Declutter: Paper & Other Garbage

DeclutterBy Nancy Ranchel

Does this ever happen to you? You’d like to use your kitchen counter for some project, like cooking, but it’s covered with mail. On Saturday morning the stack of mail is at critical mass, so you start sorting through it. Opening the trash to chuck out the junk mail, you are assailed by the smell of the garbage. Ick. Fun start to your weekend.

Maybe you need to reduce. Please don’t think for a second that I’m talking reducing calories or anything so mundane. The topic here is trash reduction. Because trash reduction matters. The less you bring into your house, the less you have to deal with, recycle, shred, carry out to the curb. Go get yourself a coffee and read on.

Let’s talk about reducing paper. If you’re like most people, your house is filled with mail, papers, magazines, bills, homework, lists – lots of paper. Another way to describe paper is “clutter.”

The bills. Go paperless. Start with just one bill and see how it goes. Some bills can be paid automatically with your credit card – not debit – which allows you to earn miles or points, whatever your pleasure. As you get comfortable with the idea, set up auto-pay from your checking account; if you hate auto-pay, use e-bill services instead, and then pay online (most banks offer this service as it saves them money). Save a stamp. By receiving your bills via email, that stack of paper mail drops considerably. You know you’ll be on your computer half the night anyway – why not use some of that time to pay bills?

Catalogs and solicitations. These suckers are a huge waste. Try CatalogChoice (now called TrustedID, which allows you to reduce solicitations and credit card offers, plus those pernicious catalogs. Catalogs and junk mail are a huge waste of environmental resources, plus they’re freakishly annoying. Do you shred all those credit card offers? If they stop showing up in your mailbox, that’s one less thing you have to do during the week. Save the environment and time. Use the time to surf your favorite stores online and shop without a catalog.

Newspapers and magazines. If they’re piling up around the house, maybe you’re getting too many. Think about it. Can you get rid of one this year? If you don’t miss it much, get rid of another next year. If you like looking at your mags online, subscribe to the e-version instead. This may take practice! (And it may not work. I can review volumes of work data online – which took some focused practice – but I want to hold a magazine in my hands.) Same with newspapers. If you need your morning paper in your hands, or need to flip the pages of Vogue while having a coffee, keep ’em. But if there’s one or two you could lose, do it! I bet there’s a couple you wouldn’t miss. Also, if you have a friend with similar magazine tastes, try splitting a subscription. You buy Dwell, she buys Vogue. Read and trade.

Do not buy paper! As Martha Stewart says, there is paper all over the house. Old maps are good for wrapping paper, as are glossy magazines (those pages of Vogue!). Use the scraps that manage to creep into your space for notes. You can even make notebooks from those scraps, like this one and this one. (If you’re lazy like me, hole-punch the scraps and hold them together with metal binder rings.)

Now let move on to the garbage problem. There are basically two ways to have less garbage in that can. First, produce less garbage. Second, don’t put food scraps in the trash.

What’s taking up most of your trash? If it’s disposable cups from the café, you can stop that immediately. Put a stack of re-usable cups in the car or one good stainless or glass coffee mug. If it’s food packaging, consider buying bulk, and take your own bags/containers. Is it take-out containers causing the pile up? Put some containers in the car and use them for leftovers. You can use these at the grocery store salad bar as well. This is an intimidating project, so start with one item here and just make one small change. When you’ve eased into that new habit, analyze the garbage contents again. Any improvement? Make another change.

Now, there’s a good chance that your garbage is full of food scraps, and other than diapers and cat litter, these are big odor perpetrators. This is a tough problem, particularly if your city/county doesn’t offer composting services. Your best option here is to start your own compost pile. This does not work well in an apartment, but if you have any yard space at all, composting will reduce your trash and improve your soil. Plus, you can pick up one of these cute little guys for the kitchen. 

Time to get started! Hand to heart, decreasing all the crap that comes into your house will save you time and aggravation in the long run. If you seek more thought provoking ideas, check out this article from Remodelista about going paperless at home. As the author says, it’s all about baby steps. For more about food waste solutions, check out this article. Cities around the country are getting into composting. That’s hopefully going to be a lasting trend! But don’t wait for your city to start – you can start composting first. Pave the way, save some space and time, and be a good steward of the earth.