Ah, springtime. When a homeowner’s thoughts turn to . . . chucking everything out the window. Though it’s easy to be inspired by clean-out guru Marie Kondo’s words to keep “only those things that speak to your heart,” it’s just as easy to lose momentum as her next sentence sinks in: “Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.”
The good news is you don’t need to be naturally gifted with Kondo’s tidying skills to plunge in and purge the clutter. Sometimes it just takes a little inspiration. That’s why we created this guide for when it’s time to let go.
As you start imagining a less cluttered life, you might consider this: Turns out, like so much in this town, success can be all about connections. That’s why it feels easier to give away your first dining-room table when it’s going to your niece or to a young family on your neighborhood listserv. When consumer scientists studied the effect of this direct giving to others at no cost—called “social recycling”—they found that it resulted in more joy.
Though social recycling often takes extra effort, the feel-good benefits might empower you to make this the best spring clean-out yet. With that in mind, though we offer hints on how to sell some items for cash, we’ve focused largely on ways you can donate to those in need—sparking joy all around.
A warning: Organizations often must be selective about what kind of hand-me-downs they accept. One might happily take an unwanted vanity, say, while another wouldn’t. When in doubt, pick up the phone to check—and to ask about a group’s current needs and storage capacity. This step can allow staff and volunteers, usually stretched thin, to spend more time addressing the needs of people they serve and less time sorting through socks and prom dresses they can’t use.
Ready to experience joy, one cleaned-out closet at a time? Here’s where to start.
If there’s still life in the appliance, consider selling or giving it away online through neighborhood listservs such as Nextdoor and classifieds on Craigslist. Or you can request a free home pickup from the Salvation Army or arrange curbside collection by Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore.
Art, Antiques, and Collectibles
Think that pair of retro-mod chairs may be authentic Herman Miller? You could send pics and other details to a local auction house, such as Weschler’s, The Potomack Company, Sloans & Kenyon, or Quinn’s Auction Galleries.
Many antiques stores don’t buy from individuals. Frank Milwee, who owns a shop in Georgetown, suggests starting with independent buyers such as “Baltimore John” Raccuglia (410-274-5696) or Bob Mayeski from Mr. Bob’s Antiques (410-371-3675). You may also find an interested dealer by wandering the Georgetown Flea Market on Sundays.
Capital Antiques will buy or consign your 18th-, 19th-, or 20th-century pieces at its gallery. A fixture in Georgetown for nearly 60 years, the Christ Child Society Opportunity Shop accepts both donations and consignments valued above $50. Eisenhower Consignment in Alexandria takes contemporary as well as vintage and antique pieces.
Baby Clothing and Gear
Selling or donating baby items such as car seats and cribs can be tricky, given safety updates and improved technology. For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says that cribs manufactured before June 28, 2011, do not meet federal safety standards. The CPSC’s website lists a wealth of data about safety standards and can also can tell you if an item has been recalled. Carseat.org lists specific recalls.
For baby gear that’s safe to sell, as well as clothing, you might cash in by locating a regional sale at ConsignmentMommies.com. Many shelters and outreach programs distribute donated items, too. Borromeo Housing’s Infant Care Supply Center in Arlington is open Tuesday mornings for donations, while Facets in Fairfax accepts baby items. Use the on-site drop bins to donate to Bethesda’s National Center for Children and Families. Pregnancy resource centers such as Hope in Northern Virginia also accept baby gear and maternity clothing.
Batteries and Bulbs
You can recycle rechargeable or cell-phone batteries at the drop location for your county or city’s recycling program or at any Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Best Buy. MOM’s Organic Market also accepts most batteries, including hard-to-recycle single-use alkalines. Home Depot, Lowe’s, or your jurisdiction’s recycling drop location provides safe disposal for compact fluorescent bulbs.
