimsy plastic grocery bags everyone hates.

This is not a case against recycling — by all means, please recycle! Then at least the stuff has a fighting chance of getting reused! Rather it’s a reminder to all of us that all this stuff we’re getting rid of — perfectly good clothing, serviceable household items, recyclable materials — thinking we’re doing the right thing, it’s more likely to end up entombed for all time in a landfill than being reused as we intend it to be.

Good intentions when decluttering aren’t enough to keep this stuff out of the trash. 

Which leads us to our challenge:

The Use It Up Challenge // Becoming more conscious of the full lifecycle of the things we buy, reducing waste, consuming less

The Use It Up Challenge

This challenge isn’t about spending less, though it will probably lead to that. This challenge is about becoming more intentional about the full life cycle of the products we engage with — not just being deliberate about what we bring into our homes or being mindful about what we purge, but considering both halves of the equation. Asking ourselves what will happen to that new gizmo when we’re done with it, what our responsibility will be for it without the easy out of the donation or recycling bin.

And the challenge is simple: Rather than simply tossing things into the blue bin, or putting them in the thrift store donation box, we’re going to start asking ourselves:

If we knew this thing was going straight to the landfill when it leaves our hands, would we treat it differently? Would we try harder to get more use out of it? 

For us this challenge aligns to our values of not trashing the planet, and working to reduce what we’re contributing to landfills, but it’s also a powerful way to reduce spending. Because we’ll be a lot more discerning about what we buy if we know that it goes to the landfill after us, and because thinking this way will make us a lot more resourceful with the things we have, the way our grandparents were with margarine containers.

Some ideas:

  • Instead of donating old t-shirts that aren’t in great condition (and are likely to end up in the landfill anyway), cut them up to make washable, reusable kleenex. Stop spending on kleenex altogether.
  • Instead of buying storage containers around the house, use the many reusable food containers that groceries come in these days.
  • If you’re crafty, sew worn-out garments into stuffed animals (they could even be the filling if you shred them first) to give as gifts when friends or family have babies.
  • For garments in great condition, try selling them instead of donating them to ensure they will be used. (Bonus: money in your pocket, obviously!)
  • For shoes that aren’t in style anymore but are still wearable, use them for yardwork or other tasks where you end up trashing your shoes anyway.
  • For shoes that are still stylish, but are damaged, get them repaired instead of tossing or donating them. (Same goes for purses, leather jackets, etc.)

These ideas are nothing new for thrifty people of generations past, but our culture has gotten away from these basic ideas. We’ve embraced the disposable culture, and absolved ourselves of the guilt of it by giving ourselves the “right” choice of donating or recycling our toss-offs. But we can do better.

Related Post: You Don’t Need That Thing // On Cachet Vs. Value

Bonus Points: Considering the Full Waste Stream

We’re not proposing anyone go zero waste, but you definitely get bonus points if you take steps to reduce your overall waste stream, in recognition that most of what you throw out will end up in a landfill — not to mention the vast resources that are consumed just to make the packaging for goods that serves no purpose except to make that thing sit on a shelf. We’ve worked hard to reduce the packaging we consume, though, in all honesty, we did buy a lot more packaging than usual during our super hectic 2016 work year, because we had too much on our plates and minds to do all of our shopping with jars at the co-op. We’re going to work to reduce our packaging again this year, and you might consider asking yourself if, for example, that CostCo product is the right choice for you, given all the extra packaging it often comes with, especially if you sometimes end up tossing half of it out when it spoils. Could you actually end up saving money buying it in a smaller quantity with less packaging, but not wasting any?

Our take on the Use It Up Challenge: the Nothing New Year

Our Version of the Challenge: The Nothing New Year

We’re committing fully to the Use It Up Challenge this year, and are going to build our muscles at becoming much more discerning about whether things we’re inclined to toss could serve another purpose. But that would quickly lead to hoarderville if we didn’t also ensure that this fewer-things-out policy was balanced by a fewer-things-in policy.

And because we do consider ourselves environmentalists who don’t want to burden the planet with our material desires, we’re adding a wrinkle to the equation: We’re not going to stop at just buying less. This year, we’re committing to buying nothing new. Food and necessarily toiletries are fine, of course, but anything that’s not a consumable item must come to us secondhand, preferably locally, not shipped across the country in boxes that will then need to be recycled. We have a short list of exceptions, but other than those items, we’re going to stick to our guns, trying to buy as few bits of stuff as possible overall, and buying used when we really need something.

Game to Join Us, Even in Small Ways?

What we love about this challenge is that it isn’t really about spending at all. We can still spend all we want on travel, meals out, movies, experiences and even takeout coffee (so long as we bring our own travel mugs!), but it could also fit just as well into a frugality challenge like the Frugalwoods’ Uber Frugal Month Challenge. And you can take it exactly as far as you want — maybe just picking through your recycling bin from time to time to see if you could reuse any of that stuff, all the way up to deciding not to throw out anything and going fully zero waste. Sooo… anyone inspired to join us? Already doing something similar? Shocked by those landfill stats on donations but not yet sure what you’ll change as a result? Let’s talk about it all in the comments!

You don’t have to sign up for anything to do this challenge, or even tell us about it (though we hope you will!). We’re just sharing information we’ve learned and hope it spurs some of us to think differently about what we consume and dispose of. We’d love if you’d join us! And if you blog about it, please link back and let us know so we can add a link here to your post, like we did for the Road Less Traveled Challenge.

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172 replies »

  1. Love this idea! And such sad statistics about donated clothing and recycling. I’m going to need to think harder about what to do with the clothing my youngest is outgrowing.

    For using up – one thing we’ve done is use those giant plastic containers that pretzels come in from BJ’s as storage containers/toys. They’re perfect for storing all those little toys that would otherwise be scattered around. Actually a lot of containers/boxes can make great toys for little ones. They play just as long with a cardboard box as they do something plastic from a store. So if you have kids, or know families that have small kids, try giving them some of those more “fun” containers to use!

    • Thanks! And I know, I got super bummed learning those stats too! And the “fun containers” idea is a great one, at least until you saturate the neighborhood with “pretzel drums.” ;-) But everyone knows that kids often prefer the box the toy came in to the toy itself, so taking that approach could result in buying fewer (and later tossing fewer) toys, which is definitely a net positive!

    • We keep lots of containers for toy storage, too! Kids love them and if they crush or break them, it’s no prob.
      Thanks, ONL, for the thoughtful suggestions! We are decluttering due to a potential move, but will keep this is mind so we can be more mindful in our clearing out of stuff! We are always more inclined to give stuff away to people we know. We got so much donated to us when having kids, so we like to pass on that generosity to others in the same way.

      • I know people love giving those high tech toys, but it sure seems like kids universally love the containers and low tech toys the best, at least little kids! And I totally understand that you want to downsize for your move — I think being mindful is really the key, so making sure you aren’t tossing stuff that you know you’ll need to buy again could be a good step, and I LOVE that you’re focused on giving things away to people you know.

