Dump or Donate?

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As we gear up for Zone Defense, guest writer Kate offers some important suggestions for what to do with discards. Some can be donated, others need simply to be dumped.

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Maintaining an organized and uncluttered home means that you must regularly assess your possessions, and frequently cull your belongings. Whether you’re clearing out the closet, paring down the tower of toys, or trying to make room on your bookshelf for the newest best seller, there will be items leaving your home.

The moment of decision looms: do you throw the stuff away or donate it to charity?

I work for a human services non-profit and I’ve spent the last five years on the receiving end of well-meaning, charitable donations of “stuff.” Ask yourself the following questions before you lug your box of goodies to the nearest rescue mission.

Is It Broken?

If it’s broken, throw it away. That sounds like a no-brainer but I think people take too seriously that old adage of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Don’t donate broken furniture, household appliances, etc. Your donation will just wind up getting thrown away and you’ve wasted the resources of the organization you’re trying to support. (The exception to this is if an organization advertises that they refurbish non-functioning electronics.) If you have broken furniture, you’re actually better off putting it out on the curb. There it might well fall into the hands of the professional dumpster divers who may be able to fix it up and use it.

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Is It Stained/Ripped/Otherwise Yucky?

This one goes for clothing. Ask yourself why you’re getting rid of that shirt. Is it because you just don’t wear it? Great! Donate it! Is it because it’s got sweat stains? Um, trash it (or shred it for rags). No one wants to wear clothing with rips, holes, and dirt.

Is It Safe?

Be careful donating children’s “gear” like car seats or cribs. For one, many organizations will not accept these items due to concerns about safety. Car seats are not meant to be passed down through multiple families. If you do have an item to donate, be sure to check a reputable recall site (like the Consumer Product Safety Commission — http://www.cpsc.gov/) to make sure the item has not been recalled.

Is It Old?

Like, really old. Canned goods that have been lurking in the back of your Pantry for ten years are not good candidates for donations. Food pantries frequently cannot stock items that are past their expiration date. Be considerate and check the dates before you donate.

Really old furniture can be dicey, too. The line between “antique” and “junk” is pretty fine and most non-profits aren’t in the antique business anyways. They want functional, relatively current pieces that will be easy to distribute to families in need.

Is It Needed?

Well-meaning people give a lot of unsolicited (and, to be honest, unwanted) “stuff” to charities. If you’re interested in donating an item to a charity, call them to see if it’s something they need and want. Don’t just show up on their doorstep with that dish set of Aunt Mildred’s. Some organizations have very strict guidelines about what they will accept, while others will take just about anything. You’ll save time – yours and theirs – if you check the acceptance policy before you load up your car with bags and boxes of stuff.

Did I forget anything?

What guidelines do you use to decide what to donate to charity?

— Kate lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, two children, and a slightly deranged Labrador. She blogs at Green Around the Edges, pondering food, family, and hugging the occasional tree.

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  1. I use freecycle.org for everything! Getting things I need and getting rid of what I don’t need. I even listed a broken weedwacker that someone claimed to try the motor on a toy car they were building. You can sign up, they are nationwide. Just sign up for the one in your area 🙂

  2. Great article. I always have a difficult time throwing away the kids “treasures.” I guess one man’s junk is really another man’s treasures! 😉

  3. Ok, so this is maybe not for everyone, but my friend takes her clothes to be donated directly to the “source”. There is a small homeless community in her town and she drops off the box next to the garbage can where they often gather (looking through the garbage). She started doing this after realizing that even “cheap” clothes cost money and some who are mentally disabled cannot get themselves to the clothing store when needed. She only does this with small amounts of appropriate clothing and blankets.

    1. Betsy, That’s a *great* idea. I am currently agonizing over the bags of clothing I have and the knowledge that if I give them to BBBS or Veterans, they resell them to raise money for their organizations and I’d rather see the clothing go directly to someone who needs it.

      My church has a 2x year clothing pantry, and I’m debating if I have room to store all of this until the next one.

      1. My family has been greatly blessed by the hand-me-downs of others. We also participated in a clothing swap at church that was held over several months; you left what you didn’t need and took what you needed. I was able to find several items that we just what we needed right then, and it was a huge blessing to us.

        In addition, hand-me-downs are WONDERFUL. I can’t afford the thrift store at $3-$4 a shirt, and gettting the .25 to $1 per item at a garage sale is a stretch for us, too. Hand-me-downs have been a huge help to our family. At times we have received more than we could use; in that case, I was able to take them to a children’s resale shop and get store credit to use towards other items of clothing that my children really needed that we had not received.

      2. Alicia, I hear this concern voiced a lot. People tend to donate to my agency for just that reason (we don’t resell clothes). However, I think it’s always worth remembering that organizations that resell clothing use those funds to support their work. If you support the mission of the agency (like BBBS), then donating your clothes IS directly benefiting people in the community.

  4. So what is the “right” way to dispose of an old car seat? We have one that is past it’s expiration so I doubt any donation places would accept it, but it feels wrong to just set it out in the dumpster. Suggestions?

