Donating Outside the Box


I’m 21 bags into the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge and all I’ve actually accomplished is the putting of the items in the bags and the moving of the items into my garage. 

Okay, I’ve also found new homes for a number of items via a photo album on Facebook, which is functioning like one large, free, virtual garage sale.

The fact remains that only a handful of non-trash items have actually left my property.  They just now live in my garage (and my car has been evicted to the driveway).

My stuff holding place.  A little public humiliation can be motivating, right?

My plan for this week is to deliver every single item I’ve discarded to its new home.  I shared about my control issues around where my discarded items wind up, and while I’m working to let go of that to a certain extent (meaning, I will be loading up a fair number of these bags and bringing them straight to Goodwill because it is the closest place to donate and it has a drive through), I want to share with you some other great places to donate your belongings.  Some of these will be specific to the St. Louis area, but if you are  not a local reader, there might be similar programs where you live as well.

But before I talk specifics, may I make a personal request?  When we are in the process of getting rid of unwanted possessions, we have a few options for what to do with the items.  We can sell our items, we can donate our items, or we can throw away/recycle/upcycle our items.  I’m focusing on donations here on the blog because that is where the majority of my items will end up.  If that is the case for you too, this is my request:  please do not donate your crap.  Do not donate any clothing that is not in good enough condition to wear yourself or put on your own child.  Do not donate housewares that are in disrepair.  Do not offload the task of actually going through your items and determining their worth to someone else.  One of the tasks I’ve done as a volunteer at The Crisis Nursery is going through clothing donations to decide which clothing they can use and which must be discarded.  The Crisis Nursery makes sure that every child that comes through their doors leaves with a new to them outfit, and we want that outfit to be just as cute and clean as the clothing on any other child.  Children (and adults for that matter) living in poverty have the same concerns about appearance and dignity as those above the poverty line.  Please respect that when passing along the items that no longer fit the members of your family or support your family values.  Style is subjective, but we can be objective about clothing and items that are torn, tattered or beyond repair.  We should aim to donate items that can be of worth and value to someone, and if that means that we have to throw away some of the things that aren’t and deal with the guilt of adding to our landfills, we should do that ourselves and not ask someone else to do it for us.  Okay, climbing off my soapbox now.

 My husband demonstrating that taste truly is subjective. 

Once you do have your worthwhile items ready to go, there are myriad options for places to bring them. 

1.  Baby/Child Clothing & Goods:  There are so many options for donating your no longer needed baby items.  In addition to the above mentioned Crisis Nursery, your town might have a maternity home like Sparrow’s Nest or Our Lady’s Inn that seeks donations.  Shelters for victims of domestic violence are another great option as they often bring their young children with them.  Your community might have a foster care alliance to support families providing foster care.  Our church is currently partnering with Safe Families for Children and creating a resource closet of infant and child clothing as well as baby and toddler supplies for children that are in care.  Before you bring your clothing to any of the above places, please call to verify their current needs.  Last, but certainly not least, consider sharing with another family that you already know.  We have been on both the recieving and sharing end of this deal, and it is pretty exciting to get a free winter coat for your child, and unbearably sweet to see your ten year old’s baby clothes on a newborn you love.

2.  Adult Clothing:  When we started working through the book Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess with our friends, this was the first area that we tackled.  After we gathered up an inordinate amount of clothing from our closets we all did some research on where to take it.  We landed on The International Institute in St. Louis, because a large portion of our clothing was business or business casual, and the International Institute helps outfit immigrants and refugees for job interviews and employment.  During our research, we found some other great places to bring adult clothing, including domestic abuse shelters, homeless shelters and some great social entrepreneurial partnerships, like REFRESH, a resale shop whose profits go to support kids in the foster care system.  If you have unwanted shoes that are still in great working condition, consider donating them to Solea Water (formerly The Shoeman), a local non-profit that sells shoes on the used shoe market and uses the profits to dig wells for fresh water in a number of participating countries.  If you have clothing that is unique to a specific time period, consider donating it to a local theater company.  Many theater companies keep an inventory of potential costumes on hand and would love to have your purple suede prom tuxedo.

