What could be secretly hidden in clutter?

Last week my daughter lost her AirPods. She said she was wearing a particular jacket when she last had them. On examination of the jacket, we found a small hole in one of the pockets and the AirPods had fallen through the hole and were trapped between the jacket and liner. Fortunately, that jacket had not yet passed through the washer and dryer!

This incident made me think about some precautionary measures to take while uncluttering.

Before donating or disposing, we certainly should examine the pockets of clothing but if the pockets have holes, or if we find the pockets have been repaired, we should make sure that nothing is trapped between the layers of fabric. We don’t want to be like the woman who donated her husband’s old shirt in which he had hidden $8000 cash. Luckily, she was able to retrieve the shirt and the money, but what a stressful experience!

When examining clothing, always check inside mittens and gloves. Did a ring slip off a finger and remain trapped inside? Is something trapped in the lining? Look inside the brims of hats as people have been known to stick cash and receipts up there. Due to the notorious lack of pockets in women’s clothing, some ladies have placed money, important receipts, and jewellery inside their bras. Check inside shoes too, underneath the insole and deep into the toes.

Verifying all the compartments of purses and wallets is pretty obvious but again, check between the purse and liner for any items — especially if you find holes in the lining or see that the lining was repaired. Hand stitching on mattresses or other furniture may be a clue that something could be hidden inside.

At a NAPO conference I attended, one professional organizer mentioned she found a diamond tennis bracelet like this one, (but with real diamonds and worth thousands of dollars) in an inside pocket of a suitcase to be donated. As well as pockets, always check the bottoms and lids of suitcases and briefcases for hidden compartments. If suitcases have linings with zippers, open them and check within.

For centuries jewellery boxes had many secret compartments to thwart thieves and the tradition continues today. Completely empty jewellery boxes and give them a good shake to ensure you haven’t missed a hidden niche. Once, when doing an estate clearing, I found cash hidden behind the liner of a jewellery gift box so do check inside all items that may have contained valuables.

Secret safes may be overlooked while uncluttering. There are book safes, safes that look like food containers, hairbrushes, and even surge protectors. This Pinterest board shows some amazingly creative hiding spots for valuables!

When you’re uncluttering someone else’s things, especially elderly people (who may believe their mattress is safer than a bank for storing cash), and anyone with dementia or other mental health issues, it is helpful to think about how a spy would hide their secrets. We don’t mean to suggest that anyone has nefarious motives but there are times when honest, upstanding people put items “away for safe-keeping” and then forget where that is. For example, a recycling plant employee found $100,000 cash hidden in the back of an old television. Fortunately, the money was returned to its rightful owner who had forgotten he had stashed it there many years before.

If you’ve found something interesting or valuable hidden in clutter you were about to donate or dispose, please share it with our readers so they know what to look for.

More kitchen tips

Here are a few kitchen tips from an article in The Telegraph in 2007:

  • Uncluttering tips: A time study revealed that most people use the same four pots and pans over and over again. Take an objective look at the other seldom used items. Consider eliminating them or storing them elsewhere.
  • Recipes: A three-ring binder with magnetic photo pages can be used to store recipes collected from family and friends, magazines, newspapers, and the internet. Avoid those that require ingredients you will never buy. If your family doesn’t find a recipe to be a hit, then toss it out. Discard unused recipes yearly. It takes only minutes to do this. Consider displaying special cookbooks on your bookshelf or coffee table as a conversation piece.
  • Paper and mail: It’s best to open mail right beside a recycling bin or trashcan. Don’t put it in a pile to “sort later.” This delay tactic only wastes time, as you’ll have to review the mail a second time. It takes seconds to pitch junk mail and unwanted advertisements now. If you can’t get your magazines read, do not renew your subscription, instead use the library, or pick up an occasional copy at the grocery store.

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Erasing old cell phones as you unclutter them

If you have a fairly recent cell phone that you want to sell or donate, it’s pretty easy to remove your personal information (address book, messages, photos, etc.) from the phone before disposing of it. You can get the how-to information from your cell phone manufacturer or cellular provider, or you can find information online from various other sources.