  2. I’m really surprised by the recycling stats! I always wondered how good the recycling process was but I just never actually looked it up.

    I’m game to join! Instead of donating boxes of stuff to Goodwill, I’m going to try to sell each thing or give it away via my Buy Nothing group. Hopefully I’ll get some money and/or new friends out of it in addition to cutting down on waste!

    Happy New Year!

    • Depressing, right?! But hooray that you’re game to join the challenge! I think selling stuff and donating to your Buy Nothing group are great alternatives — at least you know then that there is a definite desire for that item. Happy new year back at ya! :-)

  3. We learned the same recycling stats from a documentary called “True Cost”. The waste generated by the textile industry is outrageous!

    We’ve definitely fallen off the wagon of reducing waste and re-using things before we throw them away. Our storage bag and kleenex waste is shameful :( Thanks for inspiring us to give it another go!

    • Need to check out that doc! You probably already know the stats on fashion industry waste, but I didn’t even include that stuff here because I didn’t want to get TOO bleak. ;-) High five for giving it another go of reducing your waste! :-D

  4. I saw that Sweden is offering tax breaks to folks who get stuff fixed instead of tossing it. (those crazy Scandinavians and their ideas!) Not only does it reduce waste but it also promotes local jobs ahead of imports. I thought it was a great idea, but it also points out why we don’t get stuff fixed. It’s often much more expensive to get things fixed than it is to buy new unless you have the skills to do the repairs yourself. I’m married to a handy guy, and he can fix just about anything and generally has the time to do it. A lot of people don’t have that resource.

    Obviously, that doesn’t apply to disposable items like plastic bags and paper plates. And we do have way too many clothes in our house, and entirely too many toys. We can stand to use up our stuff better and to keep repairing what we can repair.

    • Those crazy Scans, indeed! But I do love that idea. The cost issue makes me totally crazy — when it’s more expensive to repair something than to toss it out and buy a new one, we have a problem. Same as how it’s cheaper to buy a food product packaged than to buy it out of the bulk bins with no packaging… it’s not ideal at all! But how great that your husband fixes things! That already puts you way ahead of the game. :-)

  5. I knew all that stuff in the recycle bin wasn’t being recycled! Well, maybe that’s because I’ve seen the cleaning lady dump both the blue bin and the regular bin into the same larger bin!

    Commendable goal for the year. I’m not sure I can go as extreme as you guys, but certainly something to think about…

    • Recycling DOES vary by locality, and some places do a much better job (example: San Francisco achieves a nearly 100% recycling rate). As for dumping things into the same bin, some buildings DO have single stream sorting, so that itself doesn’t mean stuff isn’t getting recycled. The bigger problem is there’s no demand for the products. So even if recyclables are sorted and baled, they may still end up going to landfill… ugh! And as for the challenge, it’s meant to be a thought starter for all of us, not a push to go extreme — so even starting to think about it is a great step. :-)

  6. Those donation and recycling stats are distressing. I had no idea! I do love that you were able to turn it around to a call to action and a plea for all of us to do better.

    I read the Kondo book and just could not get into it. It seemed like it would be valuable for someone living in a one-bedroom apartment, but it just felt divorced from reality. Instead of focusing on getting rid of things I have focused on buying less, which is easy to do when you don’t have space to put anything!

    • I know — we had no idea either! But better to know this, right? I think the Kondo stuff really makes a lot of people happier, and that’s great, but I do think that in our frenzy to tidy up, it’s easy to get rid of perfectly usable things that will just go to landfill. Better, as you said, to reduce what we’re consuming in the first place by truly using things up!

  7. We donate old clothing to http://www.planetaid.org/, which addresses many of the great points you brought up. They’re highly focused on the environment, so it might be worth checking out if they are in your state.

    I mentioned the show Adam Ruins Everything before. There are two relevant episodes: Adam Ruins Giving & Adam Ruins Going Green.

    It’s amazing how all the things that we are think are helping don’t actually help. One example of Tom’s buy one give one, doesn’t really do anything useful and can actually be harmful to the local economy as you mention.

    Not to be depressing. There are a lot of things that can be done. Most of it is what you are doing, use it up.

  8. Well that is a very disappointing recycling stat! Our recycling bin is 2x our garbage one – damn you plastic.

    I cut up old t shirts into rags for staining wood – my dad uses them on his mop instead of buying the replacement spongy things.

    Will do some thinking on this one – I am a donate or throw it person, clutter drives me crazy. It helps that I don’t buy much, but we somehow end up with crap that I know we will never use.

    • It IS disappointing! And of course it varies by locality, so it’s possible your area is recycling more or less than that. And I totally feel you on clutter — we hate it, too! But after learning all of this, we feel we MUST change our ways.

  9. Sounds like this is a great next step for you guys! Lately it’s been bothering me how quick I am to buy new items. I recently needed another shovel so my boys could start helping with snow removal, and instinctively and without hesitation I drove to Ace and bought a new shovel instead of searching Craigslist for used. Now, what I did isn’t good or bad….it was just interesting to notice how programmed I am to buy new. So that’s something I’m going to be more aware of this year and hopefully see if I can be more resourceful with buying used on Craigslist.

    • Oh, dude, we’ve long been the same way. And what’s crazy is that it never occurs to most of us that maybe we could BORROW that thing even instead of buying it used. Like what are the odds that none of your neighbors in a snowy place don’t have an extra snow shovel or two? (Said as a fellow snowy place person.) We can definitely all use the reminder to examine our habits and reflexes! Happy new year. :-)

      • HAHA…I didn’t even think of BORROWING!!!! Geez. Maybe the issue isn’t buying new vs. used…maybe it all comes back to the need to spend money! Good stuff. Yeah, I’m gonna think a lot more about these things this year. Happy New Year to you, too!

  10. I’m not surprised by the stats. Still I likely won’t change our current rates of donations and recycling. In our case these rates are not driven by our purchases. Other individuals like grand parents over buy toys and clothes. Junk mail shows up in hoards. These drive our household recycling and donation behavior not our purchases. If you have suggestions to slow these down I’d appreciate it.

  11. A great challenge for you this year and happy new year to you. I think we are well on the way with this one – you might have seen our post about our fab second-hand sofa.
    Ebay has made buying and selling used stuff loads easier and second-hand is our default (after we have asked ourselves if we really need it AND put the item on the wish list for a month). When we have decided to buy something, we do sometimes have to be patient and it can be frustrating waiting for the thing you want to be available second-hand and then missing out on an Ebay auction, but the feel good factor when you recycle this way makes this worthwhile!

    • Thank you! Happy new year back to you! I love that secondhand has become your default — AND that you are so intentional about what you buy in the first place — AND that you have a one-month waiting period! We all need to take on great habits like yours!

  12. I always thought donating was making the world a better place – but I came across those stats recently also and became more wary. I have good stuff to donate – I wanted it to get used! For a while I was using thredup.com to get rid of clothes, but then it got so popular they don’t offer it as a free service anymore. boo. We are trying to get rid of the remnants of toddler and baby gear, and I have found it is better just to give it to friends than try and sell it, and what I can’t give to people I know, I kind of prefer to just offer up free on my neighborhood page.

