Declutter or reuse, recycle, reduce?

In recent months I’ve been busy sorting through possessions, helping my mother declutter. Of course, being a hoarder, a collector, or any other synonym you wish to use, means you’d have the extent of the task about right. we’ve had many laughs and a few tears in the process of ‘letting go.’ These are only a few things my mother collects. (I’ll possibly tell you about more, another time.)

Plastic bags and wrappers…

… any, size shape or colour. Did you, say oh no! Be assured, I hear you. Perhaps you are an environmentalist. In her own way, so is my mother. Long before the current issues came to the fore, my mother reused bags and wrappers, over and over.

In the 1970s, I remember being called a ‘skinflint’ when I washed, hung out and dried, plastic bags, in keeping with what I’d witnessed my mother doing and, like her, I saw no purpose in discarding a re-usable item. A row of neatly pegged bags hung on my verandah line, ready to be reused for work lunches. Possibly shamed by my peer’s remark, I began to be less scrupulous and discarded the sandwich bags and other pieces of plastic until, after many years, I realised I had become what I considered, rather wasteful. A growing sense of guilt arose if I did not use that plastic bag or wrapper more than once. Soiled items were discarded, not washed and reused. It is quite different now with environmental concerns. I avoid plastic as much as possible.

Images found on a google search are enough to encourage alternatives to using plastic.

‘Getting crafty’ to create a  city of tall buildings.
Pieces of paper and cardboard boxes

Envelopes, backs of fliers, scraps of paper and thin card of any shape or size are all re-usable for a note, a shopping list, a household memo to self or someone else, or any such purpose.

Stamps are cut or torn from the corners of envelopes – apparently with the full postmark – and given to the CWA (Country Women’s Association) as a fundraiser.

Boxes of all shapes and sizes are kept. I honestly cannot believe the range and sizes stashed for ‘future use’. ‘Getting crafty’  is one way to use up the stockpile.

I’ve followed in her footsteps and keep a lot of paper, though not all and I seldom keep boxes, except for craft projects.

Recycling stamps, although it is preferable the user hadn’t applied this one with sticky tape!
Gift wrapping paper

Oh please, we’d sigh nearly every Christmas and birthday. We had to carefully lift sticky tape and not tear the paper. Re-used gift wrap was our norm. Every crumple and crinkle added character to our gifts. To my shame, I remember learning how to iron paper, so the creases were less apparent! However, as the years marched on, and quality paper was increasingly expensive, tears in gift paper made it challenging to remove tape without damaging it. Imagine my mother’s horror when her grandchildren ripped open gifts, impatient for what was inside. Imagine her laughter too, when she noted joy in the eyes of the recipients of a gift they would have much fun with. The discarded paper was rifled through, cut into smaller pieces and used again. Sometimes, we covered school books, or scrapbooks or made art and craft items with cards.

Randomly chosen recycled cards cover a box

Cards – birthday and Christmas
Cards were used and reused in several ways. After noting who a card was from, and with the Christmas List updated, the fun part of cutting swirly shapes began. First, we cut around the message inside the card, (so long as the writer’s message left sufficient space), and carefully cut a shape around the image on the front of the card. We now had two gift tags from each card, ready for next year’s gifts.

Is it decluttering or reusing, recycling, reducing?

In this day and age where the mantra re-use, recycle, reduce is almost falling on deaf ears, I guess I am proud of my mother’s spendthrift ways. She was ahead of her time – and a product of her time. Born in the 1930’s, she grew up through the depression years in Australia and knew what it meant to have to save every last piece of almost anything, to get by. In today’s world, she is right on target, I suppose. I do draw the line, though at plastic bag recycling in her original manner. In fact, I am rather anti-plastic bags now, seeing how they’ve caused issues in the environment.

As for paper re-use, I have a drawer full for grandchildren to draw on and to practice their cutting out skills as well for writing our own lists and notes.

And finally, gift wrap and cards are perfect for covering cardboard boxes in bright decorative colours. I file birthday and Christmas cards in shoe boxes covered with the fronts of old cards, giving each box my own unique touch.

Decluttering or recycling? It is a bit of both. The process of decluttering requires using some of those stored bags and boxes. Labels are printed on  card and paper. Actually re-using the items is a slower, less immediate way of decluttering, yet it is in-keeping with an ethic that has its place today.

A box covered with cards for storing recycled cards.

Susan is a writer based in Perth's Darling Range, Western Australia. Her love for writing began as a child and is a life-long passion. Susan is also passionate about reading and attributes much of her learning to the wonderful world of literature. She enjoys photography and art and loves to write the occasional poem. She is often found indulging in a good cup of coffee and gazing over the hills from her backyard.

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