Jul 092008

I am slightly obsessed with the process of donating items I don’t want to charity. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with boxing everything up and dropping it at The Salvation Army, Goodwill, or another thrift store. But bonus points if you can get your unwanted goods directly into the hands of someone who needs them.

Add the fact that Mr T and I combined households post-wedding and now have duplicates of everything in our very crowded condo, and it shouldn’t be hard to guess what’s on my mind these days!

(No, this photo is not from the Clutterers Anonymous website: This is our office, after the contents of my 1200-sf apartment were crammed into Mr T’s 670-sf place.)

So, for those of you moving in together for the first time, expecting to replace a few things through your wedding registry, or otherwise just hoping to weed out some clutter, here’s a (sort of) brief guide to getting rid of the excess:


Craigslist offers free online classifieds for most metropolitan areas. Listing is free and easy, and the site is heavily used — most free or well-priced items receive multiple takers within a few hours of listing. One downside is that Craigslist users are sometimes flaky — it helps to have a “back-up” in case the original taker doesn’t show.

Freecycle is a national network of message boards through which people offer and request free items of all sorts. Its costs and benefits are similar to Craigslist. There are also lesser-known groups, many of which are listed at Sharing is Giving and Freesharing.org.

Selling on eBay isn’t difficult, and it can bring in a good chunk of change. You can even sell for charity. But be warned — taking good pictures, forming a listing, answering buyer questions, and shipping the item takes more effort than you might expect.

Wedding Items:

Expect to have leftover food the day of your wedding? America’s Second Harvest will distribute it to shelters.

If you live in NYC or LA, Flower Power will take your flowers and give them to the elderly and seriously ill.

Brides Against Breast Cancer accepts modern (post-2000) wedding gowns in good condition. They’ll even dry-clean it for you (they request an optional donation of $12 to cover this cost).

The I Do Foundation, best known for its charity-friendly wedding registries, accepts wedding dress donations (clean, post-2005). The Foundation sells the dress through a consignment store and donates 20% of the sale to the charity of your choice, using the rest to support the Foundation itself.

In the DC area, St. Anthony’s Bridal accepts donations of most wedding-related items (wedding dresses and accessories, tuxes, decor, etc.) and loans them at no cost to other couples who are getting married. They also have a prom-dress program for bridesmaid gowns.


The Princess Project donates fancy party attire and accessories to girls headed to prom. Based in San Francisco, they accept mailed donations of recent (2002-present), dry-cleaned bridesmaid gowns and other party attire from January-April each year. The Glass Slipper Project is a similar charity in Chicago, which also takes shoes, evening bags, jewelry, and unused makeup.

If you’d prefer something local, check out the lists of dress-donation campaigns at DonateMyDress or The Glass Slipper Project.

Business-appropriate women’s clothing (suits, blouses, interview-appropriate shoes) can be donated to Dress for Success.

Household goods:

People who have just arrived in this country or are moving out of a shelter into their own home often desperately need furniture, dishes, small appliances, and other household items. Try an Internet search for homeless shelters and women’s shelters in your area or foundations that provide support to refugees. As an example, a Google search for “donate household items DC” turned up lists organized by charity and type of donation, a program run by DC Child and Family Services, the refugee support program of the International Rescue Committee, and a couple of local rescue missions.

The International Rescue Committe, which supports recently resettled refugees, has offices in 17 U.S. locations. Find your nearest location on their  home page under “Where We Work,” and then check the donation information on your local page.

In the NYC area, check out Project Hospitality, Partnership for the Homeless, or the Furniture Distribution Program of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, or there’s an excellent list of charities here.

In Toronto, check out The Furniture Bank. Or see this list of charities throughout Canada.

Most animal shelters accept towels and blankets for grooming and bedding (as well as pet-related items, of course).

Books, CDs, DVDs:

In most cases, your local public library would be happy to take books and media to add to its collections or to sell at a fundraiser. Not sure whether to donate something? Remember that a library donation isn’t gone forever — you can always check it out later!

AnySoldier.com helps people send care packages to soldiers in Iraq & Afghanistan who don’t normally get mail from home. Books, CDs, and DVDs are popular items for passing the time when not on duty.

If you’re in the right drop-off area or willing to mail your books, a number of charities accept book donations and re-distribute them in the US and abroad. These include Books for Africa (St. Paul, accepts mailed books); Got Books? (New England, accepts mailed books); Hands Across the Water (MA, CT, RI, St Louis, WA, GA); EcoEncore (Seattle, accepts mailed books; resells books/CDs/DVDs and donates profits to environmental charity); and the Prisoners’ Reading Encouragement Project (NYC, accepts mailed books as well as books on tape and VHS tapes). Textbooks can be difficult to donate, but check out Bridge to Asia, which sends them to universities in China (SF & Chicago, accepts mailed books).

If you’d prefer to make a few dollars (or at least some store credit) off your books, you can drop them off at a local used book store or ship them to Powell’s Books for store credit. Want to swap them out for something new? You can trade books through Paperback Swap or books, music, movies, and games through Swaptree.


Most Goodwill locations accept computers, though Goodwill recommends checking with your local branch  before bringing them in. The Goodwill website offers helpful tips on donation, including links to services that will wipe your hard drive clean.

Share the Technology has a comprehensive list of where to donate or recycle both newer and older computers. Another good resource is World Computer Exchange, which has dozens of drop-off locations in the US and abroad for donations of computers (Pentium 3 or newer) and computer peripherals.

What else have I missed?  Has anyone used these resources, and do you have tips to share?

Feb 062008

Lately I’ve been finding that getting married can be expensive in ways that have nothing to do with flowers, gowns, or caterers.  And I blame this guy:


Denis Diderot was an 18th Century French philosopher who wrote an essay entitled “Regrets on Parting With My Old Dressing Gown.”  In it, he described receiving the gift of a magnificent scarlet dressing gown.  He was delighted with the gift, but after a while, he looked around the well-worn furnishings of his study and noticed they seemed extra shabby in relation to his beautiful dressing gown.  He began replacing the pieces of his study, one by one, with things equally new and fabulous.  Until eventually he found himself nearly broke and sitting in a very stylish, but really quite uncomfortable study, regretting the “imperious scarlet robe [that] forced everything else to conform with its own elegant tone.”

This cycle of replacing old items to conform with something fancier has become known as the “Diderot effect.”

Our first Diderot cycle actually started with Mr. T.  Around the time we got engaged, he started upgrading his casual wardrobe to more stylish attire.  Worried that I’d look dumpy by comparison, I soon started doing the same.  (Luckily, we’re both eBay fanatics, so this process wasn’t NEARLY as expensive as it could have been!)  And of course the Diderot effect can be endless with fashion — after all, HOW could I wear a stylish new shirt with schlumpy old jeans, shoes, and purse???

With the wedding drawing ever-closer, I’ve also begun replacing my pajamas and lingerie.  The old ones simply won’t do for a married lady.  And the home?  Don’t even get me started!  I’ll move to Mr. T’s home after the wedding, and vast amounts of painting, appliance-replacing, and redecorating have suddenly become absolutely, can’t-live-without-it essential.

Has anyone else experienced the Diderot effect in the preparations for your wedding?  In what area(s) of life?