Trash goes in the trash

Reader Claire writes in to ask,

I love the goals of this site. My issue has always been: what do I do with all this stuff that I’m getting rid of? I don’t like to create trash, and trying to give stuff away on Craigslist or freecycle sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. Ideas?

Well, if you don’t want it, no one on Craigslist will buy it, and no one on freecycle will take it for free, then chances are it is trash. Your choices are then to dump it in the rubbish bin or live in a home filled with trash, and I hope that’s an easy choice. If you’ve done everything you can to find a new home for your clutter and you just can’t, there’s no reason to feel guilty about trashing it.

Some might suggest that you should just drive it over to the Salvation Army or some other charity, but you might want to think twice about that. In his great book, It’s All Too Much, Peter Walsh has this to say about pawning off your stuff on charities:

Goodwill receives a billion pounds of clothing every year. Ultimately, they use less than half of the clothes they get. Clothing is cheap, and the cost of sorting, cleaning, storing, and transporting the clothes is higher than their value. If you wouldn’t give an article to a family member, it’s probably not good enough for charity. Sure, it’s great to get the tax deduction and it makes you feel like you didn’t waste money buying the clothes, but if you’re truly charitable, be sensitive to the needs of the organization. Charities aren’t dumping grounds for your trash.

So, give yourself permission to just throw it out.

21 Comments for “Trash goes in the trash”

  1. posted by ChzPlz on

    And… remember to stop buying stuff you don’t need!

  2. posted by urban bohemian on

    Thank you! I need to give myself that kind of permission a lot more often. It comes from having stuff that I’ve replaced or don’t need, but may be unsuitable for charity donation (or just impossible to donate without a car) and it sits around my apartment for months trying to find a friend to take it.

  3. posted by OrangeJuicy on

    Actually, I just read this too the contrary –

    He says that the charity shops sell the unwearable clothing to textile recyclers.

  4. posted by Moryse_Heron on

    Thanks, OrangeJuicy. I doubted the validity of the “don’t donate clothes” argument when I saw textile recycling bins start appearing in my town. If someone can make money with those bins, then places like Goodwill should be able to as well.

    Still, I’m happy to put the grossest used clothing (stained stuff, underwear) directly into the recycling bin.

  5. posted by Mike on

    I second the “Thanks, OrangeJuicy.” The textiles program at our local university did a fabric recycling program last year, but they’re never doing it when I need it. So I was very glad to hear that Goodwill recycles. I hate to think of all that fabric just sitting in a landfill when it could be remade into something.

  6. posted by Erin at Unclutterer on

    @OrangeJuicy — Thank you for this link. I’m interested in learning more about this. We’ll get researching!

  7. posted by jchumanerecipe on

    Let’s not forget RECYCLING our trash when we can. Lots of states/cities run e-cycling programs and different nonprofits might use what you have (old towels? animal nonprofits/paint? clothing? possibly an arts or theatre organization) etc.

    Just because Craigslist or Freecycle doesn’t pick it up, doesn’t mean those are the only 2 reuse vehicles OR that it shouldn’t be recycled responsibly if possible.

  8. posted by leah trabue on

    Okay, so here’s a new problem. I’ve been trying to skip the yard sale, a la Flylady, because it tempts you to bring it back in or delay the sale. I also have so much stuff that keeping stuff waiting for the goodwill or DAV is hard. So, how do you prevent stuff you’re waiting to donate/freecycle/sell from coming back into your life?

  9. posted by Kris on

    I keep a bin in my garage. My friends know to look in the bin when they come to visit for items I’m giving away that they may be able to use. When the bin becomes full, I bring it to Goodwill, get my receipt and I’m done. An 18 gallon bin works really well and doesn’t take up a huge amount of space.

