A Vulture In the House?

Have you ever seen a vulture? They aren’t pretty. In fact, they are downright ugly. Few people would want one as a pet. I love birds and feed them all winter long, but I’m hoping to attract robins, woodpeckers and bluebirds, not vultures.

However, vultures play an important role in nature, and having one around might actually come in handy.

Vultures are scavengers. When small creatures die, vultures perform the much-needed task of disposing of the dead material. The process isn’t glamorous, but they seem to get the job done without fanfare. The other day I saw a turkey vulture high in a tree, waiting to descend on a squirrel who looked to have been recently hit by a car. As I quickly walked by, I wondered, “What would the world look like if we didn’t have scavengers?” The pileup of roadkill and deceased creatures would be overwhelming!

Clearing away things that are “dead” is important. Admittedly, few people would keep a dead animal in their home, but many hold onto items that are no longer vital or relevant. When helping people clear space, I often come across:

  • Clothing tags (and the plastic pieces that held them in place)
  • Candy/snack wrappers
  • Empty paper cups and juice boxes
  • Used plastic utensils
  • Dead batteries
  • Broken pens, pencils and crayons
  • Dried out markers
  • Bent nails, staples and paper clips
  • Empty rolls of tape
  • Dried up glue sticks
  • Old receipts
  • Manuals/instructions for items that are no longer in the home
  • Empty ink cartridges (and the plastic pieces that protect the pad)
  • Expired food
  • Old fortune cookie fortunes
  • Out of date calendars, magazines, catalogs and newspapers
  • Empty bottles and cans
  • Outgrown clothing
  • Over-stretched rubber bands and hair bands
  • Old contact lenses and unused cases
  • Old agendas, meeting notes, itineraries and calendars
  • Dead plants
  • Dried out nail polish
  • Expired medication
  • Unidentifiable frozen food
  • Invitations for events that have passed
  • Empty boxes
  • Silicon freshness packets (e.g. from new shoes)
  • Old/used Kleenex
  • Ticket stubs
  • Old phone books
  • Old light bulbs, motor oils, paint etc.

In most cases, items like these accumulate because we are busy “in the moment” and simply stick, stash or drop items on the nearest surface. We have a vague intention of coming back and dealing with them later, but never get around to it. Over time, they get covered up, kicked under a bed/furniture, pushed to the back and forgotten.

Since a vulture is unlikely to fly through and get rid of everything you no longer want or need, it is important to embrace the process of clearing such items away. If the task feels overwhelming, break the challenge down into small pieces, tackling one at a time. For example, go through one drawer/shelf a day. Even if you don’t take the time to organize it all, clearing away the trash will free up space and leave you with less to manage.

Most trash fits into one of 5 categories:

  1. Trash can material
  2. Recyclable (varies by town, but typically includes at least paper, some plastic, glass and aluminum)
  3. Shred-worthy paper (anything with account numbers, social security numbers and private data)
  4. Special disposal required (e.g. old paint, motor oil, medication, antifreeze, electronics, light bulbs)
  5. Donation worthy (belongings you no longer want, but are still in good shape)

As you go through the process, there are a few tips you can use to help make pitching things quick and easy.

  • Put a trash can in every room. Empty trash cans on a regular basis. Get cans with lids if pets or small children are tempted to explore.
  • Get the largest recycling bin possible.
  • Keep a container for shreddable paper and schedule time weekly to complete the process.
  • Establish containers to hold items that need special disposal
    • Hang labeled zip-top bags in a closet or on the back of a door for old batteries and light bulbs.
    • Establish a zone or bin to hold chemicals until your town’s hazardous waste pickup day.
    • Label a box “Donations” and invite family members to drop anything they no longer want inside.
  • Set aside time each day to walk through and clear away any trash that has been mindlessly set down.

*     *     *     *     *

The best way to avoid buildup of trash is to be mindful about getting it into an appropriate receptacle right away. It takes a bit more effort in the moment, but in the long run, it saves you time, effort and space!

Do you tend to accumulate trash?

27 thoughts on “A Vulture In the House?”

  1. What an interesting connection you make between vultures clearing away the “dead” animals and setting aside time to declutter the “dead” household objects. It’s a comprehensive list of things that I too often find in my clients’ homes. Those things that get ignored. They’re taking up space, but are no longer needed. I like your practical suggestions for setting aside time to address those items…but also to have the resources in place (like the trash and recycling bins) to make the decluttering much easier.

    A few more items I thought of… expired pantyhose with either rips or the crackling sound the waistband makes if they’re really old, expired cosmetics (they have a relatively short life), paper and plastic shopping bags, scraps of paper with things written on them that you have no idea what it means, and junk mail.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…50 Colorful Life Lessons to Help Clarify Your Next StepMy Profile

    1. Excellent additions! I know exactly what you mean about the elastic that has lost its “zing”… worked with a client a couple of weeks ago who had a bunch of those. Those aren’t good for anybody – time to let ’em go!

    1. That’s a great expression, Diane. We get used to seeing things in our environment, and it helps to have fresh eyes. That is a perspective we can bring, right?

  2. What a list! And as I read it, I recalled seeing many of those items in my client’s homes. Many of these things become invisible to the eye as we live with them on a daily basis. But, with a scavenger’s eye and mentality, they’ll be purged quickly–leaving room for what’s beautiful and meaningful.

    1. Yes, we do get used to seeing them. Once they become “wallpaper,” you really aren’t motivated to throw them away. Anything we can remove from the space makes life easier!

  3. Great list of items. I find that dried out markers are a big issue. People use them a bit then when it starts to fade, they get new ones, not realizing they should throw away the old ones. When my kids were little, we visited the Crayola Factory and there we learned that if Crayola markers dry out, you can soak them with the cap off, in water for a day or two and they will work again. I tried it and it works well. I don’t know if this would work with permanent markers tough but it’s worth a try. =)

    1. Great little story, Janet. I have some people in my house (who will remain nameless…) who put empty ice cream containers back in the fridge. Still working on that one!

  4. Definitely intrigued by your title! Nice correlation made. I’ll add: cords that don’t go to anything, used cotton swabs, and pet toys/gear for an animal you no longer have.

  5. I like how you mentioned the importance of taking time out of your day to go around and collect any garbage. If you keep it up every day, it doesn’t take long at all.

  6. What a powerful analogy to what is in our homes! It’s true that we are not always aware of what is dead. It takes a moment of pause and awareness to acknowledge that something is dead. It’s a great way to help our clients move forward by creating more thoughts about what is dead and what is not in their homes.

    1. I live with a few people (to remain nameless!) who don’t seem to see the “dead” in their space. Fresh eyes are definitely called for.. and when you require this of yourself, you might be surprised by what you see!

  7. What a great list (and great image motivator with the vulture). I have a tough time getting rid of old calendars. I don’t know why, but…. I tend to keep them for several years, just in case. I need you to whisper “Vulture. Dead item.” every so often to me just to get me motivated on these couple of challenging items. 🙂
    Susan recently posted…Tips for Packing a Suitcase Like Military FamilyMy Profile

    1. I think we all have a few items that we just struggle to let go. I find that sometimes I just get “in the mood” and finally pitch a category of items. I think calendars is actually a common one. Either we love the images on the large/wall calendars, or we feel we might want to refer back and see what we were doing on a particular day. It all comes down to prioritizing the space, right? Maybe I should make a recording of me saying, “Vulture.. dead item!” and post it to Youtube:)

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