Minimalism and Sustainability


When you get interested in Minimalism, one of the first question you ask your self is - “What do I do with the stuff that I don’t need?“. Well, the obvious answer might be - throw it away. But sometimes, the things that I don’t need are things that still work or function properly. And throwing away a working item, makes me… sad.

So I came up with the following 5 step system to help me decide what to do with an item that no longer “sparks joy” (c).

1. Is it useable AND sellable without too much effort?

The first step in my 5 step evaluation system gives the maximum benefit to me. I can rid of an item I no longer need and get some of its monetary value back.

For every item I no longer need or which I’ve replaced with better version of it, I ask this question: Is it useable / in a working condition and can I sell it without too much effort?

If the item is broken, I move to the next step in this list.

If selling it requires too much effort for example a rare item that no one needs; a piece of cloth and practically impossible to sell (however I’ve managed to sell an unworn cardigan once); the ratio between the money I can make versus the time I’ll invest in answering messages / phone calls, meeting with people and price negotiation - is too low - I move to the next step in this list.

Tips: Use your local selling groups on Facebook. You can also try Facebook market place and dedicated websites for second hand items (I know that in U.S. you have Craigslist and eBay).

2. Can it be gifted / donated / given away without too much effort?

If I’m not able to sell the item, I look for giving it away - either to friends or family, or strangers who were looking for such item. Some friend may need wine glasses that I no longer need. An organization that works with children who has disabilities might need an old PC I no longer use.

Of course not all items are giveable. Sometimes there are no friends in need of my items or there is no charity that willing to accept old items or finding such charity takes too much time (for example driving to a different city) - then I go to the next bullet.

A side note for this - some items are better given away in bulk. The other day I was decluttering and I collected a bunch of PC cables, USB thumb drives and some other peripherals. Selling them according to bullet 1 is too cumbersome - I’m not sure if they work, no body is going to buy a second hand PC cable and the amount of time I’d invest in selling them compared to the income I can get, is not worth it. I could just recycle them or throw them away, but instead I found a local Makers community, posted on their Facebook that I have a bunch of stuff that I don’t need, I don’t know in want condition it is and I’m willing to give it to the first person who will come and take all of it. Withing 2-3 hours, I gave everything away.

3. Is it working / useable / not broken AND can be left on the street?

Note: I’m not sure what are the laws in each country. The country I live in, its pretty common to leave old stuff on the street so somebody will take it. Check your local laws.

Sometimes, some items are perfectly useable but its hard to give them away. Shoes for example. In such cases I try to leave such items on the street, where they can be seen. Strangers can bypass and take them. Usually it happens on the same day. If not, I’ll pick this item up the next day and proceed to step 4 in this list.

4. Can it be recycled without too much hassle?

Once again, this depends on your local laws, but in my country there are recycling facilities for textile, electronics, glass and etc. I always opt out for recycling before throwing away. However if it takes too much time, I’d most likely just throw it away.

The other day I wanted to recycle an old PC mouse. I went to my local recycling center but due to COVID they were closed. I tried another one, but due to bureaucracy they won’t let me inside the building and the guard refused to take the mouse for me. This is too much hassle. I’ve already invested time in going to those recycling facilities, and with a great feeling of sadness I had to just throw it away.

5. Throw it away

Nothing to add. If you can’t sell it, give it away or recycle it - then throw it away.

Transitioning into a more minimalist life style, or even just replacing items I no longer like / need / use with better versions - always raise the question, for me, as what to do with the old item. I try to leave a positive print on the environment and defaulting to throwing away old items - felt wrong for me.

Getting some money back or making someone happier by giving them items I no longer use - felt like a good middle ground for me.

I hope this 5 step evaluation system will help you as well.

This post was inspired by a reddit post I’ve created 2 months ago.