Bed and Bath
Most shelters and transitional-housing programs accept travel- and sample-size personal-care items. Carpenter’s Shelter in Alexandria appreciates towels, new twin sheets, and air mattresses. Horton’s Kids in DC outfits children for school and camp—its needs change seasonally. Currently, it’s in need of shower caddies, flashlights, and possibly sleeping bags, twin sheets, and beach and bath towels, preferably stuffed into a duffel bag (email firstname.lastname@example.org). Animal shelters don’t mind less-than-perfect towels, blankets, and bath mats.
When you donate your bike and equipment to Bikes for the World, they may make a difference at a new home in Africa. Or drop off bikes, parts, and accessories at Northeast DC’s Gearin’ Up Bicycles, Arlington’s Phoenix Bikes, or Alexandria’s VéloCity Coop. Though their work and missions vary, each strives to increase access to bikes, primarily among area youth, as well as create a biking community. Up-and-coming Rockville Bike Hub accepts some bicycles and related items but has limited storage.
Books and Printed Materials
Your local Friends of the Library bookstores may be the easiest outlet for a load of books and current-year magazines. Add a few favorites to informal neighborhood book exchanges such as the Little Free Library. The nonprofit Turning the Page, which partners with public schools and community organizations, accepts book, CD, and DVD donations; call to schedule a pickup. Take advantage of cheap USPS media shipping rates if you’d like to send books to military personnel overseas through Operation Paperback. It even accepts children’s books, which deployed parents read via webcam to their kids back home.
To sell or consign, you might try Second Story Books or other shops specializing in used, rare, and out-of-print books. If you’d like a formal appraisal, you can make an appointment with Second Story owner Allan Stypeck. An Antiques Road Show veteran, he also offers free verbal appraisals at casual monthly Saturday sessions in Rockville.
Community Building Materials
Because many older homes in a neighborhood share a similar style (and often the same builder), your unwanted vintage door may be just what your neighbor wants to see posted on a listserv. If not, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in Alexandria and Chantilly and Community Forklift in Edmonston accept a wide array of home items—including cabinets, fixtures, and flooring. ReStore will even arrange pickup for larger items. ReBuild Warehouse in Springfield accepts building materials from 9 to 3 on weekends, while the Brass Knob in Adams Morgan provides a market for architectural lighting and hardware.
Support someone’s road to independence by donating cleaned, in style, seasonal suits, professional bags, and accessories. Silver Spring’s A Wider Circle, Northwest DC’s Jubilee Jobs (ask for George Anthony Burdine at 202-667-8970), and Savage’s Success in Style take donations of professional attire and accessories for men and women. Suited for Change and Dress for Success focus on women’s interview-ready apparel and accessories.
CDs, DVDs, and Vinyl
What to do with that drawer of old phones? First, it might pay to check if your device has a trade-in value at Best Buy or Staples. Or you can donate it to various groups that responsibly recycle the device or refurbish it for use by those in need, such as natural-disaster survivors or senior citizens. 911 Cell Phone Bank provides prepaid mailing labels, or you can drop your phone at a MOM’s Organic Market. When you donate directly to Doorways for Women and Families in Arlington, it turns phones into cash to support its mission of helping domestic-violence survivors. The Montgomery County Police Department collects digital devices for Cell Phones for Soldiers.
Many area charities can use clothing and shoe donations—more than we can mention. Capital Caring Thrift Store & Boutique in Falls Church accepts drop offs of clothing; proceeds support its mission of helping families pay for end-of-life care. With a goal to end homelessness in Arlington, A-SPAN provides drop-anytime collection bins around Northern Virginia. Southeast DC’s Covenant House Washington works to support homeless youth by providing new or like-new clothing.
Even easier: Zappos for Good provides prepaid UPS shipping labels and partners with the shoe-collection program Soles4Souls, while Give Back Box offers prepaid labels on its website, for boxes packed with closet castoffs.
Alternatively, spin old threads into cash or store credit at one of the area’s many consignment stores, such as Current Boutique, which has multiple area locations. If you have outdoor gear and clothing, consider taking it to Second Ascent Consignment in Arlington.
