17. Resources for Sustainable Simplification

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It’s been my experience that a primary reason why many people are disorganized is because they have too much stuff. Of course, the phrase “too much” is subjective. When I say “too much stuff,” I mean one of two things. Either they have more stuff than they can fit comfortably in the available storage space. Or they have stuff that they get no benefit from and that doesn’t enrich their lives in any significant way.

For many people, simplifying, or getting rid of unneeded stuff, is an important part of the organizing process. But people generally don’t want to throw a lot of stuff in the garbage and have it end up in landfill. They would like the stuff to go to a good use and be reused in some way. And for good reason, because reuse benefits us all in the following seven ways:

1. The donor is able to get rid of unneeded stuff, thereby freeing up space, making life more simple, and helping the donor focus on what’s more important.
2. If the donor to a non-profit itemizes their taxes, they will be able to use the value of the donated items as a tax write off.
3. The recipient is able to attain products either at a great discount or for free. They are able to use already existing stuff rather than having to do without or having to buy new products.
4. The demand for new products is reduced and this reduces the consumption of raw materials needed to produce new products.
5. Reuse reduces the amount of stuff that goes into landfill. Landfills consume land resources and toxic substances leak out of landfill and contaminate our air and water. Refuse disposal can become quite costly for municipalities and they pass on these costs either in fees or taxes.
6. The income generated with donated products are sold at thrift shops can be used for beneficial functions like job training, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, hospice care, etc.
7. Reuse allows stuff to be better utilized over a longer period of time. Overall, it results in more efficient use of our natural resources.

Based on what I’ve seen after ten years as a professional organizer, I believe that there’s enough stuff in this country for everyone. It’s just a matter of getting it from people who aren’t getting any benefit from it to people who really could use it.

Some people say, “I want to get this stuff to someone who can use it, but I don’t know how.” Well, in this article, I will tell you about many fabulous resources that will empower you to offload unneeded possessions in a satisfying, environmentally-sound, and beneficial way. These resources are the result of ten years of a passionate desire to support the economy of reuse, to get unwanted stuff into the hands of those who can use it, and to optimize the value of our possessions.

In most cases, I will give nationwide resources, that can be used almost anywhere in the country. I will also give a few select resources that are not nationwide. I’ll do this to give you ideas of types of resources you can look for in your area. I will start with more general resources and move toward more specialized.

Resource number one for easily getting unwanted stuff to someone who really wants it is the FreeCycle Network. There are almost 5000 local FreeCycle groups with over 7 million members worldwide. After you join your local FreeCycle group at FreeCycle.org, you can offer anything by just sending an email. Anyone who is interested in that item will reply to that email. You can choose who you would like to give it to and arrange for them to stop by and pick it up. This means you can simplify your belongings without even having to leave your house.

Of course, you can also use FreeCycle to acquire stuff, but the focus of this article is on ways to unload. Personally, I have turned off the e-mails from the group so I don’t receive other people’s offers, and I use FreeCycle exclusively to give stuff away.

I am really enthusiastic about FreeCycle and I want to support it in any way I can, so I have a special offer for podcast listeners. For the first 25 people who email me their name and address, I will mail you a free FreeCycle bumper sticker. The bumper sticker says, “Got Clutter? Get FreeCycle.org”. See a picture here. If you’d like a bumper sticker, email your name and address to podcast (at) clutterfreeservices (dot) com, and I will mail you one. I guarantee that I will not sell your address and I will not add you to any mailing lists. I will use the information only to send you a bumper sticker and nothing else. As of July 2010, there are still bumper stickers available.

If you are in or near San Francisco, the Really Really Free Market meets the last Saturday of Every Month. Also, the second annual Really Really Free Market in Rockford, Illinois is coming up this Saturday, June 19th. For these markets, bring usable items, food, skills and talents to give for the sake of giving. There’s no money, no barter, and no trade. Everything is FREE! See reallyreallyfree.org for more information.

The Really Really Free Market and FreeCycle are used only for giving stuff away. Another resource, Craig’s List, can also be used to give stuff away, but you can use it to sell stuff as well. Go to craigslist.org and find the online community for your area. Whether you’re giving or selling, you can create free classified ads to reach other people who are interested in your stuff. Any post you make can be anonymous to protect your identity.

eBay is another site where you can sell unneeded items. Please be aware that it takes a fair amount of time and effort to sell items over the Internet. You’ll most likely need to take pictures, write a detailed description, post the ad, respond to questions, and either arrange to meet the prospective buyer or arrange to ship the item to them. Most people underestimate the amount of time and effort it takes to sell something on the Internet. As with other tasks, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Suppose you want to give to a good cause. There are lots of resources for that, too.

In 2007, a survey conducted by the National School Supply and Equipment Association showed that 94% of teachers spend money from their own pockets to buy classroom materials for their students. The average amount was $395, but for first-year teachers it was $770. So, if you go to iloveschools.com and type in your zip code, you can find classrooms near you that have a need for many different types of stuff. These needs include office and art supplies, as you might expect, but it also includes a variety of other items including chairs, furniture, air conditioners, and many, many others. So you can unload unneeded stuff and support your local schools at the same time!

