How to declutter without throwing things away?

“Decluttering” became popular when Netflix published a series featuring Marie Kondo’s home organising strategies and journeys. Now that we are spending a lot more time at home during COVID times, we want to feel light and comfortable right there. 

There are strategies and easy hacks that can transform the way your home looks and feels. What we realised as we try to Marie Kondo our homes is that we’ve had a lot of trash around the house – things we don’t need, don’t use, and don’t even remember having! We are instantly mortified by that realisation and there is an impulse to just put all that doesn’t “spark joy” into a big trash bag and dump it all away! 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snzNyJ6odwI

Stop right there. Don’t be too quick to chuck everything into that black bag. What doesn’t spark joy for you (anymore) might spark joy for someone else. And what doesn’t spark joy as it is could be turned into something joyful (including turning it into cash)! 

Here are some considerations before throwing the item away:

  1. Can it be sold as it is?
  2. Can it be given to someone else?
  3. Can it be made into something else?
  4. Can it be recycled?

Can it be sold?

BNIB stands for Brand New In Box. Kudos to anyone who doesn’t find any such item lying around in the house. It could be something you’ve bought on impulse and forgot about it later on. Or, it could be that cute baking set for your housewarming present. Except, you’ve talked about getting into baking for two years and still haven’t got to it despite being stuck at home during COVID times.

Recoup some value from these items! You don’t have to set unrealistic target prices for them because they’re sitting around producing no value anyway. Sell them on any online P2P marketplaces like eBay, Facebook or apps like Carousell. Free up the space. Get cash in hand. Allow the item to be utilised by someone else who needs it. And if you do finally pick up baking as a hobby a year later, return to the same marketplace where you sold your item and there’ll be another baker-down-the-road who has offered his or her baking set for a bargain. It’s a merry-go-round.

Can it be given to someone else?

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. It could be a piece of clothing that you’ve outgrown, an old chair that doesn’t match your new decor, or the perfectly functional bedside lamp your ex got you that you just want rid of. You don’t care about the money you’re going to get for it. Or, you’ve tried to sell it but there are no willing buyers. Jump on “Free your stuff” groups on Facebook and post it there. Or use the same channels you’d posted for sale and give it for free. Someone will snap it up. Pass it forward. 

At times, I uncover items in my apartment that remind me of a family member or a friend. It could be a postcard, old photo, or an old album that I don’t listen to anymore. I’d give it to that very person just to say they were in my thoughts. Of course, don’t start unloading your trash on your social circle or you might find these very circles distancing themselves from you.

Can it be made into something else?

An old chair. Old clothes. Empty mason jars. Transform them to serve a different purpose, or, simply, to spark a different joy. Give them new coats of paint. Decorate them. Give them personalities. That could add a refreshing feel to your home. Turn that old t-shirt into a tote bag. Turn old socks into a toy for your dog. The old mug into a planter. The possibilities are endless and all we require is a bit of creativity. Of course, the end product should be something useful or enjoyable to have around the house. Remember, the key here is declutter. So, stop hoarding!

Can it be recycled?

There are recycling options for more and more types of materials these days. And there are more and more recycling programs run by brands and organisations, from the fashion to food industry. We have finally grown accustomed to the concept of recycling PET bottles. But there is glass, metal, paper, fabric, electronic waste…. And the list goes on. 

Of course, for straightforward items like packaging – we usually know how they should be sorted. (Although, it turns out that there are also common recycling mistakes made.) For more complicated items like clothes and electronic waste, there is usually a need to do some research. Find out which stores nearby collect them and bring them there – I’m sure the amount culled away from your decluttering exercise would be worth that trip there!


The order of preference for options 1 to 3 depends on the person making the decision and the item itself. However, option 4 should always be the last option because even though recycling is a part of sustainability, it is expensive and resource intensive. And unlike the other options where we either retain or add value to the item, recycling reduces an item to its material state which needs to be processed again to create something else.

There are many ways to get rid of unwanted items. Decluttering your home doesn’t necessarily mean piling up landfills.


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