Waste Not Want Not

Posted On Jul 30, 2013 By Jennifer Galardi

organizing living-space

I recently moved into a new apartment and realized all my junk moved with me. I've spent the past two weeks tossing old papers, photos, pens and other things I don't need or even like. I'm not saying I belong on an episode of "Hoarders," but I've been challenged by many circumstances in my life to simplify as much as possible. With the exception of my bedroom suite, I barely have any furniture. My yoga mat, props and meditation cushion lie in the middle of a fairly empty room, a vintage desk I purchased from Craigslist for $75 beckons me to work and write.

My life is filled with things I adore, need and truly want. And that feels good.

After multiple trips to Goodwill, the recycling bin and the garbage can, I got to thinking about how weighed down I had become with my stuff. Literally. I shipped too many boxes to count from LA and NYC to Austin, only to throw half of their contents out. Not exactly economical. Now, I have space and I can breathe and I am determined to maintain a clutter free and unencumbered lifestyle. Here are FIVE rules you can follow to do the same.

1. First things first. Take half a day to clear your space, or maybe a whole day depending on how much stuff you have. Categorize it. You can spend one day attacking clothing and another powering through your office.

Rule of thumb for clothing and accessories: if you haven't worn or used it in the past two years, to Goodwill it goes. If it's couture or cool, you may even earn a buck or two from a vintage store or an online reseller like this one. Moving on to your office. Get rid of half used pens, old receipts, dried out highlighters and magazines from 1999. Organize your bills into file folders. Even better, jump to #2.

2. If you are computer savvy, take all your bills online. Setting up e-payments is an easy way to keep your mailbox free of clutter and systematically organize your bills in one place - your virtual mailbox (e-mail). You can keep a document with all your usernames and passwords or use a notebook in your office to keep all of them straight.

3. Remember the three R's: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. If you need a handy jingle to help remind you, listen here.

I've started reusing my plastic baggies if they are not totally mangled. Turn them inside out, rinse (another R!) and dry (REUSE!). The grocery stores where I live have imposed a ban on single use paper and plastic bags. If you happen to show up without your own, you buy one. Keep it in your car for subsequent visits. I'm not for telling people what to do, but I am for nudging people in the right direction toward healthy change. Don't wait for a ban. Trust me, it's a wonderful feeling to not have 800 grocery bags folded and jammed in the space between the fridge and the kitchen wall (REDUCE!).

If you are lucky enough to live in a city with grocery stores that sell in bulk, it's always a great way to go. I buy spices, teas, sugars, granola, nuts, seeds, grains, even olive oil and vinegar in my local Whole Foods markets and Co-op! The list has become endless. Sure, buying bulk does require some sort of plastic vessel, but you know what you can do with those (REUSE!). When push comes to shove, move to the last R: RECYCLE. If your city doesn't provide recycling bins, you can find a local recycling center here. This site is a great resource. It will not only provide centers that recycle the basics like plastic, paper, etc., but also other junk you can get rid of . . . like your old cell phone.

4. I refuse to buy any more shampoo, toothpaste, conditioner, soap, scrubs, facial wash, lotion and other bathroom accoutrements until I am completely done with what is currently in my cabinet and shower right now. This includes sample sizes from the various hotels, spas and resorts I've visited in the past ten years. If it's half full, I tossed it (into the recycling bin of course). I'll never miss that quarter sized bottle of Aveda lotion. No matter how expensive it is on the retail shelf. You don't need five different shampoos, no matter what the commercials say or your hair type. Use it or lose it.

5. Now that you've cleared some space, STOP before you shop. Seriously. Next time you go shopping—whether for food, clothing (luckily I don't enjoy this activity too much) or just stuff—be present. Before you throw another thing in your cart—real or virtual—take pause. Take a deep breath and close your eyes. Count backwards from ten on every exhale. Then open your eyes and see if the initial urge to spend still exists. We all know what it's like to go into Target to buy one thing and come out with 100. It happens. By taking a deep breath and really being present, you will end up leaving the store with less, but with a much higher appreciation for what you have.