declutter and simplify word cloud on a napkin with a cup of tea

In the wake of professional organizer Marie Kondo’s bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her binge-worthy Netflix show, people all over the world are testing out her trademarked KonMari Method to reorganize their lives.

The KonMari Method “encourages cherishing the things that spark joy in one’s life,” and “letting go” of belongings that don’t. It places belongings into five categories: clothes, books, paper, komono or miscellaneous, and lastly, mementos and sentimental items. For each category, Kondo advises students to put everything in one big pile, taking each item one by one and keeping only things that “spark joy.” The rest is discarded.

This method works wonders for many — and not just with decluttering. It helps individuals refocus on what really matters to them, which isn’t always “stuff.” But what do you do with the things that don’t spark joy? All the trash resulting from KonMari has environmentalists’ heads spinning. Earth911 is here to help.

Consider Reuse

As you come across belongings that don’t spark joy, think about how you can reuse them before you discard them. Maybe parts of an item are still useful, or it can serve a different purpose, eliminating the need to buy something new (and reducing your carbon footprint!). And by repurposing older, loved items, you can keep the memories alive and get new value from the items.

Some Earth911-approved ideas:

Repairing broken items or refurbishing shabby ones is also a great green option to keep in mind. If you’re not sure how to repair it, don’t be afraid to ask for help. And check out online resources, like iFixit, which offers a wide range of repair guides and an online community to get you started.

Donate Usable Items

New or gently used items can easily be donated to charitable organizations or directly to those in need. It’s an exceptionally green option when paring down excess “stuff.”

Something that may not spark joy for you may spark it in others. Do you have a pair of jeans you hardly wear or one too many mugs? Perhaps a book you’ve already read too many times to count. Local homeless shelters, churches, community centers, and thrift stores are all good options, as are larger organizations like Good Will, Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore outlets.

When you donate your old things, that material gets another use before ending up as waste. That means whoever uses that item will not need to purchase it new and no new material will need to be produced. It’s a win-win, shrinking carbon footprints left and right.

Recycle What You Can

Reduce, reuse, recycle — in that order. While reducing and reusing are your greenest options, if a belonging is past reusing, recycling is the next step. Recycling is much easier on the environment than tossing your stuff in the trash, where it’s destined for a landfill. Take time to prioritize the planet during your tidying-up adventure.

After you’ve decided which items don’t spark joy, set out to recycle everything you could not reuse or donate. Some categories, like paper and metal, are easier than others. For items that aren’t as straightforward, check out the Earth911 Recycling Guides. They cover a range of items — from electronics to old medications to carpet. To find recyclers in your area, use our Recycling Search — just type in the material you want to recycle and your ZIP code.

Beyond Recycling

Inevitably, you’ll have items that you can’t even recycle. These items are destined for the landfill. But if you’ve done your due diligence, it’s likely a small subsection of the belongings you winnowed out as no longer “sparking joy.”

The exercise of decluttering, repurposing, donating, and recycling can help you be more mindful when you make your next purchase. Is this something you really need? Do you have something else that will do the same job? Will this item bring you joy? And how will you dispose of the item when it has served its purpose?

By Lauren Murphy

Lauren has a B.S. in environmental science, a crafting addiction, and a love for all things Pacific Northwest. She writes from her cozy downtown apartment tucked in the very northwestern corner of the continental U.S. Lauren spends her time writing and focusing on a healthy, simple and sustainable lifestyle.