Environmentally friendly uncluttering — From Planet Green

Jasmin Malik Chua is one of the guiding voices behind the informative and earth-transforming blog Planet Green. I love the site because it provides practical advice about ways to help the environment without being preachy or overly touchy-feely. We thank Jasmin for being a part of our month of sharing, and we hope you take a few minutes to check out her site after reading her motivating words.

If I had a penny for every person I’ve met who has told me “I’ve always wanted to go green,” well, let’s just say that I’d be writing this from the deck of a solar-powered yacht floating on Lake Como, while George Clooney squeezed a couple of organic oranges with his bare, masculine hands to sate my thirst.

You may not always hear it spoken aloud, but one word always dances at the end of that phrase: but. As in, “I’ve always wanted to go green, but.” But what, exactly?

But I have no time.
But I don’t know how to.
But I’m easily overwhelmed.
But I don’t want to appear like a hippie.
But I’m afraid of change.

Just because you’re concerned about the type of world we hand off to our children, however, doesn’t mean you have to live in a yurt in outer Mongolia, strap yourself to a whaling ship, or use yourself as a human shield against bulldozers that mow down old-growth trees. In fact, you’re probably already doing your part to save the planet, even if you don’t know it.

Unclutterers are tree-huggers

A person who abhors clutter — and knows that it saps energy and detracts from the more important things in life — already has the first and most important of the three “R”s down pat. Reducing your personal consumption also reduces the amount of “stuff” you’re contributing to the waste stream. Without all that excess baggage, maybe you won’t need to move into a power-guzzling McMansion to house your worldly goods.

If you’ve launched your own personal blood feud against junk mail, you’re helping save some of the 100 million trees that are felled to produce the 100 billion pieces of junk mail that Americans receive every year, as well as the equivalent of 3.7 million cars in global-warming carbon emissions.

Getting your paper clutter under control by viewing and paying your bills online isn’t insignificant either. If all U.S. households swore off paper bills, the reduction in paper would save 16.5 million trees a year.

Here are some other ways you can unclutter your life, while giving the environment a fighting chance to support life on earth:

  1. Get your money’s worth. By choosing quality over quantity, as well as longevity over novelty, we’ll not only be able to spend more for something that is better-constructed and long-lived, but our purchasing habits will also have less of an impact on the environment.
  2. Live virtually. Avoid creating something in meatspace if you have a digital option available. You can upload files instead of burning them to discs for distribution, for instance, or use tree-free online faxing. With electronic signatures, you can even send contracts through the digital ether, without having to print a thing.
  3. Be Zen. As previous guest poster Zen Habits wisely preaches, less is more. To live minimally means being satisfied with just meeting your essential needs — everything else is just “stuff.” In other words, simplify, simplify, simplify.
  4. Just say no. While this mantra applies to accumulating items we want but don’t need, it’s the little things that we need to be aware of, as well. Most of us ask for a printed confirmation, almost by rote, for example, when we withdraw money from an ATM, or purchase a ticket from a subway machine. More often than not, the receipt vanishes into the folds of our already-overstuffed wallets. Multiply that by 8 billion, which is how many ATM transactions happen each year in America, and that’s a lot of unnecessary waste. Review your ATM transaction at your bank’s Web site, instead.
  5. Get rid of it. Taking inventory of your possessions, and culling what you don’t need by selling or donating those various odds and ends, means that someone else gets to make use of something that was only collecting dust at your home. And, because the recipient of your preloved goods purchased used, no new resources were expended to create something entirely new.

How has uncluttering and green living intersected in your daily living? Feel free to expound in the comments below.

21 Comments for “Environmentally friendly uncluttering — From Planet Green”

  1. posted by Josephine on

    Great tips. Personally, however, I don’t subscribe to living virtually to the extent that others do. While I believe in keeping digital copies, doing online banking, etc. I don’t take advantage of some service-oriented websites (i. e. Google Calendar) simply because I don’t wish to put all my life “out there”.