    • Hi Professor! So discouraging, isn’t it? But good for finding alternate ways to get rid of things you aren’t using any more — seems like you’re doing everything you can to ensure that stuff gets used. It feels like people always want baby and toddler gear, and appreciate that you give it away to friends and on your neighborhood page!

  13. Love the ideas! We’ve gone through decluttering many times (and are currently doing AGAIN), but there are some items that we have that are nice-to-haves just in case. Some of those would be four 5 gallon gas cans that we keep filled and rotate into our cars just in case we have a fuel interruptions (hurricanes & who knows what else). We could get rid of the extras but it gives up peace of mind. Same with our gardening supplies and don’t even get me started on our adventure closet. Ha!

    My grandpa has always had a small garden (and still does in his 90s!) and has all kinds of containers & tools he reuses for different purposes. The lessons of the past have a habit of repeating themselves on surprised future generations. Those are some crazy stats on the clothes btw!

    • I don’t blame you for hanging onto those things! I always wonder, after people go on massive decluttering sprees, how many of those items they end up repurchasing in the future — meaning that not only did the first item go in the trash for nothing, but now the world has had to manufacture two of those things for you when you really only needed one. Sometimes hanging onto things really is the most responsible option! (But yeah, haha, we feel your pain on the adventure closet, which for us has morphed into the adventure garage.) ;-)

  14. This is my dilemma when it comes to decluttering. Many, many times people tell me to stop selling and just donate it. But I know what happens at Goodwill. You just have to drive around the back of the store to see. So, I figure if I price it low enough ($15-$20 for a brand new Coach purse), I’m doing everyone a favor. I also really, really like our NextDoor app for this. Generally, I hate it because some of my neighbors are a little…uh, rude. But there’s a “free” button. And that way, I can post individual items and someone is usually at our doorstep or curb within the hour. It’s been great for everything from landscaping items to old mirrors.

    Oh, and Hubs laughs at me, but I’m pretty sure our garden is held together almost entirely by old t-shirts. But they’re so kind to tomato plants! :) Love this post, as always!

    • I completely agree with you — even if you get $1 for something, you’re finding it a better home and making more than the $0 you’d get for donating (not counting tax write-offs, of course) I love the idea of giving things to neighbors thru Nextdoor, Facebook groups, Freecycle, etc., though I sometimes wonder if people who get the stuff actually use it… oh well, we can never really guarantee that, I suppose! And no shame in holding your garden together with old shirts! :-)

  15. Great challenge that you’ve put out to everyone. Its hard to find the headspace sometimes, but more practice makes it become more natural. We shared a strimmer with my parents for 5 years. We only have one now because my dad was at the tip when someone there was asking where to put a strimmer that worked?! My dad chipped in with ‘in the boot of my car’ :-) We have also gotten into the habit of taking our own towels when we visit friends and family for a short time. It means they get used more than the one use they would get if you used one of their towels. We pinched this idea from some friends who brought towels when they stayed with us- I sure appreciates less washing to do!

    • Thanks, Sarah! I had to look up what a strimmer is, so thanks for introducing a US/UK English difference to me! :-) And what a nice gesture to bring your own towels! I know we always feel flooded with linens to wash after we have guests, so that’s nice thing to do!

  16. I am with you on distrusting the cult of minimalism. I was raised dirt poor and having multi-use items whose full uses I have not found yet still happens. Stuff does not need to bring me joy. Joy is an internal thing and not an external thing.

    Wanting to consume less packaging is partially why I make my own face and hair care products. I also use many of the ingredients for my cleaning supplies.

    • Haha — I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a cult, but certainly some members are plenty evangelistic! :-) And those are some of my same reasons for making personal care products, along with avoiding all the icky stuff that’s in the store-bought versions.

  17. What a great blog! We did our decluttering in steps over the space of two weeks. First step was setting aside what we wanted to keep. Because of our circumstances the meant one big storage plastic box and whatever could go into our trailer (which wasn’t much). Step two was to invite family over to take what they wanted. I was shocked to discover they were not interested in 95% of the stuff we thought they had sentimental attachment to that we had been keeping for them. Step 3 was to let their friends and acquaintances come over. Since more than one was about to start life on their own as students/first job/newly weds in their first apartment a huge amount walked off that way. That felt very useful and worthwhile. Step 4 was a garage sale. Not only did we make about $800 but lots of stuff moved away. At the end of the garage sale we put everything in the back alley with a “free sign”. We made sure everyone who was buying at the garage sale knew this wold happen so many people came back. Even more stuff vanished. Finally we had one pick up truck load left. Most of that was furniture, things like a wood chair and table set and the Salvation Army was delighted with it. All that went to Salvation Army.
    One thing I did not expect. When we bought our little house I found myself thinking “Now if only I hadn’t given away that little table that would have sort of worked in this spot. Oh poor me, now I have to go buy a another one that is perfect for this spot! Poor me. NOT!” I always go first to second hand stores and visit garage sales myself. I hardly ever buy anything new retail.

    • That’s great that you had success with that multi-step approach to winnowing your possessions! And yeah, I’ve seen that with quite a few families that the adult kids don’t want nearly as many of the old keepsakes as the parents imagine they will — so you’re not alone! When I helped my dad downsize, I kept only a few things, though I took some pictures of other things before getting rid of them. And as for buying furniture, I’m totally with you on starting with secondhand stores and flea markets! New furniture these days is so poorly made anyway!

  18. Once again, your thought process mirrors my own. Are you reading my thoughts? Just yesterday I asked on FB what to do with a few bags of clothes I thinned from my wardrobe. I do not like Goodwill or Salvation Army. Some really great suggestions included taking the clothes to the local women’s shelter or the local chapter of the Disabled American Veterans organization.

    As for the rest of your challenge, I can definitely get behind it. I’ve found Craigslist, garage sales, and estate sales are excellent options for buying gently used good quality items. And they’re way cheaper than the stuff at the store!

    • I AM reading your thoughts! I thought you’d never find out! ;-) That’s great you’ve both explored more efficient options for donating, and good sources of secondhand clothes. I think the tough thing is not falling into a related but different trap of thinking that it’s okay to buy whatever you want just because it’s secondhand — not that you’d fall into that, but I once did with flea market furniture. And even though buying secondhand is better than new, it still creates demand, which fuels supply. So we all truly have to consume a lot less, period, to make a difference. Just saying this to you, because I know you’ll understand. :-)

  19. This is a good post. Back home, in India, we are still where you say you were a generation or two ago here, so I was used to a culture where you reuse and repair and almost never throw away. It still irks me how much more it costs to repair things here – monetarily it almost always makes sense to buy another (and I am about as handy as a doorknob, possibly a little less). I’ve been known to carry shoes back to India to have them repaired there! Geographic arbitrage for the win. One time we even took a pair of Mr. BITA’s favourite (and very old) pajamas that split almost all the way down the leg back to India to be fixed up (cost us about 30 cents).