3.  Books:  The first place I go with books I want to donate is my public library.  Our local Friends of the Library organization holds book sales to sell donated books it does not need for circulation as well as other books they’ve moved off the shelves, and last summer’s sale raised over $80,000 to fund programs like the summer reading program.  The book sale  is also a fantastic place to score great reads for as little as a quarter but I guess I’m not supposed to be giving you ideas for where to accumulate more belongings (pssst….the spring sale is April 17th).  Some of the places listed under baby clothing are also great options for donating children’s books, as well as local schools, Head Start Programs, or programs like Ready Readers, which keeps a list of books they’d love to receive on their website.  One of the most creative ideas I’ve seen for books you are ready to part with are these adorable Free Little Libraries.  If any of you decide to make one, send me a picture and I’ll feature it here (and help keep it stocked) because I think these things are the coolest.

4.  Household Goods:  One easy way to find a new home for household goods is a website called Donation Town.  Donation Town keeps track of hundreds of local charities, and will match you with a charity that will pick up your donation at your house.  If you have new household goods (perhaps you’ve moved into a new home and are replacing the stock lighting with your own lighting), consider donating to the Habitat ReStore, which sells house and building supplies to fund its home-building mission.  You could also consider contacting local homeless shelters to see if your household goods could help someone transitioning out of homelessness into a home.  Another great social entrepreneurial partnership west of St. Louis is Agape’s Hometown Thrift Shop.  The shop is run primarily by volunteers, and proceeds benefit the Agape food pantry.  Freecyle is a great option for sharing items within your community, as it connects you with local people giving away or in search of items you might have to share.  I like to think of it as a free Craigslist.  Or, you can always just put everything at the end of your driveway after a neighborhood-wide or city-wide garage sale and it is sure to disappear by the next morning. 

5.  Electronics:  This category intimidates me a little, which might explain why I have a 13-yea-old iMac in my basement.  Before you donate any electronics, it is imperative that you completely wipe clean your hard drive, and since I don’t know how to do that, my old computer is now my kids’ “spy communication device.”  I’m hoping one of you can help this task seem less daunting.  In the meantime, I do have some suggestions for where those of you who are a bit more tech savvy can take your old electronics.  This is one category where Goodwill really shines.  They’ve partnered with Dell to refurbish or recyle electronics for use in your local community.  Do you have video games or handheld gaming devices to share? Get Well Gamers is a non-profit that donates used video games to children’s hospitals.  Have a cell phone that is still in great condition?  Cell Phones for Soldiers connects your phone to an active service member.  Keep in mind that if your electronic devices are not in good enough working order for you, you probably should not donate them to someone else.  If your electronics are beyond repair or use, please recycle them.

I hope some of these ideas help any of you who might be hanging onto belongings because you haven’t found the right place to take them.  However,  keep in mind that at the end of the day (or in my case, 40 days), if we are serious about reducing the number of possessions that we are storing and caring for, at some point we do have to prioritize them actually leaving our houses.  That may mean that we don’t get to drop each item off at the absolute perfect place.  It may mean that we put our bags on the porch for the next agency that calls to schedule a pick-up, no matter who it is.  That’s okay.  So go ahead, brainstorm for ideas or share with your friends, but above all, set a date on your calendar after which your donated belongings are going to the place of least resistance.  Don’t let your garage be your new basement.

Now excuse my while I go load up my minivan. 

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values

2 thoughts on “Donating Outside the Box

  1. You are so inspiring! Keep it up. 21 bags in? Holy moly – that's a lot of stuff. Doesn't it feel good? Or it will feel good once you physically get rid of it, right? Loving these posts. I may tackle the garage or art studio in the next month. I'm ready.


  2. Thanks Tammi! And yes, it is a lot of stuff. I'm embarrassed by it, and even more embarrassed about the fact that I easily have another 21 bags in my basement alone. Yes, it does feel good. I feel and behave differently in the upstairs rooms of my home already (where we spend most of our time) and can't wait to finish up the downstairs. I'd love to see pictures of your art studio when you are done!


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