There are many, many reasons to divest my household of stuff, but the one that comes to mind today is that if I'm not using something that is in my home, then nobody is using it and someone could be. So when I am purging, I want to move things along to a place where they have the best chance of getting used. Here are a few categories of items that I routinely purge and what I do with them along with the places that I most often share my former belongings with:
Kid's clothing, books, and toys:
As I mentioned in a previous post, virtually all of my children's clothing comes from second hand sources - hand me downs from neighbors with older kids, thrift stores, yard sales, and consignment shops. When my oldest daughter grows out of her clothes, I launder them and store them in boxes labeled by size for my youngest daughter. When my youngest daughter outgrows them, I pass them along to a niece who is about a year and a half younger. When my oldest grows out of his clothes, I pass them along to a neighbor whose son is about the same age, but smaller, than my son. By the time their clothes make it to my kids, they have often been worn by multiple children and it is great to know that there is still life in them and that they will continue to get use.
As I mentioned in yet another post, I love books and they can be found in every room of our house. We have a lot of books (many of them thrifted) - too many books, really - and I have been steadily purging them for about six months to get the number down to a more manageable level. My oldest child is only seven, so most of the children's books that I have are appropriate for the early elementary or preschool crowd. Some books I pass along to friends and family members, but I give many of them to the preschool that my youngest child attends for the small library they have in each classroom. As anyone who has young children can attest to, preschoolers tend to love their books to pieces, so there is almost always a need for new-to-them books.
I do more of the same with toys and games - some go to friends and family and most of the rest are donated to the preschool. A local preschool is a great recipient for other items that might otherwise just end up in the trash. Now I am certainly not advocating giving something that should go in the trash to anyone, but I do recommend thinking more creatively about how items might be used. Little toys and small items that aren't good candidates for a thrift store (what I refer to as the effluvia of childhood - costume jewelry, cars, toys that come with kid's meals at fast food restaurants, plastic goodies given away at parties, etc.) may be just right for the "prize" box in a preschool classroom. Small odds and ends from your personal crafting supplies - along with household items like toilet paper rolls and egg cartons that are otherwise destined for recycling - may be perfect for preschool crafts. I try to make throwing something in the trash an absolute last resort. The danger here is that I'll hold onto something too long because someone, somewhere might be able to use it, but I've gotten better about moving things out quickly.
While I have a lot of children's books in my home, I certainly have a plethora of books for adults as well. In the last six months I have given books to friends, donated them to my church library, bundled them for sale in a silent auction, dropped them off at the local library for their annual fundraising book sale, and donated them to thrift stores. Another place that can sometimes use books are organizations that provide temporary shelter to the homeless or to women and children fleeing domestic violence.
People I know:
My personal preference is to give things looking for a new home to friends and family. If I have something that a friend needs or would like, then I get satisfaction in sharing those things with them instead of donating them to a thrift where they might or might not be sold. Eventually, things that are not sold at most thrift stores end up in the landfill, though many thrifts are quite creative in how they manage inventory before it gets to that point. My most tried and true method of making offers to friends is via Facebook...I simply post what is looking for a new home in my status and I often find a taker.
Non-profits with specific needs:
If I know of an organization that has specific needs that I can help with, then I prefer to donate items there where I can feel confident that they will get used (or at least they have a high likelihood of being used) versus donating them to a thrift where they may or may not be sold. For example, we had a number of pet items that we weren't using for our dog - such as a specialized collar meant to help prevent chewing after surgery on her tail but that she managed to find a way to get around - that we donated to B.A.R.K, a local rescue organization. Many non-profits keep a wish list of items on their websites and you might be surprised how many needs you can fulfill by donating things that are sitting around unused in your house.
Free section at the dump:
Periodically I end up with things that are useable, but are not likely to find a new home via donation to a thrift store. If I have something like this - an example would be left over building materials from home improvement projects - then I will take it to the "Too Good to Throw Away" section at the county dump. Items in this little covered area are free to anyone who would like to take them.
I do use Freecycle periodically, but mostly for items that I don't feel will find a home elsewhere. Unlike the building materials that might end up at the free section at the dump, these are usually household items. Examples of what I have Freecycled in the past include electronic items that are compromised in some way but that someone with more technical know how than I can fix (i.e. a video camera, a wireless router, and a video baby monitor). By using Freecycle for these items I can be completely upfront about what the problem is and if someone feels they can fix or otherwise use the item then they can speak up for it.
Thrift Stores and Sales to Benefit Non-profits:
While I do try to find specific recipients of my purged items whenever I can, I donate a large portion of the stuff that comes out of my house to thrift stores or to yard/garage sales being held to benefit non-profit organizations. An added bonus of donating items to thrift stores is that their sale helps to raise money for a variety of great community organizations.
As you purge things from your home, what do you do with them?
"The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less." ~Socrates