If you've ever looked around your home and felt weighed down by your possessions, you're not alone. Plenty of people have realized that owning less can be freeing, save you time and money, and make it easier to find your keys.
A year and a half ago, I challenged myself to rid my life of clutter. Compared with a lot of Americans, I didn't own much. But I’d still managed to accumulate things I didn't really need or value -- from books to clothing to dinner plates to large pieces of furniture. Over the next several months, I opened every box, drawer and closet door in my apartment and took inventory of what I owned.
Figuring out what to get rid of was only the first step. The second one was figuring out how to give my unwanted stuff a second life. I started a blog, Simpler Living, to document the process and to give things away to anyone who wanted them. And it worked -- I posted photos of dozens of things and found new homes for them that way.
I also found many other ways to recycle lots of different stuff in ways that benefit the greater community -- from my personal network of family and friends to agencies that help refugees, victims of domestic violence, and other people in need.
Here are some creative ways to share your stuff with the world:
First, spread the word. Tell everyone you know what you're doing and why. My friends, family, colleagues and readers all gave me ideas for places to donate things. Some of them were even kind enough to take things off my hands.
When I downsized my wardrobe, I found more than 100 things I didn't wear. So whenever I'd have a friend over or throw a party, I'd ask them to look through my donation boxes and take home whatever they wanted. Some of the skirts, shirts and accessories my friends took have become favorite parts of their wardrobes. Win-win!
I've also found new homes for my unwanted clothing by going to clothing swaps. If you don't know someone who's having one, throw your own instead.
Churches, homeless shelters and nonprofits that help the needy often accept clothing for their thrift stores. Many also redistribute clothing directly to the poor. "You can look around during the sermon and see who might need something," a coworker told me. She took a warm down coat from me and discreetly gave it to another person who came to her church's services last winter.
Got gently worn shoes? Donate them to Soles4Souls, which distributes footwear to people in need.
If you have professional clothing, contact Dress For Success. The nonprofit helps disadvantaged women look their best for interviews; your gently worn suits could help someone else land a job in a tough economy.
Do the same thing for men in several major metropolitan areas via Career Gear.
The Cinderella Project accepts formal wear and accessories. Every year, girls who can't afford a prom dress find one through the nonprofit, which has local branches across the country.
2. Sports gear
I stopped taking riding lessons after my father was diagnosed with cancer. Five years after he died, my almost-new riding helmet was still stashed away. I asked a coworker who owns horses for help, and she connected me with a 4-H group leader who was thrilled to have an extra helmet on hand for her kids.
After-school programs and youth groups may be happy to recycle your unused gear. If you've outgrown a bicycle, find a community group that fixes up old bikes and redistributes them (mine, whose beautiful motto is "Recycling bikes and building community," is called Troy Bike Rescue).
My scratched ones went to a friend whose mother, a teacher, runs a community garden. Her students painted them and hung them from trees to keep the birds away.
4. Furniture and household items
Goodwill and the Salvation Army are go-to spots for household donations. But I found a more direct way to give my old bed, coffee table and dishes away. Catholic Charities runs a furniture program for domestic violence victims and other people in need. The beds, dressers, kitchen tables and other things people donate are used to furnish their apartments.
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants does the same thing for a different population in my community. The gently used furniture, dishes, linens and other household items people donate help refugees start a new life in the United States.
The National Furniture Bank Association can also help you connect with women's shelters, disaster-relief groups and other agencies in your community.
5. Books, magazines and games
Libraries are the first place people think of as a place to donate books. But only a fraction of books are current enough, and in good enough condition, to put back in circulation. Some of my readers have suggested retirement homes and hospitals as better options. I've also left books in coffeeshops and magazines at Laundromats and my gym.
Think creatively. I gave a copy of "Dogplay," a coffee table book with great photos of dogs, to one of my readers. She read it, then brought it to her vet's office. Thanks to her, hundreds of other patients will be able to enjoy it, too.
6. Those weird, random things you can't figure out what to do with
I also know someone who collected small stuff lying around her house -- bottle openers, magazines, etc. -- threw them in a box, wrote "FREE" in big letters on the side, and brought it to her co-op. She left it there in the morning (after asking for permission, of course), and came back at 5 p.m. to find most of the stuff in it was gone.
7. Throw a "free" sale on Facebook.
I easily found new homes for a bunch of my books this way. Take photos of your stuff, create an album on Facebook, and alert your friends. I gave mine away, but you don't have to; Leo Babauta of Zen Habits is moving, and he made money by throwing a virtual "garage sale."
8. Stoop to conquer.
Some of my favorite givewaways were unplanned. Once, I had a pile of stuff set aside for Goodwill. I left a couple of things by my car and went back upstairs to get more. When I came back down, they were gone. If that person is reading this post, thanks for saving me the trouble of donating them.
When it comes down to it, what's clutter to you may not be to other people. If you have a stoop, a curb or a patch of lawn by the roadside, put your stuff and a "free" sign out the night before trash pickup and wait for someone to bite. If they don't, you'll find another way to dispose of it. But chances are good someone will.
Naomi Seldin is living well with less and writing about it at Simpler Living.
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