Day 310 Decluttering with the Three Rs

A guest post by Cindy Bogard

The three Rs, reduce, reuse, recycle. In decluttering, sometimes it’s easy to overlook the three Rs, especially if you’re going quickly. There are a lot of reasons to like a-thing-a-day decluttering and proper consideration of the three Rs is one of them.

Notice that the first R is reduce. It’s the most important one of all, starting with only buying what you really need and using it completely. Or buy it used; then you’re not creating demand for another of the same. Consider the packaging of your purchases. Don’t buy single-serving items and buy in bulk – even better if you take your own baggie to fill in the bulk aisle. Say no to bags at the store and bring your own. Use durable items rather than disposables (cloth napkins instead of paper, etc.). Take your own mug into the coffee shop – some even give you a small discount. Bring your own totes to the store. I even bring home plastic forks and spoons from restaurants; a bit ironic since I hardly ever use plastic wear. Typically it gets donated to the school or church, and at least it gets used twice, rather than once.

Use your durable goods longer. All of my furniture was purchased used, and all has been reupholstered. My mother’s living room set has been upholstered three times. Good job Mom! Repair items rather than replacing them. It makes me crazy when someone says, “I can buy a new one for $100 more than it costs to fix this one.” Yes, but you already own this one, and it can be fixed, for $100 less than new.

Do something with your food waste other than throwing it away – compost, feed a pet, or simply throw it to the back fence like I used to. It either breaks down or the possums who were already visiting my yard have a treat. (No, I never noticed an increase in furry visitors when I did this, probably because my food waste is limited.) I take a container to restaurants for my leftovers, rather than accepting their throw away package, and I mark my leftovers clearly with a piece of masking tape that says what’s inside and what day it went in. Everyone eats lunches from home, and that minimizes food waste, too.

“Use it up and wear it out,” we’ve all heard that. Reuse is the next R. Don’t buy something just because it’s new, different, or cute. Drive your car until it goes its last mile and replace it with a used vehicle. I wash out the plastic baggies I use and reuse them many times, but I try to use them infrequently. I have plenty of containers for my family’s sack lunches. This is the third year that my children have used the same school backpacks. The PDA that I use used to be my husband’s; he got a fancier one, and I got his. Most children love hand-me-downs. I suppose their enthusiasm may wane at some point, but it hasn’t yet. We take anything that’s too soiled to be handed down and toss it into a fiber pile. The girls are free to pull out and cut up anything in this pile, which is used to make doll clothes, cat toys, baby blankets, and 100 other things that their clever minds can devise.

There is virtually nothing that you can’t buy used and that you can’t get rid of used. Try  Freecycle, Craigslist, eBay, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Replacements (china and dish ware), your church clothing closet, or literally thousands of other places that will take used goods off your hands. I think it’s important, too, to shop at these places. We all need to help close the circle of supply and demand.

Just about anything in your home can be Recycled. It seems to be the R that’s talked about the most, but I think sometimes the phrase “it can be recycled” leads to wasteful use. For example, I was shopping with someone, and she put every bit of her produce – even one grapefruit – into separate plastic sacks because “they can be recycled!” Yes, but by that time that truck comes through your neighborhood and hauls things to the recycling center, where they’re separated and trucked to a number of other facilities and that’s just the beginning, it’s not environmentally “free”.

Nonetheless, here is a list of things you should always recycle

  • Acid Batteries
  • Aluminum Cans
  • Building Materials
  • Cardboard
  • Chemicals
  • Electronic equipment
  • Glass (particularly bottles and jars)
  • Lead
  • Magazines
  • Metal
  • Newspaper
  • Oil
  • Paint
  • Paper
  • Plastic Bags
  • Plastic Bottles
  • Steel Cans
  • Tires
  • Appliances
  • Wood
  • Writing/Copy Paper
  • Yard Waste

My friends at The Clutter Consultants here in Austin, Texas tell me that sometimes the urge to recycle or reuse stymies people in their pursuit of less clutter and more organization. Decluttering nice and slow allows you to take proper consideration of each item and allows you to make the best choice about what should become of that item.

