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Nearly Half of Consumers Feel Overwhelmed by “Stuff,” New Study Finds

Credit (or blame) capsule wardrobes, “Hoarders” or Marie Kondo’s life-changing magic of tidying up, but not only are Americans drowning in stuff, they’re feeling it too, a new report by Edelman Intelligence has found.

Conducted at the behest of Savers, a Bellevue, Wash.-based chain of for-profit thrift stores, the survey of 3,000 U.S. and Canadian adults revealed that 46 percent of consumers feel they have “way too much stuff.” Fifty-three percent have been compelled to give away possessions because they simply ran out of room.

Although North Americans are decluttering more than before, not everyone is unburdening their closets responsibly. In fact, 26 billion pounds of clothing and textiles—95 percent of which can be reused or recycled—are interned in landfills every year, per the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association.

One reason this might be happening? People are generally clueless about what happens to the things they throw away, Savers discovered.

According to the survey, 31 percent of consumers think that used items are diverted from their trash to recycling or donation. Thirty-five percent believe their clothes will decompose naturally in the landfill, and 64 percent think that it takes only two years for a T-shirt made with synthetic fibers to decompose. (Polyester can take anywhere between 20 to 200 years to break down, if at all.)

People also underestimate the natural resources that go into clothing production, Savers said. Sixty-three percent of respondents, for example, believe that leaving the lights on for a single night wastes more energy than churning out a new pair of jeans. And 61 percent assume, also falsely, that taking a 10-minute shower every day for a month wastes more water than creating 10 new cotton T-shirts. (It takes 700 gallons of the wet stuff to make one shirt.)

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Perhaps most tellingly, 49 percent of respondents didn’t know that keeping a garment in circulation for longer, whether by patching it up so they can keep on wearing it or passing it on to someone else, can reduce its environmental impact by 20 to 30 percent.

“They don’t understand that through reuse they can help lower our collective clothing footprint,” the report’s authors said. “It is clear more education about reuse is the key to changing behaviors.”

As a result,Savers said, people are “missing out on the full cycle of reuse,” which includes buying or using secondhand goods. Only 7 percent of people believe in buying pre-owned clothing and household goods instead of brand new. Just over a quarter (28 percent) think that donating used items is better than chucking them in the trash.

For more people to “bring reuse full circle,” the study said, more convenient solutions are necessary. People are turned off by friction and the numbers bear that out: 53 percent of respondents said they don’t like digging through piles when shopping to find something they like, and 80 percent will travel 15 minutes or less to donate their castoff goods.

“To encourage a positive behavior change, the evolving needs of consumers must be met,” Savers said. “Consumers must recognize that the most sustainable item is the one that already exists.”