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Tis the season of ‘stuff’: what to do with (and where to donate) gifts you don’t need

I know we haven’t actually got to Christmas Day yet, but I’m writing this now because plenty of gifts (and other things you don’t need) are given before Christmas Day. And if you can, passing it on before Christmas Day means it’s more likely to be wanted (and used) than if you wait until January, when everyone is trying to pass on stuff they don’t need.

Last weekend, I was given a Santa-themed gift bag with a couple of boxes of chocolates by my 92-year-old grandfather-in-law. Despite the fact he doesn’t like gifts himself and insists not to be given anything, he seems to like to give stuff, and every year I receive a similar bag of stuff.

First, I give the gift bag away. As soon as I get home. If I can gift to someone before Christmas, it will get reused immediately. Otherwise it’s got to face a year in storage where it might get bent, chewed or otherwise damaged, and then likely forgotten about anyways.

I almost always give the ‘treats’ away. They tend not to be things that I would eat, high in sugar, dairy and palm oil and covered in plastic. Depending on the year I’ve taken to workplaces, given away on Buy Nothing or donated to a Food Bank collection.

No, I don’t feel bad. People give gifts because they enjoy the act of giving. That doesn’t mean that I need to keep things I don’t want or don’t need. There is no obligation to keep things, and letting go of feeling like there is has been great for my stress levels and mental health.

Instead, I try to make sure these things go to places where they will be used.

If I know someone else wants and will use them, that is the best outcome – for me, for them, and for the planet. (It helps stop others buy new stuff, as they can reuse stuff that already exists.)

Christmas Packaging, Decorations and Other Christmas-Themed Things

It’s definitely best to get rid of this stuff before Christmas than after. If you get something you don’t really like, you don’t need to think that you ‘should’ use it as a token gesture this year. Pass it on to someone who loves it and let it be appreciated!

Where to pass on items:

Facebook groups: including Facebook Marketplace, Buy Nothing groups, the Good Karma Network, Pay It Forward groups and no doubt plenty more.

Online classifieds: Gumtree, Craigslist and others.

Neighbourhood network groups like nextdoor.com.

Friends, family, neighbours, colleagues: it’s worth mentioning to people you know that you have things they might want or need.

Gift Food Items

As well as all the places mentioned above, consider donating food items to Food Banks. you’ll often find deposit points spring up in supermarkets and shopping centres this time of year. If you can’t find one, here are some contact details:

Food Bank Australia

The Trussel Trust (UK)

Feeding America/Food Bank USA

If the item is something that Food Banks won’t accept, such as homemade preserves or a box of chocolates that you opened to try before deciding you didn’t like them after all, consider trying to pass on via a food waste app like olioex.com.

Or try your local Buy Nothing group.

(Recent offers on my local Buy Nothing group include Red Rooster small hot chips, delivered by accident – sadly no takers but only because they went cold before anyone saw the post – and some half-eaten room temperature blue cheese, which was snapped up. Not. Even. Kidding. And good for them for not feeling weird about giving or receiving said cheese! Don’t be scared to give it a try!)

Gifted Toiletries and Perfume

I often wonder how many gift sets like this are purchased and never used every year. But I probably don’t want to know. Rather than letting stuff like this languish in the bathroom for the next year, if you’re not going to use it, give it away.

As well as the options listed above, consider donating unopened toiletries to homeless organisations and women’s refuges. Bear in mind that refuges won’t list their actual addresses online, but they will let you know how to donate items.

If you’re in Perth, Ruah Community Services are currently in need of unopened toiletries. Donations can be dropped off at the Ruah Centre, 33 Shenton Street, Northbridge on Monday to Friday between 8:30am – 4:00pm.

If you’re not in Perth, a quick internet search will help you find a service local to you.

What not to do: donate to the charity shop

I know it seems counter-intuitive, but try to resist giving anything to the charity shop unless you know for sure (because you’ve spoken to someone who works at your local charity shop this week) that they want what you have. Charity shops get inundated with stuff in the three months after Christmas as everyone tries to ‘declutter’ their unwanted stuff guilt-free.

Thing is, who is actually shopping at the charity shop in January? Not most people. They just got a heap of stuff for Christmas!

The combination of more stuff than usual and less customers than usual is a recipe for landfill.

There are plenty of people who want your stuff and will be able to use it. Rather than hoping they will pass by the charity shop and spot your stuff in there, donate your items directly to those in need of them.

Christmas is the season of goodwill and giving. So give away what you won’t use, make another person happy, save some resources and take a little pressure of the planet. Wins all round :)

Declutter for the Planet (Yes, That’s a Thing)

This week (on July 29th) was Earth Overshoot Day. What this means is that July 29th is the day on which we’ve officially used up all of the resources the planet can naturally regenerate in a year. Another way of saying it, is that we use almost twice as many resources as is sustainable – half of what we use is basically being taken from future generations.

Something to tell the grandkids! Oh…wait…

The Global Footprint Network, who are behind all the research, break it down a little further, detailing the Overshoot Day for each country (meaning, on what day would we use up all the earth’s resources if everyone in the world lived like the people of that country). As you can imagine, Australia, Canada, the US and the UK all fare pretty badly here (the dates are, in order: March 31st, March 18th, March 15th and May 17th).

They also have a little calculator that gives us an idea of what our individual footprint is – how many earths do we need to sustain our current lifestyle?

I gave it a go. It was an interesting exercise, but I don’t actually want to talk about results and how planets we each use (or not). Anything that asks us to self-report our behaviour tends to be overestimated – after all, we like to think the best of ourselves!

What was noticeable to me were the questions that weren’t asked.

There were questions on meat consumption, food miles, food packaging. There were questions on housing and energy use. Of course, there were questions on car driving and flying.

But the glaringly obvious thing missing in my mind were the questions about consuming, shopping and ‘stuff’. Those things have an impact too. Take clothing. The UN estimates that the global fashion industry contributes 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.

(I understand that calculators need to simplify, but still.)

There were no questions about how often we shop, what things we buy, what kinds of businesses we buy from, how the things we buy are delivered (do we buy the from local stores or get them air freighted from different continents?), whether we actually use these things once we own them, and what we do with them when we are done.

If you’ve bought anything ever, and you’re feeling like you should probably get ready to defend your purchasing choices, I just want to say – me too! I’ve bought things too! This is not that post.

Sure, our shopping choices are important. But for me, what’s equally as important is what we do with these things once we buy them. I sometimes think that we forget that our ‘stuff’ is resources. We can put those resources to good use, either ourselves or by giving them to someone else that will use them… or we can leave them languish in a cupboard.

When I think about my footprint, I’m always drawn to the things I own, and whether me owning them is really the best use of that ‘stuff’. I think that letting go of things we no longer use is the opposite of waste. In fact, the idea of Earth Overshoot Day was something I wrote about in my book Less Stuff and one of my personal motivations for decluttering.

I’m not talking about decluttering as overloading the charity shop with stuff they probably won’t be able to sell. I’m not talking about decluttering as clearing space so there’s room to go buy more stuff.

