If you're decluttering, you want to find the right home for the things you no longer want. However, if something is unusable, it's okay to throw stuff away so you don't pass the decision and the cost onto the charity you're trying to help.
by Susan McCarthy
When decluttering, many people’s inclination is to donate as many things as possible. You think, “Someone can probably use this,” and into the donation box it goes. We trust the charity to sort through our stuff and find everything a good home.
I've read the term "wishcycling" to refer to people's belief that someone else (a charity) will find a use for every broken, stained, and unwanted item in your home. Unfortunately, this wishcycling can harm the charity we are trying to support.
If a charity can’t sell or give away something you’ve donated, they toss the stuff. This costs them money. And if they’ve had an influx of donations that they can’t process quickly enough, I’ve read that they’ll rent storage space to hold the items.
Also, if something is severely stained or smells of mold and mildew, a trash bag is the right place for these items. Dropping off mildewed items to a charity could mean that anything that touches those things will pick up the musty smell which could make a whole lot of items unsaleable.
So, donating less than great stuff means it can cost the charity money to cope with these items.
If you hate the idea of sending stuff to a landfill, you may now feel that you’re stuck with things that you no longer want.
I’m going to say something that might make you angry. Throw stuff away. It already exists and has used resources. At some point, the items will end up in a landfill; turning your home into a temporary annex to the landfill doesn’t make the items go away.
Don't assume someone else can figure out what to do with that thing
I say this as someone who worked as a teacher for a nature conservation nonprofit for over twenty years. I talked about reuse, reduce, and recycle. I reminded kids to stop playing with the water fountain when they were refilling their water bottles.
Along with nature classes, I also taught art classes, meaning I was forever sorting through recyclable items donated “for us to do something with.” I’d talk to people who would ask me if I could reuse the forks, spoons, and knives they used at their cookout; or, the stack of plastic containers that once held takeout meals and restaurant leftovers; or, the tubes from toilet paper and paper towel rolls.
I’d be polite, “Oh, thank you! We have a lot of those; the camp counselors never seem to use that many toilet paper tubes for projects so if you’d like to recycle them from now on, that’s another good option for these items.” Or, “Oh, thank you! It’s so difficult to use items like that. So many kids have food allergies that I never feel that we can remove all allergens.”
And then they’d leave the items with me … and bring back more a month or two later. I constantly challenged my creativity to use items. But, after realizing that some things had been sitting on the craft room shelves for years, I finally decided to toss and recycle the excess that was never getting used (and was spilling from bins and creating tripping hazards).
How to stop throwing away so many things
If you’re bothered by putting items in the trash, use that feeling as incentive to be more mindful from now on.
You can't change the past, but you can learn from it
Knowing what you realize now, if you could go back in time you’d know not to spend money on items that you’d never use or to buy inexpensive items that couldn’t do what you wanted them to do or to store items in places where they’d be ruined to future use.
But we can’t go back in time. We can only go forward, learning from our experience and making new, better choices.
It’s okay to eliminate these unwanted items from your house, even if that means tossing them in the trash. Storing these unwanted items in your house doesn’t remove these things from existence. They used resources to be made; they will take up space in a landfill someday. Next time you’re at the store, or shopping online, you’ll think about the future of the item you’re about to buy.
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