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The key to clearing-out happiness is answering this question: Once you decide to ditch those shoes that always pinch, the dishes that never get used, or the blanket sleepers your first-grader once wore, what do you do with the stuff?
Unless your soon-to-be-former possessions truly qualify as trash, you won't want to set them out at the curb on pickup day to clog up your local landfill. Instead, give your stuff away, sell it, swap it, or recycle it. Which method's the smartest? It all depends, says Marilyn Bohn, author of Go Organize! "Do you want to get rid of stuff or do you want to make money?" How you choose to dispose of your stuff is contingent upon what the item is and its condition, how much profit you want, and how much work you're willing to do.
Robin Austin, for example, went the yard sale route when she was getting ready to move from Kansas to Georgia. "What a wonderful feeling to have less clutter and a little money in your pocket," she says. "Someone in Kansas City has my snow shovel—and he can keep it."
Certified professional organizer Mary Pankiewicz, owner of Clutter-Free and Organized, says her clients enjoy donating things to local charity thrift stores. They get satisfaction, she says, from imagining someone standing in a thrift store and saying, "Wow, I can afford this and I need it."
To aid in your getting-rid-of-things process, we've collected some of the best options for particular items. Donating, recycling, reusing (and maybe even making a little extra cash) never felt so good!
Donate them to someone who needs them. There are plenty of charities that will distribute good-condition shoes to those in need. One option: Soles4Souls, a charity that certified professional organizer Scott Roewer and president of Solutions by Scott in Washington, D.C., saw in action during a recent trip to Haiti.
"Children in Haiti can't attend school or church unless they have shoes," he says. Wearing shoes prevents disease that's spread through contaminated water and bare feet with cuts.
Donate to your local library. Kansas mom Terry Dubbs says her hometown library in tiny Wamego puts her donated books on the shelf for checkout. Other libraries may sell your books at fundraisers.
Send your discarded books "on an adventure" through BookCrossing. You label your book, give it to someone or leave it somewhere like the post office, and if whoever picks it up registers the tracking number, you can follow your book's travels. Almost seven million books are visiting 130 countries through BookCrossing.
Books for Soldiers will ship your books to U.S. soldiers deployed around the world. Paperbacks preferred.
Books to Prisoners will mail your old books to prisoners.
Sell books at your next yard sale. Kids' books seem to sell better than adults' do, but most books sell if priced cheap enough: 25 to 50 cents for a paperback, $1 for hardbacks.
Trade books online at Paperback Swap. You pay the postage to mail your books to members who request them, while the books you ask for are mailed to you without charge.
Give your fancy dresses a second life by donating them. Donate My Dress provides prom dresses and formals to girls who otherwise won't have a gown for the ball.
Sell prom dresses and other still-trendy clothes online with no fees (buyers pay the shipping costs) at Smashion.
Plenty of job seekers could use last year's business clothing that no longer fits or suits you:
• Give your gently used professional clothes such as suits, blouses, and shoes to women who need these clothes for job interviews. Larger sizes are especially appreciated at Dress for Success.
• Career Gear is a nonprofit that helps outfit men who need professional and business casual clothing, suits, shoes, shirts, and accessories for job interviews.
• Your local shelter for abused women may also be grateful for clothing.
Donate your reusable and surplus building materials and appliances to Habitat's ReStore outlets. Proceeds help fund Habitat homes.
It's easier to part with Winnie the Pooh if you know someone else will love him:
• Give your gently used stuffed animals, other toys, children's books, and blankets to Stuffed Animals for Emergencies, which distributes them to emergency organizations, children's services, hospitals, and homeless shelters.
• Donate them to your church or temple. Some partner with shelters and food pantries to provide clothes, toys, and household goods to families. Be aware: Toys, especially stuffed animals, and some baby equipment like car seats and cribs may not be accepted by many charities because of recalls, says James Harder, director of communications for Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries in Boston.
Clothing donations can take two routes depending on how you want the clothes used:
• If you want to give to an organization that passes the things directly to those in need, such as providing clothes and coats to those in homeless shelters, your local shelter or church is a good place to start.
If you want to donate to groups that sell most of the items through their thrift stores to fund programs, give to Big Brothers Big Sisters, Goodwill Industries, The Salvation Army, or your local thrift store supporting the homeless.
Goodwill Industries emphasizes job training for the disabled and disadvantaged. You can see how donations translate into services at donate.goodwill.org where a chart shows the profit from a gift of six shirts and two pairs of jeans, for example, can subsidize one hour of a job-search class.
Salvation Army runs rehabilitation centers and other programs to help those struggling with alcohol and drug abuse and homelessness.
There are good options for selling or donating:
• Miscellaneous household goods, small appliances, and linens do surprisingly well at yard sales, says Motherboard Mom Chris Heiska, owner of the website yardsalequeen.com. Her advice: Have an extension cord and working outlet nearby so prospective buyers can try anything electronic.
• Shelters for homeless and abused women are always looking for items that residents can use to set up housekeeping when they leave.
