READER QUESTION: What To Do When Decluttering Feels Wasteful

posted by Andrea | 12/14/2018

I’ve always been a perpetual purger as I know I MUST stay on top of the clutter to prevent it from spiraling out of control (which happens quickly when 6 people bring more stuff into our home every day!)

Sometimes I do feel a little wasteful — purging, trashing, and recycling things so regularly; but at this point in my life, I don’t have the extra space to store everything, or the extra energy required to deal with so much stuff.

If you’ve ever felt wasteful after a good purge, I think you’ll relate to this Reader Question.

Reader Question:

Hi Andrea! I love your blog. It has inspired me to make many changes to simplify my life, so thank you!

There is one thing I struggle with that I’m hoping you can help me solve… I find that I hold on to things so I don’t waste them.

For example, I have Windex spray and other cleaning products that I rarely use. It is still good, but I don’t want just to throw it away. I don’t know where to donate opened things like that though, and it feels ridiculously wasteful just to throw them away to create room.

I find the same in some food things. I might buy something for a new recipe and then find out we don’t like that recipe, and I am stuck with opened food that I won’t use.

I would love any tips you have.

Thanks! 

I think for me, with 4 young kids, I’ve gotten better at purging (even if it IS wasteful) because we just can’t have so much stuff in our house. I don’t have tons of extra storage space like I did before!

That said, I have often struggled with these same issues — specifically cleaning products, food items, and personal hygiene products.

I don’t have a perfect system by any means, but here’s how I deal with those 3 categories.

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Cleaning Products:

Over the past 10 years, I have drastically scaled back on the number of store-bought cleaning products I use. I’m to the point where I make the majority of my own cleaners — which is really nice for our budget, for our storage space, and probably for our health too!

I do keep toilet bowl cleaner and sanitizing wipes in each bathroom, a bunch of rags and Swiffer pads in our half bath, and a small basket of laundry supplies by the washer and dryer (which is currently STILL in our basement!)

Ironically, I get TONS of cleaning products given to me from various companies who want me to promote their brands! Since I very rarely end up using or promoting these freebie items, I’m left with lots of extra (unneeded) cleaning products that could potentially take up lots of space in my home.

My current solution is to first ask a few closer friends and family members if they want anything. Then I donate the rest.

We have a thrift store by us that has confirmed they will take my cleaning products (even if they are opened and only partially full) to use to clean their own facilities.

This is a no-brainer for me — it’s quick and easy to drop off the products, and I know they can use them eventually.

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Food:

As I’ve mentioned before, I absolutely HATE wasting food — however, I also hate wasting prime real-estate in my kitchen on items I don’t need, use, or even want.

I guess my first (and best) way of preventing wasted food is to stop and consider my food purchases before I even buy them in the first place. I often try to do without buying an ingredient JUST for ONE recipe — instead, I’ll try to use something similar I already have in the house. You can check Google or Pinterest to find helpful substitutions for just about any ingredient!

If I do buy the ingredient to make a recipe we don’t love, my next step is to look for new recipes using those same ingredients and hope we like the new recipes better!

If we still don’t like the new recipe but I feel others might, I’ll make a large batch to take to a potluck or group party. I’ve done this a couple of times and have even been asked for the recipe — ha!!

Food is sort of a case-by-case basis for me. On one hand, if it’s just one small spice jar, I will probably hang onto it for a while as it doesn’t take up all that much space and they are fairly pricey.

However, if it’s a larger item taking up more space, I’d lean towards tossing it… and then I’d make a mental note not to buy it again!

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Personal Hygiene Items:

The number of free personal hygiene items I’ve gotten over the years is astonishing — in fact, there have been many times when I’ve actually gotten PAID to “buy” toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, lotion, makeup, etc. etc.

I used to love playing the “drugstore game”, but then I realized HOW MUCH SPACE all those items were taking up in my home.

I regularly donated most of these freebies to a Basket Ministries program at our church and a Budget Mentoring program through another church. Both organizations request these specific items and I was happy to unload my stash.

However, more and more, I’ve found that it’s just not worth it for me to even stock up on these freebie deals to begin with. Our family is to the point where we prefer certain brands, and we are willing to pay a bit more for those brands… so the good deals I get on personal hygiene items just sit unused until I make a point to donate them again

For now, I’ve simply decided that unless it’s an item someone in our own family uses regularly, I won’t buy it — even if it’s free.