What did you declutter today, and how did you Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle?

Thanks to National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for help with this article.

Today’s decluttered item from Cindy’s house: a dozen cans of V8, given to my parents, and two bottles of sparkling cider (too “carbalicious” for Clara), given to a friend who frequently entertains.


I have two other craft hammers and this one is not well weighted to do the job it is supposed to day maybe it will be more useful to someone else.

Craft Hammer

5 things I am grateful for today

  1. The thrift shop for taking so many of my rejects – I took a much needed trip over there this morning and dropped off a load of stuff.
  2. A roof over my head – I can’t imagine what it would be like living on the street in this rainy weather.
  3. Liam scored a 12 out or 12 for his post traumatic Amnesia testing today which is great. If he scores 12 three days in a row he will be able to start his brain injury therapy. He is walking and talking better and I saw a lot of glimpses of the old Liam today. His sister will be pleased. He had also been doing some artwork (not on his sheets this time) and seems to be able to focus better and for longer periods on activities.
  4. A hearty dinner – another of those things we so often take for granted that others in the world go without too often.
  5. A good end to the day
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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Yes, yes, YES! This is why I love “a-thing-a-day” decluttering too! Enough time to think about whether to keep or let go, and if the answer is “let go”, then enough time to properly dispose of things. Great post, Cindy!

    Today I used the good fabric from my husband’s khakis (no longer wearable for work) to make hidden alterations to khakis for my father’s use in the nursing home. I will remove the buttons from them also before discarding the bits and pieces that are left. The buttons are used as replacements on any pants, and for arts and crafts. The pants being altered were bought at Salvation Army and are like new but the price was like awesome 🙂 Good for a senior’s – or anyone else’s – budget.

    Great news about Liam’s progress, Colleen!

    • Hi Jo,
      you are doing well with the recycling with those Khakis, good job. And yes the beauty of taking your time to declutter is the best way to make good decisions along the way. When I first starting on my 365 day mission it was more about just not putting pressure on myself to disrupt the household or busting my butt to do it all at once but it soon became apparent that this method had many more advantages.

    • Fantastic job on the khakis, Jo. Purchased used and used to repair one another. You’re a reuse genius!

      • Did I forget to mention that I sewed them on my 30 year old sewing machine and used my seam ripper from high school (that’s right, it’s over 35 years old, people). (I admit there were years and years that I didn’t sew, so I’m not talking 30 years of continuous use. But it’s actually a good endorsement for the brand :))

        • Hi Jo,
          I have an old Elna machine that is as old as I am (45years). I bought it second had not long after I got married. It is the same machine my mother has had for as long as I can remember and she used to sew professionally from home and has used it continuously for all this time. Now if that isn’t a good machine nothing is. I don’t know if it is an Aussie thing but we call a seam ripper a quick unpick.

          • Nifty! Although the unpicking I did wasn’t very quick, I have to say!

            That is a good machine, I must remember that when and if my machine needs replacing.

  2. Great post, Cindy! Decluttering the slow way does help us to reduce, reuse and recycle. Maybe we should start a ‘Slow Declutter’ movement as a way to downsize and stay downsized. By going slow we are less likely to burn out and less likely to discard things we’ll just go out later and repurchase.

    Colleen, I’m happy to hear the good news about Liam!

    • Hi Willow,
      you are clearly aware of the advantages of decluttering this way and I like your idea of a ‘Slow Declutter” movement.

      Thank you, Liam is doing very well indeed and his sister is so looking forward to seeing him tomorrow. She will be amazed at his improvement.

    • I like the name “slow decluttering.” There was a great commentary on National Public Radio once about the rest step. The speaker was a mountain climber who thought it was important to keep going, not to stop, but to take “the rest step” so as not to burn out. (Step, together, pause, step, together, pause.) He compared the rest step to going slow but steady in other areas, just like we are.

  3. Go Liam! Great post Cindy. Take care of yourself Colleen…

    • Hi Calico Ginger,
      I am taking care of myself thank you for caring. Liam didn’t score so well on his test today but that is OK. He was clever enough to make excuses for himself so I’ll let it be at that.