    • Thanks! And how great that you can take things back to India to get them fixed. That is just truly not in the culture here anymore, as you have noted. I have gradually learned to fix things myself (though still can’t darn a sock to save my life!), because I’ve found the repair capacity out in the world to be so limited and expensive. Maybe if enough of us start demanding repairs again, we can change this.

  20. Love this post. Our little family of 3 has set these as some of our family goals this year just used different words to define them. I apologize if I’m repeating but high quality used clothin for women and children can go to ThredUp.com and you can get credit for it and then use that credit to buy something later. I sent 2 bags of stuff and my credit was sitting there for months until I had a work event to attend where I wanted to get a new cocktail dress. I found the perfect dress and it was essentially free. They only take high quality stuff so you can’t unload your crappy stained t’shirts there (we cut them up for rags but tissues is also a great idea). I’m in for the challenge!

    • Yay! Welcome to the challenge! And what a great idea ThredUp is, especially if what you’re donating is high quality. So often at Goodwill I see people donating the grossest old clothes and think, what makes you think someone else will want that?! Haha.

  21. I’m in for the use/enjoy what you have before adding anything new challenge! I like that it’s not a no-buy challenge since my car is in the shop this week for a new transmission. I wore the last one out so I don’t fail the challenge the first day (gold star complex?). I just need to get over my hang up that selling on the internet is not too time consuming or too much hassle when we are trying to simplify life this year to make more free time.

    • Yay! Glad you’re in! And it’s for sure NOT a no-spend challenge. If I’d been in a different mood, I might have named it the “Let’s stop being such wasteful a-holes Challenge.” Hahahaha. It’s really just about reducing waste, which aligns well to reducing wasteful spending. As for selling on the internet, could you use a local eBay seller to do the legwork for you? Sure, they take a cut, but if you’re selling something you would have donated, it’s all gravy anyway, right?

  22. Thank you for sharing the recycling statistics. Having awareness of the issue will help me look at my donations and recycling more closely. I grew up with parents/grandparents that reused everything – and I’ve continued the tradition to a certain extent. I don’t like clutter, but I do use old clothes for rags and, though I don’t buy margarine (I sooo remember those margarine tubs!), I do reuse the containers from the grocery store. Doing a no spend month has really made me think more about food waste and reusing what we already have.

    • I love that you did the no-spend month! Things like that are such great exercises to examine our habits and reflexes. We don’t buy margarine or keep the tubs either, but can you tell that made a big impression? ;-)

  23. We toured our city’s waste sorting plant, which I highly recommend if your city offers this option. A whole truck full of recyclables can be turned away if non-recycleables (diapers are the most common culprit) are found in it! So educate your friends, family, and neighbors about what should go in the blue bin and what shouldn’t, and it will help all of our efforts be more productive.

    As for old clothing, consider donating some of the more functional items (t-shirts, socks, sweats, jeans) to emergency departments or shelters instead of thrift stores. In the ED, we often have to cut off clothing when people arrive, so patients are grateful to have donated real clothes to wear home instead of paper scrubs. We also have many homeless patients who are grateful for a clean change of clothes.

    Finally, while buying in bulk and letting half of it go to waste is a bad idea, if you use it all up, the packaging is usually less per unit than if you bought the same amount in normal sizes at the grocery store. We get huge boxes of oatmeal and bags of frozen vegetables that last longer than it takes to use them up.

    • I’ve learned a lot about this, and it all depends on what kind of sorting capabilities your local waste hauler has. If they have a newer sorting facility, then dirty diapers won’t send a truckload away, but ALL recyclers hate those plastic grocery bags, as they just clog up the conveyer belts and such. Totally true re: SOME Costco packaging, but there are definitely things like multi-packs of soup cans where you end up with more packaging. But the stuff where you end up with less packaging is definitely better than the alternative! And what a GREAT suggestion to give clothes to EDs! I’m going to call our local one and find out if they’ll take donations!

  24. I love this challenge. I always feel conflicted when trying to declutter. We need more room (*cough five kids*), but it seems so wasteful to throw away anything. I find myself trying to figure out ways to recoup some of the expense of our junk to pay towards debt, instead of donating it.

    Clothing is a big one. I have so many outdated/no longer my size clothes that are still in decent condition. It is tough to sell these things to consignment stores that want only current styles. One solution is to upcycle or refashion your old clothes. I have bags of stuff to work on, once there is a little more time. And you only need some basic sewing skills for a lot of the projects. This is a post I did with ideas on how to make something new with your old clothing: http://creatingmykaleidoscope.com/2016/02/26/the-ultimate-list-50-upcycle-refashion-projects-to-inspire-you/

    • Thanks, Harmony! And I love that upcycle list you put together — so smart to think about our garments that way, instead of to labor under the illusion that everyone is clamoring to buy our used threads. Hahaha.

  25. Use it up,
    Wear it out,
    Buy it used,
    Or do without.

    I am a 70 year old Boomer looking into the future of a smaller living space. I have done the minimalizing (husband not so much) for over a year. My biggest problem are books ~~ I have too many. I really believe as you do, that the solution is not bringing more of anything into the house. Thanks for the timely challenge. I’m IN!

    • Oh, I’m so sympathetic on not wanting to let go of books! We’ve been so resistant to downsizing ours, though we have shed some at different times. But like you, we’re focusing now on just not buying any new ones! So glad you’re in for the challenge. Sending a virtual high five your way! :-)

  26. Kudos Mrs. ONL for addressing this topic! It doesn’t get addressed often enough. We have reusable bags and produce bags, but haven’t made it to bringing other containers to the grocery store yet or evaluating other packaging. Something to aspire towards!

    For the ladies out there who would like to know about reusable menstrual products, look into menstrual cups or washable fabric pads or both. I recommend http://www.lunapads.com (for pads or a menstrual cup) or you can sew your own pads/panty liners if you are so inclined–it’s not too hard. I’ve been a DivaCup user for years and love it. Fabric pads are also very comfy. =) We forget how menstrual products also have a role in filling up the landfill.

    • Thanks, Mollie! Totally agree with you that more people need to talk about this, especially while we’re in this current era where decluttering is all the rage. Thanks for sharing the tips and links on ladies’ products — great addition to the discussion!

      • This post is still in my head a week later. I’ve been considering all the things I consume and whether they make garbage/excess. For example, I make my own deodorant, hand soap, and laundry soap (I like what I can make better than what I could buy + easier than lugging it from the store), but I never considered it from the perspective that making my own stuff eliminates waste by not having empty bottles, deodorant sticks or whatever to throw out at the end. Making my own bread or pasta sauce creates a little less waste (though I have yet to find a decent sauce recipe that uses fresh tomatoes instead of canned!), but I’m thinking about areas where I still need to improve.

        Thanks for making me reflect some more!

