Alternatives to Throwing Your Stuff Out

An old friend of mine sent me some pictures of her refinished living room. In it, I noticed a few interesting items – an obviously expensive leather couch and a elegantly weathered old Victrola.

Curiosity got the best of me and I wrote her back asking about those two items. Where did she pick them up? I fully expected to hear that the couch had come from some ludicrously high-end furniture store and that the Victrola had come from an antique shop.

Nope. She found them both on the curb, about to be thrown out.

With the leather couch, a family was about to move to another country and was getting rid of things. She noticed the moving people placing the couch along the curb, along with a myriad of other items of lesser quality.

The couch, it turns out, has a large scratch on the back of it, but in the position it held in her living room, the scratch was unnoticeable. She asked the movers if she could claim the couch and they said it was fine with them, but to check with the homeowner, who also approved of it. So she returned an hour later with a friend’s truck, loaded it up, and brought it home.

The Victrola was simply sitting on another curb next to a trash can. She simply stopped, looked it over, and placed it in her trunk, happy as can be.

I would have happily put either item in my own house had I spotted them.

On a lark, I decided to drive to the most affluent neighborhood I knew of within a fifty mile radius of my home, just to observe for myself what items find their way to the curb. I didn’t collect anything, I just merely wanted to observe.

I saw two lamps I would happily use at home, even if their wiring were messed up (that’s fixable, after all).
I saw a beautiful desk that I was almost tempted to claim for my office.
I saw a wonderful rocking chair made from beautiful old wood that appeared to have been scratched a bit by a dog or a cat, but nothing that a bit of sanding and care couldn’t neaten up.
I saw what appeared to be a pile of new, very plush green towels in a box (I’m guessing they didn’t match the bathroom?).

This was what I observed in a fifteen minute drive.

Now, I don’t begrudge people for upgrading their stuff. If you really enjoy having perfect bathrooms and find a great deal of value in redecorating regularly, go for it. It’s not something I value, but what I value and what you value don’t have to be the same thing.

What’s troubling is that perfectly good stuff – stuff I’d happily use in my own home – is just getting thrown away.

There are a lot of things that can be done with such items that don’t involve throwing them away. Here are several options to follow if you have anything that might be of genuine use to someone else. These options keep stuff out of landfills and add additional value to your life.

What You Can Do With Your Unnecessary Items

Take it to Goodwill

All of the items I saw (save the lamps, if they didn’t work) would have been welcomed at a Goodwill store. The lamps might have been too if they had a handy person on staff there. Not only that, you can get a receipt for the items you donate, which helps with your tax bill.

Offer it to your friends for free

There are fewer ways to build a relationship with someone you care about that work better than giving a friend something really useful to them. I would have been thrilled had a friend given me any of the items mentioned in this article. It would have definitely cemented our bond a bit.

Offer it on Craigslist or Freecycle

If you don’t want to worry about the hassle of moving the stuff, just announce that you’re giving this item away on Craigslist or Freecycle. Attach a digital picture and give it to the first person who responds. They’ll come and get it for you.

Donate it to a group or a nonprofit that could use it

In a nearby community, there’s a house that’s something of an “open house” for the teenagers in the town. They’re allowed to freely use it without supervision provided that a few very simple rules are followed. The house has been entirely outfitted with donated items – chairs, couches, flatware, and so on. It’s been a wonderful boon to the community. Beyond something like that, many nonprofits in your town would be thrilled to receive good furniture and other items they could utilize.

Throwing something out should be the last resort

If you have something that could be of use to anyone else, pass it on. By passing it on, you get some value in return as well – better friendships, a better community, and maybe even a tax benefit.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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