  2. posted by tay on

    I am definately trying to lean more towards many of these tips. However, I have yet to be able to seperate myself from paper statements. I need the visual reminder. If I depend on emails I don’t think I will ever pay a bill on time. However, I am trying to move to this and find a way that will work for me. ( I think I first need to start by getting rid of the dial-up service I have at home 😉 )

  3. posted by Earth Girl on

    Excellent points regarding the lifestyle and habits of unclutters being green. I’ve already had 2 garage sales this year and whatever was left over was donated. Someone somewhere will be able to put those things to use, and hopefully they’ll acquire them for free. My family still has a bit of a journey to get completely uncluttered (I come from a long line of pack rats) but we’ve made great inroads and it feels wonderful. Deciding what was truly valuable (and thus to keep rather than sell) has been a liberating experience for me. I’ve let go of so much stuff. A literal weight has been lifted from my life. Thanks for the blog!

  4. posted by Sheryl on

    Wow – excellent ideas for minimizing clutter, waste and doing some good for the environment at the same time!

  5. posted by Shannon on

    My credit card company has this option on their website. I receive an email when the statement is first available and another email 5 days before payment is due. My boyfriend uses a different company and has similar options.

    My cable and electric companies don’t send reminders, but I use Gmail and tag messages in my inbox requiring action with “To Do,” which I made orange. It’s a great visual reminder as soon as I open my email. You could make tags like “To Do,” “To Pay,” etc. Whatever works for you.

    I haven’t used it, but I believe that Google calendar can be used to create reminders as well. Does anyone have better suggestions for online reminders?

    Also, there’s always the option to have bills paid automatically out of your account. I know this scares many people, but it can sure simplify your life if you don’t even have to think about paying your bills.

    Hooray for going green!

  6. posted by nina on

    I am really enjoying reading your blog. I don’t have a clutter problem and love to send our “preloved” items to the Goodwill. We actually buy many things from the Goodwill such as clothes,toys and books, use them for a time and then donate them again. It gives me great satisfaction to know that an object will have a least three owners if not more. So many resources are saved by buying used.

  7. posted by Lynette Radio on

    Great tips as always! My whole thing about getting rid of the clutter in our home (besides my husband being a borderline book packrat) is that I’m afraid to throw it out and add to the landfill. Somehow it’s all better sitting and collecting dust in my home and office. Freecycle / Craigslist can only ditch so much stuff! How do I get rid of the landfill guilt?

  8. posted by Jesse on

    I’d also like to know how to get rid of landfill guilt. That’s my biggest problem. I will keep things I have absolutely no interest in keeping b/c I can’t bare the thought of these items rotting away for millions of years in a landfill somewhere. Plus, with old electronic equipment, etc I’m worried about doing serious damage to the environment. So – I just never throw anything away 🙁

  9. posted by Marge on

    Thank you for sharing. I haven’t checked it out for a very long time but this site looks like it will be added to my list of everyday reads (such as unclutterer.com). I appreciate the opportunity to do something better for the Earth in baby steps, as that is about all my brain is able to wrap around at this time. Saving the planet seems like an imaginable task but planting a tree or recycling paper is something I am capable of doing.

  10. posted by Jasmin on


    Type in your zip code at Earth911.org to find a place near you where you can recycle your old electronics.

  11. posted by Dream Mom on

    Great suggestions!

    I try to be cautious when it comes to paper. For example, when I buy something on-line or pay on a different website, they will say something like, “print this confirmation.” Instead, I click the file button and send the confirmation to my inbox. At that time, I route it to a file called, “Subscription Confirmations”. This is my holding spot for reciepts of any kind, software keys, etc. Once the item is delivered, I delete it out of the file and then there isn’t any paper.

    As a Professional Organizer, I have clients that like to think they are “green” however almost always, they consume the most. They have 200 pens or 100 boxes of tea or whatever. It is not even necessarily things they are into.

    My simple solution to going green is this: downsize your home/apartment by 25% or more, buy only one replacement item when you run out of something (instead of a dozen of it) and simplify your life. Downsizing will force you to keep only the things that matter and will help you consume less. Also, when you simplify your life down to the necessities, you will no longer consume so much stuff. In addition, you get a huge bonus. You have a lot more time because you don’t have to manage all of that stuff!

  12. posted by Ali Collette on

    As a mother of toddler twins and a preschooler, I have learned to be organized (which doesn’t come naturally) while also being “green” (which does).

    We have recently moved to South Africa. A transcontinental move is great incentive to downsize – and we did. However, now that we are unpacking, I realize just how much STUFF we still have, especially in comparison to so many people in this country. We plan to re-distribute our excess and avoiding acquiring more!