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Again, I realize my system isn’t perfect — there is still some time, money, space, and energy wasted buying, storing, and dealing with these unloved and unused products.

However, I think it has to be a balancing act of figuring out what is more important to us in different seasons of life. Maybe there are seasons of your life when you have more space, more money, more time, more energy, etc. and that will affect how you deal with these types of situation.

For example, I have less time, energy, and space to store, clean around, and think about random things we don’t need, use, want, or love — so I’m much more inclined to purge immediately (even if it is a little wasteful). However, there have been other seasons of life when I’ve tried my best to use up every drop of everything so I didn’t waste a thing.

Ultimately, I’d encourage you to find YOUR happy medium — a place where you are not needlessly wasteful, but also not letting your home get overtaken by stuff you don’t need or use.

And if you end up being slightly wasteful, just chalk it up to a good learning experience and try not to let it happen again!

How do you handle these more “wasteful purges”?

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40 comments

  1. Tina

    08/25/2019

    I give to local non profit groups. There are two food pantries near us. When we had toothpaste we couldn’t use, soap in a four pack with 3 bars left, and laundry detergent that made us itch, it was given to the food pantry. We don’t need 5000 staples or 100 envelopes. We can share with others. They share with us. Or just pass them on.

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  2. Christine A Macdonnell

    12/18/2018

    Andrea- another solution to the commercial cleaners is to remember those products are possibly 99% water so you shouldn’t worry about it too much. A way to get rid of them is to pour then into unused cat litter and dispose in your regular trash. It’s not the best solution. That would be to stop buying them because they all pretty much do the same thing. Using vinegar, real soap, distilled water, baking soda, and Bar Keepers Friend, are all you need. Happy purging!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Good suggestions. Thanks Christine!

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  3. Avia

    12/18/2018

    I just figure it’s being wasted whether it’s in my house or in the garbage.

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    Andrea Reply:

    exactly!

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  4. Mary in Maryland

    12/17/2018

    I offer ingredients that we’ll never use up to friends. I also pioneered rehoming food on our local freecycle group. And someone brings food into church and leaves it in the fridge. I often take that to the Refugee Center where students play bingo to win vegetables.

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  5. Karla

    12/16/2018

    I have no problem getting rid of stuff. However, I have a close friend who has a garage, basement and whole house full of stuff she has no use for! The difference is she spends a lot of money on buying things in the first place. She also loves to shop and therefore her kids have every new toys, way more clothes than they could ever wear etc. So when she has spent $80 on a sweater for her kid, or $45 on the brand new special edition Barbie, she has a lot of trouble just giving those things away or even selling them for cheap. She feels that they still have a lot of value left. Therefore, her entire house and life is full of stuff that she can’t seem to get rid of. I on the other hand buy cheap and used on items that I know aren’t going to stick around long. (Kids clothes, toys etc.) Then when I want to get rid of those items, I have no problem just giving them away. Just wanted to share my experience with this topic.

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    Andrea Reply:

    this is SUCH a good point Karla! Yes, we get almost everything CHEAP so it’s no big deal to purge it when we don’t want to any longer. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Debbie

    12/14/2018

    I use Freecycle or post on my FB garage sale pages to get rid of items that are still useful, but not necessarily “donate-able”. I usually have them do porch pickup and they are taken pretty quick. Sometimes you do get flaky people who respond they want the item, but never show up to pick it up, so that’s a pain. But I’ve been able to re-home a lot of items that way so they don’t get tossed in the dump or lost in the donation piles. You almost always can find someone who wants it!

    We had a broken king-sized bedframe & headboard that could probably be fixed by someone handy with wood. My husband wanted me to throw it out, but said I would try to see if someone would take it first before sending it to the landfill. I posted it on Freecycle and someone actually came to take it!

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    Andrea Reply:

    well I guess the saying is true “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!”

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  7. Rhonda

    12/14/2018

    I have started to purge little cheap plastic toys (such as thing you might get a fast food, or “prizes” at schools or events). If my kids play with them a few weeks and then never look at them again, I periodically toss in the trash. It does feel wasteful, but I am not sure what to do with that stuff. I don’t think even Goodwill wants it. Maybe there is some creative recycling company like Terracycle that takes those items in certain geographical areas, but I don’t know of options in rural areas. Ugh.

