Raising kids creates clutter. Most families do regular sweeps to get rid of outgrown clothes and toys. And most have favorite places to take donations—the rummage sale at the church, the food pantry for the community, the drop off center for Goodwill. Some community organizations will even pick up the things you no longer need or want. (To find one of these agencies, enter your zip code at donationtown.org.)
And then there are the things that are hard to give away. Perhaps they were expensive—think cellphones and carseats. Or perhaps they are sentimental—think trophies, stuffed animals, books and puzzles. Either way, you feel a twinge when you think about letting them go, so they get stuck in drawers and closets.
The best solution is to find the right destination for these items. Donate to someone who will appreciate them. Get them to a company or organization that can recycle them safely and perhaps creatively. Either way, parting with certain kinds of stuff can be easier if you go the extra mile. With the options listed below, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you made a responsible choice that clears the clutter for you and does something good for others.
Athletic and other shoes: Soles4Souls.com has distributed over 30 million pairs of shoes since they were founded after Hurricane Katrina. You can purchase a mailing label or find a drop off site on their website. They also accept gently used clothing.OneWorldRunning.com sends still-wearable shoes to runners in developing countries. Anything that can’t be worn goes to the Nike-Reuse-A-Shoe program to be recycled into running tracks and playgrounds. Their website also includes drop-off locations in many parts of the country.
Binders: At the end of the school year, most families have a stack of ragged binders. If you turn them in at Staples or Office Max, you’ll get a $2 credit toward a same day purchase of a new binder. Then they’ll recycle the binders with the help of Terracycle, a company that is has partnered with major manufacturers to create innovative recycling programs for everything from toothbrushes and guitar strings to juice pouches and the blister packs from contact lenses. (terracycle.com/en-US/brigades)
Books. Better World books has drop off boxes where they accept books of all kinds. Some are sold on their website and some go to literacy programs overseas. (betterworldbooks.com)
Carseats. A few organizations are trying to get used carseats into the hands of families that need them. A state-by-state list is available at recycleyourcarseat.org.
Crayons: Crazy Crayons collects broken, worn or loose crayons. They will melt them down and turn them into new Eco Star crayons or multi-colored crayons shaped like worms. (crazycrayons.com)
Cellphones. Even after you’ve disconnected your phone service, the phone can be used to make 911 calls. Secure the Call takes advantage of this fact, collecting phones and then distributing them to senior citizens organizations, domestic violence shelters, police departments and other agencies that can get them into the hands of people who need them. Their website includes a free mailing label as well as a list of community partners in every state. (securethecall.org)
Eyeglasses. Lions International collects used eyeglasses as part of their effort to improve vision for people around the world. A list of their recycling centers is available at tinyurl.com/donateglasses.
Legos. The plastic in Legos is a kind that can’t usually be recycled, so don’t mix them into the bin. Instead, ship them to Brick Recycler. No need to sort the bricks. They will repackage and get them to hospitals, schools, orphanages and other places where kids will be very happy to have them. (www.brickrecycler.com)
Markers. Crayola collects markers of all kinds and turns them into a clean liquid fuel for vehicles. They pay for shipping via Fedex but your local school will have to set up the collection system. (crayola.com/colorcycle)
Puzzles. Puzzle Warehouse recycles old puzzles by donating them to schools, homeless shelters, churches and jails. If you’re pitching a puzzle because it’s missing a piece or two, they also have a helpful list of piece replacement policies for major puzzle manufacturers in the More section of their website. (puzzlewarehouse.com/Recycle-Your-Puzzles)
Stuffed animals. Stuffed Animals for Emergencies gets gently used stuff animals into the hands of children and even service members who need a little comfort. Their website lists chapters in many parts of the country, and they also have advice about how to clean stuffed animals in preparation for donation. (stuffedanimalsforemergencies.org)
Trophies: Some companies that make trophies reuse the parts to make new trophies. If nobody in your community does this, you might want to ship surplus trophies to the National Trophy Recycling program. (Tinyurl.com/donatetrophies)
Everything else. Freecycle runs a grassroots network made up of over 9 million members, organized into 5,298 local groups. Membership is free, and each group is moderated by a local volunteer. Once you sign up, you can list almost anything and, in all likelihood, it will be discovered by someone in your community who will be delighted to have it. (freeycle.org)
Of course, you aren’t the only family that has stuff you want to discard. Many of the groups listed above provide everything you need to start a community collection drive—an activity that might double as a fundraiser or a community service project. Whether you donate on your own or with your neighbors, all of these programs do three important things: Keep useable stuff out of the local landfill. Get things into the hands of people who can use them. And get all that clutter out of your house! That’s a win-win-win!
Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has been writing about families and technology for over twenty years. She is also the author of Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart, a book that describes a highly effective way to address conflict in families, schools and communities. Available at Amazon and cooperativewisdom.org.