In the past 10 years I have lived in three apartments and two houses. With each move more unused items were packed away and place in a storage building until that elusive “someday when I have time” comes along. To further add to this mountain of boxes, I retired from the public school system in the spring of 2004 and resigned from the Kentucky Career and Technical College System in 2007.

When I made my last move in January of last year, I was determined to downsize and properly discard all the unneeded and unwanted things that I had accumulated during my lifetime. The first time I opened my garage door and was faced with the enormity of the task, I was truly afraid my new neighbors would feel they had a hoarder in their midst. Where do I start?

As an avid recycler, I was determined to apply the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra that I have taught for years. So I tackled my task one box at a time, sorting things into the following categories: things that had sentimental value, things I would use, things that could be used by someone else, things that could be recycled, things that could be repaired, and trash.

The easiest category was things I would use. My rule was if it had not been used or missed in more than two years I probably would not use it in the future. Any item that fit into this category was recategorized as reusable or recyclable.

The things with sentimental value belonged mostly to my two sons who are now adults. The first time one said, “Just throw it away.” I was devastated. Needless to say those items were neatly packed away and placed in a closet.

One of the best things about downsizing is getting rid of things that may have become clutter to you, but are much needed by someone else. Unwanted furniture was given to family members to help make new beginnings. Unused latex-based paint was given to the Habitat ReStore, and unwanted clothing and household items were donated to Goodwill.

Being a teacher for over 30 years, I had amassed a lifetime’s collection of paper. Cleaning out filing cabinets I was able to take a 6-foot-high stack of paper printed on one side to my office. We will be using it in our printers and copy machines for many months. Even the storage boxes and bubble wrap were given to friends and family to use for their own moves.

Surprisingly the smallest categories were trash and recyclables. After reusing old boxes, donating appliances, and repurposing collections of tools, the majority of trash consisted on items damaged beyond repair – old clothes that had been attacked by hungry bugs over years of storage, items suffering from water damage, etc.

The recycling was mainly broken glass (thanks to multiple moves), lots of shredded paper and a mountain of Diet Pepsi cans.

Opening that same garage door today everything has a place and purpose. I even have room left for my car and my treadmill – one item in desperate need of reuse. Having completed my task, I no longer think of the process as just moving or downsizing. It turned out to be a fun trip down memory lane.

Maxine-RudderMaxine Rudder currently serves as the deputy director for Bluegrass Greensource. She graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a master’s in education and a Rank I in supervision and secondary principalship. She spent 28 years in public education as both a teacher and administrator. Rudder is involved with the Kentucky Green and Healthy Schools Program, Kentucky Environmental Literacy Plan Alliance, Fayette County Public School Sustainability Council, Kentucky River Water Trail Alliance, USGBC Green Schools Advocacy Team and Kentucky Association for Environmental Education.

This article appeared in KY Forward on September 3, 2013.