Reader Pam sent us an e-mail with some helpful advice about how to decide to trash, recycle, or donate books to charities — such as when donating to libraries, schools, and/or prisons — that I wanted to share with all Unclutterers:
I have been volunteering at our local library used book sale, sorting books. It is astonishing to see the condition of some of the books people “donate.” Water damaged and moldy from floods and spills, pages turned orange and falling out from age, holes from … abuse? etc. I’m pondering why the donors did not just throw the books away, but instead are wasting our time throwing them away, for no one is going to purchase these badly damaged books. The book sale also has a policy to toss travel books and text books older than 5 years, because the information is too dated. I’ve decided it takes courage to throw your own books away, because you feel like you’re tossing the memories away with them. Somehow, donating them seems more
acceptable. I urge everyone to think about this the next time you confront a pile of your own books in bad or outdated condition. Try to summon up the courage to toss them, rather than donate them to an agency that has to toss them for you.
This advice applies to more than just books. Ask yourself, “Would someone pay money to buy this?” If you think someone would pay money for it, then it’s usually in good enough quality to donate to charity. However, if an item is chipped, torn, stained, or damaged in any way, you should usually trash or recycle the item.
Some charities will accept clothing to recycle into rags, but these items should be marked as rags when they are donated instead of expecting the charity to make these decisions. Always call the charity or check their website before making a donation to ensure that they are accepting rags, and to see how the organization prefers the items to be clearly identified as rags. One of the most overlooked areas on clothing is the armpit area of shirts — if there are sweat stains, the items are ready for the rag pile instead of the donation pile.
One exception to Pam’s rule is when donating used linens to animal shelters. Most animal shelters will accept towels, sheets, and blankets with holes or stains on them (but not mold or mildew). The items are often used for cleanups, so perfect condition isn’t necessary. Call your local shelter before making your donation, though, and definitely wash the items before making your donation.