Spring isn’t only a great time for cleaning, but also purging. But before you start pitching stuff willy-nilly, read this story of how my two sisters and I cleaned up – and out – our parents home of 41 years. Whether you are cleaning out an entire house, or just reorganizing your garage, home office, or bedroom closet, read on for tips on how to make this often overwhelming task more bearable for you and better for Earth.
A Lifetime of Stuff
In the winter of 2012, my two sisters and I moved our parents from our childhood home to an assisted living facility. We then began to prepare the house to put it on the market. Because they were in no physical or mental condition to assist us, my sisters and I were on our own. Our folks didn’t easily throw things out, so you can probably imagine all the stuff we encountered. I still get overwhelmed when I think of this experience.
Having grown up on farms in western Pennsylvania after the Great Depression, our parents learned the principles of:
Use it up, Wear it out
Make it do, Or do without
– Boyd K. Packer
So even into their mid-70s, they held on to things if they felt they could somehow reuse them. And while some things did get reused, others did not. While my parents were not prime candidates for the reality show Hoarders, they came close. And that left my sisters and me with a lot of stuff to move out of the house.
I Will Not Dump, I Will Not Dump, I WILL NOT Dump!
When we shared our plight with relatives and friends, I was shocked — and quite frankly horrified — when I learned that others faced with the same situation simply brought in a dumpster to get rid of the stuff once and for all.
Look, I get it. You may have limited time, you are emotionally and physically exhausted with this overwhelming task, and you just want to get on with your life. But pitching stuff willy-nilly into a big industrial dumpster is not the best answer.
There are many, many people, groups and organizations who will happily take your stuff for you. Also, many items that are sent to the landfill either never biodegrade or take decades to break down (I don’t like the idea of my childhood toys hanging around for people seven generations from now to discover). Finally, and most sadly, many things that are relegated to the landfill leak into the ground (chemicals from batteries, mobile phones and more) which can then get into our waterways, which then get into the fish we eat (if you eat fish), which then get into our bodies and can make us sick – or worse. And that’s not so good. So think before you pitch!
Before I throw anything away, I ask myself:
(1) Can I reuse it, repurpose it, recycle or compost it?
(2) Can somebody else reuse it or repurpose it?
If I can’t find another use for it, then I reluctantly send it to the landfill. Here is how my sisters and I avoided the landfill as much as we possibly could.
Where Can All This Stuff Go?
If there was something my sisters and I didn’t want for ourselves, we set things aside for other family members or friends. From there, we used a variety of strategies: we sold it at few yard sales, we had an estate sale, and we advertised on Freecycle where you list what you are looking to give up (for free) or you can see what others are giving up (for free). But in many cases, we just loaded up our cars and dropped the stuff at our local Goodwill Donation Center. But they won’t take everything.
Earth911 was a life saver. We used it. A lot. Their Recycling Search lets you enter your zip code and the item(s) you are trying to find a new home for. In most cases, it will let you know what facility in your area will take the item, but some items have no homes. They also have an app called iRecycle which works in much the same way. Before dropping an item at one of these facilities, always call first to confirm.
In our final days of clean-up, not sure how we would get rid of the remaining stuff in our parents’ shed, garage, and basement, a friend brought a young Amish family to us. They took things we thought nobody else would want. And the next day, they showed up with their 2 mules and a wagon to haul the rest of the stuff away.
Below is a list of where we dropped some challenging items. Don’t assume every place wants or needs these things, so always call in advance.
Check with schools, day care centers, places of worship, or a creative reuse program in your area. Just Google “creative reuse” along with your city.
Bedding, Blankets and Towels
Items that are in good condition should be taken to a homeless shelter (if they’ll take them), but if they have some stains, contact your animal shelter or your local vet. If fabric is really stained or has holes, tear it up and use for rags to minimize your use of paper towels.
Habitat for Humanity ReStore is a great place to drop building materials. You can also try Googling “building materials recycling” along with your city for places that take things like wood, sinks, toilets, windows — anything that comes from a home or office.
If you can’t fix it or repurpose it, donate it to a consignment shop, resale store or vintage clothing store and make a little money. I did this with my mother’s hats, purses and aprons from the 40s, 50s and 60s. You can see one of these aprons in one of my videos.
Of course, you can always drop at Goodwill or have clothing picked up at your house by groups like GreenDrop Charitable Donations that benefit Purple Heart veterans.
Any clothing that is stained or damaged should be turned into rags or, if your local recycling facility handles textile recycling, send ’em there.
If it is safe to use, how about donating to a college kid with a new apartment or, if the cookware is in really good condition, check with your local school or community center with a cooking program. If it is not save to use, check with your city’s recycling facility to see if they will accept cookware . Don’t just pitch it in the trash!
If you have sensitive paperwork that shouldn’t be recycled, contact Shred-It which has locations throughout the United States. You can also Google “paper shredding” and your city to find companies that do this for a fee OR you may find a free community paper shredding event.
Hopefully your jurisdiction will recycle office paper, catalogues, magazines and other junk mail that has been sitting around your home, but to keep it from coming to you in the first place, use the app Paper Karma which enables you to just snap a photo of the return address and submit it. Paper Karma deals with the hassle of getting you off a list.
If the paint is relatively new, check with your local Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit, community center, or arts organization that could use it to paint walls, murals or more. If it is old, check with your local recycling center to see if they will accept old paint. This is considered hazardous waste.
Before sending paper to the recycle bin, if it has a perfectly good side, start a collection of scrap paper or, if it is in good condition, use it in your home printer for print jobs only you will see. Construction paper and poster boards can be donated to daycare or community centers. Give cardboard to friends or businesses that send documents that need padding. I sent my cardboard to photographer friends.
Plastic shopping bags can often be recycled at your local grocery store, but other bags, like the kind with zippers that have held bed linens, can be re-used for storing cosmetics, jewelry or wet bathing suits.
If you live in the United States, participate in the National Prescription Drug Takeback Day which occurs every April and October. If you don’t have a location near you, dispose of drugs by wrapping them in coffee grounds in kitty litter and dumping in your trash.
U-waste is universal waste this includes batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment and bulbs. Visit your municipality’s website to determine when and where these materials can be dropped off. If they don’t accept u-waste, certain retailers in your area may also provide drop-off services for some u-waste materials at no cost. Best Buy and Home Depot are good places to start, or try Earth911’s Recycling Search. Just plug in your zip code and what you are recycling and it will list facilities near you that will accept the waste. You can read more about U-Waste here.
If you have some great tips on finding a new home for your stuff, please share in the comments below!
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