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Decluttering in Isolation? Here's What to Do (and NOT do) With Your Stuff

The photos in this post are from the Ottawa and Trenton area. I'll be surveilling Kingston this week to see if we have the same issue and will call for backup. This is why the message needs to be spread far and wide—it's happening in multiple cities across Canada. Can you help me, help Diabetes Canada spread the word?


To anyone reading this who doesn't normally follow me, please know I care passionately about the planet a bit more than people, because not all people even care about the planet. I feel personally attacked anytime I see a photo like this because I just don't understand how anyone can think it's okay to leave their stuff for someone else to clean up. If you'd like to get straight to the point of this post, you'll want to scroll past the photos in the middle of this post to get to the actionable stuff. Right now, I just need to vent...

I've been taking a break from social media but every time I pop on to respond to a message—these photos are the first ones I see. It happened last week on Facebook, so I spoke about it briefly. It happened the week before on Instagram, so I shared a few stories.

And then it happened again today, the first image I saw as I opened up the Instagram app: a sad looking Diabetes Donation bin surrounded by donations that seem to be uncared for, not even properly disposed (your items need to be in a garbage bag or a closed box), littered all over the ground.

Part of me feels like it's my responsibility to educate others on how to responsibly dispose of their clothing because it's part what I do for a living, but honestly? I didn't think I would need to spread such common sense in the middle of a pandemic.

Because here's the thing: a lot of people who have free time are decluttering and purging their homes right now. A lot of people think it's the perfect time, and I disagree for a few reasons.

Right now, there's more collective grief in the world than there ever has been.

Right now, a lot of us are more emotional and in a state a survival than we've ever been.

Right now, a lot of us are making decisions to help us cope.

Right now, our realities are a little skewed and we don't dress as we normally do or use the things we normally do.

Right now, there is no where that can accept our donations.

Thrift, charity and consignment stores are closed.

Donation centres and bins are also closed and items are no longer being picked up.

Which means, there's no where open for you donate your clothes right now.

So, why am I seeing areas where donation bins are located, littered with donations, all across Canada?

Why do people leave their unwanted items outside of donation bins, even though there are signs that kindly ask you not to?

Why do people continue to take their unwanted items to donation bins, even though, in the wake of a pandemic, they’ve kindly asked us to stop because they’re overwhelmed?

I understand that there can be some exceptions to this, and I always try my best to give others the benefit of the doubt. But because I've been donating for so long, I've met the guy who doesn't give a shit and I know he exists. So I really don’t think all of these instances are the exception and that’s why I feel so passionately about speaking up.

THIS IS NOT OKAY. This time is extra challenging for these non-profits because not only are they not raising any money, but they’re expensing a lot of it having to pay for all these bins to be cleaned. Just for Kingston last week, over 1800 lbs had to be sent to the dump.⁣⁣⁣⁣

Diabetes Canada needs our help to raise awareness about dumping at their donation bins. They've developed this open letter to share with your provincial & municipal community leaders. Please help us spread the word to pause donations (for now) and please stop dumping! You can read the open letter here.

So, what should you do with the things you declutter during quarantine?

If you're going to be purging and decluttering your home and your closets, there is ONE option I can think of for offloading these items safely during a pandemic: YOU KEEP THEM.


Because any other option would encourage people to leave their homes or damage the environment that we're currently trying to protect.

  • If you have extra space in your home, like a basement or attic, I recommend you set up a holding area where you keep bags or bins of stuff you want to get rid of.

  • If you live in a small space, put those belongings in the trunk of your car, relegate them to the closet you just cleared out, or find some room under a bed or in a suitcase.

You can still focus on the vision of decluttering and organizing your home without physically letting go of everything at the moment. If you are in the right frame of mind, you can still get it all packaged and ready to give away once the restrictions are released. And when that time comes, you can use this post as a guide for responsibly donating and recycling your clothing.

Personally, I spent some time decluttering my home and have two boxes for donations that I'm keeping in my trunk for the time being; I use the back seat for groceries now. Clothing is much more personal and emotional, so I'm waiting to tackle that.

What about charities like homeless or women’s shelters? 

Whether these organizations are open and accepting donations depends on the city you’re in. The important thing to consider is how to donate responsibly. Many non-profit organizations are financially strained or understaffed due to the pandemic, and dropping off a huge bin of goods they don’t actually need could be more overwhelming than helpful.

Even if local shelters are open, the types of donations they will take on will vary, as most of these organizations aren't going to be looking for used household goods or clothes at this time. Most shelters have a need for the same things we’re trying to get at the store—cleaning supplies, paper towels, and toilet paper. Unopened sample sizes of personal care items could also make good donations as more and more people seek shelter and resources. If this sounds like a route you'd like to take, always call the shelter to coordinate a donation. 

Something that’s always welcome? A cash donation, if you’re able and inspired to offer support.

Why can't I throw them out or drop them off to a friend?

I've seen the following suggestions for donating items during a pandemic, but respectfully disagree with all of them. Here's why:

"If it can’t be donated or saved, utilize the free bags of garbage that are available to your right now."

  • The problem: Is this suggesting people throw out their donations? Clothing is not trash and should never be thrown out as such because it all ends up in a landfill where these clothes sit for YEARS, releasing greenhouse gases and leaking toxins/dyes into the surrounding soil and water. More on that here.

"Put a post on Facebook marketplace or Kijiji to see if anyone needs anything. Practice safe distancing and leave them in the curb."

"Put them on your curb and put FREE and people will take your items."

  • The problem: First, can we stop encouraging people to leave their homes to pick up something from someone else's home if it's not essential?! Second, leaving your items on the curb for someone else to take can lead to irresponsible placement of the items. Sure, it’s not your responsibility what’s done with the items afterwards but you can prevent this by not just letting anyone come by and grab your stuff.

You know what really grinds my gears? When people are too lazy to deal with the stuff they no longer want, that they burden others and Mother Earth with it. Don't be that person.

The best thing you can do right now? Stay home and keep your stuff with you. When this is all over, contact me to responsibly dispose of it and I would be happy to for a small fee.

Additional thoughts...

The problem isn't that you don't have space to put your stuff—the problem is that you have too much STUFF. If you find yourself purging and decluttering year after year, it's time to take a look at your buying habits.

There needs to be a shift to buying less and buying better, focusing less on 'good deals' and more on what will last and what can be repaired. When shopping for future items, support the ethical companies and brands that are incorporating recycled material into their goods, since this is an effort worthy of support.

In addition to this post, this week I'll be making a trip to all the donation bins in Kingston to check the state of them and contacting The City of Kingston to add any additional signage as necessary. I encourage you to do the same in your neighbourhood. If you see people donating, please educate them as to why it's not responsible at this moment.


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