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    Nancy Reply:

    It does help with guilt if I can find someone who wants my free stuff. My church uses donated small toys as bingo prizes at an after-school program. I have given things away online and at garage sales, and make use of a free exchange table at my workplace. On my list presently is sorting through linens to see what can be donated and what needs to go. I hear that animal shelters take old bedding, but the ones near me don’t list it as a needed item. Maybe worth a phone call, but that requires time and energy. Andrea’s right, it’s best to be really thoughtful about what comes into our space in the first place.

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    Debbie Reply:

    Some of our neighbors who volunteer at local animal shelters regularly post they need old bedding for the animals to sleep on. Try asking them even if it isn’t posted as need.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, those junky toys are the worst! they are small so you think “whatever, it’s no big deal” but then you realize you have 40 of them and they are taking over your home!
    I’d just trash them and try not to feel guilty!

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    Becky Reply:

    If they’re in good shape, teachers at an elementary or preschool might like them for a “prize box” for teamwork, behavior, whatever.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Good idea!

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    Rhonda Reply:

    It’s funny…I am on our local school board, and we are trying to get the school away from food or treats as rewards, in order to promote wellness. Well then, what do you replace it with? Prizes. Stuff. At least food is consumable! In my head, I go back and forth on this one.

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    Rhonda Reply:

    Good suggestions…thanks!

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  8. Bonnie'sMama

    12/14/2018

    Similar to donating opened cleaning products to a thrift store, I’ve donated them to my church. I’ve also donated opened lotions for the ladies’ restrooms at church. I’ve given hand soaps to a church school.

    When you pitch out mistake food, you also throw out the guilt that comes with having wasted your money. Consider it the price you paid for learning your family didn’t like that food. It’s too bad we can’t get that food to the starving children around the world, but you’re not helping anybody at all by keeping it. Throwing it out will help you and your family, though.

    Throwing out food still makes me squirm a little, but this perspective does help.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I like this idea — paying for the new knowledge you have that your family doesn’t like a food!

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  9. Hilda

    12/14/2018

    I used to feel guilty about some of the waste, but it taught me to shop better, not let “free” things into my home unless we will use them, and to give things away sooner so they are more useful to someone else. As for where to give things… everything mentioned already, plus I’ve given away open items on Freecycle or in FB freebie groups. There’s always someone interested!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes! I used to stock up on all the freebies, but now I pass on them unless we will actually use them SOON

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  10. Lori Martin

    12/14/2018

    I have kept toiletry items that I fIgured I would eventually use. Turns out that lotion separates and toothpaste gets hard. Now I feel no guilt about passing things on or letting go.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yup, toiletries definitely go bad. We had deodorant go rancid on us (we found a “lost” stick in the back of a cabinet this summer) that was nasty!

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  11. Margaret

    12/14/2018

    I can often “place” stuff at work. At times we have had an exchange table in the service hallway. Quite often I just ask people–either at work or at church–if they can use an item before I donate or trash it; I just rehomed a mini food processor I got as a freebie and never used. When I realized I was finally through menopause (yahoo) i disposed of all the remaining product either by asking young co-workers if they could use it or just putting it in the restrooms at work with a “free to a good home” sign. Was able to donate some unused heartworm medication to a pet rescue run by one of my dog club members. I have given open but unused OTC meds to co-workers.
    All these items were small, which made them easy to deliver, but expensive enough to make it worthwhile.
    In my area “scrappers” often cruise the night before trash pickup looking for metal. I’ve got rid of things like a metal futon frame that way. The trash would take it, but if someone will make a couple of dollars on it, and–bonus–keep it out of the landfill I’m all for it.
    I’ve also been on the receiving end. Got a bunch of scrubs, after I lost weight, from co-workers who had gained weight, and a large bottle of Tide Free and Clear from a friend who found out too late that it wouldn’t work in her HE machine.
    But the best answer is not to let crap in the door in the first place.

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — yes! Just don’t let it in to begin with!
    Thanks for all your ideas and suggestions!