I’m talking about decluttering as de-owning.

I don’t need to own more clothes and shoes than there are days of the year. I don’t need to own every trinket I consider beautiful, or every piece of art I admire. I don’t need to own every single gadget that’s cleverly designed.

I don’t need to own every single thing I might ever need to use just one time.

What I need and what you need will be completely different. But we can both ask ourselves: do I really need this, am I actually going to use it, or can I put it back out into the world and let someone else benefit? Is there a better use for these resources than gathering dust in my cupboards?

Decluttering is as simple as taking a single item, realising that we just don’t use it enough to justify keeping it, and setting about finding somebody who does need it, and will use it.

If you think the ‘finding somebody who does need it’ part sounds hard, it is much simpler than you think, especially with the internet. Think online classifieds, online auction sites, online marketplace platforms, and Buy Nothing groups. For more details, here are six ideas to get you started.

The best thing about sharing stuff is that it is accessible to everybody. We can’t say that about a lot of sustainable choices. Rather than feeling bad because our sole local grocery store wraps everything in plastic, or because we can’t afford solar panels (or we rent), or because we have to drive a car to work because there is no public transport option, we can look at where we have the opportunity to create change and make a difference.

And yes, what you do does make a difference.

When it comes to stuff, I think most of us buy things with good intentions. But the way we use them doesn’t always pan out the way we expect. We can make the most of our bad decisions by ensuring that the things we don’t need don’t go to waste.

And in doing so, we help someone else out, keep resources in circulation and stop new things being made. The best thing of all? It’s easy to do, and you can start taking action today.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you heard of Earth Overshoot Day? What steps do you take to share resources? How do you feel about decluttering? How have your feelings changed over time? Any other thoughts to add? Please share below!

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Introducing Less Stuff: A book about changing our relationship with our things, with a zero waste perspective

Today is the day is the day (although actually, it might have been yesterday, I’m not entirely sure) that my new book Less Stuff officially makes its way into the world!

And to mark the occasion I wanted to tell you a little bit about it all.

What’s the book Less Stuff about?

Less Stuff: simple zero-waste steps to a joyful and clutter-free life (which is the full title) is a practical guide to changing our relationship with stuff for the better.

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

The clutter filling our spaces impacts on our productivity, stresses us out and keeps us stuck. Our stuff stands in the way of the lives we dream about.

But what about when it comes to throwing away all that stuff? After all, there is no ‘away’. Decluttering is great for our mental wellbeing, and when done right it can be good for the planet, too. When we rehome, repurpose or recycle the things we no longer need, we free up existing resources for others and reclaim our homes with less guilt.

Less Stuff is a guide for people who find it difficult to declutter and who don’t want to see things go to waste. Step-by-step, you’ll explore finding your ‘enough’, learn how to let go of your old possessions without sending them to landfill, and eventually break the cycle of stuff. The end result is a planet with less strain, a home with more peace and a life with more meaning.

When we think about zero waste or living with less waste, our first thoughts always go to grocery shopping, or consumables like personal care products. And this is a great place to start because we purchase these things often and use them often.

But at some point in the journey we need to move onto thinking about all the other stuff.

Less Stuff is a book to help navigate making the decisions about what is useful and necessary and what is actually going to waste – and then what to do with it to ensure it doesn’t end up in landfill. Because there are plenty of options, when you know where to look.

It’s a book about why, and it’s a book about how. It’s practical with a step-by-step approach.

Where you can buy Less Stuff

You can support your local independent bookstore, and that would be my first suggestion. Alternatively, here’s a list of some online stockists that sell my book:

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks | Rabble Books (the local bookstore where I held my book launch, they have signed copies)

UK Stockists:

Blackwell’s | Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US and Canada Stockists:

Less Stuff is not released in the States until 6th August but you can pre-order here:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo | IndieBound

eBooks

Kindle (UK) | Kindle (US)

Wait…don’t I love libraries?

Yes! I absolutely love libraries. I pride myself on having a very small book collection because most of the books I read I borrow from library.

Most, but not all. I didn’t say my non-existent book collection. I own a few titles that possibly the library didn’t stock, or I wanted to own to be able to refer back to the content often, or because I wanted to support the author and their work.

We all know the kinds of books we like to own and the kinds we are happy to borrow. Do what whats for you. If you’d rather borrow Less Stuff than own a copy, that’s awesome and I’m honoured!

So absolutely, if libraries are your thing, please support your local library and borrow my book.

Even if you’re not convinced that Less Stuff is something that you’d like to read, if you’d still like to support my work you can request that your library stocks my book so others have the opportunity to read it.

Is writing a book a zero waste thing to do?

Yes, I do believe it is – well, at least I do for this book. Everything we do has an impact and a footprint, after all – and I still drink coffee and travel by car and wear clothes and use the heating when it’s cold.

We have a footprint but we can be mindful of what we do, and try to make the best choices that we can. If creating a book to help others rethink their waste and to support them in doing so can help with the big picture, then I’m all for that.

So yes, not writing a book at all would use less resources, but I’m not sure its always about the least amount of resources so much as the best use of those resources, and I think this is an important message to spread.

If one book means one less skip bin of useful stuff heading to landfill, then that is definitely a good trade-off.

And you know me and the content I like to write and share – I’ve made this book as practical and useful as possible. That’s the only way it could be.

If a publisher had contacted me and say, hey, we love your zero waste grocery shopping flatlays… how would you like to make a coffee table book for us? Well… that would have been a no.

What steps were taken to make the book zero waste?

Ah, I’m glad you asked!

I was pretty fortunate that Waste Not (an excellent zero waste book I reviewed earlier in the year) was published by Hardie Grant books last year, and the author (and my friend) Erin Rhoads had already been through the book-publishing process and asked a lot of the questions that needed asking.

By the time I was on board, the publisher already had answers and was happy to take a zero waste approach.

The cover does have a very thin plastic film. It is a feature most (if not all) flexibound books have – to protect the book and ensure longevity. Less Stuff is a book that is designed to be handled, thumbed through, put down and picked back up again often. A completely plastic-free cover might seem like a purist zero waste approach, but books with dirty fingerprints being pulped because they are deemed to be “damaged” before they are ever read is not.

It’s a balance. In my view, it is better to create a book that will last and can weather heavy handling than create a book that uses no plastic but creates more waste overall.

Why a book and not blog posts?

Books are different to blog posts. The content is different and we use them differently. It is not one or the other. They can both exist. For Less Stuff, I’ve written 42,000 words. Now my blog posts are long… but they are never that long! (More like 1000 – 1500 words).

And a 42-week blog post series might have been a bit dull…

This book is not an “instead of”. It’s an “as well as”. Not everyone who reads books reads blogs and vice versa. It’s a way to reach a different audience, and to share content (and a message) in a new way. That’s pretty exciting.

And finally, a big thank you… to you.

The fact that this book exists at all is in no small part thanks to you. You have been reading my blog, commenting on my posts, sending me emails, sharing your stories and ideas and giving your thoughts so freely for all these years. Not only have you been my audience, but you’ve also provided a lot of the inspiration and motivation.

