Environmentalism starts at home

Pro tip: start with your closet.

Rebekah Saltzman teaches how to live the decluttered life, sustainably (photo credit: RIVKAH NAOMI GREEN)
Rebekah Saltzman teaches how to live the decluttered life, sustainably
(photo credit: RIVKAH NAOMI GREEN)
Life would feel better if you could wave a magic wand and make the household clutter disappear. But reorganizing takes time and effort – although not as much as you’d think.
If it seems like an overwhelming task, there are professional organizers who make an entire business of coming to your home and helping you get rid of things you don’t really want or need anymore. They also teach you how to maintain order afterward.
In Jerusalem
interviewed Rebekah Saltzman, a home and office organizer. The Haifa-based professional organizer grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and earned a degree in fashion design from Parsons School of Design in New York. She worked as a graphic designer for many years. Her passion for putting things in order began while she was still in high school, when she worked part time as a personal shopper.
“I realized I couldn’t buy things for people unless I knew what was already in their closets,” she says.
Going through her clients’ closets, she saw that they were bulging with items they never wore. Wasted space, wasted goods. The thought stayed in her mind over the years that she worked as a graphic designer, married, had three children and made aliya to Haifa with her family.
“I quit my design job, which focused on a single-use product, after I read Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. I realized I was making a product that contributes to waste. I didn’t want to do that anymore. I thought, what can I do to make the world better, to help people and protect the environment more?” It was during a clean-up job for an elderly couple that her vision became clear.
“They were making aliya and hired me to help downsize their possessions,” Saltzman recounts. “The wife insisted that everything be disposed of ethically. For instance, she had thousands of art magazines. We donated them to a library. That’s what made me understand that I wanted to deal with all discards in as a sustainable way as possible.”
From this germ of an idea, she created a service with new angle: eco-conscious discarding.
“Most organizers come to your house and leave you with your stuff. It’s your problem. I don’t want it to be your problem, because ultimately, it’ll sit by your door and never leave, or you’ll throw it in the trash.”
Part of her service is taking clients’ rejected things away, donating acceptable objects like dishes and tableware to the battered women’s shelter in Haifa and to other charities. Saltzman urges thinking in new ways about waste. For instance, unused bottles of shampoo or cleaning materials can be dropped off at the local mikveh (ritual bath).
“The zero-waste principle ties in with Jewish principles; why people should own less. It’s using what you already have and being satisfied, which is directly related to Jewish values. I teach that we don’t need to go out and buy more things to feel fulfilled. We’re so much happier without so much stuff. Every single client is happier after decluttering. They’ll tell me, ‘Getting dressed is so much easier now. I love all my clothes, and I get dressed in five minutes because there’s nothing left that I don’t want to wear.’ “Putting a discarded object into the secondhand market is the best thing you can do, because it avoids the landfill for longer. When you can’t pass clothes or objects on, recycle. Only after that, put it in the trash.”
This brings to mind the variety of Israeli charities and nonprofit organizations that are happy to accept all kinds of household discards, not only clothing. Hospitals accept books. The Edyth Geiger Memorial Library in https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Culture/Where-spirituality-meets-luxury-in-Safed-551390www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Culture/Where-spirituality-meets-luxury-in-Safed-551390 accepts books and magazines in English. Shelters and youth clubs accept kitchen and table ware. There’s the Yad2 website, where secondhand goods are bought and sold. WIZO has secondhand clothing stores all over Israel; they accept anything that’s in good shape. And the Project Agorah site offers a huge variety of goods given away for free. You may live in an area where there’s a gemah – a free loan association to which you can donate objects in good condition. Facebook has lots of buy-sell-and-swap groups where you can pass things on for a low price or for free.
On the topic of wearing secondhand clothes, Saltzman remarks, “There has to be a lot less shame or embarrassment in wearing used clothing. The biggest problem that I can see is that it takes time to shop for used clothing. You can’t just buy used dresses off the Internet or go to the mall for secondhand jeans. If you wear a non-standard size, it can be especially difficult to find secondhand clothing you like. You have to be proactive.”
Use it up, wear it out. Make it do; do without! She muses, “A client might say, ‘I love this dress, but it’s too long. I’ll dump it.’ I say, ‘Really, you love it but can’t be bothered to fix it? There are lots of seamstresses in town who could shorten it for you.’”
Reorganizing to avoid the landfill is a new approach in the decluttering concept. In her 10-week online course called “Conquer Your Clutter,” her students learn to go through their homes room by room, discovering resources they hadn’t imagined they possessed.
“It shouldn’t be about buying more and more storage containers, but about having less stuff, then figuring out how to organize what remains. There’s a section in the course where I have everybody count how many storage containers they think they’ll need to buy, and at the end of the course, they check the actual number versus their estimate. By the time we’re done, they realize they don’t need many new storage bins because they have what they need already, in their homes. They can use shoe boxes, cellphone boxes and plastic mushroom boxes to put in their drawers. They’re shocked to realize it doesn’t take any extra money to organize. Is it the prettiest? No, but if you have extra wrapping paper lying around, you can make your boxes match.”
What about life after reorganizing? “A lot of people have the misconception that living with zero waste takes more effort,” Saltzman says. “But if you come to my house, you’ll see that we’re not minimalists, we just have less stuff than most people.”
She reflects on the difficulty of resisting the hard-sell marketing that surrounds us.
“We tend to overbuy, that’s what we’re conditioned to do. Recycling is just a band-aid to the larger problem. What we should really be focusing on is reducing our consumption.”
She concludes, “We should live our best lives with a curated collection of the things that are most important to us.”
Rebekah Saltzman manages two Facebook groups where people share their journeys into zero waste, in English and in Hebrew. She also records podcasts addressing topics like “Is bigger better?” and “The more possessions, the more worries.”
Find the online Conquer Your Clutter course on Rebekahsaltzman.com and view Saltzman’s services on Balaganbegone.com