Computers and Electronics
If a device is fairly recent and still works, you can often sell it online or get a trade-in at an electronics store. Some nonprofits, such as Martha’s Table in DC, accept donations of working devices, including non-CRT computers and monitors. Schools, youth programs, and shelters often need smaller gadgets such as scientific calculators; Second Story in Fairfax County, for example, provides them to homeless, abused, or other at-risk children.
For defunct devices, county-run options including Montgomery County’s Shady Grove Transfer Station will take your motherboard and whatever attaches to it (with proof of residency), as will tech giants Best Buy and Staples. Consult individual websites for specific items accepted, especially when it comes to older items like CRT monitors, printer cartridges, and floppy disks.
As for unneeded USB flash drives, external hard drives, and old floppies, any personal data on them might make you think twice before handing them over to the recycling counter at a big-box electronics store. For a processing fee of about $12, you can fill a box with 25 pounds or less of tech trash and ship it to GreenDisk. Alexandria’s UpCycle Creative Reuse Center accepts a host of items, making them available for artistic and learning purposes.
You can drop prescription lens-es, sunglasses, and cases into the repository at any MOM’s Organic Market, which donates glasses to the Lions Club and to Alaffia Empowerment Projects in Togo, Africa. The Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington offers multiple donation sites, also putting eyeglasses and shades toward good causes.
Time to part with your clothes rack? The Salvation Army picks up old ellipticals, treadmills, and other exercise equipment from your home, even if the move requires carrying it up or down stairs.
Formal and Bridal Attire
Brides Across America gives donated gowns and bridal accessories (for a small processing fee) to military and first-responder brides. Make an appointment with Fairytale Brides on a Shoestring before stopping by to donate gowns and accessories to its volunteer-run Rockville store; proceeds support various causes, such as college scholarships for local students. Formalwear donated to a local Becca’s Closet chapter can help dress an area high-school student living on a limited budget for school dances.
Furniture and Housewares
LightHouse DC will pick up clean, good-condition, apartment-scale furniture and deliver it to individuals and families transitioning out of homelessness. A Wider Circle in Silver Spring, Share of McLean, and area locations of Habitat for Humanity also can arrange to pick up donated furniture. Central Union Mission accepts furniture that’s brought to it, while Martha’s Table takes small pieces at its Southeast and Northwest DC locations. Before you drive anything over, most nonprofits suggest calling ahead—because their storage space can be limited.
Miss your county or city’s collection day for hazardous household waste? Many jurisdictions in the area have permanent household-hazmat collection sites for materials such as insecticides, engine oil, cleaners, and fire extinguishers.
Nothing sells quite as easily as children’s clothing and toys, especially on websites such as Nextdoor and Craigslist. Closed Facebook pages are also an option, especially for social recycling. That’s what the parent community did at Full Circle Montessori in Arlington. “When I spring-clean, I literally just snap pictures and post,” says Stephanie Kurnava, an administrator at the school. “It made us all more connected. Plus, when I see how everyone else is cleaning out, it inspires me to clean out stuff, too.”
If you’d like to sell kids’ gear, you can get generous commissions at large seasonal exchanges such as Wee-Sale in Hyattsville; Kid’s Closet Connection sales in Montgomery, Loudoun, and Frederick counties; and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church’s spring and fall consignment sales in Arlington. Drop by year-round to consign at Kid to Kid in Centreville or Rockville. Schools, mission-driven religious organizations, and community programs often accept items including art materials, books, toys, and outdoor equipment, or they can discreetly connect donations to individual family needs within the community.
Donated mattresses in good condition are at the top of LightHouse DC’s most-wanted list, and it will pick up. For soiled, torn, or tattered mattresses, arrange for bulk trash collection through your county or city.
Consider donating crutches, walkers, shower chairs, and other durable medical equipment to DC Shares (contact Frank Rice at 202-332-2595), which redistributes it to low-income residents. Donation sites for Goodwill Industries also accept some durable medical equipment.
