What Is The Zero Waste Lifestyle? 7 Signs It's Time To Declutter

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You've likely heard of the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Paring down possessions has become all the rage as people attempt to simplify their lives. Some people are taking it one step further by adopting a zero-waste lifestyle. So, what is the zero-waste lifestyle, and is it for you? Bea Johnson's book, Zero Waste Home, has been published in more than 15 languages, proving that people are eager to to learn how to live with less.

Zero waste, a more extreme version of tidying up, is described as an ethical, economical, efficient, and visionary process designed to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. Johnson's carbon footprint is so small she can fit all of her accumulated waste from an entire year into a single jar.

“We have five rules – refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot – in that order,” Johnson told a group of zero-waste enthusiasts during a recent talk at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, according to an article in the Irish Times. "It actually takes practice to say no to these things, but every time you accept something for free you are giving permission to create more.”

Johnson said she and her family realized how little they actually needed when they brought only basic necessities with them when moving into a small apartment during a relocation. Eventually the family realized they didn't miss most of the things they had left behind. I had a similar experience when I was forced to put most of my possessions in storage for 18 months almost 10 years ago. After a year and a half I decided that if I hadn't missed the item during that time, I probably didn't really need it.

While you might not be ready to be a zero hero, that's OK. It doesn't make you a bad person, and you can still learn to live with less. Here are seven signs it's time to declutter your life.

1Your Closet Is Full Of Clothes You Haven't Worn In Years

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OK, so most of us are guilty of this, including me. Johnson says that in general, we tend to use only about 20 percent of the clothes we have at any one time.

I wear the same clothes over and over again, and most of the other clothes hang untouched in my closet. While I do have a few items I've had for more than 10 years that I do wear on occasion, I could probably get rid of most of these clothes and not miss them.

If your closet is full of clothes you have't worn for at least two years, it might be time to consider donating them.

2You Buy Things You Don't Need, Or Even Want, Because It Makes You Feel Better

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Ever heard the term "retail therapy?" Many of us buy things to fill an emotional void, and this can lead to bad shopping decisions, high credit card bills, and accumulated unwanted items.

While some psychologists agree that retail therapy does have positive benefits, it can also be a way to avoid dealing with problems, which can lead to even more problems. If you find yourself buying things you don't want, or need, it might be time to hit the pause button.

In extreme cases, compulsive shopping can lead to hoarding, and some people have even died after being trapped by their possessions.

3You Move Boxes From House to House & Never Open Them

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Moving is named as one of the top five most stressful life events by the blog Health Status. I have moved 14 times in 18 years. You might be thinking, "wow, this person must love moving." On the contrary, but for one reason or another, including relocating to new states, a divorce, and job changes, I find myself on the move a lot.

Now for the good news. Moving is actually a great way to assess your belongings and donate anything that you no longer want or need. One thing my marathon moving has taught me is the luxury of living with less. Before a move, evaluate each item and decide whether it really needs to accompany you on your new journey.

If you don't want the hassle of selling your items, there are many places online where you can give them away. When I moved from Ohio to Maine after college I used the website Freecycle to donate everything in my apartment to a newly divorced woman with a child who was starting over with nothing. Knowing my items were going to be recycled to help someone else made it much easier for me to part with them.

If you find yourself moving over and over with the same unpacked boxes, it might be time to evaluate whether or not lugging those items all over the place is worth it, or if they could be put to better use somewhere else.

4You Rent Your Stuff Its Own Pad

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Unless you live in one of those 200 square-foot closet apartments, do you really need a storage unit? According to an article on Bloomberg the number of self-storage establishments in the U.S. more than doubled from 1998 to 2012, due in large part to the culture of having more.

In fact, Americans have so much stuff that many people pay rent so their stuff can have its own place. Doesn't that seem kind of ridiculous? If you have a storage unit, and you have no idea what's in it, it's time to get to work decluttering. The same holds true for an attic or overflowing garage.

Johnson says, "People who store their things when moving often discard most of what they kept in storage when they finally return to claim it."

5You Keep Things Because You Might Need Them "One Day"

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Do you keep things you haven't used in years because you might need them one day? Usually "one day" is some far off future date when that chord that connected your VCR to your TV might come in handy. The problem is that you no longer own a VCR, or even a TV, so how will this chord ever be useful to you?

If you're holding onto things that have no real purpose in your daily life, it might feel good to cut the chord, literally. Most cities have places where you can recycle your old electronics; simply google "recycle electronics" and the name of your town or city, and say goodbye to that special drawer full of useless chords.

6You Can't Find Anything

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Do you regularly spend time looking for things like your phone, wallet, or keys because you have too much stuff? If you're losing things because your living space it too cluttered, it's time to take back your life.

In a clean, decluttered space it's easy to see everything you own, and in turn you'll never lose anything you need. If your stuff is causing you more problems than joy, some of those items have overstayed their welcome, and it's time to find them a new home.

7Your House Is Full Of Expired Products

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If you have a fridge full of expired cheese, a make-up bag with mascara from 2001, a shower full of empty shampoo bottles, and a cupboard of cleaning products you haven't used in years, it's the perfect time for a little spring cleaning.

Additionally, if you want to embrace zero waste, many of these items (save for the cheese) can be made at home from all natural products. On her blog, Johnson explores how you can save thousands of dollars a year by using cocoa powder as blusher and dry shampoo, and making your own cleaning products with vinegar-based solutions. I am totally on board with vinegar for cleaning, and I haven't bought an all-purpose cleaner in more than a year.

If you can identify with even half of these seven things, it might be time to delve into decluttering, which can not only improve your living space, but can enhance your overall quality of life.

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, authors of multiple books on minimalism say: "Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s important things — which actually aren’t things at all."