The Crucial Decluttering Step Nobody Talks About

Photo: Trinette Reed

As the owner of a decluttering business, I often field the same complaint: "I want to be organized, but I don’t know how to start." My response is always the same: No matter whether the person is living in a mansion or a tiny house, I always tell them they need to start with less stuff. The less stuff you own, the easier it is to organize all of it. It’s that simple.

This means that the cornerstone of any organized life is the letting go, the getting rid of. But once you declutter, then what? What do you do with the items you no longer need or want?

It’s important that we don’t just head straight for the trash can. As a friend’s grandmother always said, "When you throw something away, where’s 'away?’" If we know something is going to a good home where it will be used, it makes it so much easier—and more rewarding—to let go, so donating really is the best option.

Less obvious places to donate.

If you’ve ever been to a large nonprofit donation center, chances are you’ve seen bins and bins overflowing with stuff. While these centers are certainly helpful in many cases, and definitely better than a landfill, it’s easy to wonder if there are any better options out there.

Here are some lesser-known donation organizations I’ve discovered over the years of sending off my clients' gently used goods:

1. Nonprofits for kids in foster care:

Kids in the foster care system don’t know a stable home, and many of them are constantly moving from place to place. And more often than not, these kids show up at their court hearings and temporary homes with all their belongings in a black garbage bag. All foster agencies accept donations of suitcase, duffels, and backpacks. Make sure they are clean, have working zippers, and aren’t too heavy.

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2. Animal rescue organizations:

If animals touch your heart, think about donating your old sheets and towels to a local animal rescue. While you don’t want to use a towel stained from the last "skipped the hairdresser dye disaster," the dogs and cats waiting to be adopted won’t notice the stain on their new cozy bed.

3. Women's shelters:

One of the great indignities of being homeless is a lack of access to bathrooms. For women in particular, there is the added challenge that feminine hygiene products and clean underwear are often difficult to come by. If you buy a brand of pad or tampon that you don’t end up liking, or even buy an extra box next time you are at the store, consider donating them. Also some shelters take clean and very gently used underwear. Call your local shelter to ask about their guidelines.

4. Homeless shelters:

Do you hoard travel soaps and shampoos from hotels, leaving you with a drawer full of products you’ll probably never use? Throw them in a shopping bag and drop them off at your local homeless shelter. Personal hygiene products are much needed and the small size is greatly appreciated.

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5. Classrooms:

Do you (or your parents or grandparents) have a giant collection of National Geographic magazines? Maybe you swear they’re worth something. Well, I hate to break it to you but they’re probably not. However, they could make for a great kids’ art project. Donate any stockpiled magazines to a local school and you could make a teacher very happy.

6. Chemo treatment rooms:

Unfortunately, most of us know someone who is battling cancer. And if you have ever sat with someone during their chemo treatments, you know it’s a long, tedious, and uncomfortable process. I love to pull together a bag full of beautiful magazines and lighthearted books to drop off for patients and their companions to enjoy.

I know this fine grain of donating will take a little more work on your end, but don’t let it hold you up! Make a plan to get it done. Call to see if the organization does pickups or, if you don’t have time, maybe hire someone to drop it off for you.

You are not only making your home a more peaceful and calm place to live, but, in the process, you are helping someone in need out AND keeping stuff out of the landfills. A win for everyone.

Having trouble letting go of anything in the first place? Here are some common decluttering mistakes to avoid, and 12 creative organization ideas to try.

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