The Curse Of “Stuff” And What You Can Do About It

room full of clutter

So I have just completed the move into my new flat and despite a broken van wing mirror and heavy traffic it all went ok. The thing that shocked me during this move was just how much stuff I had which I never really used and that had been sitting in a cupboard for a long long time.

If I had of been smart, I would have started to sort these things out weeks ago so that when it came to moving time I would have an easier job to do. Instead I left it too late and now I am faced with the situation of having too many things and too little storage.

I have to ask myself how it got to this point. I’ve never been particularly obsessed with possessions and while I have treated myself to a few luxuries, I never thought of myself as someone who had to go out and buy something new on a regular basis. I think this highlights an important lesson for me – when I am considering making a purchase, I have to ask myself whether it is really necessary.

The Main Culprits

The worst offending area of clutter for me was clothes. I was lucky that I had plenty of Green Steve bags for life around to pack all these bits into but having some 10 bags full of old clothes was a bit of an eye-opener. These had accumulated over the course of a number of years but even so, it got me thinking about the excess that we live our lives by in this country when you compare us to those in developing countries.

It wasn’t just clothes though; small electronics and wires were also a bit of a burden – I honestly have to wonder where all these wires come from! I found chargers for phones and cameras I no longer own, wires that I used on an old computer some 5 or 6 years ago and a number of wireless routers given to me every time I switched broadband provider.

I also have bags full of what can only be described as knick knacks ranging from holiday souvenirs to little gadgets bought for me as secret Santa gifts all of which never see the light of day.

Every one of these items has taken energy and raw materials to produce and unless disposed of correctly, will continue to pollute for decades, centuries or even millennia to come.

I have to do something about this, not only for the sake of having a clutter free flat but also for changing my mental approach to possessions.

Getting Rid Of Unwanted Stuff

The first thing that I need to do is to sort out what I want to keep and what I want to say goodbye to. A simple test when it comes to clothes will be asking myself “have I worn this in the last 6 weeks?” – if the answer to this is no then I almost certainly don’t need it. Obviously I will make exceptions for seasonal clothing such as jumpers, shorts, coats and the like but with things such as t-shirts, trousers and even underwear, if they haven’t been out of the cupboard in 6 weeks then chances are they never will.

Luckily, disposing of clothes is fairly easy and there is an Oxfam clothing bank pretty close to me so once I’ve sorted the wheat from the chaff, I’ll be heading off to make a donation.

With small electricals and wiring, I’m going to stop using the excuse of “you never know when it might come in handy” and carefully think of what genuinely might be required in the future.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive), as applied to the general public, aims to reduce the number of electrical items ending up in landfill. These can contain hazardous substances and will almost certainly take thousands of years to degrade.

Disposing of electrical waste is now easier than ever. In-store returns of unwanted items are becoming more common and the number of on-street facilities is going up too and, as with the clothing situation, I have a recycling bin quite close to me.

Where there are things that are still in working order, however, you may be able to find another home for them which is even better for the environment. Try your local Freecycle group where you can put unwanted bits and pieces up for grabs to anyone who wants them.

Alternatively, if you think there is any value in an item, you could try selling it on an auction site such as eBay.

Changing Your Mentality

Once decluttered, I will have to make a more conscious effort not to accumulate further stuff in the future and one of the most powerful ways to do this would be to take a second when standing in a shop with an item in your hand and:

  1. ask yourself how much energy and raw material has gone into making it
  2. ask yourself if your life would be any less complete and satisfying if you did not buy it
  3. ask yourself if the price being charged properly reflects the cost to the environment
  4. remember the following video and ask yourself whether it is fair that you can buy this nice new item when others in the world have nothing

I am not saying that you can’t ever buy anything new for yourself but I want you to make sure that when you do, it is for the right reasons. All too often in the past, I have gone out and bought a shiny new toy such as my TV, surround sound or Kindle because I could and because it seemed like the done thing – not much of a reason is it?

Going back to my new clothes habit, I have to ask myself the second of my questions above – would my life have been any less satisfying if I had not bought that new pair of jeans or those 3 new t-shirts? Do I need 2 winter jackets and 3 scarves? In reality, it’s very rare that anyone cares what you are wearing so buying new clothes just for the sake of it seems fairly pointless.

We’ve all become too used to having “stuff” around us 24/7 and in many instances we are blessed with heaps of storage for anything that we don’t need right at this second. If we tried to live without any storage, we’d probably end up buying a lot less and this is kind of what has happened to me now – I’ve downsized and come to the conclusion that, as just one of 7 billion people on this planet, I own more than my fair share of possessions.

Look around your house or flat and ask yourself the same question – do you have more than you need?

I’d love to hear your comments…

Steve (156 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

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