In general, the steps will involve removing any SIM cards and SD cards, doing a hard reset (also known as a factory reset), and setting up encryption if needed (especially on Android phones). To be even more secure, you can load junk data onto your phone and then do another factory reset.

But what if it’s an old phone and you don’t have the charger, you don’t know the password, or both? These phones tend to get shoved into drawers or boxes to be dealt with at a later time — which never comes.

How many old phones do people have laying around? To get an idea, look at what Daniel Otis reported in the Motherboard website:

According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which advocates on behalf of the industry, 62 per cent of Canadians have an average of 2.1 phones that they’re not using. That equals more than 47 million unused cell phones collecting dust.

If you’re dealing with phones like this and you’d like to finally unclutter them, the following are a few suggestions.

Missing the password? Try the default lock code or just do a factory reset.

Leaving a default lock code in place is a bad idea, but enough people do it that you might as well try it. Many years ago, the person who used the phone might not have been as security-conscious as most of us are now.

The default code on many Nokia phones is 12345. The code on some LG phones is 0000 (four zeroes) and on other LG phones it’s the last four digits of your phone number. Other phones might use 1234.

But the easiest option might be to do a factory reset (which should be possible even without the password), since you want to remove all of the data on the phone, anyway.

Missing the charger? See if someone else has one.

A vendor’s store may have the charger you’re lacking and might be willing to charge your phone enough that you can follow the standard steps for erasing your phone. Or ask around on sites like Nextdoor, where you might find someone who would be happy to lend you the charger you need.

Still stuck? Physically destroy the phone.

If you can’t get into the phone to erase the data, you can always resort to physically destroying the phone. Some people distrust the software erasing process and prefer hardware destruction, even though it could mean a perfectly usable phone gets destroyed. It’s all a matter of what data you have on the phone and how you evaluate the risks of having that data stolen.

While you could attempt to destroy the phone yourself — if you know what you’re doing — many people will find paying a reputable service provider to shred the phone to be the wiser choice.

Some local shredding companies will shred cell phones, including companies with certification from the National Association for Information Destruction (NAID). You can search for a company through the NAID website, although there’s no way to identify which ones work with cell phones as opposed to just paper and storage media such as computer hard drives. Alternatively, you could just use your favorite search engine.

For example, the following are a few companies that provide cell phone shredding services:

Why do we keep the things we do?

Our family completed two international moves in the space of 14 months and have not really had time to settle in our current house. So, it didn’t take much effort for recent home repairs wreak havoc in our basement. As I was sifting through stuff that I didn’t even remember we had, I started reflecting on why we keep the things we do.

Emotional connections

We keep some things is because we have an emotional attachment to them such as Grandma’s teapot or the toy cars from our youth. We’ve written a lot about sentimental clutter over the years so if you are dealing with sentimental items, reading these posts can help you decide whether or not to keep the items or let them go.

A need to be prepared

It’s great to be prepared. When the smoke detector starts its incessant “I have a dead battery!” beeping in the middle of the night, having a spare battery in the kitchen drawer is certainly handy. But is there a need for keeping a circular saw you use once every two or three years? We’ve written about renting seldom used tools as an option for reducing clutter. What about the huge roasting pan you use only at Thanksgiving? It could be shared among family members and whoever hosts next year’s family dinner, gets to store the pan for the year. Alternatively, you could always use disposable roasting pans.

No one wants to be caught off-guard so think about what you absolutely need in an urgent situation and what you’re keeping for non-urgent, just in case scenarios.

It’s for a special occasion

Many people have items they use only on rare, special occasions. I’m not talking about holiday decorations which are only used during holiday periods (it would be odd to see Christmas decorations in July). I’m talking about the “good dishes” that can only be used during a candlelight supper with dignified guests.

In reality, using special things all the time, or at least more frequently, does not make them less special. By using them, we are acknowledging the privilege of owning them and every time we use them we are creating special memories. Treating your own family members as dignified guests at a candlelight supper every month will give your children something to remember.