My journey has been so enriched for having you join me along the way.

Thank you.

This page includes affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

5 Mantras for Buying Better

Nobody intends to buy things and not use them, but of course – it happens. We buy clothes that we end up never wearing, we buy tools or gadgets we end up never using, we buy games we end up never playing… and the list goes on.

I, for one, was particularly guilty of buying clothes that I never wore. There were a myriad of reasons for this. I had a tendency to buy things ever slightly on too-small side (wishful thinking on my part), I’d buy things that suited the model on the billboard but not me, I’d buy things that looked nice (on the hanger) but just weren’t practical for wearing to do the kinds of things I actually do.

Oh, and of course I’d totally confuse the “bargain price” as a reason to buy things, without giving much thought to whether they were useful or practical – I was too focused on the “money saved”.

Oh the irony, when I could have saved 100% of my money and bought nothing at all.

This pursuit of bargains started out as sales shopping from regular stores, but when I first started buying things second-hand I noticed another huge spike in my shopping – there was a whole new category of “bargain” to be discovered!

When I began my journey to less stuff back in 2013, I started to notice these patterns in my habits when it came to buying things I then didn’t use. I decluttered slowly, and began appreciating my new-found freedom from yet-another-weekend-of-endless-sorting.

I knew I had to protect this space from a new influx of clutter.

Decluttering is hard work. There was no way I wanted to go through that again! This had to be a one-time journey for me.

I’ve put in place a framework (or call them ‘rules’, if you like!) around how to make better buying decisions. The goal is that I only buy things that I truly need and will use often.

I don’t want to spend my money on stuff I never use that I then feel guilty about and have to tidy up and maintain and look after. No thank you.

Of course I’m not perfect and stuff occasionally slips through the gaps, but having a structure in place really helps with making better choices.

1. Do I Need It?

You’d think this would be obvious. But often we say we need things, meaning – I have to have that! – rather than – I actually need this. If you’ve ever seen a pair of shoes or a handbag or a new gadget or [insert shiny new thing here] and said “ohhhhmygoodness I need this!” then you know exactly what I mean.

We don’t need the thing, but we’re enthralled by it, we love the design or the style or the ingenuity of it, and so we want to buy it.

But often things we ‘need’ (as opposed to things we need) don’t actually get used, or they don’t get used often enough to justify us buying them.

So the first question to ask is honestly, do I need it?

2. Will I Use It (Often)?

We can justify our needs by telling ourselves we will use the item. And maybe we will. But how much? And ultimately, is that worth the price?

One of my favourite rules around this is the idea of ’30 wears’. Meaning, when I buy an item of clothing, do I know that I will wear it 30 times?

This means that for me, items like underpants, jumpers, and comfy jeans get a big tick. And items like fancy dresses purchased for a wedding, formal wear and high heels get a no.

If I can’t see myself going to 30 weddings or 30 formal dinners in the near future, I can’t justify buying the item. I can make do with what I have, borrow from a friend, or maybe hire something.

So when I’m thinking about buying something, I ask myself what would be a realistic amount of use for that item, and whether I would use it that much.

If I need something once, for a specific task, then I try to borrow it instead. I don’t need to own every single thing I might use once. That can amount to an awful lot of (barely used) stuff.

If I need something short-term, then I try to buy second-hand and commit to passing it on to someone else or back to the charity shop when its useful time with me has come to an end.

3. Is It Made to Last (and is it fit for purpose)?

I am sure I’m not the only one who finds it super annoying when stuff breaks. Rather than wait for something to break only to find out that the item is non-repairable and the manufacturer would rather sell me a whole new one, I now think about this before I buy stuff.

So I think about what it’s made of, how it’s made, whether there are any breakable parts, whether it’s possible to buy spare parts should something break, and how easy it would be to fix.

With tech, I try to buy the most up-to-date version I can to make sure it lasts, whilst steering clear of anything that seems like a fad (as someone who had a minidisc player and a VHS collection, I’m well aware that technology gets superceded).

Coming back to clothes, for example, I try to steer clear of anything that is definitely dry clean only (I’m not going to get it dry cleaned – I can’t bear the thought of all those chemicals), I avoid excessive embellishments such as sequins (they’ll detach quickly making the garment look old, and I know I’m not going to sew them on again) or anything that I know won’t make it through 30 cycles of a washing machine.

4. Wait 30 Days

So far, so practical – but there’s definitely a place in life for beautiful things, things that we ‘need’ because they bring us joy, or allow us to support an artist whose work we love, or because life is allowed to be fun too.

(I’m not a total stick-in-the-mud, honestly!)

The issue is that there are so many beautiful things, that if we buy them unchecked we end up with a house full of things that are no longer beautiful and fun so much as mess-inducing and overwhelming.

To help me navigate this, I have a rule that I let wants brew for 30 days. If I see something I ‘need’, I leave it for 30 days and then I come back and make a decision.

I don’t make a note, because I think that if I can’t remember after 30 days, I really couldn’t have ‘needed’ it in the first place.

The things that really have a place in my heart, I remember.

And if I come back in 30 days, and the thing has gone, I consider that it just wasn’t meant to be. No doubt there will be something just as lovely – no, probably even more lovely – just around the corner.

5.What Will Happen to It Afterwards?

I don’t like putting things in the bin. You’ve probably noticed. So a big consideration for me is what will happen to this item either at the end of its life, or when I no longer need it any more.

Certain brands, products and materials have a great second-hand market. Take Lego – you’ll rarely see that in the charity shops, and there are sets that are decades old selling for a good price on online classifieds.

Some stuff keeps its value.

So I try to choose products and brands that are made to last and that someone else might want. Whilst I buy things intending to use them forever, it doesn’t always pan out that way. At least I know someone else will want what I have.

For those things that get used until very my life expired? Some materials can be repurposed, reused or recycled. Others can’t. Natural fibres can be composted. Polyester is plastic.

Mixed materials are difficult to separate and that makes it harder to reuse those resources.

I try to give these factors consideration when I bring things into my home, and choose the most recycable or compostable materials.

We can’t predict the future, but we can make best guesses about whether we need stuff and will use it, and we can consider the intended lifespan of this stuff, and how we will let go afterwards.

Life doesn’t always go as planned, but when we choose to buy things, we can do our best to make sure the odds are in our favour. It’s not just about hoping the purchases we make are good ones, it’s about knowing our personal weaknesses, and having a framework to make better choices.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any rules when making purchases to ensure the stuff you buy gets put to good use and doesn’t end up being a waste of money? How do you decide whether to purchase or not? What things do you get particularly stuck on? Any other helpful tips? Please share in the comments below!


3 (More) Assumptions You’re Making About Decluttering…And Why You’re Right

After writing last week’s post all about assumptions that we make about decluttering that are actually wrong (no, decluttering something that you never use, don’t need and don’t like is not a waste – you can read all about these assumptions here), I wanted to continue with this theme – but talk about some other assumptions we make that are actually right.

Yes, some of those assumptions we make about decluttering are most definitely right.

