Archive for the ‘Using less’ Category

What is green decluttering?

That might seem a simple question. Not so I’m discovering. Developing the products I’m going to be offering through the green decluttering service I’ll be launching soon (watch this space!), has had me examine what I mean by green decluttering.

Some decluttering experts seem to concentrate solely on being organised, or tidy. Others solely on reducing the amount of stuff someone has. Some focus strongly on cleaning. None seem to make a link with living a low impact life.

Here’s what I mean by decluttering:

  • Reducing the amount of stuff you acquire, own and consume (including by acquiring less, moving stuff on, repairing damaged things, and finding new uses for things you already own)
  • Organising your stuff
  • Tidying your space.

Personally, I do it to fulfil three aims:

  • To reduce my environmental impact
  • To make my home work for me efficiently (so I can lay my hand easily on what I want to use, when I want to use it)
  • To have my home look lovely.

For me there is an obvious link between decluttering and living a low impact life. It reduces our own consumption of course. And, by moving stuff we own and no longer need on to people and places where it will get used, it reduces other people’s consumption – people use our unwanted stuff rather than buying new stuff.

Plus, by minimsing the stuff we hold onto, it reduces the amount of space we need to occupy. We need fewer cupboards, shelves, drawers and boxes, and maybe even smaller living spaces.

If you’re green-minded, it’s tempting to hoard stuff. It feels wasteful to move it on if there’s the slightest chance you might use it again. And it can be hard to admit to yourself that a purchase was a mistake. I find myself keeping things for years on the basis that I might use them someday. And sometimes, I do bring something back into use after years of disuse.

More often though I don’t. And there’s nothing green about hoarding unused stuff. It’s a waste.

So these days I aim to move things on as much as possible. The advent of Freecycle/Freegle has helped as it’s easier than ever to move things on with a good chance that they will get used.

The fact is, I LOVE green decluttering. I get such satisfaction from moving stuff out of my house. Especially if it goes to someone who’s going to make good use of it. I feel so pleased with myself for using a towel or a T-shirt or a pair of jeans until they’re threadbare and then turning them into a moisture mat for my worm composter.

Recently I’ve come to realise how many people want help to declutter, organise and live lower impact lives. And I’ve noticed how much I do to help people in those areas. Friends often ask me for advice on the lowest impact way to do something, green alternatives and how to dispose of unwanted items in eco-friendly ways.

So I’m launching a green decluttering consultancy, to help green-minded people who feel worn down by their clutter and long  to have beautiful homes and workspaces.

If that’s you, help me tailor the products and services I’m developing to address your specific problems. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me what gets you down most about your clutter. How do you feel about decluttering? What’s your guiltiest green secret? Your biggest green challenge/dilemma? What help do you want/need?

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Make the whole world a library

One of the most common types of clutter is books. They seem to have a mystique about them that encourages us to hold on to them. Is it because we feel the sight of lots of (tasteful?) books on our shelves projects a certain image about ourselves? Or because we subconsciously believe that the proximity of all that knowledge and erudition will cause at least some of it magically to transfer itself to our brains? Or do we fear not being able to put our hands on a piece of information or quote that we’ve once read?

I used to keep all books that came into my possession. Stacked up on overladen bookshelves. I liked the idea that I could get a fiction book down if I wanted to reread a passage, and I held onto lots of non-fiction as I was sure the contents would be useful ‘someday’.

Then I joined BookCrossing. BookCrossers register books on the BookCrossing website, and write a unique reference number (a BCID) in each book, along with a message explaining how BookCrossing works. Then we leave our books in public places in the hope that whoever finds them will log them on the website. When they do, the finder’s message is added to that book’s ‘journal’ and we get an email to let us know. (Of course, we also pass books between other BookCrossers and people we know personally).

Released book

I left a book at Brighton railway station yesterday. I let you know if it gets journalled.

I don’t hear from all my books again straight away. Though I never know when I might. Nearly two years after I left The Optimist’s Daughter in a phone box in Dorset, having just finished walking the South West Coast Path, I got a message saying it had been to Brazil and was now off to Toronto. Who knows where it is now?

Other times, a book jumps from owner to owner quickly, with journal entries that make me laugh out loud. This Dictionary of Quotations & Proverbs was journalled several times in quick succession.

Nearly a third of the books I’ve ‘released’ have been journalled again since.

