I’ve completed at least a few decluttering kicks, hauling boxes of clothes, CDs, and knickknacks to the thrift store and trashing the rest. I never even thought about where the stuff I tossed would end up — or where it could have ended up if I had been a little more responsible in getting rid of it.
The EPA estimates that in the United States, each of us throws out about 4.4 pounds of trash every day. Together, Americans generated 258.46 million tons of garbage in 2014.
What happens to it all? Well, according to the EPA, we recycled 66.38 million tons and composted 22.3 million tons. But most of our garbage — a whopping 135.92 million tons — ended up in landfills. And as waste in landfills decomposes, it generates the greenhouse gas methane, which is a potent contributor to climate change.
While hoarding belongings sounds like a solution to keeping stuff out of landfills, it’s not. The following thought’s a little morbid, but hear me out: When we die, whatever we own will be left for others to sort through, meaning most of what we own could well end up in landfills after all. To borrow a point from a decluttering method called Swedish Death Cleaning, our loved ones want our nice stuff, not all our stuff. What’s more, others could use some of our belongings right now. Think the shoes that never see the light of day, the pack of colored pencils you never opened, or the books you haven’t thumbed through in years. You won’t miss them.
The solution here is to be intentional about decluttering, finding a place for possessions that can have a second life and responsibly disposing of what can’t. Let’s go through some things you may want to get rid of — and what to do with it all.
Clothes, shoes, and eyewear
- Host a clothing swap, where you and your friends exchange unwanted (but still wearable!) clothing. Donate whatever’s left.
- Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society all accept clothing and shoe donations.
- Reach out to a local shelter (such as a homeless shelter, halfway home, or domestic violence shelter) to see if people there have a need for used clothing donations.
- Don’t forget about workwear. Dress for Success accepts women’s business-professional attire; Career Gear accepts men’s.
- List clothes on eBay or through resale marketplaces like Poshmark and thredUP.
- Recycle old t-shirts through sustainable clothing brand Marine Layer’s ReSpun program, and get a $5 store credit per t-shirt. Marine Layer mails you a shipping parcel that you fill up and mail back, free of charge.
- Ship clothes you’d like to recycle with RefRecycling, a program from sustainable women’s retailer Reformation. Just create a Reformation account, you can just print a label and pack clothes into an old box at no cost.
- Soles4Souls distributes old shoes to entrepreneurs in developing countries who repair and resell them locally. If you have a Zappos account, you can print a prepaid shipping label. You can also send shoes to Soles4Souls through Nisolo’s Shoe Reclamation Program, which awards a Nisolo coupon code for each pair donated.
- New Eyes sends glasses in good to excellent condition to medical missions and international charities. While you have to cover the (small) cost of shipping, it’s tax deductible.
- Partnering with Lions Club, some Walmart Vision Centers and Sam’s Club Optical Centers collect used (but still usable) eyeglasses on behalf of the Lions Recycle for Sight program.
Books, textbooks, and magazines
- Donate your unwanted books to local libraries or secondhand bookstores.
- Mail a tax-deductible donation to Reader to Reader, which collects books for school libraries in need.
- Check out Amazon Trade-In to see if it’s accepting any books you’re wanting to get rid of. If your books meet the program’s standards, you can earn store credit.
- Find out which of your old textbooks still have value through BookScouter, which compares price offers from 35 resale vendors. You can then choose a vendor to sell and ship each book to.
- Donate new and gently-used textbooks to Books for Africa, which has distributed 44 million books (and counting) to the 55 countries on the African continent.
- Donate magazines to local libraries, nursing homes, shelters, salons, and places with waiting rooms (e.g. doctors’ offices). You can also see whether local schools could use magazines for art projects.
- Most curbside recycling programs and recycling centers accept magazines.
Office supplies and school supplies
- Ship unused school supplies to the Kids in Need Foundation with a pre-paid label from Zappos for Good.
- Call around to see whether public libraries, schools, after-school programs, parishes, summer day camps, or the YMCA could use extra school supplies.
- Your local United Way may accept office supplies as well as office furniture for local nonprofits to claim.
- You can also donate these supplies to the Salvation Army and Goodwill.
Art supplies, craft materials, and instruments
- Organize a crafter-noon (or crafter-evening) with friends to work on projects together and swap supplies.
- The Dreaming Zebra Foundation accepts art supplies, journals, and musical instruments and delivers to children in need.
- The Knitting Connection accepts donations of yarn, knitting needles, and books, which volunteers use to make items for children in need. You can also donate finished knitted and crocheted items.
- Donate new or like-new cotton fabric to the Quilts of Valor Foundation, which sews quilts for service members and veterans.
- Ship jewelry-making materials to A Little Something, which brings together Denver-area refugees to make crafts and, in turn, an income.
- Inklude Studio provides adult artists with developmental disabilities a studio space and supplies to create. Donate art supplies as well as sewing and fiber materials.
- Local schools, parishes, children’s hospitals, women’s shelters, the YMCA, and art camps may also accept arts and crafts materials.
- Sell miscellaneous craft supplies on Etsy and eBay. Consider using “craft destash” as a tag or keyword.
- Tipitina’s Foundation distributes musical instruments that can still be used to school bands. Call to learn how to ship an instrument for free.
Furniture, housewares, and building materials
- Habitat for Humanity Restore takes new and gently-used items including furniture, housewares, and building materials. Bring donations to your local store or schedule a furniture pickup.
- Most Goodwill locations can pick up furniture and other large items. Contact your local store to find out if this service is available.
- The Salvation Army accepts furniture, household goods, appliances, and miscellaneous items like board games and vacuum cleaners. Find a drop-off location or arrange a pickup.
- Vietnam Veterans of America runs a donation pick-up program that accepts kitchenware, small furniture, and small appliances. Donations help all veterans.
- When buying a new mattress, inquire whether the retailer or a local recycling center would be able to recycle your used mattress. You can donate mattresses that are still in good condition to the Salvation Army or local shelters if there’s a need.
- Call your local animal shelter to see if it could use old towels and sheets.
Appliances, electronics, and disks
- Bring new or gently-used appliances to your local Habitat for Humanity Restore or schedule a pickup.
- Arrange for the Salvation Army to pick up old appliances like air conditioners, freezers, and washing machines. The organization also accepts some electronics, including answering machines, cell phones, computer monitors, and radios.
- Ship a tax-deductible donation of your used computer and photo equipment to Inklude Studio, which provides adult artists with developmental disabilities with a studio space and supplies to create.
- Recycle a range of electronics and appliances at your local Best Buy.
- Recycle CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and packaging through the CD Recycling Center of America.
- Find out whether your local government holds household hazardous waste days or other drop-off events where you can bring items like alkaline batteries, fluorescent tubes, and TVs to be recycled or properly disposed of.