August 2007 Newsletter

This month’s focus: Green Organizing                                  

Tip of the Month: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle as You Organize

Many of my clients have a strong interest in doing things in an environmentally responsible way, and I applaud that. Here are a number of aspects related to organizing where we can make greener choices. If our goal is to reduce, reuse and recycle (in that order of preference), there are plenty of opportunities to do all three — or any part that works for you.

1. Disposing of stuff

It’s becoming easier all the time to dispose of items in an environmentally appropriate way. Toxics can be taken to collection sites for safe disposal. An amazing range of other items can be reused or recycled, with reuse being preferred. Reuse options include:

  • Selling through eBay, craigslist, Nextdoor, consignment stores, garage/yard/tag sales, etc.
  • Donating to the many charities who need things we no longer do.
  • Giving things to friends or family members (if you are sure they want them) or re-gifting them (as appropriate).
  • Giving things away on freecycle, craigslist, Nextdoor — or, if this works in your neighborhood, by just leaving them on your curb with a sign that says FREE.

Any of these can be fine options; pick the ones that work best for your financial situation, time constraints, etc.

2. Reducing the incoming mail

Rather than just recycle the junk mail, consider eliminating it! This is another one that can be reasonably easy, if a bit tedious; see my January newsletter for more information.

3. Using environmentally sound products when organizing

This gets a little trickier; as Shannon Del Vecchio pointed out in her guest essay on my blog, there are seldom any products that meet all our criteria. But we can pick products that are:

  • Second-hand, so we aren’t consuming resources to make new products. I’ve picked up organizing supplies (file folders, miscellaneous containers) on Freecycle. And garage sales, flea markets, and second-hand stores are other places to get at least some organizing-related products.
  • Well-made, so they will last a long time.
  • Made from recycled materials.This is easy for some products (such as hanging file folders) and not as easy for others.
  • Sold with minimal packaging.
  • Made locally. You may have local artisans that make storage products such as baskets.

4. Reusing products you already have

This strategy often works well with containers of all sorts; many of us have various containers (old shoe boxes, for example) that can be reused as part of the organizing process. Coffee mugs make great desktop pen holders. I had a square cat bed that my cats never showed much interest in — and I reused that for quite a while as my in box, until I repainted my office and the colors no longer worked. (But please don’t use this as a reason to keep tons of stuff you aren’t currently using because you might be able to find another use for it someday. Let someone else reuse it now!)

5. Reducing consumption; avoiding clutter-producing purchases

I’m not trying to convince anyone to go without something they truly want; I’m not a minimalist myself. But I’m certainly a more thoughtful shopper than I was 10 years ago.

If stuff never enters your home or office, you don’t have to worry about where and how to store it! Just today I read an essay by Paul Graham on the subject of Stuff. To quote from that essay:

A friend of mine cured herself of a clothes buying habit by asking herself before she bought anything “Am I going to wear this all the time?” If she couldn’t convince herself that something she was thinking of buying would become one of those few things she wore all the time, she wouldn’t buy it. I think that would work for any kind of purchase. Before you buy anything, ask yourself: will this be something I use constantly? Or is it just something nice? Or worse still, a mere bargain?

The book Buried in Treasures (which focuses on those with true hoarding problems, but has ideas that are useful for others, too) suggests always carrying a list of questions to ask yourself when you are in a possible buying situation. Sample questions are:

  • Do I already own something similar?
  • Am I buying this because I feel (angry, depressed, etc.) right now?
  • Will I regret getting this in a week?

For more inspiration on this subject, you might want to read the Thoughtful Consumer blog.

Recycling/Donation Resource of the Month

Donate tools you never (or very rarely) use to a tool-lending library.