There are people, (and I am one of them) that use the term, “saving for special occasion” as an excuse to not use high maintenance items such as a dry-clean only clothing or hand wash only dishes. If this is the case, then it is likely you’re really keeping these things for one of the other reasons listed here.

It was a gift

If there is an emotional connection to the gift, follow the advice on dealing with sentimental clutter. Unclutterer Jeri wrote a great post on how to deal with unwanted gifts that provides some great information as well. Remember, you can keep something if it was a gift, you don’t have to keep it because it was a gift.

Some people keep items because they are going to give them as gifts “when the time comes.” I would suggest “the time” be scheduled in a planner, calendar, or reminder list. If there is more than one gift per person per occasion, then it is probably safe to unclutter those items.

The price

When people say, “It was free!” they really mean they didn’t pay any money for it. That is good deal if you need, want, and use the item. However, factor in a portion of your real-estate costs (mortgage, rent, utility bills) plus any maintenance time and costs for “free” items that you never use you realize that they are not really free. Liberate yourself and unclutter the freebies.

At the opposite end of the scale, it may be hard to part with items that were expensive. In most cases, thanks to mass-produced market goods and depreciation, the longer you own an item, the lower its value. Therefore, selling an item sooner, rather than later will reduce your loss. For example, if you buy a grandfather clock for $5000 in one year it would be worth about $4800 but after five years it would only be worth about $4100. Selling it sooner would result in more cash in your pocket. This depreciation guide may help you determine how quickly your assets decline in value.

Dreams

Sometimes it’s our dreams that cause us to retain clutter. We dream of creating that perfect scrapbook so we head out to the craft store to stock up on supplies. Inspired by the latest sports superstar, we shop at Athletes’ World for all the latest equipment so we too might become the next draft pick. There is nothing wrong with trying something new, but ensure that it is an achievable goal. You may not have the patience for scrapbooking or the time to practice a new sport.

Before you start buying to fulfill a dream, make a plan to achieve it. Schedule time in your planner to practice, take a few lessons with rented equipment, or buy only the minimum amount of supplies. If, after a few months you’re still “really into it,” and practicing regularly, then treat yourself to some extra equipment.

If you’ve got a stash of sporting goods, or craft and hobby supplies lying around that you haven’t touched in months, either make a S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) goal to get involved again or let the items go.

It’s not my clutter

There are times when we store items for other people. For example, our children are in university so we are storing many of their things. We don’t mind, but we fully expect they will take their things once they have graduated and settled in their own homes. If you’re storing items that do not belong to you, here is some advice that might help.

Here’s some more advice in case you are uncluttering other people’s things. Remember to get their permission to unclutter and if possible, go through all the items with them when making decisions about whether to keep things or let them go.

Trouble uncluttering

If you’re having trouble uncluttering, you’ve come to the right place. Unclutterer provides plenty of resources and motivation to get you moving. You can check out our Organizing Jump-Start, look through our posts on Resources and Services to learn where and how to dispose of items, and read all of our tips to help you unclutter.

Now I shall return to my basement to unclutter and organize. I should have it completed well before we have to move (again) next year.

Living more simply through eBay

Here’s one way to live more simply: sell all your possessions on eBay. That’s what John Freyer did in 2002. As he was getting ready to leave grad school in Iowa for New York City, he decided to sell everything he owned on eBay and on his site, allmylifeforsale.com. He sold everything, from used socks, to a can of Chunky Soup from his pantry, from his Planet of the Apes LP, to a bag of small, roasted cuttlefish. The result is a book that catalogues his project, which is described on the site as an “explor[ation of] our relationship to the objects around us, their role in the concept of identity, as well as the emerging commercial systems of the Internet.”

You don’t need to be as hip and PoMo as Freyer to see the benefit of eBay as a tool for turning clutter into cash. I saw an article in New York Times back in 2007 about how teens trying to get quick cash are a great source for cheap electronics on eBay and Craigslist. Especially when you’re about to make a life change, like moving to another city, selling a lot of your stuff, instead of packing it up and paying to ship it, can be a great organization strategy.