    1. I’m afraid I don’t know of any place that will (or can) accept expired car seats. Even if they were well cared for and look perfectly fine, it’s probably best to pitch them. You don’t want to take chances with safety.

    2. Liz, I was told by a law enforcement child safety officer to destroy it before putting an expired carseat in the trash. It does ‘feel’ wrong to just dump it but if you’re considering a child’s safety in an accident, you won’t hesitate. I just destroyed an expired $300 carseat a few weeks ago by cutting off all of the straps and cutting the cover in half and although I wasn’t excited about doing so, I knew it was the ‘right’ thing.

  5. Depending on where you live, if you have an active freecycle community you can take advantage of that for anything that you cannot donate but hate to dump. I have put so much on there –including expired food — and things are snapped up. Craigslist also has a free area to post things that are free.

    Hubby had collected so many of those little bottles of shampoo from traveling, was going to dump them, orignial plan was to donate to a shelter but didn’t have time. Put it on freecycle and had 10 responses within the hour of people who wanted to come pick them up.

    1. Those little bottles of shampoo are great for welcome baskets when company comes, too.

    2. We’ve always hesitated to Freecycle because we feel like we have to wait a while, til we have enough stuff to list together. Do you do that or do you just throw it up there whenever you think of it, one thing at a time?

      1. Tara- I am one of the moderators for my local Freecycle group, and the official rule is one post per week, but I notice that it’s not very strictly enforced. Especially with giving posts. So go ahead and offer it up when it comes to mind.

  6. Great topic, I’ve been wanting to write a post on this topic myself and just haven’t worked up the energy because there are so many options!

    One option we like is resale, I talked about it quite a while ago in my post Reduce Reuse Recycle Resale: http://www.greenlifestyleconsulting.com/2010/03/reduce-reuse-recycle-resale.html

    Craiglist and ebay are good options, my local Mothers of Twins Club has a twice annual sale that is quite successful as well.

  7. Ah, this is tough for me – I’d love to throw away all those little plastic toys (junk to me), but to my kids, they are treasures . . . I finally compromised by getting a box for each of their rooms to put their “treasures” in. Once in a while I go through it to make sure there isn’t anything broken (those go in the trash). I just remind myself that much as I hate the clutter, some day when they are much older I’ll be wishing it was around!!!!

    1. I think as long as you limit their treasures it’s fine. 🙂

      At the same time we want to teach them good habits. I’ve struggled with clutter all my life — and so do my parents. I’m hoping that my kids will have a different experience.

      1. Thank you so much for offering that you struggle with clutter, Jessica. So often, I feel like I’m the only one. It feels like we go through our living room weekly and get rid of things, and the clutter never seems to wane.

        We have a charity (that collects donations for wounded veterans) that actually comes through our neighborhood once or twice a month and picks up donations. We give them all sorts of stuff, but I throw a good bit in the trash, too. Happy Meal toys, especially, just go into the trash.

  8. FYI Just some info for all of you that are talking about donating yucky clothes. You can actually donate any type of cloth with rips or stains. It is bundled together and sold to cloth recyclers. One of the most popular uses for recycled cloth? Those lovely cloth grocery bags that all the stores are now selling.

    1. That was a new revelation to me. I was feeling bad about donating stained stuff, so after reading Kate’s post last week I started dumping. Now, I know better. 🙂

  9. My sister worked at a homeless shelter that would receive clothing donations. Anything not used was bundled and sold to a fabric recycling vendor.

    I recently found a family whose kids are just a year younger than mine….so I now hand down all the clothing to her.

    I also managed to find a local lady who would take the infant car seat and give it to a low income family. The car seat hadn’t been recalled and you can’t donate it to anyone else (they take very little baby stuff).

    We’ve thrown out a few things in the last months and I was surprised to see people stopping and loading it up! Broken lawn chairs, warped fooseball table, couches with the fabric wearing off…all found their way to someone else’s house.

  10. Great points from several people about the potential reuse of ratty clothes. That’s another reason to be sure and check with local donation sites to see what their acceptance policies are. You might be pleasantly surprised by what they can use!

  11. I used to throw away those stained clothes….then I discovered our city has a semiannual recycling day where they take used textiles! So now I have a black garbage bag in my closet to collect the yucky clothes and another bag to collect the clothes to donate to goodwill.

    1. That is great! I had no idea that was going on. I imagine my city is as well since the state of CA has mandated “zero waste” by a certain year.

  12. I used to toss any clothes items that were stained or ripped instead of donating them. Then I heard some organizations will even find a use for this stuff. Stained shirts can be used as smocks for doing art projects and ripped or stained items can be used to make rags for cleaning up. Check with the specific organization you are donating what they will accept.

  13. I opened this mail as dh was wandering past and he couldn’t stop laughing. We have that exact pile of plastic bits. Right down to the glow in the dark star, the Play-Doh lid and the round white plastic plumbing piece! Zone Defence! Brilliant as usual! Thank you!

  14. Goodwill wants your old clothes that you think are rags because they sell them as ..wait for it.. RAGS!
    A local organization takes old shoes Soles for Souls, what we as Americans think are eww, others in third world countries would love to have.

    1. I never knew that they could use the stained stuff! That makes me feel so much better!