The Drug Enforcement Administration warns against flushing or throwing away unused medications. For those who can’t wait for a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day event—the next is April 28—there are DEA-certified pharmacy collection sites, including selected Walgreens, Kaiser Permanente pharmacies, and independent pharmacies. Find more information about these as well as information on the next Take Back Day here. All military treatment-facility pharmacies in the US offer prepaid mail-in envelopes or secure bins for old medicines. Some homeless shelters accept unopened over-the-counter medicines, including Carpenter’s Shelter in Alexandria.
About 1 percent of Sweden’s household waste ends up in landfills. Is your junk drawer up to the challenge? Consider donating items such as old cassettes, bottle caps, marbles, paint-chip samples, glitter, keys, shells, erasers, envelopes, and more to Alexandria’s UpCycle Creative Reuse Center or Silver Spring Creative Reuse, both of which find new artistic life for old items. Have a crop of natural cork? You can drop it off at any MOM’s, Whole Foods, or Total Wine & More.
Didn’t end up with a musical prodigy? Though independent stores such as Foxes Music Company in Falls Church may buy back an instrument purchased there, music stores generally recommend starting with a neighborhood listserv, eBay, or Craigslist. Priced right, instruments will likely be snapped up before you can play “Hot Cross Buns.” Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center in Wheaton buys professional-quality instruments. L&L Music–Wind Shop in Gaithersburg buys preowned woodwinds and brass. The reseller Reverb.com comes highly recommended by music-heads for selling pro gear but can also help you sell beginner band instruments. You might earn a tax write-off by giving to school or music-outreach programs such as Mason Community Arts Academy’s Instruments in the Attic or Hungry for Music, which connects donated instruments to aspiring musicians who otherwise wouldn’t have access.
Alpine Ski Shop’s “ski swap” every fall has been turning preowned, unwanted gear into store credit since 1976. Within one week of the swap, on the first full weekends of October and November, stop into the Sterling location to arrange consignment of your skis and other winter gear such as snowboards and boots. Replay Sports in Rockville consigns gear for cash or credit all year long. Help kids who have less access to equipment by donating gently used items to Leveling the Playing Field in Silver Spring or Chantilly. Second Serve provides prepaid mailers for like-new, good-quality tennis apparel and accessories, with proceeds supporting youth- and tennis-related charities. The First Tee, a youth-development organization, partners with the 2nd Swing Club Donation Program to accept golf-related donations. Call to find out if your local animal shelter can use yoga and exercise mats in crates and animal habitats, along with play items such as balls.
In the old days, TVs seemed to last a long time. These days, you might have trouble giving away a five-year-old set. Before paying the $25 TV recycling fee at Best Buy, check if your county or city recycling program will take it for free or a smaller fee.
Tools and Gardening Gear
Habitat for Humanity accepts working, rust-free hardware and tools, while Lowe’s will take plastic plant trays and pots for recycling. You can arrange online for free pickup if you have a riding lawn mower or tractor you’d like donate to Goodwill Industries.
Vehicles and Boats
A host of charities will pick up your donated car, truck, or boat. Car-J uses the funds from the sale of donated vehicles to support the Jewish Council for the Aging, the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, and the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington. Vehicles for Change reconditions suitable donated cars, making them available to low-income families, while using the funds from the sale of other donated vehicles to support its organization. Home Stretch accepts donated cars to be used by homeless families. Charitable Adult Rides and Services (CARS) partners with nonprofits and public broadcasting to bring in additional revenue through vehicle donations.
Many national programs, some with local chapters, also accept cars, boats, trucks, motorcycles, and RVs. Try the Salvation Army or Volunteers of America. The online clearinghouses V-DAC and Vehicles for Charity handle vehicle and boat donations for organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, Goodwill Industries, Jewish Charities of America, the National Federation for the Blind, the Humane Rescue Alliance, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation.
This article appeared in the March 2018 issue of Washingtonian.