There’s a moral here for you even if like most of your possessions, thank you very much. Whenever you are uncluttering and you don’t think you can bring yourself to part with some knick-knack, just think of John Freyer and his Star Wars bed sheets.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

When uncluttering seems overwhelming

While browsing the Unclutterer Forums this afternoon I saw a post left by reader Marta Bergen:

I find de-cluttering overwhelming – depressing, exhausting, paralyzing. So I tried a different method – I will give myself ONE week to do ONE thing. A few weeks ago it was cleaning and decluttering the bathroom. I would spend ten minutes clearing out a drawer full of unused makeup, and the next day half an hour scrubbing the shower, but it worked!! It was the only thing on my to-do list aside from the bare-bones basics, like cook dinner & feed the dogs.

I can relate to Marta here. Uncluttering can be “depressing, exhausting and paralyzing,” especially if you’ve got a lot of other things to do, maintenance seems endless or you simply don’t know where to begin. I’ve been there myself and I suspect may other readers have, too.

Marta’s solution is a good one: focus on one activity and do not let not doing the other activities elicit any guilt. It is a fine example of breaking a project down into smaller steps. You can’t “unclutter the house” on Sunday, but you probably can clean out a drawer or clear off a shelf. Reward the victories and build momentum for more.

But there is no simple solution to feeling overwhelmed when it comes to cleaning and tidying. It’s an issue we’ve addressed over the years. In 2012, Erin listed eight steps to help you regain control of your life, including:

  1. Start saying “no.” At least for the short term, you need to say “no” to as many new responsibilities as possible.
  2. Get it out of your head. The next thing you need to do is get everything out of your mind and onto a sheet of paper.
  3. Prioritize your list. Sort your list into four groups:
    1. Must get done for risk of losing job/life/significant income
    2. Would be nice to get done and I would enjoy doing the task
    3. Would be nice to get done but I don’t really want to do it
    4. Doesn’t need to get done right now/ever and I don’t really want to do it.

Occasionally it’s easy to pinpoint the source of the overwhelming feelings. You might inherit clutter, or be dealing with children’s toys, which seem to be in all places at all times. The one that gets to me — and apparently troubles Marta as well — is an overwhelming to do list.

I love making lists. It’s typically a calming exercise that helps me feel on top of what needs to be done. That is, until the list grows to a frightening size. That’s when it’s time to employ some strategy.

As Erin wrote previously:

  1. Maintain perspective
  2. Don’t lose sight of the details
  3. Embrace some of the stress.
  4. Take breaks.
  5. Manage expectations.
  6. Don’t extend the stress.
  7. Celebrate.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to uncluttering. With a little preparation and planning, you can get back on track.

What’s a kitchen for?

Today’s kitchens are used for more than just preparing food. They are often playrooms, offices, mail centers, and TV rooms. When you mix up so many purposes for the same space (or even the same countertop), you’re not going to get good results. Something as simple as making a ham and cheese sandwich is impossible when your countertops are covered with bills and other papers. Instead of succumbing to this fate, set up different spaces for different tasks.

Ideally, your kitchen should only be for cooking, but realistically that’s not going to be the case–especially since kitchens tend to be the center of family activity. Designate some countertop space that’s off-limits to anything but cooking or eating, and make it a point to keep it clear when it’s not being used. That way, when you’re ready to use it again, it’s ready for you.

If you must bring mail and bill-paying paraphernalia into the kitchen, set up a space for just that activity and don’t let it spread out of that area. (A desktop organizer or mini-shelf is a perfect solution.) Even if you can’t dedicate surfaces to specific activities like bill-paying, storage in the kitchen can help. For example, when you finish eating at the kitchen table, you take away the dishes to wash and store in the cupboard. Why not do the same with everything else? If you pay bills, do homework, or play games at the kitchen table, make sure to clean up when you’re done. Keeping a drawer or cupboard for each activity will make it as easy and second-nature to put away your stuff.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

How long will it take me to unclutter and organize?

