Your No-Questions-Asked Guide To Getting Rid Of ALL Your Old Stuff Responsibly

Written by Lindsay Miles

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In her new book Less Stuff, zero-waste advocate Lindsay Miles provides the guide to responsible decluttering we've been waiting for. In it, Miles goes a step beyond the basics to give readers a sense of how a clean home can be a valuable part of any eco-friendly life. Here, she provides ideas of where to donate old goods beyond your local thrift shop (because those can get overwhelmed with stuff!).

When we think about donating, we think of the charity shop. Actually, we tend to think of the nearest or most convenient charity shop—but different stores will take different items, so there's no need to limit ourselves to one. Donations don't need to be limited to charity shops, either. We can give items away to community groups, organizations, and neighbors—and they'll often take things charity shops might not. You'll be surprised what it's possible to give a new home.

Too many of us are guilty of ‘wishcycling’ when it comes to making charity-shop donations.

A word on charity shop donations.

The most obvious (and easiest) place to donate your unwanted items is the charity shop or thrift store. Remember, though—these stores want products that they can resell. That means items that are clean, complete, and in good working order. Too many of us are guilty of "wishcycling" when it comes to making charity shop donations. We think an item still has some life left, and we don't want to throw it out because we feel guilty, so we take it to the charity shop in the hope that they can resell it—even though we know in our hearts that it is extremely unlikely anyone will buy it.

Charity shops get a huge number of donations every day—far more than they can handle. We aren't doing charity shops a favor by giving them our stuff: They are doing us a favor by taking it. The best thing we can do is donate only high-quality, well-made, and desirable items to charity shops.

Before deciding to donate anything to the charity shop, ask yourself if you genuinely think that someone will walk into the shop and buy the item. If you'd be happy to use it yourself (if you needed it, of course!) or lend it to a friend or family member, then you can donate with a clear conscience. If items are not up to scratch, don't just throw them away; you will still be able to give them away…just not here.

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Other things to consider to give your items the best chance of being resold: 

  • It's best practice to call ahead and find out if your local charity shop takes (and needs) the things that you're donating before you drop them off. Some don't have space to take toys or furniture or may have an overstock or shortage of certain things.
  • Donate direct to the shops rather than donation bins if you can, and try to drop items off within opening hours (or as close as possible) to prevent your donations being damaged.
  • If you do take your items to a donation bin, and it is already full, don't just leave your stuff next to it. That's littering. Take it to a different bin, or take it home and return at a later date.
  • Try to think seasonally. Stores need to turn over goods fast to make money, and donating all your winter clothes in the height of summer or Christmas-themed tableware in February might mean they don't sell and get sent to landfill, even if they are good quality. If you can, store out-of-season items at home until it is a more appropriate time to donate.
  • In the weeks after the Christmas festive season, stores are swamped with donations, and often people aren't buying stuff. Keeping your items in storage for an extra few weeks before donating will increase the likelihood of them selling.

Other places to donate items.

Plenty of the stuff we want to declutter isn't really fit for selling or donating to the charity shop: things that are broken (even if they are repairable), items with parts missing, things that have low value, stuff that has been well used, products that have been opened, or things that are worn. Not fit for the charity shop doesn't mean only fit for the recycling bin, however. Don't rule anything out; you'd be surprised what other people want!

You might think no one would be interested in old cardboard toilet roll tubes, but actually, there's a thriving trade on eBay among hobbyists. Donating one loo roll tube isn't going to attract much interest, but a whole box of them might be of use to gardeners or crafters. The same goes for almost anything in large enough amounts. It might be quite hard to donate two glass jars, but if you have three boxes of them, suddenly that's worth the effort for someone who makes jam to come and collect. One magazine might not pique anyone's interest, but an entire back catalog could. The bottom line is, don't recycle it until you've checked no one wants it! Here are a few places to do so:

1. Online classifieds

Online classified sites like Craigslist are a way to find new homes for unseasonal or unusual items, large amounts of recyclables, incomplete items, and broken items. You can either list items one by one or group related items into "job lots" (for example, grouping kitchen utensils and crockery).

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2. Groups and organizations

Depending on what it is that you're trying to donate, be a little strategic about where to look and whom to approach. What kind of person or group might want the items that you no longer want? For example, call up your community garden for your outdoor equipment, a local craft club for your art supplies, a school for your stationery, etc.