      • Wow, Mollie — What a nice compliment! It sounds like you’re already doing a LOT to reduce what you’re throwing out, which is awesome! And as for that tomato sauce — we always buy several flats of farmers market tomatoes every summer and turn those into sauce that we can. I find that fresh works just as well, you just have to mill it to get the skins out (or peel them first) and cook it a bit longer to reduce the water. I don’t have a specific recipe… mostly just use what’s fresh. So glad the post made you reflect so much… thanks for coming back to share that! :-D

  27. This is truly the mentality that we all must embrace. I believe in it with all my heart. I am by no means perfect, but there are some things I have gotten down to habit level, like not using paper towels, plastic forks or spoons and saving containers that I know I will reuse. Leftover chicken goes to the dog. Stale bread goes to the birds and squirrels on my fire escape. Never do I buy garbage bags. And I have sewn my children stuffed animals out of their baby clothes! But there is a lot of room for improvement and a I am always looking for suggestions & reminders. Zero waste is a worthy goal and not as outlandish as some people think.

    • I agree with you, Linda, though I think most people are unwilling to go there! But you’re right — most of what it takes is just changing those little habits and being mindful about our impulses. It doesn’t feel weird once you get in the habit!

  28. Love, love, LOVE this!!!! I need to do so much better at some things to reduce my waste, like taking my reusable bags to the grocery store EVERY TIME and taking my own cup to the coffee shop. As far as clothing donations, I would encourage your readers to find smaller, local charities to donate to. I volunteer with a charity that provides clothing directly to needy kids in our area, and groups like ours desperately need the donations! Also, recycled plastic is actually made into many things, like fleece (although there is definitely only so much product that is needed for that)- I wish I knew specifically where our community’s recycling ended up! I agree that our society has lost the mindset to repair things and get every drop of useful life out of something before we get rid of it. This post and challenge is renewing my desire to do more of that. Thanks so much!

    • Thanks! :-) Great point about researching local orgs who put textiles to good use — we should all actually call and find out what becomes of our donations, and then make the choice. And you’re right that *some* plastic is recycled into high-end garments, but every time it’s recycled, plastic is degraded, and so you can never get a plastic bottle from a plastic bottle. I’m super excited that you’re feeling fired up to get all the use out of your things! Yay!

  29. Great minds think alike! Chris at KeepThrifty posted a similar idea of the Nothing New Year – I was instantly on board and now that you are doing it (and judging from the comments everyone else!) it will be easy to keep on track. :)

    I have been on a clothes shopping ban for the past few years. I think I have bought a new pair of jeans 2 times in the past two years but mainly because when I decided to start wearing a life “uniform”, I chose black skinny jeans. They fade or stretch out after about a year of wearing every day…yes, everyday. Don’t worry – I alternate between the 3 pairs I own and intend to RIT dye them at some point this year so as not to have to buy another. Regardless, my uniform has helped me to fight decision fatigue and has freed up space in my closet for the actual things I wear while donating the rest.

    Anywho, great idea and nice research…I hate that more of what we donate and recycle isn’t used for its intention but it is a great lesson in lowering our overall impact with consumption. If we stop buying so much we don’t have to waste so much. Oh, and if anyone needs any glass jars I have a ton!! I can’t bare to recycle or throw them out!

    • It has never mattered how many pairs of pants or jeans I’ve owned at any given time in life, I’ve always mostly worn one pair all the time anyway. Which is worse than your rotation… so no shame! :-)

    • I had lots of small canning jars from gifts of jam. I took some to our local farmers market and the girl there selling jam gave me a free jar of jam in exchange for some jars.

  30. I used to donate to Goodwill type organizations until I saw the high price markups of my own donations days later. I then posted “curb alerts” but found some people resell items in their own garage sales. A couple of years ago I moved near a refugee housing development and sometimes see people looking through bins on trash pick up day. I randomly set boxes of dishes, pots and pans, knick knacks, boots, coats, purses, pictures, shoes, rugs, outgrown clothes, lamps, comforters, towels, small appliances like my older george foreman grill etc in boxes marked free next to the bins. My teen and I notice that they disappear within an hour or so and I know it is going to someone staring fresh in our country.

    • I’m curious what struck you as bad about the price markup on your donations. Was it that the higher prices put things out of reach for the needy? My view tends to be a bit different in that if someone else wants to do the work to sell something, I’m fine if they want to make the profit off of it — I’m just glad the thing is getting used! But all of that said, I love that you’re getting things into the hands of people who will for sure use them now! Refugees in this country absolutely need and deserve our support!

  31. I love this idea. My goal for the year is to reduce, so reducing the clutter and using less is a big priority for me!

    • That’s great! I think focusing on what you bring into your life and making sure you get the full use out of your things before discarding them is a great complement to your goal of reducing!

  32. I absolutely love the idea of reducing our carbon footprint. I’ve been a minimalist before I even knew what it was…but that didn’t stop my basement from filling up with junk I’ve accumulated over the years (think: grandparents buying unnecessary toys for Mini time and time again). We donated most of this last summer to embark on our home renovation project, but now I’m wondering if most of it didn’t just end up in a landfill anyway :(

    Back to the topic at hand, I have always kept my counters and tables absolutely naked. I can’t stand having little knick knacks sitting around collecting dust and causing me more work when I clean. I even fret when someone gives me a framed picture because I have no more space on my walls and would really prefer to not have it sitting around. Not that I don’t love pictures and my family/friends, but, you get the idea. All that being said, I think I/we might have to join you two on this zero-in/use it up challenge. It sounds like a wonderful complement to year two of my clothes-buying ban. Woot woot!

    Also, not sure you’ve seen this, but Amazon is starting a program to cut waste. If you’re interested… http://fortune.com/2016/12/22/amazon-recycling-program/

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • I think we’ve all had that experience you’ve had of carefully donating a bunch of stuff, and then feeling mild horror later on at the realization that much of it probably went into the trash anyway. Such a bummer! That’s why we’re dedicating ourselves to minimizing our future landfill inputs, and I’m so glad you’re joining in! I’m a big fan of the SoKind Registry, if you’re interested in encouraging non-stuff gifts. Sometimes if you tell someone “Oh, we don’t want any gifts,” they will give you something you don’t want anyway, because they feel compelled to give *something.* So if instead you can give them a list of things you do want that won’t clutter up your home, you might find that you stop getting those little things you’d rather not have on your surfaces. :-)

  33. I love this idea. Just reading the post made me think of a few things I can repair instead of donate. All it will take is a little effort to find where to take it if I don’t want to do it myself.

    One of my goals this year is to reduce my plastic footprint. But it is not easy! Food packaging alone is incredible. And, I had to buy a new razor after using up the last of my plastic ones. I bought one made from recycled yogurt cups (but with an interchangeable blade) and it was…packaged in plastic. Even the bamboo toothbrushes are packaged in plastic!!!

    And, even after making the pledge to myself, I came home from the grocery store yesterday with sandwich bags and some plastic containers in which to pack lunches. It barely registered when I put them in the cart. Yet, I remember standing in front of the wall of deodorant and thinking, “Look at all that plastic.”

    Anyway, love the idea. I knew more was going into the landfill than I want to think about, and just thinking about it briefly while writing this comment makes me feel overwhelmed and agitated.