Similarly, Excessaccess.com and redo.org match donors with nonprofit organizations.

And of course, many charities run thrift shops. Everyone’s familiar with the two major charities that have a nationwide presence, Goodwill, and Salvation Army, but there are always smaller, locally-oriented charities in every community. These charities support a variety of causes, and you can certainly find one that is aligned with your values. Many of them will even pick up, depending on the quantity and type of your stuff.

The easiest place to find a charity-driven thrift store near you is at thethriftshopper.com. There, you can type in your zipcode and get a complete list of thrift stores in your area. Note that the first part of the list will be sponsored listings, those that have paid to be listed first. Some nearby thrift stores may not show up here. To see a complete list, you have to scroll down the page to the heading that says “All Listings.”

Creative Reuse Centers are places where you can donate a wide variety of items, possibly including art supplies, office supplies, sewing supplies, fabric, decorations, candles, buttons, and practically anything that could be used in an art project. Each center has different needs and different items they will accept, so it’s best to call or see their website for their policies. Generally their mission is to encourage reuse and to save stuff from landfill. Often, they will even offer classes in creative reuse and art. Here’s a list of creative reuse centers throughout the United States.

There are lots of places you can donate building materials, including plumbing supplies, electrical supplies, cabinets, wood, light fixtures, doors, tile and flagstone, hardware, fasteners, practically anything related to building or remodeling. Habitat for Humanity has retail outlets called “ReStores,” and you can find the location of the nearest one by going to habitat.org. There are also lots of others that are not associated with Habitat for Humanity. A quick web search should be able to find one near you.

All the resources so far have been general resources that work with a wide variety of different types of items. Now, let’s look at how to reuse or recycle the top ten specific items that people commonly ask about.

1. Electronics. For computers, cell phones, and other electronics, good nationwide resources are electronicsrecycling.org and mygreenelectronics.org. Closely related to electronics are batteries and ink cartridges.

The best way to find a place for household batteries is to go to Earth911.com and type in “batteries” and your zip code. For rechargeable batteries, contact the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation at call2recycle.org or by calling 1-800-8-BATTERY. Car batteries can be recycled at Kragen Auto Parts.

For ink cartridges, most Best Buy stores have a bin at their front entrance where you can deposit them for recycling. Staples, Office Max and Office Depot will give a $3 store credit on certain makes of ink cartridges if you join their rewards program.

2. Books. They can be taken to almost any used bookstore, or donated to almost any library.

3. Eyeglasses. Two organizations are happy to receive donations of eyeglasses that they pass on to those in need. They are the Lions in Sight Foundation and New Eyes for the Needy. New Eyes for the Needy will accept donations of hearing aids as well.

4. Hangers. Most dry cleaners are happy to receive any wire hangers in good condition for reuse.

5. Clothes. Clothes can, of course, be donated to most charities, but another idea would be to try a clothing swap. Either organize one yourself or attend one that’s already been arranged. You can find information about clothing swaps at any of the following websites: clothesswap.meetup.com, swaporamarama.org, or clothingswap.com.

6. CFL’s. Compact Fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury and cannot be placed in the trash. IKEA, Home Depot, and many hardware stores will accept them for recycling.

7. Plastic Bags. Please minimize your plastic bag use by using reusable bags. If you do have plastic bags, take them back to the store and use them again. They’ll literally last for months! When they get holes or are no longer usable, they can be deposited in the plastic bag recycle bins at most supermarkets.

8. Packing Material. Styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, and other packing material can be donated to most packing and shipping stores, including the nationwide network of UPS stores. To find the closest one, call the Peanut Hotline at 1(800) 828-2214.

9. Soap and Shampoo, including anything you may have picked up at a hotel, can be donated to shelters or organizations that help homeless people prepare for job interviews, like Working Essentials in San Francisco. Clean the World and the Global Soap Project provide soap to countries like Haiti where preventable conditions are commonplace. The World Health Organization estimates that the lives of 2 million children could be saved by the simple act of washing hands with soap and water.

10. There are organizations where wigs and scarves can be donated. They are provided to people suffering from hair loss as a result of chemotherapy or other medical treatments. Contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society at cancer.org for more information.

So how does this work in real life? My process for getting rid of stuff is to collect everything that can go to a charity, like housewares, clothes, and small appliances, and drop them off there. I take office supplies and art supplies either to a school or a creative reuse center. All building materials and tools go to the local building materials reuse place. Anything else is offered to my local FreeCycle network, and in the rare instance where no one in that community wants it, I then create a free classified ad on craigslist.org offering the item in the “free stuff” category. This process has never failed to find a suitable new home for the object, whatever it may be.

And finally, one more resource. For items that can’t be reused, Earth911.com is a great source of recycling information. Just type in an item and your zip code and it will list all the nearby places to recycle it.

On my resources page, you can also find lots of additional resources, including many that I’ve chosen not to mention in this article. These resources can be used to find good homes for an incredible variety of stuff. Not only will your load be lightened, but you’ll feel really good knowing that someone in need will benefit from it. With a little creativity and perseverance, practically anything can be put to good use.

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