How to declutter without feeling guilty about the waste

Are you worried that decluttering is wasteful?

The guilt is real, isn’t it?

You hate that you’ve wasted money – yours or someone else’s.

You’re frustrated that you’ve wasted time buying it and keeping it thus far.

You feel guilty that someone else put the effort into a gift, but you don’t want it.

You’re worried that if you let go of an item, you might need it again one day and will waste future money replacing it.

There’s the shame related to throwing something in the bin because you’re constantly reminded about the negative environmental impact every time something goes into landfill.

Added to all this is the feeling of guilt because you SHOULD be grateful for it, SHOULD be using it, SHOULD sell it to make money back…and if you don’t then what kind of person ARE YOU? (…a wasteful one?)


The truth is…

Feeling guilty about waste it isn’t achieving anything.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  You’re only wasting more – you’re wasting your opportunity to live a clutter-free, easier life.  Worst of all what you are wasting is far worse than the items itself.  

  • You’re wasting the space in your home because you’re using too much of it as storage.  That cupboard full of stuff is wasting space that the children could be playing in.  That dining table you don’t sit at is wasting opportunities for family connection.  That spare room that’s unable to host guests is wasting the chances you have of making memories.  
  • The chance of someone using the item while it’s still in fashion or is in good condition is reducing the longer you hold onto it.  That’s a waste.
  • Whilst you’re not donating or recycling, more is being produced from brand new resources. This has a negative environmental impact, which is one that you can control if your item is put back into circulation the best way you can.
  • You’re wasting time, mental effort and physical energy maintaining things.  This is preventing you showing up as the best version of yourself every day.  Could you be wasting your life looking after these items?  Maybe…

So, you see, decluttering is NOT wasteful.  In fact, maybe NOT decluttering is.  

To get rid of what you no longer need is neither wasteful or shameful.
Marie Kondo

How to declutter without feeling guilty about waste

Perhaps you’re feeling icky and uncomfortable about letting things go, even when you know it’s the right thing to do. 

It’s okay.  Just go slowly and intentionally through your things and carefully select how to let them go.  Do the best you can using the resources and time you have available, whilst maintaining a focus on your goal.  There is no need to perfect this process.

Here are some suggestions to declutter whilst limiting waste.

Sell ONLY high ticket items

This might seem counter-intuitive, because you’ll probably feel like by selling everything, you’ll somehow recoup more of the money you’ve spent in the past (which you hope will reduce that feeling of waste).  But, the truth is, if you try to sell everything, including all the little items, you won’t really be making a big enough profit to make the guilt go away.  Instead, you’ll end up resenting the time and effort you’re putting in to generate a trickle of income. 

Be kind to yourself now and set boundaries.  Decide that you’ll only sell items above a certain value (for example, I’ll only sell items worth over £50).  Set timescales for selling (for example, I’ll only advertise them for 2 weeks).  If the items haven’t sold for the right amount within the right time, donate.

Donate generously

Use charity shops, offer things for free collection from your home via local Facebook groups, or download the Olio app which is perfect for this purpose.  The money isn’t wasted, it’s simply being used in a different way.  Remember, your life is already abundant with other things; you can afford to be generous.  

Donating might not see an exchange of cash, but it will see an exchange of positive energy and good will.  And I think we can all agree that money doesn’t always have to be what we get in return.

For ideas on where to donate this list of ideas.  

Recycle where you can

There are many recycling schemes throughout the UK for things from bras to electricals, fur coats to gardening tools.  By limited what goes into landfill you can ease the impact you’ll have on the environment.  Check your local authority’s website, national schemes and local charity options and consider reaching out to a professional organiser in your area for help and advice. 

The important thing here is to keep up the momentum of getting things out of your house.  It’s easy to hold onto items thinking there will be a perfect way to recycle, so stay realistic and focus on the end goal.

It’s also important to remember that the resources were used when making this item.  Not putting it back into circulation by selling, donating or recycling, doesn’t undo this production.  What it does do is potentially have a positive impact on the production of new things, reducing the impact on the environment in this way.  The more we can add to the second-hand market and embrace it, the better off our planet will be.

Express gratitude

When you throw items away without feeling you’ve given them proper consideration, it can make that feeling of waste a little more uncomfortable.  As if you lacked respect for the maker, the giver, the money.

This is where gratitude can make a difference.

Take a moment to recognise the purpose the item had or has in your life.  Perhaps it once served you well, you’ve had your money’s worth from it, maybe it has taught you a lesson that you don’t need these kinds of things in your life, or it has taught you what brings joy.

Thank the item for whatever it represents and let it go.  By showing gratitude you can acknowledge a closing of your relationship with it and express a level of respect before passing it on.

Focus on the future

When you’re making decluttering decisions, open your heart to the bigger picture.  You may feel like you’re wasting that one item, but what’s the sacrifice you make by keeping it?  If your vision is for a clutter-free home in which you have less to manage, less to clean and less on your mental load, then only by letting items go can you achieve this.

Don’t waste the opportunity to spend more time with the kids, to volunteer for your favourite charity, to enjoy your hobbies again or freely invite people into your home.  Make sure you have a goal in mind and know that the impact of letting go is going to be so beneficial, you’d be crazy not to.

It’s time to let go of past mistakes (and all that guilt) along with the item and consider decluttering as the fresh start you need. 

Change your habits

The best way to really reduce waste is to change your future habits.  What you’ve bought and kept in the past is already accounted for.  The money has gone, the item made, and the time spent.

Use what you learn as you declutter to inform your future purchases.  Pledge to make small changes to buy more intentionally, express how you feel to others and reduce the influx of new items into your home. Commit to living a life with less stuff and more joy from this day forward.

Important decluttering advice if you are worried about being wasteful

You don’t need to perfect this.

The money that was spent has gone, the love was expressed when the gift was received, the item has already had an impact on the environment during production.  You cannot undo the past.

Holding onto something you don’t need, want or love is not as important as living your life and showing up in the world as the best version of yourself.  Imagine what you could be holding yourself back from achieving, the life you could be living.

Through the decluttering process take time to learn what brings joy and you’ll shape a future in which you’ll create much less waste and much more contentment and ease.

Go ahead, create yourself a joyful home.