Phyllis Diller once joked, "Housework can't kill you, but why take a chance?" However, not cleaning and allowing dust and dirt to build up in those hard-to-reach, overstuffed spaces can also be deadly. Bacteria, mites, and other pathogens can congregate in giant dust bunnies and airing out damp areas in your home is critical to preventing the growth of deadly molds.
What makes cleaning easier is having less clutter. So this week in our Spring Cleaning Series, we are going to address all the different places that you can donate stuff so that it doesn't wind up in landfills. As you sort through your items, everything boils down to one of four categories: keep, donate, store, sell, or throw away. We are obviously trying to do more of the four former and avoid the latter for the sake of our environment and the greater health of the planet.
Storage should be considered sparingly so that storage doesn't become a euphemism for shoving items in a closet and mumbling, "I'll deal with it later." Is it something you use but only on certain occasions (ski or camping equipment, holiday ornaments, travel paraphernalia)? Is it a family heirloom that you really can't bear to give away? Is it a piece of furniture that you know you will want out at some phase in your life but just not now?
As for selling, we addressed that for clothing last week and we will cover some other ways to sell personal effects in a later post. So for now, let's cover donations. Here are some great resources to have at your disposal:
The regular standbys that take everything from clothing to books to household goods and sporting equipment are Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Goodwill gives about 82 cents per every dollar to charity whereas the Salvation Army donates closer to 85 cents per dollar. If you are looking to help veterans, the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) offers its donated items specifically to homeless or poor veterans. They are one of the most respected charities in America for veterans of any and all wars. Every area also has local organizations from churches and synagogues to homeless shelters and missions that are happy to take your donations of clothing, food, and toiletry items and give them to those in need.
Organizations such as Dress for Success (which provides professional attire for at-need women), Green Drop (which sells them and diverts the funds to the American Red Cross), and Planet Aid (which has drop off bins around most major cities) also divert your clothing from landfills to people who need it most.
Some organizations are more specialized. The Theatre Development Fund accepts donations of costumes for theater production rental if you have anything that might be considered more stage-appropriate or beyond everyday wear. Free the Girls accepts bra donations to help free victims of sex-trafficking by giving them employment re-selling them. One Warm Coat has kept millions of textiles out of landfills while helping adults and children stay warm in cold weather. Soles4Souls will take your worn but not worn-out shoes.
Almost every library will take book donations with the caveat that they are either free to keep them or re-sell them. Some schools also take book donations, but it's generally best to phone ahead and ask. Don't ever dump your books somewhere. Not only is the bad for the environment (if it rains, they turn into a pile of mildewing slop) but it leaves someone else to deal with them when they may not have room to store them. Better World Books sells books online to raise funds for literacy organizations. They also help fill libraries that are poorly stocked. Kids Need to Read privets inspiring books to underfunded schools, libraries, and literacy programs across the United States. Magazine Harvest recycles magazines and comics by distributing them to food pantries, domestic violence shelters, youth mentoring, job training, and foster care programs. Zubal Books pays you for your scholarly books including technical manuals, fashion, corporate or technical libraries, trade catalogues, and other more niche categories.
When it comes to donating food, Feeding America has great guidelines on what you can and cannot donate to your local food bank. The simple rule of thumb is: canned foods good, refrigerated foods not so much. Because safety (from both deliberate and accidental contamination) is their primary concern, food banks do not take leftovers or open items. But if you have nine jars of marmalade in your pantry that you haven't opened and you've recently decided to go Paleo or sugar-free, most food banks will gladly take those. They even have a Food Bank Finder where you can input your zip code and find your local place to donate.
If you are going to donate furniture, make sure it's something that someone could put in their home as is (doesn't need refinishing or refurbishing) or can be resold. Gently worn is fine, ratty, torn with lots of holes, heavily scratched wood, or infested with bugs is not.
Habitat for Humanity has ReStore sites where they sell donated furnishings. Some of them will even come pick pieces up but you would have to visit their website to schedule a pickup or call ahead. The VVA has uses Pick Up Please to pick up furnishings (as well as clothing, books, appliances, and other household items) that they then donate to struggling veterans. Furniture Bank is a network of charities that gives furniture a second chance for women and children escaping domestic violence, immigrants, poor people, and the unemployed. The Arc sells your donated items through its thrift shops and uses those proceeds to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
If you have a piano that needs donating, try The Beethoven Foundation or Pianos for Education, both of which are seeking specific brands of pianos and for which you need to apply to see if they would be willing to accept yours. Once approved, however, they will also pick them up.
While Save the Music, one of the top non-profits for musical education, does not accept used instruments, but rather takes donations and buys high quality, new equipment for schools, their website has a list of organizations that do accept used instruments, so if your playing days are over, some other kid out there might discover that theirs have just begun.
Maybe you used to play tennis, and now your knees don't like running on concrete so much. From bikes to balls to cleats and nets, these organizations help redirect your equipment to kids and communities in need.
Also, if you find all of this overwhelming, just remember to take the enormity of the task and cut it up into bite-sized pieces. If you just tackle one of these areas each week or every other week, by the end of three months, you will have made a huge dent and cleared a lot of space both physically and mentally. If you, or someone you know, is dealing with hoarding issues, the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers support. Their hotline is 1-800-950-6264.
PopUP CleanUP is a professional event and commercial cleaning company headquartered in Los Angeles.