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  • Evan Z.

Sparing the Landfill: How to Responsibly Get Rid of the Stuff You Don't Want

As a professional organizer, I spend a lot of time helping clients clear out, clean up, get organized, and beautify their living spaces. Well-intentioned clients hoping not to be wasteful convince themselves that hoarding their old stuff is infinitely better than sending items to the dump. We all do it. Unsure how to dispose of our junk, we inevitably end up slaves to the stuff we care least about.

Not all dumps are created equal. Communities across the country are improving their local reclamation services intended to process a broader range of salvageable goods and materials. Specialty vendors also accept viable lumber, construction materials, paint, metal, auto parts, furniture, appliances, and other household items for resale. Often schools, community colleges, and local nonprofit organizations are interested in items that support programming, such as current books, sporting goods, audio-visual, computing, and photography equipment.

There is a thriving industry dedicated to the de-construction of commercial and residential structures, specifically targeting the re-use of viable materials for second-hand construction. Habitat for Humanity retail ReStore outlets are commonly the regional recipients of such materials. For property owners looking to tear down and rebuild, donating professionally de-constructed building materials to Habitat for Humanity can provide sizeable tax deductible incentives for donors.

While re-use and recycling operations help to redistribute potentially viable materials for resale, many items contain harmful substances that necessitate regulated disposal. Paint, fluorescents, batteries, petroleum products, toxic compounds found in a variety of household and industrial chemicals, as well as appliances, should absolutely be directed to the proper facilities most suited for responsible disposal. Efforts to improve recycling operations now include elaborate electronics, computer, and cell phone deconstruction centers designed to maximize reprocessing potential for items previously regarded as landfill waste. Your local dump should be able to recommend the best suited facilities for the items you seek to dispose of.

The goal is to return as much viable material back to production and to keep as much toxic material out of the ecosystem as possible.

The assortment of consignment and thrift store retailers are happy to discuss the items they are most inclined to take and when. As seasons change, local stores tend to shift their respective inventories to reflect the demand for what is likely to be most lucrative in the coming months. So, don’t be offended if there’s no interest in your old board shorts in December, just label your bags out of the way until the following season.

Consignment retailers only want the finest, like-new items in their community. Some shops specialize in certain things and get pretty strict about their inventory. Shop owners need to maximize every square inch of their showroom floor. That means scrutinizing every item for its income potential. If you are trying to consign your stuff, call ahead or browse to learn who moves which items at the highest prices. There are local shops who specialize in furniture, antiques, rugs, jewelry, clothes, kids’ stuff, sporting goods, and so on. If you’ve got stuff to sell, learn which ones are consistently moving inventory.

Thrift stores are not nearly as picky, but tend to fill up at peak seasons and turn donors away. If your stuff is stained, torn, shredded, broken, or trashed – it’s probably garbage. Thrift stores are inundated with items that nobody wants to buy. Please be considerate about your items’ condition, current potential value, and subsequent resell potential before dumping at local thrift stores. Despite your good intentions, they usually don’t want your old, worn-out, outdated, damaged junk. Not sure? Call ahead.

EBay is great for specialty items where local interest is low. Estate sales are most lucrative with strategic marketing and premier merchandise. Local e-classified boards, Facebook groups and Craigs List are effective seller-managed platforms designed for hyper-local exchange. Look for organizations in your community who can help share your stuff, including: churches, nonprofit organizations, the scouts, homeless and animal shelters, food pantries, and school groups. Garage sales are usually a waste of time unless people are habitual shoppers in your neighborhood.

Getting in the habit of purging your belongings several times a year (at least once a month) helps to keep this on-going process relatively simple. Most importantly, reducing what we accumulate in the first place has the biggest cumulative impact overall. It’s the best way to ensure our stuff doesn’t end up owning us.

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