How to Declutter and Give Back at the Same Time

“Clean out your closet. Clean out your storage drawers—at least four times a year. I firmly believe that the less stuff you have sitting around, the less stuff you have cluttering up your mind.” (Blake Mycoskie, Start Something That Matters.)

Declutter It

I couldn’t agree more! Having an organized, clutter-free home frees up a tremendous amount of time and energy that you can use for bigger, better, more important things. In his book, How To Organize (Just About) Everything, Peter Walsh lists the following steps (slightly edited by me) to conquer clutter:

  1. Pick one area to focus your decluttering efforts on. Start small – just a drawer, shelf or closet floor.
  2. Decide how long each decluttering session will last. You’ll be most effective if you limit your session to a few hours at most.
  3. Bring bags or boxes to your decluttering location for collecting the items you no longer need or use.
  4. Ask yourself these questions as you pick up each item to decide whether it stays or goes: Have I used this in the last year or two? Is it a duplicate? Am I keeping it only for sentimental reasons? Does it need repair and, if so, is it worth repairing? Is an unused item taking up space where I could store something more valuable or useful? Do I love it? For clothing: Does it fit? Is it comfortable? Does it look good on me?
  5. Add that item to one of your boxes or bags: Repairs, donations, items to sell, items to put elsewhere, mementos, garbage, maybes and definite keepers.
  6. Take action on each box or bag of items after your decluttering session.

Donate It

For those items that you want to donate, here are some worthwhile ideas:

  • Salvation Army takes many types of donations, including furniture, household goods and clothing, and they come to your house for pick ups. You can schedule a pick-up time online here.
  • In Chicago, donate used books to Open Books at 213 West Institute Place. They run a fantastic used book store that funds 50% of the costs of their reading and writing programs for school-aged children throughout the city. For store hours and to learn more about the programs they offer, click here.
  • If your “donate” pile includes professional clothing and you live in Chicago, consider giving it to Bridge To Success. This organization focuses on enhancing employment opportunities for at-risk men, women and young adults by providing appropriate interview and work clothing, coupled with coaching, to build self-confidence through appearance, interview preparation and a sense of belonging at the workplace. For more information (including place and times for donations), click here.

Swap It

A different idea if you have clothes, shoes, jewelry and other accessories to donate is to invite friends to gather similar items and have a clothing swap/auction for a favorite charity or non-profit organization. My friends and I did this recently and raised $1,000 for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk for breast cancer. It’s fairly simple and a lot of fun.

Clothing Swap/Auction for Breast Cancer

Everyone brought their items to my condo and set them out on clothing racks and tables. We took turns selecting an item we’d like to have. If no one else wanted the item, the person who chose it added $5 (the minimum price we decided on) to her tab. If someone else wanted the item too, we auctioned it off to the highest bidder. Bidding for some of the items was very competitive!

To help encourage generosity (in addition to serving wine), we gave prizes to the 3 people who ended up with the biggest donation amounts. And at the end of the night, we had 6 large trash bags of clothing to donate to the Salvation Army. The evening was so fun and rewarding that we decided to make it an annual event, with the hostess selecting the charity or non-profit organization to which the proceeds from the evening are donated.

As you do your Spring cleaning this year, keep in mind Blake Mycoskie’s advice to own as little as you can get away with. Think about the people and causes you can help by donating the things you don’t really need, or having a swap/auction for charity. It’s fun and rewarding to declutter and give back at the same time!

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