Soon I was pulling down books to release and wondering why I’d kept them all these years. I found books I was never going to read again, books I couldn’t remember reading, books that had moved house with me several times even though I didn’t even think they were any good…

It freed me up. Before I became a BookCrosser, I kept a record of the books I’d lent out and felt aggrieved if someone failed to return a book, or returned it in a much worse state that it was in when they borrowed it. Now I don’t care. Once I’ve read a book, what’s the point of it cluttering up my house? Chances are I’ll never want to read it again and, if I do, I’ll easily be able to get hold of a copy from a library or online.

Close up of BookCrossing release

Close up of The Meaning of Night at Brighton railway station. My note says "Travelling book. Please take. See inside :-)".

I haven’t completely let go. I now keep:

  • books I haven’t read yet (and am intending to!)
  • about a dozen of my absolute favourites
  • books set in my beloved home town of Brighton (only good ones though)
  • some classics (this is probably the least justifiable as they are so easily available)
  • recipe books
  • books I’m in (there aren’t many!)
  • coffee table books
  • non-fiction/reference books that I’m genuinely likely to use.

That’s the theory anyway. In truth, my shelves still contain lots of books that I could move on. Ah well, maybe I’ll shift some more when my bookshelves come up in my decluttering schedule. And I already have two clear shelves. Wow, I love the feeling of space that gives me.

And I never buy books, even secondhand. Most of my books come (and go) through BookCrossing and, if I find myself running short of reading material, a trip to the library, or a loan from a friend, soon sorts that out.

The only exception is guide books, which are tricky because they go out of date so quickly. The ones available to borrow from my local library are usually at least one edition out of date. So I do sometimes buy guide books when I travel. These days I Freegle/Freecycle  them or pass them to charity shops as soon as I get back, before they’ve dated too much. My old ones probably wouldn’t sell though. I have them marked as ‘available’ on BookCrossing (which tells other BookCrossers that I’m ready to move them on and it’s worth contacting me to see if I’d like to do a swap) and local Freeglers/Freecyclers sometimes ask for a guidebook saying that they’re only interested in the information on sights, so the age of the book doesn’t matter.

BookCrossing‘s probably not the LOWEST impact way of reading. We post books to each other, using (and reusing) jiffy bags and the fossil fuels involved in transporting them. Plus a proportion of the ones we wild release (i.e. leave lying around to be found) probably get thrown away by overzealous cleaning staff. Using the library has got to be lower impact. BookCrossing‘s fun though and makes you part of a community. Plus using a library didn’t shift my attitude to keeping books the way BookCrossing has. I didn’t expect it to be such a great clutter clearer when I joined.

Beware though. BookCrosser’s tend to be generous and, if you’re not careful, you could end up with more books than you started with.

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The party’s over yet the fun continues

So, what to do with the leftovers from the decluttering rummage pot-luck party…

The clothes and shoes are easy. I’ll bag them up and put them in a charity clothes bin.

The rest of the leftovers are books (including loads about digital design), CD-Roms (mostly educational), a DVD, a few videos and a couple of CDs, plus some computer peripherals.

Oh and a plastic dragon and a Postman Pat badge.

I listed all these items on Freecycle /Freegle this evening, individually naming each of them.

I’m getting some fabulous replies.

A student wants a couple of the digital design books to help with her course.

A teacher wants the rest of the digital design books, plus  a few others for the library at her school.

Another teacher wants the CD-Roms for her school.

Someone wants the computer peripherals for the club rooms of a residents’ association.

And the guy who fixed my hairdyer wants a video, a CD-Rom and a book.

How fab is that? I thought this stuff would be hard to shift.

Now I’m delighted that I devoted half an hour to typing out the name of each item. Things are more likely to get used if they go to people who request specific ones, rather than as a job lot to a charity shop.

I can’t tell you how much it pleases my decluttering low impact heart to pass individually requested items on to people. I’m looking forward to seeing the items go out of the door tomorrow, and the smiles on the collectors’ faces.

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Make do and mend

Once again, Brighton’s Freecycling community comes up trumps. My decades-old hairdryer starting cutting out recently and a cursory investigation revealed the problem: the flex was splitting at the point where it entered the body of the hairdryer.

HairdryerWhile I could probably have picked up a new hairdryer for £15, it seemed a shame to take my old one to the household waste recycling site, when I knew it could be easily mended (though I didn’t have the skills to do it myself). So I posted to Brighton Freecycle Café, a discussion group for Brighton Freecyclers, asking for suggestions for how I could get it mended.

Within two days, someone had messaged me offering to repair it. He picked it up from my house, fixed it and dropped it back off the same day, asking nothing in return. What a star!

