News & Politics

Storage: Donating Your Clutter

You think it's trash, but it could be a charity's treasure.

Professional organizer Jill Lawrence calls it the just-in-case scenario.

"We buy a new blender, but we put the old one in the basement just in case," says the owner of DC-based Jill-of-All-Trades.

"Most people just have too much junk," agrees Ellen Epstein, owner of Concierge America in Chevy Chase. "Sorting through it all–deciding what stays and goes can be difficult and stressful."

Epstein would know. She is vice president for the Washington chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, a group of some 70 specialists across the metro area who help people get a storage grip on everything from bathrooms to boats.

There's a certain satisfaction to clearing clutter. Start with this sorting secret from Lawrence: Buy lots of garbage bags–the big black ones for stuff that's destined for the dump and the blue see-through ones for items good enough to donate.

The Washington area has no shortage of places that will take old clothing, housewares, and toys. For an extensive list of who takes what, go to The site lists more than 300 charities, with contact information. Each entry lists what the charity accepts and doesn't. Take a look before sorting for not-so-obvious ideas: Halloween costumes, musical instruments, towels, prom dresses, wedding gowns–these things can be put to good use by others.

Picking Up Your Pieces

No time–or access to a truck–to cart unwanted possessions? Many charities will pick up donations, so check with the one of your choice. Or call one of the four listed here; they collect across the Washington area. This can be helpful with larger items, such as furniture, appliances, computers, and building materials.

AmVets, 800-526-8387; What it takes: furniture, clothing, household items, toys, shoes, books.

National Children's Center/Value Village, 301-422-1212 or 301-422-1313. What it takes: clothing, computers, some furniture, fax machines, shoes, small appliances–anything one man can carry. Does not accept upholstered furniture, waterbeds, dishwashers, mattresses.

Military Order of the Purple Heart, 301-277-0063; What it takes: usable household goods and clothing; no furniture or books.

Salvation Army, 703-642-9720 or 301-277-7878; What it takes: usable household items, furniture, clothing, appliances, books.


Have something to give away but can't find any takers? Consider one of these matchmaking donation services.

Electronic Industries Alliance, With two clicks, find out where to donate computers or recycle cell phones.

Excess Access, Donors list online their available items. Nonprofit groups post their wish lists. Excess Access puts the two together. The charities pick up your donation. There's a $10 registration fee for a household, $30 for a business. What it takes: furniture, office supplies, electronics, appliances, building supplies, medical equipment, seasonal decorations, toys, clothing, and more.

Jewish Information and Referral Service, 301-770-4848 or 703-978-3910; Donors who have furniture, bicycles, clothing, or other goods to donate can call or e-mail their name, home city, phone numbers, and items to be donated, and JIRS posts the information on a social-service listserv, where caseworkers try to match donors with needs.

The Loading Dock, 410-728-3625; What it takes: surplus reusable building materials from across Maryland for distribution among nonprofit groups and low-income families.

Montgomery County Division of Solid Waste Services Transfer Station, 301-840-2370; What it takes: recyclable items such as large appliances, bicycles, exercise equipment, cell phones, and building materials, for reuse among area charities.

Take It Away

When nothing is left to donate or recycle, what's left is junk. Some things can go in the trash, but chances are you'll need to dispose of larger stuff another way. These companies haul away just about anything.

1-800-GOT-JUNK, What it takes: almost anything, except hazardous material. What it costs: Minimum rate is $99. A full truck (ten feet long, eight feet wide, and five feet high) runs $498 and includes all labor, transfer station and landfill costs, and weight charges. Smaller loads are calculated on fractions of a truck.

Junk in a Trunk, 202-487-4643; What it takes: appliances, furniture, landscaping debris, construction debris, and almost anything else. What it costs: Most loads cost between $40 and $250. Call for an estimate.

Dumpsters USA, 800-377-3867; What it takes: anything you can fit in a Dumpster that's delivered to your driveway and left temporarily while you load it up. What it costs: A 10- or 15-cubic-yard container (12 feet long, 8 feet wide, 3H feet tall) rents for $300 to $450 a week.