    I’ve found that donating items saves us more money than having a yard sale. If you keep track of your donations, you can really get money back at tax time. I use

  10. posted by ARP on

    Depending on where you live, you can put the stuff you don’t want next to your trash bin. I live in the city and inevitably, someone will sort through it (be they homeless or simply “dumpster divers”) and take what they think is useful

  11. posted by Michele on

    I agree about having the clothes go to recycling to make rags. That is best for the environment. Unfortunately when I called Goodwill to ask about this, they did say that it’s too much work for them to do this. But then I asked at another, for profit, thrift store (in Seattle) and they said they will take these very old and stained clothes and recycle them. This is the best solution I can find right now.

  12. posted by Wesa on

    If you are ready to throw something away, make sure you see if any part of an item is recyclable. When items end up in the landfill, they do not break down much, if at all.

  13. posted by Publius on

    To all advocating recycling, I suggest you read John Tierney’s wonderful article in the New York Times Magazine on recycling a few years back. It’s available at

    “Believing that there was no more room in landfills, Americans concluded that recycling was their only option. Their intentions were good and their conclusions seemed plausible. Recycling does sometimes makes sense — for some materials in some places at some times. But the simplest and cheapest option is usually to bury garbage in an environmentally safe landfill. And since there’s no shortage of landfill space (the crisis of 1987 was a false alarm), there’s no reason to make recycling a legal or moral imperative. Mandatory recycling programs aren’t good for posterity. They offer mainly short-term benefits to a few groups — politicians, public relations consultants, environmental organizations, waste-handling corporations — while diverting money from genuine social and environmental problems. Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.”

  14. posted by oneighturbo on

    in the winter months ive given clothes, sheets+blankets and the like to homeless.

    if its say a chair, old vacuum etc. if you can put it out front of your house (if you own) someone will always come and grab it esp. if theres a “free” sign on it.

    Nike Reuse-A-Shoe;subcat=us

    IKEA’s now have a large bin for all kinds of recycling, batteries to phones.

    We bring our plastic grocery bags bag to the grocer where they have bins for them.

  15. posted by jchumanerecipe on

    I am wondering where all of this extra barren land devoid of wildlife or communities, ready for landfill use actually is. From what I have seen/heard usually we are fighting for other states to take our garbage and they don’t want it.

    Overall the object is to reduce rather than to depend on recycling forever.

  16. posted by larochelle on

    If you live in the Bay Area, the next SwapSF event is this weekend, Saturday Sept. 22nd – its a giant clothing swap! Of course, I make sure I don’t leave with more than I brought.

  17. posted by Jasi on

    Burying trash as a permanent solution sounds ridiculous. It sets off all sorts of common sense alarms.

    Recycling isn’t as efficient as it could be and yes, it’s a cost. But if we’re looking at whats taking funds from “genuine” environmental issues, I’m sure we could find other places to look for cash. Why not start in politician’s pockets, campaigning and inefficient govt. spending.

  18. posted by jethro on

    This post, from Co-op America via The Good Human, gives information on a lot of great opportunities for recycling things you didn’t know could be recycled. The big foam chunks that your stereo/computer/appliance was packed in? Who knew?

  19. posted by JAS on

    Also, realize that libraries don’t want your moldy oldy books. If the books are moldy, infested, incomplete sets or are textbooks or computer books more than 5 years old most libraries will throw them away. It is not a sin to throw a book away! Libraries spend thousands of dollars on garbage pickups that could be better spent on materials the public really wants. You can recycle paperbacks but the hardbacks have to go in the trash. I promise you, it is ok to do this!

  20. posted by Vomitola on

    If stuff is truly trashed, it may indeed be trash, yes. However, our local thrift store takes ruined clothing to be made into rags and insulation. You just bundle it and mark it as unwearable cloth rather than mixing it with a wearable donation. Our local animal shelter takes used blankets and towels. As long as they’ve been washed, they don’t care about bleach stains or hair dye streaks or whatever.

    Check out Blueprint Magazine’s list of 100 ideas for getting rid of things, a lot of them involving appropriate charitable donation or recycling.

  21. posted by bldb on

    Figuring out what to do with stuff I don’t want is exactly the problem I have with clutter. Self-permission to throw out good things is not easy for a recovering packrat like me!

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