I’m often asked how long it will take to complete an organizing task: organizing a garage, a kitchen, a closet, an office, etc. As with almost everything related to organizing, the only honest answer I can provide is, “It depends.” And it depends on a number of factors.

How much stuff is currently in the spaces you want to organize?

Rooms of the same size and same basic purpose may hold drastically different amounts of stuff. Drawers can be stuffed to the brim or only half full. Garages may have been unable to accommodate a car or truck for years or may have plenty of room for vehicles.

What kinds of things are in the spaces?

Papers take a long time to go through, because each paper must be reviewed, and each paper takes very little space. You’re making a decision about each paper the same way you’d make a decision about a shovel, a toaster, or a couch — but you won’t see results as quickly.

Also, sentimental items take a longer time to unclutter because of the emotions involved.

What kind of decision maker are you?

Some people make decisions quickly: Keep that, toss that, donate that. Other people need more time to make their decisions. Someone might want to tell me the story behind an object before deciding on its fate, and that’s perfectly normal and understandable.

How long can you reasonably work at an organizing task?

When organizing, you want to avoid both physical and emotional fatigue. Uncluttering involves making one decision after another, and you want to avoid decision fatigue — because that’s when you’re likely to make decisions you may regret later. If you find yourself dreading one more “keep or not” choice or your body is getting uncomfortable, take a break or just decide you’ve done enough for the day.

How many people need to be involved in the decisions?

If you live alone and can make all the uncluttering and organizing decisions, things are likely to go more quickly than if multiple people need to agree on the decisions — especially if the people involved have different organizing styles and will need to reach compromises.

What do you want your final organized space to look like?

A number of your organizing choices will affect the time required. For example:

If you’re organizing a new kitchen, do you want to put down shelf liner first? If so, it will take longer than if you decide you don’t need shelf liner.

Do you want all your books organized in a very specific order? If so, that will take longer than if you just want them in general categories.

How do you want to dispose of unwanted items?

The organizing project isn’t really done until the items you aren’t keeping are no longer in your space. If you want to sell them, that’s likely to take longer than if you choose to donate them. But very specific donation goals can take time, too. I know people who have kept things around for months because they wanted to donate them to a specific charity’s once-a-year garage sale.

Unless you need to clear out a space quickly, I’d generally advise working at whatever speed feels most comfortable to you. Once you’ve begun the process, and see how much time it’s taking you to do parts of it, you’ll have a decent idea how long it might take to do the rest.

Reader question: Curbing golf club clutter?

A reader who identified herself as elrj sent us this question:

“My husband and I live in a charming one bedroom apartment in a converted historic townhouse. At first, it was a squeeze because the place doesn’t have much storage/closet space at all. But, with some re-arranging and advice from blogs like this, we have massaged our little home into a wonderfully live-able and entertain-able space. Then I bought a bike. Combined with his, they take up the entire hallway, and when you add the golf clubs (previously stored in the trunk of our car) we’ve got quite the sports-themed house. We have no yard/outside to chain them to, and we use them regularly. What do you do with such things in an efficiency?”

Storing sporting equipment in an efficiency can be a headache. When my husband and I first moved in together in our 850 sq. foot one bedroom, our lack of space was almost enough to convince me drop sports all together. I know your pain and understand it.

As far as your bikes are concerned, we’ve already published a couple posts on this topic on the site. The posts themselves have some strong ideas, but be sure to read the comments where many of our readers offer up terrific alternatives: Single hook bike solution and Bike storage solutions.

We’ve never discussed golf clubs on the site, though, so I want to spend the remainder of this post addressing that topic.

The first thing you’ll want to consider when looking to save space is getting new golf bags. My husband and I downsized from our behemoth traditional staff/cart style bags to new feather-weight backpack styles (similar to these: Mine, His) and have never looked back. My empty bag weighs less than four pounds and is about half of the footprint as my old bag. All of my clubs and materials fit easily in the bag, and it has the added bonus of being able to be hung up on a strong, wooden hanger in my closet. (I bungee cord the straps together to make certain they don’t slip off the hanger.)