    • So glad you’re going to look into repair! I know for us that takes some serious mental rewiring, at least for stuff that isn’t easy to fix ourselves (we’re decent about that), not to mention that it’s hard to find places that even do repairs anymore. I totally hear you on the plastic! I tried to eliminate it from our lives a few years ago and ended up giving up, for all the reasons you stated. (Plus, I’m typing that on a plastic keyboard, with a plastic mouse and plastic-rimmed monitor sitting nearby!) We use as much glass and metal as possible, and have stopped buying things like plastic baggies, but recognize that some plastic will always be in our lives, especially in the electronics department. But don’t beat yourself up about buying those things — it’s really hard to shift our minds to run so counter to our current societal situation, and that’s what going anti-plastic requires!

  34. Great challenge! I am frugal throughout the year, but taking on your challenge will help me be more aware of “hidden” waste. I just suggested a January Food Challenge on my own blog, cashcrone.com. The challenge is a simple call out to use the food you have, instead of buying more. It is a great motivator to clean out the pantry and freezer. This morning I realized I was out of freezer bags – I was planning to stow some of the turkey broth and slices for later in the month. But after reading your post, I remembered I have dozens of jars and lids, as well as a stack of bread bags and ties, that could be used instead!

    • Thanks, Rosie! We are big fans of putting leftovers and freezer stuff into jars and other random containers… I know our fridge and freezer will never look like a Martha Stewart photo spread, but we don’t care. :-) And yes, we’re on a mission too to clear out our pantry! It is going to mean eating a LOT of grits for the next few months, because we happen to have more of those than anything else. :-)

      • LOL! No grits in my pantry, but I have returned to the oats. For some reason I stopped eating oatmeal for breakfast, and after taking inventory I added it back to the menu. I’ve had easy overnight oatmeal twice this week – I forgot how wonderful it tasted! 2/3 cup oats, 2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk, 2 stevia packets, and lots of cinnamon. Stir and refrigerate until morning. Much healthier than those instant packets of oatmeal!

  35. Love the challenge! We are already doing a lot of that here. I wear my clothes until they are absolutely destroyed and then they are used as rags. Most of my clothes don’t go to Good Will because they are so worn out. We also reuse containers from grocery stores. We still throw a lot of stuff out in the trash, though. There are a lot of plastic packing everywhere.

    • Thanks, Joe! I was just picturing all of us FIers walking around in our shredded, near-worn-out clothes… we’d probably look like a pack of roaming zombies. Hahaha. It sounds like you guys are doing a good job at getting the full use out of your things, so the next step, if you wanted to take it, might be to focus on reducing the amount of packaging coming into your home. Happy new year!

  36. I love this, for lots of reasons! I did just buy a new shirt–my first in over two years–for a special anniversary date. I was beginning to feel wildly out-dated as most of my things are hand-me-downs. So I already broke this challenge :( But we buy as much used as possible, in part for environmental reasons. The sheer volume of used clothes at the thrift store kind of sickens me, even though I love the deals when I need something, because it’s clear evidence that waaaay too much is manufactured & purchased. I did just glue my $2 thrift store shoes back together & they are going strong!

    Great critique of the minimalism/decluttering trend. I agree that, while there is a lot of benefit to it, it also assumes some degree of wealth or privilege. That said, Neil finally decluttered many boxes of tools & electronics, etc., most of which he had when we married 11 years ago! Most of it was not worth donating or selling, though he did find a home for some of the better items. It definitely made us not want to bring extra stuff into our home. Happy nothing new year!

    • Please don’t beat yourself up for buying one shirt in two years! That deserves a major high five, because you are awesome for consuming so little! I’m with you on finding all that used stuff sickening, especially after learning that most of what you see on the shelves at thrift stores will never sell and will go to be shredded or to the landfill. Great job gluing your shoes back together! And it sounds like your recent decluttering had the right impact on you guys, making you more resolute about not acquiring new things. That’s the best outcome. Happy (nothing) new year to you too! ;-)

      • Tips on how to keep faithful to the one in one out rule. How to avoid buying temptations while on-line. Coincidentally, I have discovered the Hygge movement from Denmark. It’s sort of the anti-minimalist movement. I feel the pendulum might be swinging away from Kon Mari. If nothing else, we are a people that demand change and novelty.

      • Sharon,
        I’m from Denmark and hygge has nothing to do with things 😉 It’s about the feeling, experience, not blankets 😊
        We are actually minimalist!

      • Hello! And thank you for explaining hygge. This is not the impression I got from reading on the Internet. So glad to hear the truth from one who knows. If you have other things to share, I would love to hear from you again.

      • While I have no doubt that you are correct, the way the U.S. media talks about hygge, you’d think you need to go out and buy all of these things to do it. So typical of the way our consumerist culture wants to commodify everything. :-(

      • Woolen socks and candles were especially touted! So I am lighting all the candles I have bought over the years and never used. They do give a pleasant glow. I live in San Diego CA, where woolen socks are not needed. No plan to purchase any either. Do you know of any good books that explain hygge? As a retired librarian, I value books on all lifestyles. Thanks.

      • I get itchy just thinking about wool socks… hahaha. And I applaud you for seeking out some of the cozy elements of hygge without the consumerism! :-)

      • Sharon, what more would you like to know about hygge? i can describe you the most common hygge: it’s cold and dark outside, you are curled on the sofa under the blanket with a book, you’re leaning to the person you love, there’s a candle flickering on your table and you’re sipping on warm drink :) it doesn’t matter what blanket you are wrapped in, nor if the book you are reading is from the library. most important – you are comfortable, sheltered from cold and darkness and have someone you love with you.

        Maybe both of you would be interested to read this article from the guardia about hygge invasion:

  37. I just wrote a similarly veined post but of course it’s nowhere near ready. :)

    We already do this a lot, I struggle with the hoarder like tendency to keep everything for reuse because I wasn’t raised on the disposables diet. Like ZJ, I grew up poor enough to always think twice and then ten more times about whether I’d gotten all the use I could out of a thing before discarding it.
    We did have to donate some perfectly good barely worn clothing that wouldn’t fit us unless we doubled in size (his) or lost 15 pounds (mine), and we took that to the local shelter where we know that it’ll be put it actual use by actual people. It’s unfortunate that so little of the recycling is actually recycled but we can’t not send it that direction lest it all go to the landfill!

    I am particularly proud of the fact that while I have barely acceptable sewing skills, I did save two pairs of pants for PiC because his pockets had worn through and he didn’t know they could be rescued. I fashioned two new pockets for him, with daisy print fabric!, so he’ll have nice cheerful pockets if he ever pulls them inside out :D it was a clumsy experiment but it worked and I’m still happy about it. Hopeless with socks, though, my only solution there is to repurpose them as cleaning “gloves” which are wonderful for cleaning blinds, and making them into dog toys. You know the dog is spoiled when he turns his nose up at sock toys that don’t have fluff to pull out, though!

