Clear clutter

The downside of decluttering

Decluttering is not without its drawbacks. One of those drawbacks is that I’ve become desensitised to the volume of waste my lifestyle creates.

Haste to waste

When I first started decluttering 18 months ago, I agonised over the number of trash bags that I filled. Sadly, now it’s just par for the course. I give things away, donate them and recycle. Trash is my last resort, but there is still a lot of trash.

Concerns over the impact of my decluttering decisions had largely slipped from my mind, until I read The Use It Up Challenge and Our Nothing New Year on Our Next Life. Our Next Life confronts the issue of decluttering and waste from both an environmental and personal finance perspective. They argue that in a haste to declutter (this trendy thing that if you aren’t doing you think you probably should be) we are not considering waste.

The challenge: use it up

Our Next Life issued a challenge to their readers to become more intentional about the full lifecycle of their possessions, and ask “If we knew this thing was going straight to landfill when it leaves our hands, would we treat it differently? Would we try harder to get more out of it?”. Rather than get rid of it, use it up instead.

Our Next Life points out facts I have been choosing to ignore, such as:

  • as little as 20% of clothing donations get sold in thrift stores
  • only 33% of the stuff in your recycling bin gets recycled.

Facts such as these are not new to me. Actually, this knowledge was partly responsible for my clutter problem in the first place! In the early days of decluttering, I quickly realised that I wasn’t particularly attached to many of the things I was holding on to, I just lacked an ideal way to dispose of them. I once attempted to knit a clutch purse out of old VCR tapes when I found there was nowhere to recycle them! I had enough plastic shopping bags to line my bin for a year, as well as a stack of reusable shopping bags to last a lifetime. I moved house with a bag of plastic utensils and paper napkins saved from takeout deliveries. I’d saved lids from baby wipes packages to make a peek-a-boo game for my son that I’d seen on Pinterest. As I have written about before, I was hoarding for the environment .

minimalism, decluttering, upcycling, zero waste, knitting

Hand knitted VCR tapes – taking upcycling to another level!

What to do?

The Our Next Life article threw me off kilter – how could I, as a (somewhat lapsed) environmentalist, be a happy declutterer? I thought about the article for days. This is where I got to:

  • I’ve made great progress with decluttering.
  • I’m noticing the benefits everyday.
  • I want it done, once and for all (Marie Kondo was right!).

What I don’t want is a return to delay and indecision. I don’t want my home to go back to being a “too hard basket” for failed attempts to remediate past bad decisions. I don’t have a time machine, I can’t undo the past. Even with all the upcycling and repurposing I could muster, I’d still have more than I could ever need.

The fact is, I created the waste with my original purchase – whether it’s in my cupboards or in the landfill, it’s still waste.

So, no regrets, but at the same time the Use It Up Challenge stayed with me. While I was preparing dinner I had a lightbulb moment. At its heart, Our Next Life is saying that as we don’t know scarcity, we take abundance for granted. Where is that more obvious than the amount of food that we waste?

food waste, #foodwastefriday, use it up, our next life, frugal living, personal finance

Use It Up – a challenge to reduce food waste

And with that, I decided to take the Use It Up Challenge and apply it in my kitchen. Food and cooking is one of my great loves and I’ve long been interested in reducing food waste. Trying to convince people to waste less food used to be part of my job, and that’s where, back around 2008, I first heard of #foodwastefriday – individual’s around the world reducing their food waste by collectively accounting for it every Friday on the internet.

When I first started More Time Than Money, I diligently recorded and reported on any food I wasted – you can read all about in the archives. Over time, recording every mouldy mandarin got tiresome, so I stopped. However, the spirit of the Use It Up challenge has inspired me to back into it. I can’t undo my past actions, I’ve got to make peace with those and focus on making better choices, starting with my kitchen.

Join me

I’m going to check in regularly with my food waste tally, and share tips and hacks for using it up in the kitchen. Feeling inspired to join me? I’d LOVE to have some buddies. Simply subscribe to the blog (it’s on the sidebar), get notified of my new posts and comment about your own progress. I’ll use the hashtag #foodwastefriday when I share my progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’ve got lots of ideas for tips to share and a few experiments I’m keen to try.

Tip 1: The Use It Up Shelf

Why wait, here’s my first tip. To reduce food waste, routine is essential. One hangover that I’ve kept up since I first tracked my food waste, was what I shall now call the Use It Up Shelf. I keep the bottom shelf of my fridge clear, except for items that much be used up immediately. This is my first point of call when I need a snack, write my weekly meal plan (another essential for reducing food waste) and confirm what’s for dinner.

food waste, #foodwastefriday. #notwasting, frugal, personal finance

The Use It Up Shelf in my fridge – anything that needs to be used ASAP lives here

Go take a look in your fridge, clean out of anything unsalvageable and designate your own Use It Up Shelf. Let the waste reduction begin!

Are you good at upcycling and repurposing stuff? What’s your best tip for reducing food waste?





  • happylittlehousewife
    January 27, 2017 at 11:07 pm

    I just need to say, knitting VCR tapes is certainly next level and I bow down to your awesomeness ? love it! I am really bad at food waste, or purchase something (like tamarind paste) and then promptly forget to use it ? maybe I should try to empty out my fridge and freezer as much as possible and only shop fresh fruit and vege, milk & bread! Thanks for the idea.

  • Robyn
    January 31, 2017 at 5:03 am

    Excellent post! I think I had to get over it by knowing that I will be more mindful of what comes into my home. I loved the tip about thinking of a newly acquired item going to the landfill when we are done with it. Great perspective.

  • whenparkspeaks
    November 4, 2017 at 8:12 am

    Food shopping with a list and a weekly menu. It helps to plan for the days to use leftovers. My mother used to have a day where dinner involved ” sweeping out the fridge”. Meal was made using all the leftovers. She was creative about it, there were some misses but we didn’t ever go hungry.


Leave a Reply