I want to talk you through three of the assumptions I made before I started my decluttering journey and that – now I’m out the other side – still hold true.

I also want to talk you through why they aren’t necessarily bad things, and give you some tips for staying on track.

4. Decluttering is hard.

I’m not going to lie or try to pretend otherwise: decluttering is hard. Yes there are people who find it easy to let go of things. (I’m not one of them.) The thing about decluttering is that it is the removal of clutter – and people who are good at letting things go tend not to have clutter in the first place.

The definition of clutter is “an untidy collection of things” and those people who find it easy to let things go do not amass collections of things.

The rest of us – well by the time we realise there are collections of things that bother us, those collections tend to be sizeable amounts. We need to declutter a lot, and it’s hard.

But hard is not impossible.

I think a lot of the “it’s so hard” feeling comes because by the time we notice that we have all this clutter and need to do something about it, it’s becoming a little overwhelming.

We realise it’s overwhelming and we want it gone – now!

But we forget that this stuff took us months and often years to accumulate, so wanting it gone in an afternoon is wishful thinking.

(Well, unless you order skip bin and toss the lot. I think, not only is that an incredible waste of useful stuff, but how can we possibly change our relationship with things if we don’t take the time to consider why we bought these things and why we’re letting go of them now? How will we ever learn the lessons that stop us just accumulating more stuff and having to repeat the whole process again?)

We think decluttering is hard when we think of it as a task, because we then become overwhelmed with the enormity of it. Really, we need to think of decluttering as a project.

We need to simplify into manageable steps.

Divide a Big Project into Manageable Tasks

Once we think of it as a project, we can start to split it down into manageable tasks.

First, we can prioritise our spaces and stuff according to what is difficult and what is easy, what will have a big impact and what will have less impact.

I talk about this in a lot more detail in my book ‘Less Stuff’, but the premise is this: start with the easy stuff that will make a big difference – either to the look or feel of a room, to the surface clutter, or simply for your sanity levels – and start there.

That way you’ll not find it too challenging and will see results quickly – and that keeps you motivated to do more!

The garage might be desperately in need of a clearout but if you know there are still boxes of stuff in there from when you last moved 20 years ago, it’s not going to be the best place to start.

Batch Your Tasks

Second, I’m a big fan of ‘batching’, which means do the same task a few times before moving on the the next thing.

For example, gather together items and sort them into how you’re going to deal with them, and once you’ve got a full box of things to sell or things to donate, move onto dealing with these.

Dealing with one item at a time is woefully inefficient. By the same token, waiting until you have 15 boxes of stuff you’d like to sell will become so overwhelming you won’t want to look at it.

Also, the longer we leave taking action, the more likely we are to convince ourselves that we did need things after all – and unpack those boxes.

So batch. Find a few things you no longer need, decide what to do with those items, deal with them, and then find the next few things.

Decluttering (the entire house) might seem hard, but listing a few books on the Buy Nothing group is easy. Donating some unwanted gift food items to the Food Bank is easy. Selling a couple of unworn dresses is easy.

Decluttering might seem hard, but it is also simple. Let things go, one at a time.

As a wise philosopher once said, a journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step.

5. Decluttering takes time.

Yes, decluttering takes time. Just as accumulating the clutter took time, letting it go takes time. I don’t believe anyone can (responsibly) declutter a whole house, or even a whole room, in a single afternoon.

I think it takes weeks, sometimes months, and maybe even years (depending on how much stuff we have when we start, and how much time we can dedicate to letting it go).

But taking time does not mean taking forever. There is an end. And you will get there.

The journey is just as important as the destination.

When we declutter, we aren’t just physically letting go of stuff, we’re de-owning it. To do that sometimes means letting go of the ideas we attach to the item. Whether that’s guilt or regret or fear, we attach a lot of emotions to our stuff. We have to let go of these as well as the actual object.

It’s about finding acceptance with who we are now (no, hot pink really doesn’t suit me; no, as much as I love the idea of playing the guitar I know I’ll never be disciplined enough to practice; no, I’ll never fit back into that dress I wore at that party in 1977).

We need the time to learn the lessons. We need the time to test our fears (because sometimes we really aren’t sure, and no-one wants to buy stuff they decluttered back again). We need to develop a new, better relationship with our stuff.

All that time we’re in the process of decluttering stuff but not yet finished, we’re learning.

So yes, decluttering takes time, but that is a good thing. All things that are truly rewarding and worthwhile take time.

6. Decluttering is oh-so worth it.

We know that those piles of things are driving us crazy. We know that “reorganising the linen cupboard – again” is not the best use of a long weekend or day off work. We know that madly panicking just before leaving the house because we’ve no idea where our stuff is, except that it is in one of the piles, isn’t helping our blood pressure levels.

We know that less stuff makes us less stressed. We know it gives us more time. We know it gives us more freedom. Research tells us that, and so do those people who’ve successfully decluttered. I’ve never ever come across an article or a person that said “I got read of all that stuff I didn’t need and was so overwhelmed by the calm and the clear space that I had to go and buy a bunch of pointless junk to fill it again”.

So yes, decluttering is immensely worthwhile. It can be hard, and it can take time, which is why it is so easy to talk ourselves out of it, or maybe justify not doing it at all.

Because ultimately, less clutter, less mess and less stress is worth it. More time, more freedom and more calm is worth it. The work might not be easy, but the results speak for themselves.

‘Less Stuff: Simple Zero-Waste Steps to a Joyful and Clutter-Free Life’ by Lindsay Miles is available to order now from all good bookstores and online.


3 Assumptions You’re Making About Decluttering… And Why You’re Wrong

If you care even the teeniest bit about our planet and where stuff goes when we throw it “away”, if you see ‘stuff’ as money spent and resources used, chances are you struggle with the idea of decluttering.

I get it.

This used to be me. There I was, holding onto things I didn’t really need or use, seeing landfill as a terrible waste of resources, and despairing of the clutter all the while.

It took time to change my thinking, and more importantly change my relationship with stuff. It was a process, a slow realisation that I needed to change the way I viewed ‘stuff’.

I’d made a few assumptions about decluttering and waste in my time. It turned out, I was wrong.

Here’s 3 things I thought were true about decluttering, and how I’ve reshaped how I think about them.

1. Decluttering is a waste of resources.

Let’s be clear. Stuff is resources. But the idea that decluttering is a waste of resources comes from the mistaken belief that decluttering means sending stuff to landfill (or perhaps dumping it at the closest charity shop – which can often mean the same thing).

Since when was putting something in the bin the only option for our unwanted stuff?

Yes, putting stuff in the bin is a waste of resources. But finding new homes for our old things, with owners who love what we no longer need and will use it often – now that is an excellent use of resources.

Think about it this way. No-one declutters stuff that they love, need and use all the time. The stuff we are trying to declutter is the stuff we don’t like, don’t need and don’t use.

If we don’t use it, don’t need it and don’t like it, how is keeping it anything other than a waste of resources? Sure it might not be in the bin, but turning our cupboards and storage into mini-landfills (which is what they are, when you think about it) really isn’t saving resources.