    • It IS a tough balance between trying to get all the use out of something and becoming a hoarder, and I’m not suggesting hanging onto every little thing. But it sounds like you’re striking the right balance, since you have given some stuff away (good call giving it to the shelter instead of Goodwill!) and are repurposing things thoughtfully. I love the idea of turning socks into dog toys! And high five on the sewed daisy pockets! :-)

  38. Good points about what really happens to stuff put out for recycling and donations.
    However the best point is about buying used…and I might add to it buying items made with post-consumer recycled materials. Supporting the market for recycled materials is really important to encouraging creativity in their use.

    One nice thing about buying used is that many things made before the past few years are better made: the cloth is more robust. I have been shocked at how quickly a new set of sheets gets worn out: the fascination with high thread counts means that the threads are thinner and weaker. The same is true of many garments.

    You put words on my impression of the Kondo book on tidying up. When I read it I felt like it was for un-real people: who has the block of time and space to pull out every item of a sort and go through it? But also it felt wrong to me to measure success in garbage bags (especially since I live in a city where you have to separate out trash, recycling, yard waste and donations…all those bags would become their own mountain of tasks to get to the right places). It seemed a bit irresponsible.

    • So true about buying recycled products! It’s so important to do if we want things to be recycled in the first place! And couldn’t agree with you more on older products — much of our furniture is old stuff I’ve found at flea markets, and it’s SO much more solid than the flimsy stuff you’d buy today… not to mention cheaper when you buy used. I hadn’t thought about that with sheets, but we recently had to turn one into rags when it completely shredded in the wash — never had that happen before!

  39. Our biggest recycling and water impact comes from grocery shopping I find. I don’t use bags and furthermore don’t use those small plastic bags to package your veggies and so forth. Also, if you avoid as many processed foods as possible that means less packaging. It will be interesting to see how you do with avoiding spending on outdoor gear. Do you know how hard it has been for me to not by a Ski tour setup this year !!!!!

    • High five for not buying a touring set-up! (Mr. ONL could probably spare one.) ;-) Totally agree with you on food packaging, so if you’re already in the habit of buying the less processed stuff, you’re ahead of the game.

      • Super impressive, dude. I have backcountry skied with snowshoes and it’s so much harder… I admire your accountability on this! (And if you happen to slip up and buying touring gear and you need someone to tell you it’s okay, I’m here.) ;-) But also happy to support you in your resolve!

      • It will be our little secret. you have no idea how hard it is, my good friend is a backcountry heli-ski videographer as well as I have 6 other friends that are multi day ski tour addicts. I am but a weird anomaly lol that is fighting the might Borg , resistance is futile, you must assimilate

  40. I love love love what you are doing with this challenge. I’ve been interested in simple living all my adult life and I am so glad it is becoming more mainstream, however I am quite frightened how current incarnations are so aligned with a throw away society.
    That said, I would offer on caveat – know your limits with upcycling and repurposing. I had a lot of stuff that I had intended to upcycle or repurpose, some I’d had for many years, but I hadn’t down anything with them ( I called it hoarding for the environment – https://moretimethanmoney.co.nz/2015/06/13/help-im-hoarding-for-the-environment-the-minimalist-game-days-7-to-14/). I’d advise having a good think about what things you are realistically going to use up and set yourself a time limit for holding onto them.

  41. This is a super interesting idea! I think if I asked this question about every item I am currently planning on donating, I wouldn’t want to get rid of anything. If this was the case though, I would have to come up with some inventive uses for the items- I only donate things I genuinely believe I have no use for. Looking forward to incorporating this challenge into my daily life!

    • That’s so great! We’re certainly not trying to tell anyone that you can’t throw anything away or donate anything, but just encouraging us all to be a bit more thoughtful about it. :-)

  42. The article got me thinking about the Belgian situation. We are often told that as a country, we lead recyling in waste (paper, green house left over, drink cans,..) On tht area, we seem to have a good system in place where most of the materials get sorted and sold to the industry for real recyclage.

    I do think we are as bad when it comes to recycling cloths. I did not consider that it gets shipped poorer countries. Most of the kids cloths we have ar given to people we know that have kids just little younger than ours. It liberates us from the recycling dilema :-)

    • I’m positive that you are ahead of us — most every country in Europe does a better job recycling than the U.S. does, with the exception of some of the most progressive cities. But clothing is a different matter, of course, and it’s worth knowing how things work in Belgium… but it’s even better that you “recycle” your girls’ clothing to people you know!

  43. Great ideas in this post! I inherited my depression era parents’ attitudes on reducing, reusing, and recycling, and have always incorporated many of these practices in my daily life. But we still have way too much stuff.

    This Christmas, my family really cut back on gift giving. We drew names and focused on giving experiences and time (a day together at the local spa; symphony tickets), or consumable foods, or giving funds to charitable organizations in the name of the gift receiver, or things we made ourselves, or handmade items that supported local artists. Most of my friends with whom I used to exchange gifts have agreed to no longer do so.

    Nevertheless, when we returned home from our Christmas visit, I looked around our house at all the stuff we have and resolved to make a bigger effort to reduce my spending this year. No new clothes! No more ski equipment! We really don’t need anything.

    • That’s great that you internalized your parents’ views on not wasting! And I absolutely love your approach to Christmas giving — we have no objection whatsoever to giving or spending around the holidays, just to the excess and especially the giving of things that people don’t want and won’t use — such a waste! But all of your gifts sound so perfect… who doesn’t want a spa day?! We’ll be cheering you on from over here in your efforts to stop buying ski equipment… we feel your pain. ;-)

  44. You made some really great points in this article. I knew some of the donating information, but the recycyling aspect is a bit of a surprise. While I have been focusing on trying to get rid of more of my things, I try to get rid of them on Buy nothing websites instead of donating. Forgive me if this was mentioned, I was interrupted a few times by my littles, but I think another good point to make would be to buy more quality products. If you have to buy something, making sure to buy something that will last will also help keep things out of the landfill too!

    • That’s a great step that you give things away through buy nothing groups! Certainly we can never guarantee that something will for sure get used by someone else, but it’s a far better option than just donating it into the great question mark of a large thrift store chain! And SO true about buying higher quality items! We’ve bought much of our furniture second-hand for that reason — it is so much better made than what you can find today, not to mention much less expensive! ;-)

  45. Impressive – love the challenge. Years ago I bought a stack of more expensive clothes (well, from my perspective) for work and have worn them for many many years. Planning it out let me not having any waste. The new one-time-wear mentality drives me nuts but I hadn’t understood in the terms you describe on the global scale of landfills getting stuff with shirts.

    PS – totally unlrelated – love the photos in this article.

    • Well done wearing the same clothes for years! It definitely sounds like you got your money’s worth, as well as using the materials to their full usefulness. I sure hope that the “fast fashion” industry dies a rapid death soon, but I’m not holding my breath — the appeal to consumers of cheap, trendy clothes is just too great. And thanks for the note on photos — we take far too many, so it’s nice to put them to use here. ;-)

  46. Great post. So true that ‘green’ isn’t as straightforward as people think. I was a Sustainability Program Manager and Assistant Energy Engineer for the Federal Government for a few years. When you start looking at Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), everything changes. To get the point across, I used to give a presentation called “What is Greener: A Hummer or a Hybrid”. The key is once you go beyond just carbon, and look at the LCA, there isn’t much difference in the environmental impact. The same thing with “paper or plastic”. LCA calculations conclude that plastic is actually more “environmentally friendly”, but that is only because you can’t calculate or quantify the harm that it is doing to our sea creatures.

