Spring cleaning and giving

As the winter wanes and the thermometer begins to hint at warmer days ahead, we’re often struck with the strong desire to clean and sort our homes and personal spaces. Maybe it’s a way to celebrate the changing season and the coming of longer, brighter days; or maybe we’re subconsciously mimicking nature as it throws off the heaviness of winter and bursts back into vibrant, vivid life.

Whatever the reason is for this annual urge to purge, the “stuff” you no longer want or need after you’ve swept through your home can present a new problem: what on earth do you do with it all? Some of that stuff obviously goes out as garbage or recycling, but what about useful items that might still have a life outside of your home? What should you do with those?

The answer depends largely on what it is you have to give away, but rest assured it’s likely that everything that’s too good to toss can find a new purpose—and that’s particularly important when you consider how voraciously we’re using up the earth’s precious natural resources, and how beneficial it is to be able to pass along items that still have use. Landfills are, sadly, filled with items that could have been donated to those in need or passed along to someone else.

How to get rid of your stuff responsibly

Ask around. Make a list of what you have, and then pick up the phone. Call your local places of worship (many will take gently used items to give to families in need), homeless shelters, women’s shelters, and even schools (if you have books, art supplies, instruments, and other items teacher might be able to use in classrooms or libraries) and nursing homes. Organizations like these rely heavily on donations and are almost always willing to take needed items that are in good condition.

Books. Libraries, schools, and organizations like Goodwill and The Salvation Army are usually great options if you have a load of books you no longer want. You could also consider building a Little Free Library. These are small, self-maintained book boxes that you mount on a tree or a post on your front lawn. The idea is that you keep it stocked with books you no longer want so that people in your neighborhood can drop by and take a book or two as they stroll past. It’s a great way to spread literacy and promote a strong sense of community. Visit Little Free Library for more information, including plans for building your own library book box.

Furniture. Some organizations will pick up donations of furniture free of charge, others charge a fee that may be waived if you deliver it to the organization yourself. It depends on where you are, of course, but check out organizations like Habitat for Humanity (in Canada click here and in the US click here). A quick online search for “furniture donation with free pickup” should also yield a host of local options.

Clothing. You’d be surprised by how many friends and family members might be interested in a clothing swap. How does it work? A group of people all bring clean items in good repair to a “swap party.” Everyone has the opportunity to pick through the items and take home whatever they need or want in return. Whatever is leftover at the end of the party can be donated to an organization like Goodwill or the Salvation Army that accepts clothing. You might also search for local organizations that will pick up gently used clothing for free. Diabetes Canada picks up clothing and small household items and the American Red Cross will pick up all kinds of clothing and shoes.

Small household items. Most of the organizations listed above will also pick up small household items such as lamps, home décor items such as vases and framed pictures, dishes, cookware, and small appliances in working order. Again, a quick online search should yield dozens of local organizations willing to take old stuff off your hands and give it a new life.

You may think that a small box or bag of items isn’t worth a charitable organization’s time or energy, but these organizations survive on any and all donations, and they will be happy to take even just a few useful, gently used items. Just make sure you always check first to ensure that the organization accepts whatever it is you have to give away.

When the result of your spring cleaning is a tidier house for you and a new home for items you no longer need, everybody wins!

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