Conscientious Discarding: How to Unload Your Possessions Without Destroying the Planet

Waste, low-waste, zero-waste. When I think of these concepts I think of packaging, one-use items or the disposables that pervade our lives. And I’ve been single-minded about reducing my consumption of these things. But those aren’t the only discards that can take up space in the garbage can and the landfill.

Fact is that there are loads of other things a typical American like myself will collect and then discard. This became very clear to me upon moving my household three months ago. I thought I had been super thoughtful about which items I acquired, wanting to fill my home only with sustainably sourced objects of purpose and longevity. Yet somehow I had piles of things that I needed to get rid of. So– how to do it without simply creating more waste? How to discard these items in a conscientious way? 

For many, including my former self, the default solution is to donate it all to a charity shop like Goodwill. I see this mentioned frequently when someone is doing a Marie Kondo makeover on their home, for example. But if these items don’t sell, or get broken along the way (which can happen quite easily when such a volume of objects is being moved every day) they may still be destined for a landfill. 

If you want to give these objects a shot at fulfilling their purpose for a little while longer, passing them on to someone who truly wants to use them is a better option. It takes a bit more time and forethought, but not as much as you might think. Check out some of the methods I used during my last move:

Sell it fast on Facebook Marketplace & Craigslist: Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are exceptionally effective for quickly unloading items you no longer need. We were really down to the wire and only had a couple of days to get rid of some things. Many items sold on these platforms within hours (at the right price of course). This is especially good for large items that you can’t ship- like bookcases and just about any kind of furniture. I only recommend selling things that still function well or are gently used. If something is in poor condition, it might be a better idea to give it away for free. *Sidenote- I know some people have had lots of luck with OfferUp and LetGo too. These didn’t work so well for me, but that might have been because of the items I was selling. I’d love to know if these have worked for you!

Sell it more slowly online (especially shoes & clothing): Other places to sell are eBay, Poshmark, Mercari. In my experience, these platforms can take a little more time. Also, you need to ship, so they’re better for smaller things. And they’re really excellent for shoes and clothing (in nice condition of course). So if you’re getting a head start on the moving process or just paring down your possessions, this can be a really nice way to make some extra cash and pass something along to a person who will be very excited to have it.

Put it in the “FREE” box: This is my new favorite way to get rid of just about anything. We live in a part of Philadelphia with a lot of foot traffic, so we just put a box outside with anything we wanted to give away and a giant “free” sign. It was an extremely effective way to get rid of just about everything we felt we couldn’t sell, or just didn’t have the time to. Will these items still end up in someone’s garbage? Possibly. But as someone that has collected many free items from similar boxes, I will say that I actually still use all of them to this day. 

Give it away for free on Craigslist or Freecycle: List it in the free section of Craigslist or post it on Freecycle. This can be a good solution for those who don’t have as much foot traffic at their home. If you don’t want to deal with arranging a meeting, you can put it at your curb and put a “curb alert” notice up on Craigslist. It’ll be gone in a jiffy.

Recycle it: If something is in really rough shape- too rough to be given away or sold, the next best option is recycling of some kind. This can take different forms depending on what the object is. I’ve got lots of ideas under the “Recycling” tab here on this blog. If you don’t find your recycling solution there, Google or a similar search engine can be a very powerful tool- fortunately there are lots of bloggers posting about the creative recycling solutions they’ve found for various items. Feel free to leave a note in the comments for any recycling solutions you’ve found!

Donate it: So yes, in my last move I did end up taking some items to Goodwill. Truthfully, they were primarily clothing and textiles that I couldn’t get rid of it time. (I think people are a lot less likely to take textiles from a “free” box because they just don’t know where they’ve been.) I shop at thrift stores very regularly, so I know there is a market for items donated there. However, I also visit the Goodwill Outlet bins regularly and see the astounding volume of discarded items moving through these places, and how much likely goes to waste. For this reason, I think donating should be a step of last resort when possible. That being said, it is still far superior to making another landfill donation!

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