Marie Kondo's book on tidying is popular for good reason—it's been a powerful tool that’s helped millions embrace their inner minimalist. But my eco journey has brought up conflicting thoughts about “The Magic of Tidying Up.” On one hand, I’m always looking to simplify my lifestyle, but on the other, I’m constantly trying to rescue things from winding up in a landfill. There’s a lot of overlap between living low waste and living minimally, but sometimes they can feel at odds.
So here’s an alternative tidying up method rooted in “the 5 Rs” that better supports my larger mission to live sustainably.
Refuse and Reduce:
The first piece of my Eco-Kondo method starts at the very root of my buying habits. There seems to be new stuff marketed and sold to my demographic every day–most of which are completely unnecessary (but damn some of that branding is hard to resist!). The best way to ensure I won’t be tidying my days away is to refuse the superfluous things before they even make it into my home. I try to practice mindful shopping when I can and resist impulse buying.
If I’m shopping and something catches my eye, I try to leave it and wait a few days before I return to it. Most of the time I wind up completely forgetting about the item, which goes to show I really didn’t need it in the first place! But if I’m still thinking about it, I may head back to check it out again.
Before I welcome something new into my home I like to ask myself:
- Will I use it weekly? Monthly? Less than once a month?
- Is it made of sustainable materials?
- Does it seem sturdy enough to last many years and uses?
- Can I imagine this item being useful at different stages in my life?
- And of course, does it spark joy? (Thanks, Marie!)
I’ve found that most things don’t tick off enough of these boxes to deem them worthy of my money and limited living space (living in a city like NYC means you’re forced to be a minimalist to some degree!).
Before I get rid of an item, I like to ask myself if there’s some other use I can get out of it. I’m not about that shabby chic vibe of taking cracked ice cube trays and making lampshades out of them. But, I have found very practical ways to reuse some of my belongings.
For example, when my husband and I moved into our new apartment we no longer needed our shower curtain because our apartment has a shower stall. Instead of donating it, I took the curtain and hemmed it to make a beach blanket. I then divided up the hooks and used them to hang our string lights in the backyard.
Another great hack is finding ways to repurpose our paper clutter (the third step in Kondo’s method). My husband and I are both designers and sometimes we wind up with promotional newsprints from photographers and illustrators. Instead of just recycling these, we store them in our “gift box” to use as fun artsy wrapping paper.
When clearing out my clothes, I ask myself if my old hole-filled tee-shirts will really find a new home at the GoodWill (probably not). In this case, I’ll cut them up to make cleaning rags or use them as nut milk bags.
I also look at old items as potential storage options. For example, my favorite tote bag that I absolutely love is just a little too worn out to sport around town anymore. Instead, I use it as a shoe bag for when I travel.
And when I accidentally nicked one of my stasher bags with a kitchen scissor a few weeks back, I discovered the wonder and joy that comes from repurposing a stasher as an organization tool! Now I use stashers for lots of small-item storage like my miscellaneous toiletries. There’s also a few stashers in my catch-all drawer to help keep it clean and manageable. Phew! To be honest, organizing these items has saved me a ton of time and grief and has really freed up my mental headspace (which is the whole point of this Kondo thing!).
Stasher bags also allow me to more easily and visibly account for what I already have. For example, I no longer feel the urge to buy face cream because, girl, I’ve got four different kinds of cream neatly waiting for me in my pink stasher next to my sink. It makes buying things I don’t need nearly impossible!
We live in a throw-away culture where everything has an expiration date and once something is slightly tarnished, out of season, or stops working, we deem it ready for the landfill (or recycling center when possible!). Since going low waste, I’ve become more conscious of what items I purchase, and more critical when assessing what can be done to repair an item before I put it out to pasture.
I have this amazing pair of jeans that makes me feel on top of the world every time I wear them. And when the first hole appeared near my thigh, I decided to patch the hole instead of investing in a new pair. Then came another hole, and then another–I mean I wear these jeans A LOT. I got quite good at sewing and I wear my patches with pride! I get a lot of comments because they’ve become such a unique piece in my wardrobe. And I still feel just as amazing when I put them on (if you need some convincing check out #visiblemending).
As I tidied up my wires and gadgets a few months back, I came across a set of earbuds with frayed wires peaking out of the insulation. It's easy to forget what a massive carbon footprint can come with something as tiny as a pair of earbuds. And often items like these aren’t recyclable. The right earbud had stopped working so I watched a Youtube video and was able to repair these suckers within minutes! I felt like the freakin MacGyver of low waste living! It was empowering and I saved my earbuds from prematurely ending up in the landfill.
Every 4-6 months I take a hard look at my wardrobe. I comb through the pieces and channel my inner Kondo asking if each truly sparks joy. Chances are there are a few things I can part with. Before bringing clothes to a donation center (which have been overwhelmed since Kondo’s Netflix premiere), I like to host a clothing swap with friends. I try to limit myself from grabbing only a handful of items so I don’t wind up with just as much clutter as when I started! Anything that is left over makes its way to a donation center.
I’ve always loved treasure hunting on the streets of New York. But now when I find something great I don’t just lug it home because “it’s perfectly good and shouldn’t go to the landfill.” Instead I ask myself, “Is there someone else who could use this?” One lifesaver has been joining my local Buy Nothing Group on Facebook. Instead of feeling like it’s my responsibility to haul a set of perfectly good children’s puzzles (um, I have no kids), I can post the location of the score to the group. I’ve seen things claimed within minutes of posts!
When items at home really need to go, and they’re not recyclable, I head to my local Terracycle Drop off to ensure I’m limiting what winds up in black bags.
If I can stay mindful of what enters and leaves my space, I can live lightly in more ways than one. What I’ve learned through my tidying process is that living minimally isn't just about getting rid of stuff. I believe there are more woke versions of minimalism that reduce the noise in our lives, while minimizing our impact on the planet.
This article was written by Meg Lazaros. She's a creative director and designer who is passionate about creating a future where humans can live full, happy lives in harmony with nature. She shares her low-waste journey and tips on living sustainably on her Instagram @megmakeslesswaste