Where to sell/swap/donate your things, and do it thoughtfully

Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was published in 2011. Almost 10 years later, it feels like the entire world is still KonMaring – it’s true, decluttering feels great! But let’s all agree on one thing: it is a privilege to be able to let go of things. Because being able to let go of things means 1) we own things that are unnecessary; 2) we had the time, money, and space to purchase/store said things; and 3) we can afford to donate (or sell at a steep discount) things that are still functional.

So let’s use our time, resource and know-how to do this better. Because as well-intentioned as we all are, donating goods isn’t without unintended consequences. For example,

  1. Donated goods can devastate local economies. Take old clothes for example, which many of us diligently set aside and donate to aid groups every season. Only a small share of the best quality ends up getting sold at thrift stores. The rest is sold to recycling firms and secondary markets in the developing world. British charity Oxfam estimates that at least 70% of donated garments end up in Africa, which are sold at dirt cheap prices and in turn destroy the local textile industry. A 2006 study found that the number of large-scale garment manufacturers in Kenya had shrunk from 110 in the early 1990s to 55 in 2006.
  2. It might not serve a real need, diverting valuable time, $$ and resources. Annie Lowrey, author of the book Give People Money, describes visiting people’s houses in Kenya stuffed with TOMS shoes, soccer balls, and nets that do nothing for a family that needs money for food and education.
  3. It can burden the recipients, especially when the donations are unsolicited. Following the tsunami in 2004, so much donated clothes were sent to Indonesia where disaster workers had no time to sort or distribute them, they sat and rotted on the beach. In 2013, Newtown was so overwhelmed by the amount of teddy bears and donations that came in that it asked people to please stop sending gifts.
  4. It fuels our overconsumption problem. Do you feel less guilty buying a pair of TOMS you don’t need if the company is donating another pair? I definitely do. All too often, “supporting a good cause” gets used as an excuse to buy new stuff, when whatever we have works just fine.
Consume, consume, consume. Photo by Bernard Hermant via Unsplash

Ha, have I tricked you into reading a post about how not to donate when you’ve come precisely to look for where to donate? GOOD. Keeping all of that in mind, if you are still with me, here are some resources to help you sell or donate the items that you no longer need (in the US).

This post covers only items that still work – I foresee another big post coming all about items that can’t be recycled through curbside municipal programs! Please only donate items that are still functional and in decent shape – people in need have pride and dignity too. If it’s garbage to you, it’s probably garbage to someone else.

General resources

Organizing a clothing/book/plant/whatever swap is another lovely way to give away what you have. Click here if you don’t know how.
  • Go beyond thrift stores: got pens? Bring them to your local school. Too many books? Your library could probably use them. Personal hygiene items? Homeless shelters. Half open pet food? Animal shelters. The point is: there are so many places in our community that would be more than happy to take the resources we have; all it takes is a little time and effort to reach out and ask.

Specific items:

  • Eyeglasses: Lion Clubs International and New Eyes are two places to start. Your local eyewear stores or hospitals might also have donation boxes. (You should note that the reuse rate of glasses is quite low, so it’s always a good idea to reuse your frame for a new prescription if possible.)
  • Linens: GoodWill, Salvation Army, VVA, and other thrift shops will take those in good condition. Well-worn towels can be taken to your local animal shelters as pet bedding and rags.
  • Toys and kids stuff: besides thrift stores, Toys for Tots and Second Chance Toys are just two organizations to consider. You local shelters, daycares, and churches are also great places to check in with.
  • Building supplies & unexpired paint: Habitat for Humanity and other organizations that build homes are good places to start. (Expired paint should be discarded through your municipal hazardous waste disposal program.)
  • Cellphone, electronics & appliances: retailers such as Best Buy and Staples often collect these items. Manufacturers like Apple also run take-back programs.

    Almost all thrift stores collect small appliances, though larger appliances are a bit trickier. See if our local GoodWill, Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity Restores offer pickup services, and if you are buying new, the store delivering your new appliance may offer to haul away your old appliance for recycling/refurbishing. Look for a retailer that participates in EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal program if you want to increase the chance of recycling.

What did I miss? Share with me where you like to take your things!