Owning stuff we never use is a waste of resources.

If we can pass these things onto people who will use them, we allow these things to realise their full potential. To do the jobs they were made to do. Not only that, we are also helping stop the purchasing of more new stuff. Someone uses our old stuff, so they don’t need to buy new stuff.

Making our things available to others slows down the production of stuff, and remember – all stuff is resources.

What we need to do is find new homes for our stuff. To think beyond the bin, and beyond the closest charity shop. Believe me, someone somewhere wants what you have, and it is far easier to find them than you might think.

As someone who is incredibly passionate about zero waste, I say with full conviction that decluttering can be a very zero waste thing to do, and is an excellent use of resources.

2. That stuff could be useful one day.

Of course on one level this is true. That stuff you don’t like and never use could be useful one day. But often we confuse the fact that stuff is inherently useful with a rather different question – is it useful, and is it necessary, to us?

Being useful isn’t the same as being necessary.

The real question to ask is this. If in this future imaginary scenario where I envisage that this item might be useful, and I didn’t have it, would I actually need to own it?

Or could I make do with something else I already have that can do a similar job? Would I be able to borrow from friends, family or neighbours? What would actually happen if I wanted to use the item and was without it?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. It depends a lot on what the item is, where we live and whether we have access to friends, family and neighbours, whether we have access to a vehicle, and the function that the item serves.

Keeping a torch in case there is ever a power failure is a very different scenario to keeping a watercolour set in case we ever decide to take up painting.

So we can be practical about it. We can think about our own situation and circumstances and make sensible decisions around what is likely to be useful, and what is necessary.

And we can agree that yes, all things are useful. But being inherently useful is not a reason to keep things that aren’t particularly useful to us.

Rather than keeping things just in case they might be useful one day, we can pass things onto people who definitely need them now, and intend to use them straightaway. That is a better outcome for those resources.

3. Decluttering is not for anyone on a budget.

The idea of decluttering something, only to realise that actually it was needed after all, and having to buy it back again, does not sit well with anyone on a budget. (Nor does it sit well with anyone who thinks that shopping is not a great use of their time.)

This argument is used often when talking about decluttering – if we realise we need it we can buy it back – because almost always, we won’t regret that decision and actually want to buy it back.

But what if this thing we declutter is the exception? What then?

In the same way that decluttering doesn’t have to mean going in the bin, it doesn’t have to mean giving stuff away for free, either. It is perfectly possible to sell items that we no longer need – either using online services such as auction and classifieds sites, social media marketplaces, or in-person services such as car boot sales, swap meets and garage sales.

Online services have made it possible to connect with buyers beyond our suburb, often nationally and even internationally. They also provide an easy way to find out what our stuff might be worth, and what other people are willing to pay.

The great thing about second-hand stuff, is that it tends to lose its value fairly slowly. Meaning you could sell an item second-hand, change your mind once it is sold and buy back a similar item for a similar price.

With technology it works out even better, because models get superceded so quickly, so re-buying something later for the same price means getting a more advanced version.

Budgets are a reality for most of us. When deciding what your budget can handle, consider these questions:

  • How readily available is the item? Would you expect every charity shop in the country to have one? Is it something that has daily new listings on the online classifieds?
  • How much it might cost to buy-back second-hand? How does that fit with your expendable income?
  • How practical and easy is it to re-buy the item? Is it local, is a vehicle required?

Considering these questions first can help make an informed decision about whether we really need to hang onto something or not.

It might not even be necessary to buy it back – it may be possible to find it for free. There are plenty of “free stuff” websites and networks where items are given away free of charge. Freecycle, Freegle and the Buy Nothing network are just a few great examples. You can read more about buying less (new) stuff in this post.

Budget or not, we’ve got to remember that the stuff we declutter tends to be the stuff we don’t use, don’t need and don’t like. Why then, would we actually want to buy that stuff back?

It’s helpful to try to understand if this is a truly practical consideration for us, or a fear masquerading an an excuse that’s probably unfounded.

For most of us, decluttering does not come easy. But when it comes to the excuses we make or assumptions we believe around why we don’t want to pass on our old things, it could just be that we’re looking at it under the wrong lens.

The fact that things are inherently useful does not necessarily mean they are useful to us. And yes, budgets and expendable income are an important consideration – but we can still be pragmatic. Most importantly of all: decluttering does not have to mean waste.

‘Less Stuff: Simple Zero-Waste Steps to a Joyful and Clutter-Free Life’ by Lindsay Miles is available to order now from all good bookstores and online.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Whether you’re proficient at decluttering, or novice; someone who finds it easy to let go, or someone who wants to hold onto everything; somebody who hates the idea of waste or someone who loves to find new homes for old things, we want to hear your stories! Share your experiences, struggles, successes and any thoughts at all below!

6 Places to Declutter To that Aren’t the Charity Shop (or the Bin)

I think decluttering is both a good thing (for our sanity and our stress levels), and a zero waste thing to do. Yes, a zero waste thing. Let’s make no mistake: keeping stuff in our homes that we don’t like, don’t need and never use is a terrible waste of resources.

Of course, yes, the most zero waste thing of all is to buy things once, cherish them forever, use them often, and pass them onto our children and grandchildren. But many things are not designed for this, good intentions don’t always work out, items date, technology is superceded, and our lives (and our minds) change over time.

So sometimes we have things we don’t like, don’t need and never use in our homes. But chucking this stuff in the bin or offloading at the nearest charity shop even though we’re pretty sure the stuff we are offloading isn’t definitely saleable definitely isn’t the best thing to do with it.

Which is often why we don’t declutter the things we no longer use. We don’t want to throw things in the bin, but we don’t know what else to do with them. So we let them languish in cupboards and drawers, and we feel guilty every time we see them.

Decluttering does not come down to just two options: landfill or closest charity shop. There are so many other places to take our stuff, and ways to find new owners for things we don’t need.

Keeping our stuff in circulation and giving others the opportunity to use these things is the best thing we can do for this stuff. This is how we declutter, zero waste style.

So what exactly are these options?

Online Auction Sites

The most well-known online auction site is eBay, with 39 country-specific sites, and a presence in 100 countries. But it’s not the only option, and many other smaller auction sites exist with cheaper fees.

These sites have a national and sometimes global audience, making them ideal for items that can be mailed easily (meaning things that are lightweight or easy to pack, such as small electronics, clothing and homewares).

These auction sites are great for connecting your stuff with buyers looking for that item or brand. It’s also useful for people looking for parts, or even items in need of repair (particularly electronics).

Many high quality, unusual or valuable items can be missed in charity shops because they rely on foot traffic and opportunistic sales. With auction sites, customers can browse but they can also search specifically for things they need.

The price of your item and postage is quoted upfront to potential buyers, who will factor these costs into their bids. Listings on eBay can begin at $0.01, so you can still give things away on these sites. And you can cover the postage yourself, if you prefer.

Whilst pick-up only is an option for listing bulky items, there are better platforms to use.

