Marie Kondo-ing, Responsibly

I didn’t want this ceiling fan anymore, but it was easy to find someone who did! Photo: C Plume

The Marie Kondo Effect is taking the US by storm. If you haven’t heard of her, Marie Kondo is the author of the New York Times number one best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and, most recently, the star of the Netflix series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

Instead of culling and discarding articles room by room, Kondo’s KonMari approach advocates gathering all you own of one item (purses, clothes, shoes, towels) from your entire premises and begin culling from there.

She espouses keeping only those things that spark joy – through sentiment or practicality – and that all else should be thanked for its service and let go. When the TV show hit the US airwaves early this year, thrift shops began filling up – and they’re having a hard time managing all the donations. Where does/should all that stuff go?

As an environmentalist, I’m all for minimizing my possessions, but contributing more waste to landfills or incineration is against my ethos. Late last year, I moved in with my partner, an event that had me culling, but also thinking strategically about how to keep the goods I was discarding out of the landfill.

Over the past six months, making no official measurements, I’ve kept over a ton – 2,000 pounds – of stuff out of the landfill. And by stuff, I’m casting a wide arc: everything from foam insulation to wood pallets, Scrabble games to old CD cases, clothes and shoes and a bunch of old keys. As an avid “freecycler” I’ve learned that the adage of “One man’s (or woman’s!) trash is another’s treasure” is, with a bit of marketing and strategy, spot on.

Here are the resources and the tactics I’ve used.

Some things will sell on eBay, but they really have to have value. Before you post something on the site, make sure it’s worth your time to package and mail it, and that you’ll be covering your mailing cost. If you opt to sell an item by auction, realize that it may sell for that low opening price. On the other hand, I’ve found eBay to be an excellent source of used parts for broken appliances and good-quality used items.

Craigslist DC
Craigslist can be a great place to sell things that have value but are too heavy to ship. I post unique goods beyond what the average freecycler might be interested in on the “Free Stuff” section. The foam insulation we pulled out of our attic was snapped up the same day I posted it. Much to my partner’s awe, someone was over the moon to take the wood from an old workbench for building a bench of his own.

Sometimes, you just have to embrace your creative side. An old washer drum is now my year-round yard flower. Photo: C Plume

Freecycle DC/TrashNothing DC
FreeCycle DC ( is one of my longtime favorite forums for passing along goods, from garden fencing to stuffing from old pillows. TrashNothing ( is another (and somewhat more user-friendly) interface for the same freecycling list; it allows the easy posting of pictures and goods. TrashNothing also makes it very easy to inform people when goods have been taken and are no longer available.

When giving things away, be it through Craigslist, FreeCycle or a neighborhood Listserv, it’s helpful to have a porch for leaving stuff so people can pick it up at their convenience, without you having to be present. When I receive an email from someone asking if something is still available, I ask when (approximately) they’ll be able to pick the item up. (I’ve found that this reduces the number of no-shows.) I rarely actually meet the person who picks up my items.

Community Forklift
If my goods aren’t snapped up on one of the other sites, and if they have some home utility, I take them to Community Forklift ( Located just across the DC line in Hyattsville, Maryland, it is a nonprofit that resells old sinks, toilets and washer-dryers, as well as electric and plumbing supplies and paint. It’s also a great source for old doors and hardware for historic homes. Staff will provide a receipt for your donation.

Public Libraries
If you’re looking to get rid of books, most DC public libraries accept book donations, which they sell to raise funds for the library. The Southeast Library, located next to Eastern Market Metro Plaza, has a book donation bin on the north (CVS) side of the building. Or, call your local branch to learn where to drop off donations.

Mom’s Organic Market
Did you know that there’s a Mom’s Organic Market in Ivy City? In addition to an impressive array of packaging-saving bulk items that includes pasta and even grasshoppers(!), Mom’s has partnered with TerraCycle and accepts harder to recycle items such as reading glasses, cosmetic containers, energy bar wrappers and squeeze pouches.

Most public and private schools hold sales during the year to raise additional funds, and they’re often looking for donations. Schools can partner with TerraCycle by joining one of its brigades to earn points for recycling otherwise hard to recycle items such as water filters, solo cups and food pouches.

Look to your creative side as you decide what to discard. When my mason jars don’t have jam in them, they’re “on call” for when I need a few extra glasses or when I want to root plant cuttings. A broken drum from my old washing machine has a new life as an eclectic metal flower in my yard. Old road maps and posters make for unique wrapping paper.

Disposing Properly
Items that really have no further use should still be disposed of properly. Did you know that electrical items – old fans, TVs and computers – are no longer allowed in DC residential trash? The Fort Totten Transfer Station hosts a “hazardous” waste drop on every Saturday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., and on the Thursday before the first Saturday of the month, 1-5 p.m. Paint, electronics, batteries and hazardous waste can be dropped off there, and a document shredder is on site every first Saturday of the month. You’ll need a DC license to get in.

I’ve found the best way to reduce my waste and my possessions is not to buy it in the first place, or to buy second-hand. Reducing my purchases reduces the waste I produce to begin with and saves me money. I just bought some wrought iron patio furniture through a listing I found on Craigslist, and I received a wonderful manual coffee grinder for free on my neighborhood Listserv. So, go ahead and jump on the KonMari wave that is taking the US by storm. But use some of your creativity to cull that stuff responsibly. It’s actually a lot of fun!


Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler:; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member and the vice chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the perspectives expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.