Animal shelters and humane societies will use your old towels, linens, and sometimes rugs to provide warmth and comfort to animals. Call your local ASPCA, Humane Society, or small-animal rescue groups to find out what they need.
Save that brand-new stuff that just isn't your style or that can't be returned and donate it to the next charity auction you're involved with. Somebody will want what you don't—and you'll get a tax deduction for your largess. "Every year my daughter gets really lovely gifts from relatives, but sometimes they just aren't her taste. And everyone seems to give her purses or wallets so she receives many duplicate items," says Anne Krueger, a Motherboard Mom in Knoxville, Tennessee. "She donates these fantastic items to her nonprofit dance group, The Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble. The donation makes her feel good and supports a good cause—and the relatives never have to know!"
Swap with friends. Michaela Freeland, a mom of a 4-year-old and 5-year-old in Oklahoma City, passes her kids' clothes to friends with young children while friends with older kids give clothes to her family. To make this more fun, do the swap every few months around a fun event, like a family potluck or picnic. Clothes that no one wants can be donated.
• Consignment stores are a good option if you want to unload clothes that are in near-new shape and carry top brand or designer labels. Even when these businesses take their cut of the profits, you may come out ahead of what you would make at a yard sale. Check out Just Between Friends Franchise Systems, which sponsors children's and maternity consignment sales events around the country.
Instead of selling furniture at a yard sale, where every dollar is haggled over, many Motherboard Moms have found that they'll get a better price on craigslist.com. At Michelle Speak's house, "All large-ticket items go on Craigslist—and you don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to sell them." Robin Austin's family sold almost all of their furniture before their move from Kansas to Georgia through Craigslist online ads.
If you're interested in making some money while you get rid of specialty items or collectibles, a yard sale is not going to cut it. Instead, try eBay, where items that go for $50 or more will make the investment of time and effort worthwhile, says certified organizer Scott Roewer in D.C.:
• Chris Heiska tried to sell a vintage high chair for dolls at a yard sale for $15. No luck, but she made $127 selling it on eBay! Have a set of dishes missing a couple of plates? The individual pieces will probably sell on eBay, she says. And you'll make more than selling an incomplete set.
• Kurt Hilsenbeck, a dad in Holts Summit, Missouri, has sold motorcycle parts on eBay, where he's able to reach a much larger audience than he would locally.
Swap or sell? There are smart ways to do either:
• Visit Swap.com, an online marketplace with 1.9 million members who trade music, games, and movies. The site offers a free guide to hosting your own swap meet at home.
• Become a seller on Amazon.com, suggests mom Terry Dubbs in Topeka. She finds that full-set television shows and movie trilogies sell well.
Ready to upgrade your phone? Donate your old one here:
• Donated phones are sold to a recycling company and proceeds buy calling cards for soldiers at Cell Phones for Soldiers.
• Wireless Foundation has a Donate a Phone program that enables local organizations to collect used wireless phones, with proceeds serving as a fundraiser for the local organizations.
• Verizon Wireless refurbishes donated phones for use by victims of domestic violence.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates more than 157 million people around the world have uncorrected refractive errors (near-sightedness, far-sightedness, and astigmatism). Refractive errors can be easily corrected with eyeglasses, yet millions of people in low- and middle-income countries lack access to basic services. The Lions Club has a long history of helping people who need glasses get them. Check out the Lions Club website to find a drop-off location near you.
These days, electronics go obsolete in a blink of an eye and there's always something new coming along (we know you want that new iPad that now has a Better Homes and Gardens app!). To get rid of the old, watch local news for announcements of used-electronics collection days. Or find links to local recyclers and refurbishers at Electronics Recycling or Earth 911.
Got lids with no bottoms, or bottoms with no lids? Cracked or stained containers? Earth 911 can help you find the nearest recycling center.
Goodwill Industries and The Salvation Army turn over to rag pickers for recycling much donated clothing that's too worn or stained to sell.
Here' what to do if you want to get rid of stuff fast:
• Post those things you just want out of the house as soon as possible on Freecycle or Craigslist, says organizer Scott Roewer. "They're a great way to share your belongings with somebody else."
• Motherboard Mom Anita Morton in South Carolina goes the free yard sale route: "I put up a sign that reads, 'Feel free to take what you need, but please need what you take.'" She developed this strategy after years of unsatisfying haggling at traditional yard sales. "If I asked $10 for a beautiful mahogany bedroom suite, someone would offer me $3." You can post a "curb alert" on Freecycle or Craigslist describing your yard sale leftovers placed by the curb for easy pickup too.
To find out what your donations are worth, check Goodwill Industries' donation value guide at www.goodwill.org/get-involved/donate/taxes-and-your-donation/ and The Salvation Army's guide at www.satruck.org/donation-value-guide. For additional tax help, ask your accountant or get IRS publication 526. Be sure to get a receipt and keep itemized lists of what you've donated.
And make a note: Since 2006, donations of clothing and household goods must be in "good" or better condition.