Another idea is to contact the course where you play most often and see if they have on-site storage lockers. You’ll have to shell out a little money per month, but it gets your bags out of your house and you don’t have to worry about transporting your bag from home to course should you decide to ride your bike. If you don’t play golf more than a few times a year, though, this suggestion won’t be practical for you.

In fact, if you only play golf two or three times a year, I suggest that you get rid of the clubs. Renting a set of clubs for the few times you do play will be less stressful in the long run. With the money you get from selling your clubs, you can pay for three or four rentals. Again, I’m only making this suggestion if you rarely play and are just holding onto the clubs because of a sunk-cost fallacy.

If you do play often, can’t rent space at your course, and don’t have space in your closets to hang your clubs, you may want to consider: A wall-mounted golf bag and shoe organizer (pictured above) or a freestanding wood bag organizer. The wall-mounted system could turn your golf bags into a piece of interesting art, and the standing organizer could at least provide a permanent home for your bags.

I hope one of these ideas is helpful. Good luck!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

From the forums: best uncluttering ideas ever

I was recently browsing the Unclutterer forums when I found this gem of a thread: Your Best Decluttering Idea Ever. I went through and pulled a few great ideas submitted by Unclutterer readers. Take a look, and share your “best decluttering idea” in our Forum or in the comment section below.

Zora writes:

“Back when there were only cardboard jigsaw puzzles, I cut out the top of the box, to get the picture, and then put all the pieces in a sturdy plastic Ziploc bag. Matching labels on picture and bag. Instead of a stack of large, flimsy boxes, I had a jigsaw puzzle collection that fit into a drawer.”

Great idea! For more on storing puzzles and tabletop games, check out this post. If video games are more your thing, we’ve got you covered here.

Back on the forums, reader anitamojito writes:

“I set some limits with objects I have a weakness for, such as books…I am not buying another bookcase to accommodate my habit.”

It’s important to recognize that collections aren’t inherently bad. Once you’ve identified your gathering of like items a legitimate collection, you can get down to maintaining an enjoyable, vibrant and uncluttered collection.

Lastly, greymac writes:

“Well, for me my best ever (besides just getting started!) was to get rid of ALL of my unfinished projects. Some I trashed, some I gave away — like several of the needlework projects I was obviously NOT going to finish — and some I actually finished myself. I’m slowly getting better at limiting myself to only 3 or 4 projects at a time — and feel much more energy to attack my clutter than I felt when I had dozens of unfinished piles vying for my attention!”

Boy, this one hits home for me. For years, I lived with the clutter — physical and mental — of unfinished projects. Not only were the pieces lying around, the guilt I associated with each was constantly nagging at me.

The answer for me was to take a weekend, consider each one in turn and decide — honestly — if I was ever going to finish the project. If the answer was no, off it went.

Incidentally, a similar practice can help you with “app clutter” on your smartphone. Much like unfinished projects, long-neglected apps simply sit on your phone and do nothing. Here’s a good way to identify those you actually want and those you don’t.

  1. Move all of your apps off of the home screen. Yes, all of them.
  2. As you use an app over the course of a week, move it to back to the home screen. You can even devise an order to identify which you used most often.
  3. At the end of the week, give those that never made it back a good look. Do you really need it on your phone?

A big thanks to everyone who contributed to the forum discussions. If you’ve got a single, fantastic uncluttering idea, please share it below.

A double win: uncluttering and helping others

I recently saw a touching story about a previously homeless family that found housing but lacked any home furnishings — until a local charity helped them out. (Click the link to see the short video, including before and after photos.)

Eight-year-old Daerye Neely and mom Dionna Neely walked into their new home in Detroit to find a wonderful surprise – a furnished home decorated for free by charity Humble Design after the co-founders heard about the Neelys’ story of hardship.

