What to Do With All Your Stuff That Doesn't 'Spark Joy'

Screenshot: Netflix

It’s Marie Kondo’s world now, and we’re all just trying to declutter in it.

After Kondo’s Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, based on her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, debuted this month, Americans have gone tidy-crazy. Local and national news sites are reporting that thrift shops are seeing dramatic upticks in donations this month, likely a result of MariManiacs decluttering their homes of all of the belongings that no longer spark joy. (If you’re still unfamiliar with the KonMari method, we wrote about the basics here.)

If you’ve watched the show or read the book, then you know that the order in which you tidy up is important. “Start with clothes, then move on to books, papers, komono (miscellany), and finally things with sentimental value,” writes Kondo. “If you reduce what you own in this order, your work will proceed with surprising ease. By starting with the easy things first and leaving the hardest for last, you can gradually hone your decision-making skills, so that by the end it seems simple.”

But what do you do with all of the stuff that doesn’t spark joy? Given the categories she describes, you have four different opportunities to dispose of your stuff, and thrift stores can’t handle all of it. Here’s how to donate, recycle and re-sell effectively.

Clothes

After you’ve Kondo’d your closet, there are a few different steps you might want to take before hauling everything off to the Salvation Army.

First, if you have some name-brand items, you might be able to sell them on sites like Poshmark or thredUP. They don’t accept all items at all times, but it’s at least worth looking into to recover a few bucks from your tidying spree. Buffalo Exchange and other consignment shops in your area are also an option for higher-end clothing.

For donations, in addition to organizations like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, Dress for Success is a non-profit that provides women with professional attire, support and development. You can donate lightly used work clothing, accessories and shoes to your local affiliate.

The Freecycle Network is composed of people around the world who meet up to swap belongings for free. You can find a local network here.

Remember: Clothes that are ripped, stained or otherwise damaged cannot be resold. Similarly, donation centers aren’t trash cans for all of your soiled stuff. The good news, though, is that you can recycle pretty much anything. There are some suggestions here on how to find an organization. You could also repurpose old t-shirts and the like as kitchen cloths or something similar. Contact local animal shelters to see if they are accepting old clothes (either as rags or even sweaters for the animals), particularly linens.

Chain stores like Levi’s, H&M and Madewell also recycle certain types of garments for customers (for example, Madewell recycles jeans). If you or your child wore a school uniform and it’s still in good condition, check with your school to see if they accept donations for current low-income students.

You can also search for green clothing drop-offs in your area, which will try to recover as much useable cloth as possible from your cast-offs, and consider composting some types of old clothing.

Books/Papers

Paper, of course can be recycled. And to cut back on paper clutter, call the companies sending you catalogues you no longer want, and cancel subscriptions you don’t actually read. You can also request to be removed from non-profit or charity mailing lists (sign up for their email newsletters to avoid guilt), and check out this page from the Federal Trade Commission on how to remove yourself from direct mailing lists.

Switch your bills and bank notifications to auto-pay and e-statements. For more information on financial documents, check out these posts.

Books are a bit trickier. You have more options, for one, and can potentially make a few bucks back. Try the website BookScouter.com: You input the book’s ISBN and it will compare buyback vendor options for you.

If you can’t find a seller, check with your local libraries (though they might not want your books), second-hand bookstores, high schools, etc., to see if they accept donations or are seeking specific types of books. If you have a collection of, say, comic books that you no longer want, the library is a good starting point.

Operation Paperback donates books to troops overseas, and there are many organizations that donate books to prison libraries. You won’t be able to donate just any books to these types of orgs, but they’re worth checking in with.

Komono

This is the most broad of any of the Kondo Kategories—komono means miscellany, so there’s a lot of ground to cover.

If you’re purging tech items that have ever had an account tied to them—computers, phones, tablets, gaming devices, smart home devices—clear all your data off of it and disassociate it with your accounts.

