5 Tips for a Zero Waste Move

They say that two moves is as good as a fire. As a minimalist, I welcome any opportunity to cleanse and start anew. Out with the old, and in with the…less stuff.

For our most recent move, from our rental apartment in the East Bay to our new home in the North Bay, I naively thought it was going to be different. Not only had I become a minimalist and zero waster, but I’d also become a realist. I wasn't going to waste my time with a garage sale where I’d inevitably make too little money to compensate for the time and energy lost. I made checklists and sold bulky pieces of furniture on Craigslist. My home was minimal and organized, so surely moving would be a cinch.

I hit my breaking point mid-move — my best intentions and careful planning went out the window and I just wanted it to be over and done with. To hell with being organized, and how did we accumulate so much stuff?! I wasn’t a minimalist, I was a pack rat in disguise.

Even though our move was far from minimal, or easy, I do have to give myself props — this was the least wasteful move I had accomplished in my decade+ experience. In the past, my moves had produced tons of garbage, mostly from items that I wasn’t disposing of properly. Everything I didn’t know what to do with — old cleaning supplies, paint cans, broken electronics, went into the garbage. This time was different.

I had already switched from disposable items to reusable items in the process of going zero waste, so there wasn't a lot to throw away. My closet of household cleaners and paper towels had been replaced by vinegar-based all-purpose cleaner and reusable cloths. For the few things that did need to be disposed of, I did my research and found places where I could recycle/dispose of them properly. 

While moving is inevitably chaotic, you can stay zero waste during the process with a few easy tips:

  1. Donate, donate, donate. A month before you move, start the process of purging. Go through all of your closets and drawers and start a box (or two, or three) of items to donate. Be ruthless and let go of things you have no use for or no longer fit. For me, I did multiple donation runs. Each time I packed up a room, I would find more things I could do without. Invite a friend over with a keen eye to help you decide which clothes are unflattering. For inspiration, read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”
  2. Sell. As with donations, get an early start on selling. If you have something of value that you feel bad about donating, try selling it. For clothes, I will take them to a consignment shop that buys clothing (usually designer pieces). For furniture, appliances and other housewares, I do Craigslist. If I don’t sell my item after a week, I will either drop the price or consider donating it. I try not to feel bad if I donate something of value — the way I see it, it’s going to a good cause.
  3. Recycling Center. Deep into the moving process, I find that I have a number of items that need to be disposed of that can’t be recycled in my blue bin. Things that are broken, electronics that are out of date, cords that don’t seem to belong to anything, empty spray cans and paint buckets from home projects and crafts. I found an amazing recycling center in El Cerrito that takes hard to recycle items — hard plastics, electronics, batteries, bulbs, scrap metal, etc. Do some research and see if your city has a local center that accepts hard to recycle items. Plan a trip towards the very end of your move.
  4. Reusable Bins. I have about 6 rubbermaid bins that I use to move. I’m not saying everything fits in them, but they’re great for clothing and other light items. They also eliminate the need for cardboard boxes and tape. I like to use transparent bins so I can see what’s inside.
  5. Recycled Boxes. For heavier items, I like to use recycled cardboard boxes and paper tape (which is compostable). The last time I moved, I gathered boxes from my workplace. Workplaces generally have tons of boxes that aren’t being used. You could also check your local grocery or liquor store. Instead of bubble wrap, use household towels and linens to wrap items. You could also use newspaper.

Have you done a move recently? Please share your tips for staying zero waste below!