3. Your local community

Another avenue to explore for donating items is with the people in your local community: your neighbors, the people who live on your street, the residents of your suburb. Thanks to social media, it is surprisingly easy to get in touch with them. Facebook groups, Google groups, and Yahoo groups are popping up, allowing us to donate, swap, share, and barter with our neighbors.

4. Friends and family

Quick note: Think very carefully before donating items to friends and family. Sometimes we offer things to friends and family as a subconscious way of keeping them close to us: That way, if we ever "need" them, we can ask to borrow them. Similarly, friends and family can offer to take things that they don't really need or want because they feel bad that we're getting rid of them. Or they might have hoarding tendencies of their own—in which case, your extra stuff is definitely not going to help!

The trick is to figure out what they really need. Have a casual conversation and find out if there are things they would find useful, and only offer those.

How far you take the quest to donate your unwanted and unneeded stuff is up to you. It will require extra time, and extra effort, and depends totally on your commitment to zero waste, and the energy you have to spare. It doesn't matter if pursuing some of these avenues is too much for you. But if you're someone who hangs on to everything (even broken stuff because you're determined not to waste it), this is your opportunity to find homes for things that you don't need and let them go.

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Donating resources.

United States

Figuring out where to donate our stuff once we are done with it can be harder than the decluttering process itself. Having some clear ideas of the kinds of options available will help you donate your possessions quickly and painlessly.

cristina.org: Works to promote technology reuse by connecting nonprofit organizations and schools with donors. Their website has a database enabling people with used electronics to find local charities and schools looking for donations of these items.

freethegirls.org: A nonprofit organization working with sex-trafficking survivors in El Salvador, Mozambique, and Uganda. They accept donations of new and gently used bras of all sizes and styles, including camisoles, via their drop-off locations or by mail.

worldcomputerexchange.org: A nonprofit organization that accepts donations of computers and other electronics and passes them on to those in need. Since 2000, they have donated to more than 3,350 schools, youth centers, libraries, and universities in 48 countries. 

Australia

fairgame.org.au: They accept donations of secondhand sports equipment and donate it to remote and underserviced communities around Australia.

givenow.com.au: An online giving platform listing over 4,000 organizations, which accept donated items for reuse, including bicycles, household goods, clothing, stationery, and electronics.

refugeecouncil.org.au/donating-goods: While it does not accept donations itself, the Refugee Council of Australia hosts a database of charities accepting donations (and lists what they will and won't accept) in each state, as well as contact details should you wish to inquire directly with a particular organization.

upliftbras.org: A registered charity that collects new and secondhand bras, fabric nappies, and swimwear and redistributes them wherever they have requests, whether in Australia or overseas.

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 United Kingdom

getwellgamers.org.uk: A registered Scottish charity that accepts donations of video games, video game consoles, and accessories, which it passes on to children's hospitals, hospices, and other facilities to give sick kids the benefit of entertainment.

smallsforall.org: A registered Scottish charity that accepts donations of new underwear and new or gently used bras in any size (excluding cropped-top or bikini tops) and donates them to women and children in Africa.

Worldwide

buynothingproject.org: A hyperlocal movement of Buy Nothing groups that operate as Facebook groups, where items can be given away or borrowed (no buying or selling, trades or bartering). People can only join one group: the one where they live, so the other members are literally neighbors, and this makes the whole giving away of unwanted items all the easier.

freecycle.org: A nonprofit organization that coordinates a worldwide network of "gifting" groups to divert usable goods from landfill. Freecycle currently has a presence in 121 countries.

littlefreelibrary.org: A nonprofit organization that fosters neighborhood book exchanges around the world with more than 75,000 micro libraries in 88 countries. These libraries can take small numbers of donated books for others to read and enjoy.

olioex.com: A mobile app for food sharing, currently used in 32 countries. Donated food can be raw or cooked, sealed or open, but it must be edible and within its use-by date; the primary guideline is that it is "good enough for you."

streetbank.com: Described as a movement of people who share with their neighbors, Streetbank (which began in 2010) allows users to choose the size of their neighborhood (1, 5, or 10 miles) to give stuff away, share things, and share skills.

transitionnetwork.org: Founded in 2006, this worldwide network of community groups and projects aims to increase self-sufficiency within local communities. An excellent first stop when looking to find out more information about community groups and services in your local area.

trashnothing.com: This website and app work like a custom inbox for various freecycling groups. Emails are diverted here rather than all being directed to your personal email. A useful tool to segregate your decluttering efforts from day-to-day emails.

Excerpted with permission from Less Stuff by Lindsay Miles, published by Hardie Grant August 2019, RRP $19.99 Flexibound.

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