Then, see if it can be sold at a store like Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Office Depot, Sprint or Staples, all of which have buy-back programs for various products (usually their own). Here’s Senior Tech Editor David Murphy with more:

The easiest solution is to sell an Apple Watch or iPhone something-something to a friend or loved one. They get a decent deal, you get cash from a trusted source, and they can bug you for troubleshooting whenever they want. Everybody wins.

Otherwise, you can try selling your device to any number of places—even Apple itself. We’ve previously covered many of the major options you have, and it’s worth your time to pull out a notepad, visit a few sites, and write down everyone’s trade-in values to make sure you’re getting the most money for your older device as possible. (I tend to part with my older devices using Amazon’s trade-in program, which gets you gift cards instead of cash, as the amounts offered have always felt reasonable to me.)

You can also try eBay or Craigslist, but you’re then surrendering yourself to everyone else’s needs.

If you can’t sell it, remember that you can’t just drop your old computer off at the recycling yard. “Electronics products can also contain toxic substances, such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, which all must be disposed of carefully,” writes Consumer Reports. “So far, 25 states have passed laws requiring people to recycle old electronics.” You can find a list of different organizations that can recycle the products here. Additionally, check with local schools or libraries to see if they accept tech donations.

Beyond tech, there are even more options. Again, some retailers will give you a discount or coupon if you drop off certain items in-store to be recycled. For example, Kiehl’s will give you stamps toward a free travel-sized item for every empty bottle you bring into the store. You may be able to donate old tools to organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

Furniture can be trickier—you can likely donate it, but if you can’t transport it yourself, there’s always Craigslist or companies that pick up donations from your home. Lifehacker has written in the past that mattresses and box springs, which thrift stores may not accept, can often be donated to furniture banks or homeless shelters. Dolly is a service that will take your unwanted items to donation centers (or pick up/drop off Craigslist orders, etc.), and some organizations, like Out of the Closet, a thrift store that benefits HIV/AIDS services, may also pick up larger items.

For old toys, beyond the usual suspects like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, you might also call up your local children’s hospital, doctor’s office, daycares, children’s shelters and churches. All are likely to be in need of certain types of toys and entertainment options (check for recalls before you donate any items). Online communities on Facebook and the Freecycle Network may also be helpful.

Old kitchen equipment needs to be cleaned and then can be donated to a thrift shop, shelter or an organization like the International Rescue Committee.

If you want to recycle items, you’ll have to be more delicate. Call recycling centers to see how they recommend doing it, particularly if the equipment has different parts (plastic, metal, motors, etc.). “Glass and plastic kitchenware can likely be recycled, but you might need to take your metal cookware to a separate facility,” writes Recyclebank. “Note: pans with nonstick coating are not always recyclable.”

Finally, check out this article on how to recycle random items like shoes, tooth brushes, eyeglasses, crayons and more.

Sentimental Items

Finally, we arrive at sentimental items, likely the most difficult on the list to part with. If you’re having trouble getting rid of old photographs and other items that hold memories for you, here’s some advice. (Remember, just because it’s suggested to pare down your stuff doesn’t mean you have to—if it truly sparks joy, keep it.)

First, consider passing on items, particularly family heirlooms. Or, think of ways you can remake old items to be better suited to your lifestyle now (I was recently struck by this article, in which a woman painted an old wooden dining table passed down through the generations purple to fit her modern lifestyle.)

“A stone from a dated ring can be re-set into a band that’s more your style, and a board from a dresser that won’t fit in your apartment can be transformed into a floating shelf,” writes the Spruce.

Finally, check with local archives and museums if you think you have sentimental items of value. Here’s some advice on what’s considered “historically valuable.”

All of these tips just scratch the surface on the variety of reselling, recycling, up-cycling and reselling options out there. Regardless of what you’re decluttering from your life, take some time to research online what can be done with it besides throwing it in the trash or donation bag. It takes time, but no one said sparking joy came easy. At the end of it, you’ll feel better having found sustainable new homes for your clutter, rather than adding it to a landfill.

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