Featured in the October/November 2017 issue of Best Health
So you’re thinking of decluttering but the idea of your stuff going to landfill is a non-starter? No worries, there are a lot of innovative possibilities. Writer Diana Ballon unpacks your options.
I tried not to read into it when my sister gave me Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up for Christmas. And while I did find that it had some interesting organizing suggestions (like upright folding, who knew), I found that it—like much of the decluttering discourse—failed to address what to do with your stuff once you do declutter.
What are the choices?
The thought that our stuff would simply get thrown into landfill, I was soon to discover, is one of the biggest roadblocks for many of us to getting rid of your stuff. “Ninety per cent of people care about where their stuff goes,” says Linda Chu, spokesperson for Professional Organizers in Canada.
Stephen Ilott, a professional organizer based in Oakville, ON, concurs. People who have invested a lifetime in taking care of memories and memorabilia want to ensure that these things go to a good home – if not to family members, then to those who would benefit most at a women’s shelter, an at-risk youth centre or an innovative charity.
Does this sentiment sound familiar? Our guide will help you find the best new home for your old stuff.
There are some innovative programs in Canada that are helping to expand the potential for used clothing with textile-recycling programs topping that list. The city of Markham, ON, has recently initiated such a project in partnership with the Salvation Army and Diabetes Canada. It collects all types of clothing, and those not suitable for resale are recycled and repurposed by other organizations into items like insulation and car seats. The bottom line is, your stuff doesn’t have to be in perfect condition to enjoy a second life. Search online for textile-recycling programs in your ‘hood.
If you do have some tip-top outfits, cosier giving them to organizations that support women. For example, you can donate new or nearly new suits, shoes and accessories to Dress for Success [www.dressforsuccess.org]. This organization, which has 11 locations across Canada, provides women with an initial suit for their first job interviews and up to a full week of work outfits once they land a job. Other groups, such as the Cinderella Project (thecinderellaproject.com), in Vancouver, accepts outfits – as well as in-kind donations – for high school graduates who can’t afford formal attire for their graduation festivities (the site lists similar organizations across the country).
The more traditional way to donate clothing is to seek out charities with drop-off centres and donation bins. Other charities, such as the Diabetes Canada Clothesline program, will pick up clothes on designated days directly from your home. Yard sales are also classic ways to get rid of old clothes.
An innovative way to reuse old damaged books is to repurpose them for art. Having a wedding? You can create a “book arch” or make origami flowers out of book pages. Schools may also want them to create blackout poetry (where you blacken out words on a page, leaving only the words that create a poem). Check Pinterest for ideas.
If you have gently used books, enquire at your local library or school and church if they may be interested in them to sell at fundraisers or keep for their own collections. Alternatively, you can drop off books at one of the growing numbers of Little Free Library boxes. Check out littlefreelibrary.org to find one close to you.
Used good stores—like Value Village, Goodwill and Mennonite Central Committee Thrift Shop—also accept books, among other household items.
If your computer, camera, laptop, TV or other electronics were made before 1998, chances are they can’t be refurbished, says Ilott, but the metal and other parts can be recycled. Google “electronic recycling for reuse” to find scrap metal collectors who will pick up your electronics or inquire about drop-off locations for a metal-recycling companies such as Triple M Metal L.P.
Other organizations will reuse or refurbish your old electronics, but make sure you remove all the data from them before handing anything over. If you know you won’t be using your laptop or other device again, donate it as soon as you can, because it will lose value quickly. You can donate computer equipment to World Computer Exchange (with chapters in Ottawa and Vancouver) and old cell phones and batteries to Call2Recycle (call2recycle.ca), which has various drop-off locations, including Staples and Canadian Tire.
Furniture and Appliances
You can donate gently used living room and dining room furniture and other household items (though not appliances) to furniture banks, which will then donate them to people in need. Many furniture banks have showrooms, so clients can choose what they want to furnish their homes. Drop off your items at a furniture bank in your area through Furniture Banks of Canada (furniturebank.org) or have them picked up for a fee.
You can also donate furniture, appliances and other household items to your nearest Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore (habitat.ca): these are retail outlets where people typically buy these items for 50 to 80 percent off their original retail value.
Many school-based mentoring programs, community centres and churches will gladly accept kids’ sporting equipment. You can also sell or trade quality used sports gear—everything from batting helmets to hockey pants to water skis—to stores like Play It Again Sports (playitagainsports.com). With Play It Again Sports, you have the option of getting paid on the spot, trading in your equipment for 20 to 30 percent more than what you get upfront, or selling on consignment for 30 to 50 percent of what the store receives for the item.
Charity or Cha-Ching? That’s the Question
So you’ve made the decision to declutter. Next up, do you want to give it away or sell it? Here are your options.
Many charities are happy to take your stuff— think Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. If you’d like to investigate a Canadian Charity before you donate, check out charityintelligence.ca. You can also give away items online. Check out sites like Trash Nothing (trashnothing.com) and the Freecycle Network [freecycle.org].
There are many options for selling your stuff, from consignment stores (which tend to give you up to 40 to 50 percent of the sale price), to websites like Kijiji and eBay to auction houses. MaxSold is an online auction house that will takes photos of your stuff, digitize them and put the items up for auction. Once purchased, buyers pick up the item from your home. MaxSold gets a 30 percent commission on what they sell or $10 per lot (a lot being single large piece of furniture or bunch of smaller times) – whichever is greater. The minimum commission for this is $1,000, which is ideal when you need to get rid of a lot of stuff at once. There is also a do-it-yourself option where the company waives the $10 fee, which drops the overall minimum to $300 for smaller purges.
First Things First
In order to give away, we first need to let go, which can be easier said than done. People—especially women—have emotional attachments to their things, and some are more sentimental than others, says Linda Chu, a spokesperson for Professional Organizers in Canada. Our excess stuff can come to represent all our homes and dreams —things we could or should have done, or might do in the future.
These things can also make us feel enormous guilt, like we might be betraying someone by getting rid of an item, particularly when that person has died. And it can eat away at us. “It’s as if the things in your house have a voice, and they’re nagging you [to do something with them],” says Chu.
But holding onto too much stuff can be bad for our emotional health. “Stuff steals the thread of your life,” says professional organizer Stephen Ilott. “It can distract you from really living.”
What’s the solution. Baby steps. Decluttering doesn’t mean getting rid of everything at once but rather weeding out things you no longer need while holding onto stuff that is dear.
The experience can be cathartic, and that much more rewarding if you can then “purge with purpose”: whether that means giving to a charity, leaving free items on the curb for strangers, directing items to organizations where they be repurposed, or selling them. You can also hire a professional organizer to not only help you declutter, but also find new homes for your items.