By Shana Levy McCracken, Houzz
Spring is here, and with it comes the start of cleaning and decluttering projects. Most items you plan to get rid of can be sold or donated, but what about those things you’re not sure what to do with? Here are eight common household items that often get discarded and suggestions for places to take them where they can have a new life.
1. Magazines. Publications that are more common may have to go in the recycling, but some of the unusual ones — think Salt Water Sportsman or Cat Fancy — can be highly prized by folks out there with similar interests. I recently sold 22 back issues of a decorating magazine, now out of print, on eBay for $15 plus shipping. Not enough to treat the husband to dinner perhaps, but at least I know they’ve gone to a good home.
2. Yarn. Facilities for seniors are a great place for donations of yarn and other crafting supplies. Many have knitting groups, and some even sell the seniors’ wares in their in-house gift shops. At my local senior center, there is a group that meets weekly to make hats for children with cancer, and scarves for people who are homeless.
Check ahead with your local senior center or assisted or independent living facility to see whether they will accept your craft articles, even if they are partially used or no longer in their packaging. Just be sure the items you want to donate are in reasonably good condition.
3. School supplies. I have a number of teachers in my extended family, and several of them use personal funds to buy basic supplies for their classrooms. At the same time, my husband and I are consistently shocked by how many notebooks, pens and other office-type supplies we unearth during our periodic clean-outs.
Considering these two realities, I recently contacted the public elementary school in our neighborhood and asked whether it would like a box of office supplies. The woman who answered the main line said we could bring our donation to the school office anytime on weekdays. The schools in your area may have different preferences or rules, so I strongly recommend calling first.
Another option is the creative reuse stores that have been popping up in some cities. Some are open to use by the public, others are accessible only for teachers or nonprofits, with the goal of providing low-cost crafting and art supplies to teachers and artists. Look online to see whether your area has started one of these locations.
4. Well-loved clothes. You know you can donate your reusable clothing to your local charity, but what about the sort that is so worn that no one would want to wear it? Think holey shirts, sweaters with rips or snags, and those tops on which the underarm stains just won’t come out. Instead of putting those items in the trash, go ahead and give them away to the charity of your choice.
You may be surprised to learn that textiles in any condition — even with holes or stains — can be donated, as long as they’re clean, according to Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, a trade association. That’s because these garments can be recycled — transformed into new products — as opposed to reused. I’ll bet you didn’t know your old T-shirts were being turned into carpet padding, industrial rags and car seat stuffing, among other products.
Do check ahead of time, but your local charity is likely to accept these textiles. Larger reuse operations such as Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul have workers who are trained to sort textiles into appropriate categories. This process is called grading, and it’s done on a scale that is hard to imagine. But I’ve seen a few giant operations like this in action — there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes.
Another place to deposit textiles more appropriate for recycling than reuse are those collection bins you see in parking lots near shopping areas. There are many companies that place these bins; USAgain is just one, with more than 12,000 locations in 16 states.
5. Old towels. Although many of the larger charitable organizations accept textiles regardless of condition, there are some that do not. If your local donation center accepts only lightly used items or you’re not sure, your local animal shelter or veterinary clinic may be a good option. Call ahead to see whether your used towels can be used to help keep the animals warm, dry and cozy.
6. Appliance accessories. I recently ran into a woman who told me that during a closet clean-out, she discovered the attachments and extra bags from an old vacuum cleaner she no longer owned. Not wanting to send them to the landfill, she checked with the local vacuum and sewing center to see whether it could use them. She reported that the owner was pleased to have them and gave her a little cash for those hard-to-find parts. So consider checking with appliance repair and service shops to see whether they could use your castoffs.
7. Leftover building materials. If your family is anything like mine, you have some pretty interesting — and large — items in your garage. In our case, these items are old doors, a few two-by-fours and a giant sheet of plywood. Your local ReStore, operated by Habitat for Humanity, would love to have them. The stores also take furniture, appliances and lighting fixtures, among other items.
8. Personal care products. Trying a new shampoo or lotion is always a gamble, and sometimes a product just doesn’t work out. Knowing that items like this will only go into Goodwill’s trash rather than our own, what can you do with them? Personally, I have found my local Buy Nothing group to be extremely helpful in cases like this. Buy Nothing groups are small associations of neighbors who want to exchange great things without any money changing hands. They can be found easily by searching on Facebook and exist in many cities. If you don’t find a group in your neighborhood, you can start one. The parent organization, Buy Nothing Project, does ask that you follow certain guidelines — check out its site for more info.
Another alternative for partially used bottles of shampoo or lotion is local homeless shelters. Some accept them, while others will not — so be sure to call ahead and ask.