Freecycle (and Freegle) are more than ways to find new homes for your unwanted stuff, and source secondhand items you want yourself. They provide access to a community of like-minded people in your area whose members support each other to live low impact lifestyles.

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Cut your carbon noseprint

Here’s an easy way to reduce your impact: switch to cloth hankerchiefs instead of disposable tissues. Save trees, land, water and more, and reduce how much waste you sent to landfill.

A couple of years ago, an article in The Times (scroll down past the stuff on photos) said that, according to the European Tissue Symposium (the European Tissue Symposium?!), an average European uses 13kg of tissue a year (albeit including toilet tissue), which is apparently the average weight of a two-and-a-half-year-old boy. That’s a lot of tissue paper!

I switched two or three years ago and I’m still amazed that I used tissues for so many years. Why didn’t I think of it before? After all, we greenies (is that an unfortunate term for a post on this topic?) know that anything disposable=bad, right? I bought some lovely, soft, unbleached, organic cotton hankies and I’ve even found hankies (brand new in box, don’t worry) in charity shops.

I guess some people might be put off by the ick-factor. How is it any worse than carrying round a used tissue though? And there’s no danger of a hanky disintegrating in your pocket: not even in the washing machine.

They’re easy to wash. I just put them in my ordinary 30 degree white wash. And I don’t iron them: they’ll soon be scrumpled up in my pocket anyway.

The only time I use disposable tissues now is when I’ve got a heavy cold. Then I do treat myself to balm-infused tissues to stop my nose getting sore.

And the cherry on top is that this is one of those green changes that saves money. No more buying boxes of tissues. Each hankie last for years. I haven’t even yet had to face the dilemma about how worn out they have to be before I chuck them in my worm composter.

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The joy of charity-shopping

I was in Selsey, in West Sussex, on business yesterday and I noticed several charity shops as I was looking for the place I had to be. So, after my meeting, I went for a rummage. And I found a gem.

I love to cook. However, I hate to grate! It’s knackering. I’ve got a delicious borscht recipe, for example, which I hardly ever make because it requires grating half a kilo of beetroot, a carrot and an onion. Too much work! And grating onions is horrible (stinging, watering eyes and runny nose).

Some time ago, I looked for an automatic grater. They don’t seem to exist though. The only option was a complete food processor and I couldn’t justify buying one. It’d be another significant thing to own and store (I’ve already got a blender for making soups and grinding nuts, seeds, breadcrumbs etc), and it would have me using electricity to undertake tasks I could undertake manually.

Yesterday, in a charity shop in Selsey, I found this…

Kitchen mill

How grate is that? (Sorry!)

It’s a Kitchen Mill. You put pieces of whatever you want to grate in the food compartment, turn the handle and Bob’s your uncle. Easy on the arm muscles and no danger of grating your knuckles.

I’m pretty sure it’s never been used. £1.50. What a bargain. I can’t tell you how chuffed I am. Charity shops are fantastic. My problem’s solved without me buying new, someone else’s clutter is being used and the money went to charity.

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How do you decide when your towels are worn out?

How do you decide when something is ‘worn out’? For me it has to be no longer capable of fulfilling its original function before I’ll call it done for (and then I can sometimes find another use for it). Now part of the function of (most) clothes is to make us look good so I suppose you could argue that they’re ‘worn out’ once they’re so scruffy they no longer do that (though they can still be worn for messy jobs – trouble is I’ve got more clothes for messy jobs than messy jobs to do in them).

When it comes to things whose appearance is less important though, you’ll find me still using them way beyond the point when most people would chuck them out. Dishcloths, teatowels, bath towels, facecloths, (whisper it) knickers (so long as no-one else is going to see them!), bed linen, gym T-shirts. Until a towel no longer gets me dry when I’ve had a shower, I keep using it. And when it reaches that point, it goes in the compost (by that point, there’s not usually enough of it even to cut up to make a moisture mat for my wormery (more of which in my next post).

My friends think I’m bonkers of course (even though I always give guests my best towels). And I have been known to hide the most hole-ridden, thin items before I have visitors. At least I’m not as obsessive as Monica from Friends. Remember episode 4.12 of Friends, when Monica & Rachel go head to head with Joey & Chandler over who knows each other the best?

Ross: Monica categorizes her towels. How many categories are there?
Joey: Everyday use.
Chandler: Fancy.
Joey: Guest.
Chandler: Fancy guest.
Ross: Two seconds…
Joey: Uh, eleven!
Ross: 11. Unbelievable. 11 is correct.

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