Online Classifieds

I’m a huge fan of Gumtree, which is currently the number 1 online classifieds site in the UK, Australia, South Africa and Singapore. American readers will probably be more familar with Craigslist.

There are also some newer kids on the block such as LetGo, Preloved and Shpock.

Online classified allow you to upload an image (or multiple images) and either set a price or offer the item for free. Most sites are free to use with paid upgrades available.

Classifieds often appeal more to local users, with items like furniture, tools, larger kitchen appliances, bicycles and white goods being easy to pass on. Buyers will collect from your home and can inspect the item before they take it.

Again, people will take broken items for parts and damaged items for repair, so it is worth posting these items and seeing if there is a response. Items can be listed in less than a minute, and it never hurts to try.

Charities and Charitable Partnerships

Charity shops take items to resell, but charities and non-government organisations also collect items to repair and reuse, or pass on to underprivileged communities and groups both locally and overseas.

Animal charities accept blankets, towels and other bedding, old toys, accessories, and food donations.

Women’s refuges, homeless shelters and refugee organisations may accept bedding, furniture, clothing, toiletries, white goods, small appliances and more. The Refugee Council of Australia has a database of refugee organisations accepting donations and what types of goods they accept, which will also give you an idea of the kinds of items that are wanted.

Other organisations focus on specific items: old glasses (they can often be dropped at a local optician and will be tested before being redistributed), sports equipment (Fairgame collects and redistributes equipment across Australia), computers and old electronics, bras, bicycles and more.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups are a great way to connect with people in your area, and find new homes for your stuff. I’m a huge fan of the Buy Nothing project, which operates as a series of hyper-local Facebook groups. No-one is allowed to join more than one group – the one where they live.

The advantage of decluttering items using the Buy Nothing group is that all the members are your neighbours, so travel time is negligible and journeys are often combined with regular commutes, shop visits or school drop-offs. This means people will be far more willing to take items off your hands than if they had to hop in the car and drive across town.

There are other Facebook groups that work in a similar way, such as the Good Karma network on the east coast of Australia. There also many zero waste groups that allow the offering of stuff (glass jars are always particularly well received).

There are even a few groups called “Give Away Free Stuff” – exactly what we need to find new owners for old things!

Online Neighbourhood Networks

These are neighbourhood networks, a little like the Buy Nothing project or Good Karma Network except rather than being run through Facebook, they have their own platforms. Nextdoor is one of the fastest growing sites. Whilst they aren’t solely for the giving and receiving of second-hand stuff (they also deal with lost pets, neighbourhood watch type issues and other things), sharing is a large part of their service.

Alternatively, Freecycle (and Freegle in the UK) are neighbourhood sites solely dedicated to the passing on and accepting of free stuff.

People You Know

Last but not least, don’t forget that you have friends, family and colleagues who may be interested in your stuff. Probably not everything, but it is worth asking. You could ask people directly or post on social media.

If they are not people who generally shop at second-hand stores it is a good way to gently entice them into the preloved life, and they might be more willing to take things from people they know (you!) than buy from a stranger.

Sometimes exploring these avenues still draws a blank. Even then, there’s still the option of ensuring the materials are recycled rather than putting in the bin. But there’s so much to say about that, it is another post entirely!

The truth is, someone, somewhere wants what we have. We can do our best to find a new owner for our old things. We may not always find somewhere, but it takes minimal effort to ask the question, to do a quick google search for local organisations, or to pop a photo on an online site.

Stuff is useful. Resources are valuable. Success isn’t guaranteed, but we have to try.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your best solutions for re-homing unwanted items? What is the most unexpected item you’ve managed to successfully re-home with someone else? Anything that you particularly struggle with? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

Experiments with Less Stuff: 3 Outfits for 30 Days

There’s nothing quite like writing a book about decluttering and living with less stuff to make you re-assess all the things you own, and question again whether the things you have are really being used to their full potential.

Things left languishing in cupboards and drawers barely used? That isn’t the best use of those resources. And all stuff is resources – materials, time and energy went into making these things.

When I own something I barely use, and I know I would make do with something else if I didn’t own it, it just doesn’t make sense to me to keep it. It makes more sense to find a new owner who will use and love the things that I do not.

That’s not to say everything I own is used all the time. I own swimwear even though I’d hardly call myself a beachgoer; I own a selection of baking tins even though I’m not busting them out every weekend.

It’s all about balance: what’s practical, sensible and what’s good for our sanity. Even if I only go swimming occasionally, I need swimwear. In my world, brownies are square and sponge cakes are round. That’s just how it has to be.

But living with less stuff isn’t just about letting go of the things we no longer need, use or love. It’s about developing a new relationship with stuff. Not just our stuff, but all stuff.

We can see stuff for what it really is: resources, time, craftsmanship and effort. We can be honest with ourselves about whether stuff is practical and useful to us, or whether the stuff’s usefulness will be short-lived; destined to become clutter, and landfill.

And when we buy things and bring them into our homes, we can make sure we maximise their use. If we realise later that things are not being used to their full potential, we can re-home them so that they get the use they were designed for.

Decluttering, for me, is not about clearing space to buy new things. It is about respecting resources, and ensuring the stuff we have and do not use does not go to waste. Decluttering is not synonymous with chucking stuff in the bin.

Instead, it is an opportunity to make good our perhaps-not-so-good-after-all choices.

But of course, no-one wants to declutter things only to realise later on that they needed them after all.

Which brings me back to where I started: reassessing the things I own.


One area where I struggled for a long time in my de-owning journey was wardrobe decluttering. I had so many clothes, nothing to wear, and couldn’t part with anything! The idea of reducing my wardrobe by half, down to 100 things seemed almost unachievable, yet when I finally got there I realised: I still had too much stuff.

Eventually I reduced my wardrobe down to about 40 things. It was no longer overwhelming, and everything I owned I liked and wore – but I knew that really, I still had too much stuff.

The thing is, I am one of those people who just likes to wear the same few outfits all of the time. I live in the same few things, and I like it like that. Most of the people I know would be surprised I even own 40 items of clothing!

The goal with decluttering and de-owning is to find our “enough”. We don’t want too much stuff but we don’t want to be left with not enough, either. But figuring out the point between “too much” and “too little” where “just enough” lies takes time.

When it came to my wardrobe, I didn’t think another round of decluttering would be that useful in helping me find this “enough”.

Instead, I decided to go all the way to the “too little” side, and live over there for a month, to really test what I need and what I don’t.

3 Outfits for 30 Days

A couple of years ago I followed a woman on Instagram who decided to wear one dress for an entire year. It actually wore out half way through, and was replaced with another dress, but she completed the challenge and decided she loved the freedom it gave so much she would wear one dress for life.

That’s definitely a little too little for me (what would I wear when I need to wash the dress?!) but it got me thinking. What would realistically be the minimum viable number of outfits I could wear?

I asked myself a few questions, such as what different types of outfits did I need, what occasions did I need to consider, and what was practical (thinking about the climate, weather and my ability/willingness to do – and dry – the laundry often).