  4. Thanks, Cindy, for a great post. In the 14 months that I have been decluttering, I have been taking it slowly and trying as much as possible to keep as many items from going to the trash as possible. I am keeping a list of items I give away, sell, and throw away and the throw away list is only half a page. In the last four years we replaced our large kitchen trash receptacle with a small one that fits under the kitchen sink. I reuse plastic store bags that fit perfectly in the smaller bin. We recycle everything we can at our local recycling center which we are fortunate to have just a mile from us in our small town. We compost all organic items including coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, and egg shells which I rinse, let dry, and crush for my gardens (good slug deterrent & calcium booster). I throw banana peels out the door under my rose bushes and they thank me with gorgeous blooms. We collect so little garbage that we can go a month without emptying out the outdoor trash bin. Since reading the website, Fake Plastic Fish, I have also been trying to use less plastic and replacing plastic with glass or other durable substances such as cloth shopping bags. I enjoy the challenge of seeing how much I can reduce, recycle, and reuse.
    Colleen, apparently Liam is doing much better if he can think up excuses for his test scores. Way to go!

    • Hi Di,
      you are really doing your bit for the environment, good for you. It amazes me when I come in contact with evidence of people who just don’t give a damn and I am just blown away by their attitude. I read an article about tourist dropping plastic bottles all over the walking trails between the five towns of the Cinque Terre in Italy. The parks authorities have implemented restrictions to stop this happening but I just don’t understand why people who go out of their way to explore these beautiful places would want to try to destroy it at the same time.

    • Di, Your acheivements are fabulous! Our family of four makes one bag of trash a week from every can in the house, but I think you’ve under-trashed me. Good job!

      I have looked at, but not explored, Fake Plastic Fish. While I try to keep all unnecessary packaging out of my life, I’m not sure about glass jars over plastic ones. Pollution created in transport is huge and the weight of glass is significantly more than the weight of plastic, which equals a higher fuel cost. Glass can be melted and made into another glass jar, and plastic has to be made into something less sturdy. It’s troubling, isn’t it? LESS benefits us no matter which answer is better.

      Keep up the great work. -Cindy

  5. Di, Please explain more about tossing the banana peels under the rose bushes, this sounds awesome!

    • Hi Annabelle, I’m sorry it took so long to answer you, but I’ve been dealing with a stressful situation and haven’t been reading my blogs for over a week. The banana peels are a good source of potassium for the roses. Growing up, I learned this from my grandmother. Some times I use a kitchen scissors to cut the peels into smaller pieces, but most of the time I just open the door and toss them under or near the rose bushes. When I have time I’ll take the hand cultivator and loosen the soil around the plants and push the bananas into the dirt. They quickly decompose. If you Google “roses banana peels” you find a whole slew of articles on this practice. Hope this helps. 🙂

  6. I’ve done some slow decluttering and I’ve done some slash-and-burn decluttering, and there’s no doubt that the slow method is ecologically more responsible. One thing that can help, in the case of an excess of paper refuse, is to find a local commercial shredder. There’s a large one used as a fundraiser by the local non-profit agency for the disabled, and it can shred through literally anything, saving an awful lot of time. Also, just setting out unwanted stuff at the curb worked wonders for quick “recycling.”

    Colleen–Liam seems to be making more strides forward than backwards, and the ability to make snarky excuses is a step forward in ways the doctors can’t measure ;D Keep the faith, dear heart.

    • Hi Meg,
      I like the idea of the non-profit agency thinking smart and providing a service like commercial shredding to raise funds. I am sure there is a lot of room for this type of business and if charities can take advantage of that then good for them. We have a curb side pick up this week and of course I am taking advantage of that to get rid of an old wardrobe.

      Liam is coming along quite nicely and I am going to enjoy seeing him and his sister together today. She will be so pleased with his improvement since last week when she was here. She is going to thump him for being such an idiot (her words not mine) and causing everyone so much grief.


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