  13. posted by Chris on

    You can call organizations like Salvation Army, Value Village and Goodwill or local community organizations that take your old landfill stuff and resell it. They make good money for their charity and you get rid of your old “junk”! I do this about twice a year for old clothes, books, kitchen ware, and whenever I move. They take electronics or you can return those to lots of local places that will recycle them. Best of all, a lot of the charities will PICK-UP your junk at your house so all you have to do is leave it on your porch! Good luck!

  14. posted by Cynthia Friedlob, The Thoughtful Consumer on

    Useful ideas, except for the one suggesting passing up ATM paper receipts. Many ATMs automatically print them anyway and if you’ve ever had a dispute with your bank, you’ll know how valuable they can be.

    Same situation at the self-serve gas pump. When I use my credit card, I’m asked if I want a receipt. You bet I do because I don’t want my credit card company to say I bought $200 worth of gas when I actually bought $20.

    Sometimes receipts are well worth the paper they’re printed on!

  15. posted by Maureen Bullis on

    I agree totally with your philosophy. I recently wrote in detail about how to reduce junk mail. Your readers might be interested. For me the blood feud is still on! Like how can I get AARP to stop sending stuff to my house for my dead aunt!

  16. posted by Leah on

    Having worked in the fraud department at a financial institution, I have to (respectfully) disagree with not asking for receipts. Often that is the only “contract” (for lack of a better word) of what service you received and what amount you authorized to pay. Also, we had many instances of servers at restaurants altering the tip amount. Even if it’s on them to provide a signed slip, some are changed well enough to only bolster the restaurant’s side. Anyone who wants to refuse receipts needs to understand they are taking on some risk. I personally weigh my risk and refuse at some places while specifically ask at others.

  17. posted by Environmentally Friendly Office Products on

    If you can’t live virtually, a great way to help make your life more green is to use environmentally friendly office products. Pendaflex has file folders called “Earthwise” that are made from 100% recycled fibers with a minimum of 50% post consumer material.

    I use them because I have to have a filing system in my office and I can’t avoid using paper. Hope this helps someone else!

  18. posted by Czy potrzebujemy jeszcze papieru? | zajaczkowski.org on

    […] także rzucić okiem na: Going paperless (@Unclutterer) Environmentally friendly uncluttering — From Planet Green (@Unclutterer) Green Your Home Office (@Planet […]

  19. posted by Pnkrckballerina on

    Best buy now has a program where they will take most electronics for 10$. They also have a take back program for tv and appliances if you buy fromthem. It sucks to pay. But I would rather it get recycled than go in landfill to leach mercury and lead into ground.

  20. posted by Emberskye on

    It is interesting, because I already do most of this, but I have found there are a few things I don’t do. Like when paying for gas at the pump and getting money out of the atm. I do almost always get a receipt. And I suppose, there is no need. Something to think about I guess. But, as for recycling my so called junk and clothing, I always donate! I buy used too! I’ve even been known to salvage many an item curbside. Even if I couldn’t use it, there’s two thrift stores in my area, that I can just drop off something good that someone is throwing out. I do my best to recycle, and have found that when effort is made I can generate just as much recycled material as trash, and often times, more. The week’s I am most proud is when we have only 1 or 2 bags of trash and 2 or more in recyclables, but now my new project, is to scale down both to as close to nil as possible!!!

  21. posted by Karen Grant on

    I am not perfect with being green and strive daily to figure new ways that I can.I do practice daily!I have my bags with me at all times.I drive a small crossover vehicle.I only wash with cold water.Almost all of my lights have compact lights,starting with the ones I use the most.I use the clothesline for drying in weather permitting.I only use tapwater.Containers for lunches-no plastic bags,and a lunchbag to use.My heat is turned down at night,and not too high through the day,esp if we are not here.Buying second had clothing for the most part.Recycling bottles to a charity(missionary).I declutter constantly.I give items I no longer want or need to my family first and other items are given to a thrift shop in the area.We are only allowed 2 bags per household per week in the village that I live in.Rags for cleaning and enviromental friendly cleaning products.I wish that companies would reduce their packaging-that will make me not buy certain items for sure.Also starting to use rechargeable batteries.Computer goes to sleep when I am home and off any other times.Paper is recycled.Grocery items are usually local.I have a long way to go,but being aware is the first step!!!!

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