Any aspiring minimalist or zero-waste living enthusiast will eventually run into the ethical issues with getting rid of stuff. Most of us who are on this lifestyle path haven't been minimalists or conscious consumers from birth, so how do we dispose of all the stuff we've accumulated that we don't want or need without contributing toward the environmental stress that's being placed on our planet by our massive amounts of cast off goods...
I generally don't support big thrift shops. Only about 20% of what gets donated to those Goodwill-type stores is actually put out for sale. The rest is sorted and either sent to landfill or shipped overseas- and the crazy surplus of cheap American fashion in developing companies has ruined many countries' own textile/clothing industries and contributed to the lack of sustainable work. Kind of like how Toms dumps shoes in "poor" communities and brings ruin to local shoemakers, or how we dump excess crops from the US into Haiti and put local farmers out of business. In addition, the financials and "charitable giving" of these big-box thrift stores are somewhat sketchy. Goodwill, for example, pays top executives millions per year while paying workers as little as 22 cents an hour.
Since I've been trying to avoid simply hauling bags of my no-longer-wanted stuff to a donation site at Goodwill or Salvation Army, I've had to get a bit more creative (and alot slower) as I downsize my belongings. Here are some ways that I've been able to get rid of my old "junk" in a more sustainable way:
Many non profits and art organizations accept donations of used art supplies. I was able to recently get rid of a bunch of old card stock, half-used acrylic paints, brushes, and more by donating it to a local group that teaches free art classes to youth.
Free The Girls collects used bras to donate to a social enterprise in Mozambique where women repair and remake the undergarments and sell them in the local market. I've donated to Free The Girls several times... and will most likely continue to do so because I haven't found a better alternative and I believe very strongly in providing jobs for women leaving the sex trafficking industry. However, I am going to be honest and say that I don't love the organizations messaging and the general rescue-y vibe. In addition, I know that donating used goods to be sold in overseas markets can be quite detrimental to the local economy and apparel industry. However, I still believe that donating used bras to be refurbished and worn again is a better alternative than throwing them in the landfill. You can mail bras to Free the Girls, or see if there is a local drop off center near you. I drop mine off at a local midwifery office!
When getting rid of clothing, I go by a certain formula:
2. Give Away
5. Trash or compost
First, I always try to sell my lightly used clothing. Not because I need to get money from my old stuff, but because my philosophy is that people place more value on stuff when it's not free, and think more carefully about whether they want something or not. For example, when I go to a clothing swap and am faced with piles of free clothes, I am far more likely to pick up something that I don't really need/won't end up wearing a lot!
Second, I'll give away anything that my friends or family want. Thankfully I have two sisters who wear similar sizes! Sometimes this step is first, if I'm getting rid of a piece that I know a certain friend would like or fit into well.
Third, I try to repurpose. If an item isn't sellable or easy to give away, most likely it's a bit ratty. I tear old cotton tees into rags, make headbands from old shirts, and have even made cloth napkins from some of Andrew's old button downs.
Fourth is donation. This, of course, is only for things in good condition, and only as a last resort if I haven't been able to give them away, sell them, or repurpose them. When I do donate, I donate to a small local thrift and vintage shop rather than Goodwill.
Fifth is Trash. Thankfully I don't have to use this option very often, but occasionally some of Andrew's work shirts will be so torn up, filled with holes, and covered with glue that they aren't salvageable for any purpose. Anything that's 100% natural fiber gets composted, a few things do find their way to the trash can.
I recently donated a basket of old, ratty towels to the humane society. They wouldn't have been re-sellable or re-purpose-able but they will make fine beds for cute puppies. I bring blankets I no longer need to my brother who works with folks who are stuck out on the street during our cold Midwest winters.
Household Goods in LIKE NEW condition can be donated to organizations working with international refugees (if you're here in MN, try Arrive Ministries). You can also look for non profits offering housing/shelter to those in need of it, they often take donations of furniture, dishes, appliances, etc.
Look for a electronics recycling center in your area for things like broken kitchen appliances and outdated personal electronics (like super old cell phones). Andrew and I recently brought an old, broken microwave to Tech Dump here in the Twin Cities. We had to pay a small recycling fee, but it's definitely worth it to me to know that it's not sitting in a landfill! Broken/no longer used computers and more up-to-date cell phones can be sold to companies that will refurbish and resell them, like Gazelle or Glyde or Swappa.
I've always had great luck getting rid of even ugly and old furniture on Craigslist. I think that the current trend in furniture DIY/refurbishing is pretty fantastic and hope that it sticks around (though, admittedly, I am a bit worried about what's going to happen in three years when chalkboard paint/ chippy paint isn't in style any longer).
Things that I'm still working on figuring out what to do with without dumping them:
- A multitude of chipped dishes (I regretted the cheap set of cups, plates, and bowls I got at Target years ago almost immediately. I've since replaced them with a sturdy set of vintage made-in-the-usa dishes, but the old ones are lurking in the back of my cupboard).
- Various household decor items that don't seem worth the effort of photographing and listing on craigslist (picture frames, knick knacks, etc).
- Old CDs and DVDs (I need to check to see if these can be recycled at Tech Dump).
Any ideas? What creative ways have you found to donate/downsize while minimizing your contributions to landfills?