I need clothes that are suitable for presenting in, working in and lounging round the house in.

As for climate, the month of March is late summer/early autumn here in Perth. We have a Mediterranean climate: it’s warm enough to do laundry, hang it outside and bring it in dry a few hours later. It might be cardigan weather in the evening, but it is pretty warm during the day. Rainfall is minimal and short-lived.

With all this in mind, I decided on 3 outfits for 30 days.

1 skirt, 1 pair of trousers, and 1 dress. 2 tops, a cardigan and a denim shirt. Plus a pair of leggings if necessary.

(My 3 outfits doesn’t include clothes for exercising, which I’ll still wear.)

I started on 4th March, and I’ll report back once the 30 days are over.

The goal is not to convince myself that this is all I need. The goal is to figure out what works, what is missing, and what things I would prefer to have (and not have) to make my wardrobe work better for me.

The goal is to experiment with less so I can find out where my “enough” lies on the scale.

It’s not so much about deciding which of the things I own I need or don’t need; more about helping me get clear on my future choices.

Owning less stuff isn’t just about letting go of the things we no longer use. It’s about understanding why we made the choices we made, learning from our mistakes, and getting clear on exactly what we need and what we’ll use.

If we know what we need and are pragmatic about what we’ll use, not only do we end up with less stuff: we use less resources, reduce our footprint, and create less waste.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever taken part in a “less stuff”, decluttering or minimalism challenge? What were the rules? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Did you learn anything? Were there any surprises? Or do challenges like this fill you with dread? Any other thoughts? Please share below!


5 Tips for Letting Go of Unwanted Christmas Gifts

Before you even say it, no. It is not too early to be talking about what to do with unwanted Christmas gifts. If we don’t talk about it, those gifts will be shoved in a cupboard, where they will languish untouched for months, forgotten and unused.

What a waste of resources!

The best outcome for these gifts is that they are needed, wanted and well used.

If you or someone you know received a gift that they don’t want, it is much better to find someone who needs it rather than stuffing it into storage.

The Reasons We Hang Onto Stuff We Don’t Need: Guilt and Fear

Is it ungrateful or rude to pass on a gift that’s unwanted? I don’t think so. No-one asks for gifts they don’t want and don’t like. The gifter may have had the best intentions, but on this occasion, they got it wrong.

We all make mistakes and misjudge things sometimes. That’s just how life works.

It was still kind and generous that they gifted something, and the meaning is in the giving, not the actual object.

But when it comes to letting go of the gift, we can feel guilty.

We feel guilty that they made a poor choice.

We feel guilty that we weren’t clearer about our dislike of hot pink, or the fact we actually went vegan 7 years ago, or the fact that we already own every single cookbook/novel by that author.

We feel guilty that they wasted their time, or money.

The thing is, all of this is about the past. The gift has already been purchased and gifted, and we can’t turn the clocks back. Whether we keep something or give it away won’t change the fact that the gift was a poor choice.

The difference is that keeping something reminds us of this, every time we see the item. Letting something go will let go of this guilt.

Finding new owners for our unwanted things is a great way to alleviate the guilt we feel about parting with stuff – it is hard to feel guilty when you’re bringing joy to someone else.

When it comes to letting go, we can also be fearful.

Fearful that the gifter will find out, and we’ll be judged.

Fearful that if we’re found out we will be seen as ungrateful and maybe not be given gifts again.

This fear is about something that hasn’t happened yet. It may never happen. Is it really a genuine cause for concern, or if it comes true, will it actually be slightly uncomfortable for a very small window of time?

Fear and guilt are not reasons to keep things we don’t need.

Think about it from your own perspective. How would you feel if you knew that a gift you’d purchased for someone was unwanted, disliked and would never be used? Would you rather the person kept it out of guilt or fear, or would you rather they passed it onto someone who loved it?

To Tell or Not Tell?

There’s no need to tell the gifter you don’t like the gift and you’re passing it on, if you don’t want to. If you think it will upset someone, or you’ll feel judged, there’s no need to mention it.

Most people won’t ask what became of the gift, but if you’re worried about that, have an answer at the ready.

If the gifter told you that they kept the receipt in case you want to exchange it, consider that an invitation to tell them that you’d like to exchange it. Obvious as that seems, it can be an awkward conversation, and one we prefer to avoid. But the fact they mentioned it means they’d rather you had something you actually liked than try to protect their feelings. If this option exists, don’t shy away from it.

On the other hand, you might prefer to tell the gifter of your plans. If they were wildly wrong with size, style or taste it may be helpful to say so.

If you put clear boundaries around the gifts you wanted and didn’t want, and these boundaries were trampled over (oh, I know you said only second-hand gifts but these plastic trashy items from the big box store were such bargains!) then it can be helpful (and rather satisfying) to explain your decision. It will also help clear up future misunderstandings.

Don’t forget, if they have no way to know you didn’t like the gift, they may continue to gift in the same spirit.

There’s no right or wrong answer to this. Do what feels right (or easier).

Options for Letting Go of Christmas Gifts

Take it back to the Store.

Some stores will let you exchange items even without a receipt over Christmas, so it is worth asking. Call ahead before you make the trip to double-check. The item will need to be still tagged and unused. You won’t get a refund, but if you simply want to switch size or colour, or swap for another product it is probably the lowest hassle solution.

Sell It.

Online auction platforms like eBay and classifieds platforms like Craigslist and Gumtree are great for listing items for sale from the comfort of your own home. Decide a price you’re happy with, take a few pics, and wait for a buyer. There are also marketplaces on social media for finding interested buyers.

Donate It.

Rather than dump your unwanted gift at the closest charity shop along with all the other unwanted gifts, consider giving the item away by other means. Charity shops are overloaded at this time of year, so it might be better to donate to an organization that will use the item, rather than resell it. For example, a homeless charity might accept sleeping bags and blankets, a refugee centre might take small electrical appliances, women’s refuges might take cosmetics and personal care products, and a food bank will accept food items.

Ask yourself, who might want what I have?

You can also give items away on online classifieds platforms, you can give away via local neighbourhood networks such as Buy Nothing groups, and you can regift – if you think the person will want the item.

If you’re worried about being judged for passing on unwanted Christmas gifts, donating them to a worthy cause can help. It might be a lot easier to say you donated something to an animal rescue centre or hospice than it is to say you sold it on eBay.

That’s not to say one choice is better. As long as the item ends up in the hands of someone who will use it, it is a good outcome.

Letting go of something we don’t need, don’t want and don’t like; it doesn’t make us ungrateful or selfish. It doesn’t make us greedy (if we decide to sell it). Stuff shouldn’t have that kind of power, and it only will if we allow it to. The best thing to do is to pass the item on. Out of sight, out of mind.

Difficult things become easier, and guilt will pass.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you do with unwanted gifts? Any additional tips? Do you struggle with guilt? How has this changed over the years? Do you find it easier now than you used to? Any other thoughts? Share all in the comments below!

