How to declutter, sustainably

Living Well | Words: Patricia Maunder | Images: Getty, Unsplash | Posted on 16 November 2020

Get rid of excess stuff, sustainably, with this expert guide to decluttering your house.

If working from home and months of staring at the same four walls in lockdown have spurred you to clear out the clutter or upgrade your office equipment, don’t automatically toss all your unwanted stuff in the bin. 

There are many ways to get rid of it sustainably, including giving things in good condition to family, friends and even strangers through and op shops – ideally Charitable Recycling Australia members. Consider selling it on Gumtree or eBay, or simply check with your local council about their responsible waste options.

We’ve found some other ways you may not know about, including where to recycle tricky items like pens, old blankets and toiletry containers, as well as how to give everything from bicycles to spectacles another lease on life with someone who needs them.

Lady sitting amongst mess on the floor

Give your things another lease on life with someone who needs them.

Ways to declutter your home, sustainably

Second life for e-waste

According to Sustainability Victoria, electronic waste is growing three times faster than standard municipal waste. A lot of components from computers, phones and televisions can be recycled, so anything with plugs, power cords or batteries has been banned from Victorian landfill since 1 July 2019. Do the right thing by:

  • Organising pick-up through PonyUp for Good, which donates five meals to SecondBite for every collection. Collection is currently free for televisions and home computing.

  • Offloading old TVs at Harvey Norman stores, or get free collection when a new one is home-delivered.

  • Taking home-office equipment, cables and accessories to Officeworks stores. They also accept batteries, printer cartridges, pens and markers for recycling.

Rinse and repeat, from towels to T-shirts

According to the Australian Circular Textile Association, less than one per cent of textiles are recycled in this country. Help get that number up by donating:

  • Any brand of clothing, footwear, accessories and household linen in almost any condition at selected Zara stores, or organise pick-up through Upparel for $25 credit to spend on product the first time you participate.

  • Professional attire to charities helping those in need find employment, such as Dress for Success or Ready Set

  • Sports shoes in good condition to Shoes for Planet Earth, who will put them on needy feet, or in any condition at stores participating in the Save Our Soles recycling initiative.

  • Blankets, towels and other linen to animal shelters including RSPCA centres – which also welcome pet products like collars, bowls and litter trays.

Two piles of clothes

Less than one per cent of textiles are recycled in Australia.

Box of toys ready for donation

Give playthings a second chance.

Makeover for toiletries and cosmetics

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the average Australian uses 130 kilograms of plastic per year, of which only nine per cent is recycled. Instead of binning bathroom-cupboard clutter, try:

  • Returning empty containers to the stores of brands such as Jurlique, L’Occitane, MAC and Kiehl’s, and be rewarded with gifts or discounts.

  • Offloading any brand of razors, blades and packaging through Gillette’s free recycling program.

  • Donating hotel toiletries, airline amenity kits and other sample-size personal care products at Every Little Bit Helps collection points, so they can be given to needy people, including asylum seekers and victims of domestic violence.

Play on with toys, outdoor and sports gear

Our playthings are often made of multiple materials such as plastic, wood, textiles, rubber and metal, including electronics. This means serious hands-on work to separate them into recyclable components, so give them a second chance through:

  • Bikes4Life, which restores bicycles and donates them to impoverished families.

  • Your nearest toy library – check the Toy Libraries Australia directory.

  • The 2nd Life Project, which refurbishes outdoor gear including tents, sleeping bags and backpacks for reuse by under-resourced schools and the homeless.

  • Boots for All, which redistributes sports footwear, clothes and equipment in good condition to disadvantaged youth.

More ways to tidy up sustainably

  • Donate prescription glasses at Lions Australia collection points, including Specsavers stores, so they can be given to people in need.

  • Offload paint, varnishes, stains and sealants, or just the empty packaging, at Paintback drop-off points.

  • Give books to your nearest street library or start your own.

  • Take advantage of IKEA’s furniture buy-back scheme. 

  • From frocks to fridges and furniture, give unwanted things in good condition to those who need them via DonateDirect.

  • Enable the community to access practical items by giving them to the Brunswick Tool Library or Sharing Shed.

Editor's note: At the time of publishing, IKEA is still not offering buy-back at Victorian stores and Carlton Kitchen Library is not open to visitors (only delivering/picking up library items to/from members), so no donations at the moment.

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