    Also, I have to say that while it isn’t realistic for most people to pare down to less than 100 things, I do think that living simply can drastically improve our lives. Many great thinkers like Einstein and Steve Jobs are extreme minimalists, because ‘stuff’ interferes with their thinking and brainstorming. That is where I am at in my life also, so for me, going to drastic minimalism has the best experience. Again, not for everyone.

    • What a great point that it all matters how you measure something whether it’s “green” or not, or how comparatively green. I think the bottom line is that using less of everything, and escaping the disposable culture, is indisputably better than debating paper vs. plastic. :-) And I definitely think those big thinkers were onto something with their uniform clothing and no decision fatigue! I find that I’m most efficient when I’m traveling, which is when I’m at my most minimalist… probably not a coincidence. ;-)

      • A couple other interesting LCA thoughts… it can take solar panels up to 8 years just to pay back the energy it takes to mine, manufacture and distribute. Also, a brand new, high energy efficient building has an energy payback of decades due to the amount of energy needed to build a new building vs. reusing existing buildings. My point is not to de-motivate people or to shun technology, but like you said, we need to reduce our consumption first, then supplement with better options… technology can’t save us at this rate.

        Here is a great story that I use in my presentations: Thomas Friedman wrote in Hot, Flat Crowded that we could have a smart grid with solar and wind energy and then smart appliances on the grid. So, when doing laundry, the dryer wouldn’t turn on until the sun is shining and the wind is blowing and it sensed free, clean energy. Bill McKibben of 350.org responded by noting that if the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, why wouldn’t you just hang your clothes out to dry? This is a good way for me to summarize minimalism and simple living. It will look different for everyone, but the underlying context is there.

      • I have heard that about solar panels. I’ve also heard that they are so energy-intensive to produce that they never actually make up for that in their lifetime, and it’s really just shifting energy use to the front end, mostly likely fossil fuels in the production. I love that Friedman vs. McKibben anecdote, too. Right now, while we have more money than time, we’d be on board with the Friedman model, but once we quit our jobs and have more time than money, we’ll happily hang up our clothes to dry like McKibben suggests!

  47. Love it! I’m right there with you – we are doing a full nothing new year (though we have a couple of exceptions) with a lot of the same motivation. It’s somewhat about our finances but just as much about not having something unnecessarily produced when we could use something we already have it at worst buy it used.

    Looking forward to the updates as the year progresses – really nice to know others that are doing the same challenge!

    • That’s so great! I love that you’re thinking both about the money and the environmental/resources impact. It’s easy to think about just one aspect of something, but the world doesn’t work that way. ;-)

  48. I enjoyed reading your post…
    We are already a re-use, re-purpose.. Get all of them miles you can out of everything kinda folks.

    You post and your challenge did cause to reflect on how to become more efficient with our uses of a few items that hadn’t occurred to me….

    Thank you for sharing this concept with the world (sorely needed) and with me!

    Best of luck on the challenge on your end! Will check back in later to let you know how we do…

    We are currently endeavoring a major lifestyle change that will make this challenge even more poignant than it is currently… Check out our log for more… :-)

    Thank again for your well-written and inspiring post!


  49. Thank you for this. I have liked the idea of minimalism and have been working towards a more minimal lifestyle in small ways. However, this is something I have struggled with. I dont want to just “toss” a thing because I dont want to use it anymore. I donated most of my books to the library; I brought my various donations into several places (Salvation army and goodwill throughout the city). But I was left with some things that I couldnt donate and didnt want to toss. I have been slowly (SLOWLY) using most of them up but it can get old always having more to use up. Happily I found something that helped! I stopped working and went to school full time. I didnt have the time or the money to buy new things and it has helped me find the joy in having extras of things and using them.

    • I admire that you’ve made such a big effort to use things up! That’s hard to do. And even lots of otherwise very mindful minimalist-types often toss a lot of stuff straight in the trash. So kudos to you for not going that route!

  50. Although this is so old and so far down, it will probably not get read…..here goes….the CEO of Goodwill makes a fortune off our donated stuff……He is in the business of helping himself……other organizations, like Salvation Army, actually give clothing to homeless or others in need, then sell the rest. I have decided to compost/bury/potting soil all my cotton, silk or wool clothes that can’t really be donated…..they make great soil if spread out a little or allowed to compost underground. I don’t worry about the dye leaching, if I bury/compost it near flowers or trees or shrubs. I have enough rags, mops heads and such form all the t-shirts my husband buys to support a cause. Don’t get me started on the swag from running a race or supporting a cause or going to a birthday party…..where did we get the idea everything, every holiday should have stuff…lots and lots of stuff? Talking about a waste stream coming just from our house, makes me tired!

    • I read all comments, even on old posts! ;-)

      That’s super interesting and not something I’ve researched before. I do know that the Salvation Army has some questionable employment practices as well, so it’s probably worth everyone doing their own homework and figuring out if there’s perhaps a local organization that makes good use of donations and puts either the items themselves or the proceeds to use in the local community. And your composting idea is super interesting!

  51. I often fix things up instead of tossing them or seeing them tossed. Somethings that’s things with engines from friends or neighbors (snowblowers, chipper, pressure washer). Other times it’s kids clothes, like the snow boots from a relative where the tread delaminated the second time they were used. We don’t actually need them for our kids (have other pairs that size), but they are in new condition, so if I use shoe goo or construction adhesive on them, they will get sold at our local thrift store.

    But we’ve realized that things that need a little work are likely to just get trashed if they are donated. Since we don’t have a local place to donate ripped clothing, if we already have plenty of rags, and I can’t find a good place to bring them (local pet rescue was happy to get a pile of ripped or stained towels), they either get tossed or burned depending on their content. Poly and elastic go in the trash, but a 100% cotton T, or a pair of standard jeans, they burn great in a hot fire.

    But to minimize what goes in the trash, there’s been times we’ve felt we had to fix or repair things before donating them. It is a huge time sink, but if can make you feel better. I had a table and chairs that I bought used just out of college. The previous owner refinished it, and now nearly 20 years later it needed it again…but then we bought a new one. I ended up refinishing it anyways, and before donating it a friend who had just moved was visiting. We fit it all into her car and it went down to Sac, where it is still being used.

    You’ve been in Tahoe for a while now, but if you are looking for bulk food bins and haven’t found it yet, go to Winco. They are helpful, inexpensive, and open 24-7. The only quirks are that you can’t use credit cards (pay with cash or an ATM card), and you self-bag. But they give you a discount for bags you bring in. IMO the one at South Meadows is much better than the one just north of 80, both in Reno.