5 Ideas for Donating Stuff You Don’t Need (But Is Still Useful)

We all end up with stuff that we don’t need. Unwanted gifts, stuff that we upgrade or replace, stuff we realise we don’t use or don’t like, duplicates. The list goes on.

Getting rid of stuff, when we don’t like waste, can be a challenge. Especially when this stuff isn’t really fit for selling or donating to the charity shop. Things that are broken (even if they are repairable), items with parts missing, things that have low value, stuff that has been used, opened or are worn.

We don’t want to throw it out, but we know in our hearts that the charity shop doesn’t really want it either.

The thing I love about challenges is that whilst they can be difficult, they are not impossible. Someone, somewhere, will want what you have. Whatever it is. (I mean that. You’d be surprised.) The challenge is finding that person.

It can take time, and effort, but if you succeed it is such a good feeling. You’re saving something from landfill, and making someone happy in the process.

Remember: it’s only waste if you waste it.

I’ve put together a guide of what to do with some of the random bits and pieces that you have that you know are useful… but don’t know how to find them new homes.

Ideas for Rehoming Items Responsibly

Donating to the Charity Shop

This is most people’s go-to when letting go of unwanted stuff. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the best place for the stuff. Most of us would rather donate something than throw it in the bin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the charity shop will want it.

Charity shops want things that they can sell! If you wouldn’t buy it, and can’t imagine that anyone else would either, don’t donate it. Charity shops get so many donations – far more than they can handle. In Australia it’s estimated only 15% of all donated clothes are resold.

Don’t kid yourself that the charity shop will want your moth-eaten old clothing with buttons missing.

Two ideas when donating to charity shops to ensure a better chance of the item being onsold:

  • Call ahead and find out if they take (and need) the things that you’re donating. Some charity shops have the capacity to test electrical items and will accept them for resale, others don’t. Some don’t have space to take toys, or may have a shortage of certain things. Calling ahead is a good way to find out what they need – and what they don’t want.
  • Think seasonally. Stores need to turn over goods fast to make money. Donating winter jumpers in summer or Christmas branded items in February will mean stock sitting around, and it may end up in landfill, even if the quality is good.

Donating on Gumtree or Craigslist

Gumtree, Craigslist and other platforms allow us to list items for free for others to take. How effective this is can be dependent on where you live (it’s easier in urban centres than rural locations). It’s also more effective for certain types of items, such as homewares, furniture and electrical goods.

That doesn’t mean that what you have won’t be wanted though, so it’s worth listing things anyway. Things like spare coat hangers, old bubble wrap, moving boxes and crates of old jam jars all shift surprising well.

Bear in mind that the more obscure the item, the longer it will take to shift.

(If you’ve never listed anything on Gumtree before, I’ve written a guide to selling second-hand to help you get started.)

Buy Nothing Groups and Local Online Community Networks

The more local something is, the easier it is for others to collect it, and the more likely it is to find a new home. That’s why community exchanges work so well. My local area has very active Buy Nothing Groups (a group that operates through Facebook, where goods can be taken and offered for free, with council boundaries determining whether someone can join).

Other Facebook groups include Swap & Barter groups and Zero Waste groups, or groups for exchanging specific items (fishing equipment, childen’s toys, craft supplies).

Outside of Facebook, my parents (who live in the UK) use and love a local community network called NextDoor, which allows them to connect with other members of their village.

There’s plenty of others, so explore what is local and active in your area. The global platforms might have better looking websites and thousands of members worldwide, but if there’s only two people living within 25km of you, that isn’t going to work.

If you use Facebook, that’s a great way to track down local and active groups. If not, see if you can contact community groups and ask if they have any knowledge or suggestions.

Real Life Community Groups

Community groups are another great place to consider. Craft and arts groups may be collecting certain items for projects (broken crockery is great for mosaic making, half-used paint tins may be wanted for other projects), community gardens may be able to use offcuts of materials or old tools, playgroups will accept all sorts of things for children to play with (small boxes that held electronic items are popular, as are old plastic loyalty cards (for playing “shop”).

For specialist equipment for a particular hobby, it may be worth finding an enthusiast’s group and finding out if any of their members can use what you have. For example, finding an Apiarist’s society to donate beekeeping equipment to is a much better match than simply listing on Gumtree or donating to the charity shop.

Charities and For-Purpose Enterprises

Different charities have different needs, and can be a great way to pass on unwanted items that aren’t suitable (or are too “niche”) for charity shops. Some ideas include:

  • Animal refuges often accept towels, sheets and other bedding, pet food and possibly other equipment and accessories;
  • Refugee centres accept donations of clothing, books, food, furniture, whitegoods and more (here’s a list of refugee organisations in Australia and the donations they accept);
  • Women’s refuges, homeless centres and hostels accept clothing and blankets and may accept toiletries and sanitary items (be aware that refuges do not publicly list their addresses for obvious reasons, so you will need to connect with a local charity serving these centres to find out what they will and won’t accept).
  • Charities (such as Fair Game in Australia) accept used sports equipment and clothing to redistribute to underserviced communities.
  • Opticians often accept used glasses to send to underserviced communities.
  • Food banks accept food but at Christmas or other times of year may accept toiletries, sanitary items and other non-food items – check with the individual organization.

Thoughts on (Shabby) Second-Hand Donations

Whilst I think it is brilliant to donate second-hand items, I also think that it is important to be mindful of their condition and respectful of where we donate them.

I once met an enthusiastic and well-meaning guy who was trying to set up a shoe enterprise donating second-hand shoes to Africa. He had collected thousands of shoes but didn’t have a warehouse, and was storing them in his garden in the open under a tarpaulin. They’d been there for 18 months.

He hadn’t given that much thought to where he would send them, whether there was an existing industry in the country that might be adversely impacted by an influx of shoes, or whether the shoes were appropriate for the climate or recipients.

His colleague said in the presentation “people in Africa deserve high-heeled shoes too!” That might be the case, but the intended community where these shoes were to be donated hadn’t actually been consulted as to their needs.

I don’t know what happened to the enterprise, and I hope they were able to have a positive impact. I think sometimes enterprises can be well-meaning but ill-considered. Sometimes we can be guilty of not really thinking through our choices.

I do think it’s important when donating to charity to consider if the recipients will really want our stuff, as tempting as it is to want to keep things out of landfill.

For example, I know that there are charities that collect used bras. I personally wear mine until they are stretched, misshapen and there is barely any life in them. I do not consider it appropriate to then donate it. That’s my opinion and my choice.

I think it can be tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that underprivileged people will want our shabby stuff. Actually, they might not.

Final Thought on Donating Unusual Items

This is not a complete list by any means, and with enough grit and determination it is possible to donate most things – not always for the purpose they were originally intended, but a purpose nonetheless. If you have something that you think is too good to throw away, get creative and start asking questions (zero waste Facebook groups are great for this).

You may be happily surprised.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What’s the craziest or strangest thing you’ve successfully donated to a happy recipient? Any other tips for where to donate unusual items? If you work in a charity shop or a for-purpose enterprise, are there any “no-no”s that you see donated often that aren’t suitable? Anything else to add? Please comment below.