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  12. Meghan

    12/14/2018

    Yes – I used to have so much guilt about throwing items out that I would feel anxiety about purging. I think reading your blog has normalized purging for me, so I actually enjoy getting rid of things now. We live on a fairly busy road, and I when I feel like someone could want my items I put them at the end of the driveway. Even if it takes a few days, everything always gets taken. However, then I feel bad contributing to someone else’s clutter/ junk problem! We live in the country in a very mixed socioeconomic area. In a nice neighborhood, I doubt anyone would take this junk.

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — yay! Glad I’m helping you to purge more!!!

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  13. Kate

    12/14/2018

    I’ll donate something if I have the opportunity, but otherwise I just toss things. I look at it this way- storing something I know I’m not actually going to use is not any less wasteful than throwing it out. It’s not the throwing something away that’s wasteful , it’s the not using it. Keeping it and not using it just wastes the space as well as the item. It takes some being honest with yourself though- because as long as you keep an item you can convince yourself that you might of waste it, but how often is that actually the truth. if you aren’t willing to use something now then you aren’t going to use it in the future- so it’s already wasted you might as well get rid of it.

    I also find that too much clutter from unwanted, “wasted” items can lead to inadvertently wasting other things. It’s easy for excess clutter to make it harder to see and know what you have. I find that when my house is filled with only things we actually use, it’s so much easier to keep track of things, take care of things, and we waste leas in general.

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    Ann Reply:

    Amen to this! I agree 100%! Throwing it away does not make it wasteful. Keeping it & NOT using is wasteful PLUS it takes up valuable space & clutters our house & our ability to find NEEDED items!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I agree with this too — just get it OUT OF MY HOUSE ASAP!!!
    And yes, by keeping things that turn into clutter, it’s easier to lose other things we actually need and want.

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  14. Casey

    12/14/2018

    I used to feel the same way–I’m a perpetual purger myself, and we are only a family of 3! Here are some of the things I do:

    -Offer it up for free on my local Facebook garage sale page. I’ve never had someone not take something. That includes everything from half used bottles of washer fluid, expired canned goods, and half used paint cans of random colors. There is also the

    -Use the Buy Nothing Project website to find a group near you and post your things on there! :https://buynothingproject.org/find-a-group/comment-page-1/

    -When I lived in the city (harder to do in the country), you can put it on the curb with a “for free” sign.

    -If you have a friend having a garage sale, ask if you can place boxes of “Free” items near the cash checkout table. I’ve had boxes of half used shampoo, cleaning products, etc. be gone in minutes.

    I’m much most careful of what I purchase and what comes into my home at this point, so I rarely have to do these things anymore–but they certainly helped while I was beginning to purge.

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    Stephanie Reply:

    Great ideas! I’ve definitely found the more I have purged/minimalized over the years, the more mindful and, therefore, less wasteful I’ve become.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yeah, after purging a lot, it’s easier to resist buying more because I don’t want to clutter up our house again!

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    Katherine Reply:

    Yes to all of this! We have a “Buy Nothing” group on fb and that is a wonderful way to pass on things that are in good shape but don’t work for your family. This morning I am giving away a money tree plant that I am tired to fiddling with and a weather channel thingy that lets my kids know how to dress for the weather today. I specify “porch pickup by the weekend” and someone swings by and put that item to good use! I’m a fan.

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    Andrea Reply:

    cool — this sounds fantastic!
    and what… you don’t want a money tree!?! 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing this link Casey — I’ve never heard of that group before! So cool!
    Also, the Free boxes at garage sales are the best!

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    Jas Reply:

    Craigslist also has a “free” section. I always post things on there before throwing them out and they always get taken. Even if you post something that is broken (and are honest about what’s wrong with it), someone else might be able to fix it or find another use for it, you never know. It feels less wasteful than tossing right away.

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    Andrea Reply:

    oh yes, good to note! I will say that I personally don’t love using the free section of Craigslist because I get SOOOOO many no-shows and so many emails. If i use it, I just put our address and remove my contact information so no one can contact me! I then remove the add when the free items are gone.

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    Sue Reply:

    A big huge second to the “Buy Nothing” group. It has been so good for us to purge while benefiting someone else. And if you need something, you can also ask (I got a queen size bed frame and a comforter for my daughter when she got her own place). It’s also very community building – truly a win-win-win for all involved! It requires only the time to take a photo and share it to the group with a brief description.

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