By Natalie Silverstein

How to get rid of things with sustainability and social responsibility in mind.

As winter finally and officially turns to spring, you might be itching to start your seasonal cleaning spree. Before you wipe out your closet, basement, garage, or bookshelf, we have an idea for making your spring cleaning more impactful. While purging can be a satisfying exercise, finding an easy way to get rid of all of the stuff that no longer “sparks joy” (as professional organizer Marie Kondo drilled into our brains before abandoning the idea herself) can be challenging. Instead of carting everything to the dump and further clogging up the landfill, consider donating any gently used clothing, household items, and books. Beyond Goodwill and The Salvation Army, many great organizations are working to encourage donation, reuse, recycling, and upcycling, helping the planet while making perfectly good items available to people in need.

Organizations and services that help you donate and recycle

  • Learn about recycling, and find resources on how and where to recycle on the Earth911 website. What started as an Arizona-centric database has now grown to include an informative podcast, articles about ecotech, and a searchable national database to help find local places to donate and recycle pretty much anything.
  • The Freecycle Network is a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are committed to encouraging reuse and reducing waste. The network is made up of branches in 5000 towns and includes over 9 million members. The best part? Membership is free.
  • GreenDrop accepts gently used clothing and household goods on behalf of several nonprofit and charity partners. You can schedule a home pick-up or bring your items to a convenient GreenDrop location where an onsite attendant will remove them from your vehicle. 
  • Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit that has been building affordable housing since 1976. Habitat ReStores are independently owned reuse stores operated by local Habitat for Humanity chapters. ReStores accept donations and sell a constantly changing inventory of diverse merchandise at a fraction of the retail price while diverting reusable household items from landfills. Sales of donated items help to fund Habitat for Humanity projects, helping families build a better future and strengthening neighborhoods. The Habitat ReStores website offers a searchable database so you can find a nearby location.

Where to donate clothing like coats and bras

  • Even as the weather turns warmer, many people — including the more than 37 million Americans currently living in poverty — cannot afford clothing to protect themselves from the elements. As you clean out closets, consider donating outgrown, gently used coats to a local coat drive or One Warm Coat. You can become a local ambassador and host your own coat drive, or search the online database to find a collection site near you.
  • The average American throws away 81 lbs of clothing per year, and 95 percent of worn or torn textiles can be recycled, but only 15 percent are ever donated. Ready to refresh your bra and underwear drawer? Believe it or not, there is a future for all those bras you never want to wear again. The folks at The Bra Recyclers make it possible. You can mail gently used bras directly to The Bra Recyclers, or find a local Ambassador (a retail partner) that offers rewards to people who donate. 

Where to donate books

If you’re a voracious reader and you enjoy holding a physical book in your hands, you may have stacks of books scattered around your home. You can give them to folks who don’t have access to books or the means to purchase them.

  • The mission of Better World Books is simple: buy books, do good. Better World Books is an online retailer selling new and used books and donating books to people in need through a large network of nonprofits. They also accept book donations at drop boxes located around the country and through direct shipment, diverting millions of books from landfills. If a book can’t be donated or sold, it’s recycled.
  • Prison libraries are an important resource for those who are incarcerated, but they are typically underfunded. The American Library Association curates a listing of organizations that accept book donations for prison libraries.
  • Books for Africa is the largest shipper of textbooks and library books to the African continent. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Books for Africa “a simple idea [with a] transformative impact…literacy is quite simply the bridge from misery to hope.” If you’re in Minnesota or Georgia, you can drop off books at a Books For Africa location, or you can send books by mail.  
  • Register to be a “volunteer shipper” for Operation Paperback, which provides books for our active duty military and their families, and veterans. Once you register, you can request addresses using an automated system, input the type of books you have to donate and Operation Backpack will generate a customized shipping label. Pack up the books, add a personal note, and head to the Post Office to send your donations. 

Where to donate your electronic devices

Technology changes so fast, and you may be struggling to find a place to donate your slightly outdated computers, tablets, and gadgets. 

  • Computers with Causes allows you to complete a donation form, ship your devices, and download an IRS tax receipt. 
  • World Computer Exchange has connected over 5 million youth around the world with digital resources, empowering them to reach their full potential. Donated and refurbished computers are donated to schools, nonprofit organizations and technology access programs worldwide. You can drop off devices at a local chapter or download a free shipping label.

Natalie Silverstein, MPH, is a writer, speaker, nonprofit founder, and passionate advocate for family and youth service. She is the author of two books on volunteering, Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back and Simple Acts: The Busy Teen’s Guide to Making a Difference, and the host of the award-winning podcast, Simple Acts, Big Impact: Celebrating Teen Changemakers. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook at @simpleactsguide.