Clutter vs. upcycling: In which my child is right and I am not

Monkey models some recycled clothing

I’m extremely bad at keeping stuff. This comes from a lifetime of moving to a different home every two or three years. Until I turned twenty-two and got my own apartment, most of my stuff could fit into one big suitcase. (After that, it fit into a big suitcase and a few boxes…) I maintained this impetus into my thirties, and even now I find it hard to keep stuff that looks like clutter.

But now that I have a kid, things are vastly different. For one thing, my kid is an amazing packrat, mostly because it’s a family tradition to rebel.

“MAMA, don’t throw out that wrapper! We can use it!”

“For what?”

“I don’t know yet but we can use it!”

Reuseable wrapping “paper” made out of felt

…She also creates clutter as if it’s born around her. School sends home worksheets of basic math that the teacher has carefully saved (not sure why), art camp sends back reams of paintings and drawings, and every holiday and birthday spawns wrapping paper, gift bags, cards, and toy packaging.

But lately I’ve had the following sinking feeling about clutter: even if I stick a bunch of stuff into a bag and put it in the garbage, this bag simply heads to a land fill somewhere, or at best to a recycling plant. It’s still clutter, just not right next to me. I suspect I’ve just made it the world’s problem instead of mine.

And the other day I realized that my child is right and I’m not, and that it’s our responsibility to use the crap that I think is clutter instead of just throwing it away.

But how?

Another reuseable present bag that I made last Christmas

I fear that this question has now become a lifetime preoccupation. How DO we recycle the box that comes with art supplies? How do we recycle a toilet paper roll? How do we turn the plastic wrapper that comes over stickers into something useful?

I realize that I’m going to fail a lot. Most of the clutter will still end up in a landfill. But I think it’s important to my kid (and the world) to try rather than give up. I’m going to keep thinking about different options for clutter rather than tossing it all away!

And in that spirit, here are a few of the blogs I’ve been reading recently that help keep me thinking about recycling…

  • Kanelstrand: Lifestyle blog about simplifying & going green. I kind of dig this post especially: Learn to live with less and enjoy it.
  • Pysselbolaget: This Swedish woman posts lots of recycling craft projects for kids, including a few excellent ones about upcycling toilet paper rolls into pencil holders and plastic bottles into doll purses.
  • Hel Looks: Finnish street fashion. I’ve noticed that almost everyone wears recycled/green clothing. Used is best!
  • Creative Jewish Mom – all kinds of recycled crafts.
  • Craftgawker – and tons more inspiration for various projects.

And feel free to share your own favorite upcycling / recycling / craft projects or inspirational websites, I’d love to hear about them!

Leave a comment


  1. The one thing we have a lot of is paper from I.’s school. And we recycle it, but we tend not to re-use it. I do feel pretty good about our waste, though. Usually we have one kitchen-sized bag of trash per week. Now that N’s in diapers (and yes, I am bad and use disposables), we have closer to two bags per week. I ought to think more about re-using, though.

    And for clothes: I went to a clothing swap recently and it was awesome! And anything that didn’t get picked up was donated to a local women’s group.

  2. Achariya

     /  February 20, 2012

    Nice job with the garbage! It sounds like you guys are incredibly responsible. I used disposable diapers as well, for Monkey — far too long …

    When I lived in Oregon, I used to go to “naked lady parties,” a bunch of women swapping clothes. Totally fun. I think I saw a sign for one around town, I’ll have to actually attend. 😀


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