Since I’m always looking for good places for people to donate the gently used items they no longer want or need, I wanted to know more — so I started investigating.

Humble Design is “a non-profit helping families transitioning out of homeless shelters by providing furnishings and design services. We turn their empty house into a clean, dignified, and welcoming home.” And given that mission, it takes a wide range of donations: furniture, rugs, artwork, linens, towels, books, toys (excluding stuffed animals), TVs, dish sets, silverware, mugs, and more. Pick-up services are available for large furniture items, although only in certain areas — and there’s a wait list.

I’ve written about furniture banks before, and many of these accept more than just furniture. For example, see the listing for the Furniture Bank serving greater Toronto, Canada. Furniture banks, working with partner agencies, provide a great service for “the previously homeless, unemployed and working poor, battered women and children in retreat, immigrants, individuals with mental or physical disabilities, victims of a fire, robbery, and natural disasters, etc.” And these items are provided at little or no cost.

Organizations like Humble Design don’t identify as furniture banks, but they seem to provide somewhat comparable services. Other charities that seem similar to Humble Design include:

All of these organizations have specific wish lists and standard donation guidelines. None of them want items with stains, odors, rips, or any other major wear. Linens and towels should be washed before donating.

If you have household furnishings to donate — especially furniture, which many organizations don’t handle — furniture banks and organizations like Humble Design are good to keep in mind.

Ask Unclutterer: Where can I donate stuffed animals?

Reader Darlene recently asked the following question in the comment section of the post What to do with those old toys:

I have bags of slightly used stuffed animals. I’ve found most places like hospitals and day care center don’t want them because of germ contamination. Where can I find a site that would welcome them? How about for the flood victims in Texas or hurricane victims in Florida or even … victims in California? Give me some ideas please.

Darlene, this is a common concern, so I’m very glad you asked the question. The following are a few suggestions that may help anyone with gently used stuffed animals looking for new homes.

Give them away directly to people who want them

I’ve successfully used my local freecycle group to give away stuffed animals. It doesn’t always work, but it sometimes does. Other similar possibilities are Facebook, Nextdoor, and the free section of Craigslist.

Give them to Goodwill or other thrift stores

While many thrift stores don’t accept donations of stuffed animals, a number of them do!

Each Goodwill chapter has its own policies regarding what it accepts — and some specify that they take stuffed animals, such as Goodwill of the Heartland in Iowa and Goodwill of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo Counties in California.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County in Oregon is another example of a charity that takes stuffed animals for its thrift stores. Again, each local organization will have its own policies, but you might find that yours will welcome your donation.

Note: These policies can change over time, so be sure to check before each donation.

Donate via SAFE: Stuffed Animals for Emergencies

SAFE is a 20-year-old non-profit organization that helps get gently used stuffed animals (as well as blankets, children’s clothes, and other items) to those who need them. You can donate through one of the chapters in Florida or South Carolina. Or you can send them to one of the urgent needs locations that SAFE has identified. Here’s just one of the places currently listed:

Edmund D. Edelman’s Children’s Court is the court that handles all the juvenile dependency cases in all of Los Angeles County. These cases usually deal with abuse and neglect issues. Annually they handle about 30,000 cases, and some of these cases require the children to speak. The courthouse has asked us if we could donate stuffed animals to help ease these children’s fears during a very stressful time in their lives.

SAFE also has good instructions for cleaning stuffed animals (PDF) before donating them.

Donate to police or fire departments

An 8-year-old girl in Colorado who had been in an auto accident donated her stuffed animal collection to the Denver police department to give to other children like herself. You could certainly ask if your local police or fire department would like your stuffed animals to hand out to children in similar traumatic circumstances.

Give them to animal shelters

As reader Monique mentioned in the comments, this is always an alternative to consider. And it will work for toys that have stains (even after washing) that would make them unsuitable for giving to children. Please check with the shelter you have in mind, as not all of them will want such donations. But some, such as Four Peaks Animal Rescue in Arizona, do include stuffed animals on their wish lists.