A Guide to Getting Rid of Almost Everything

TIP No. 3: If you want to give away an assortment of things online, stipulate that the winner takes all. Otherwise, someone will cherry-pick the Makita cordless drill and leave you with the rusty files, mauve bed skirt, and avocado slicer.

Nobody on Craigslist, I discovered, cared to pay five dollars for three rolls of Trump toilet paper, still in the package. Over on Freecycle, there were seven requests within two days of my posting, plus one inquiry about whether I had any Biden toilet paper. A number of Buy Nothing members were interested in my good-as-new copy of “The Intelligent Person’s Guide to Giving in New York City: How to Donate or Recycle Everything,” by Lynn Savarese, published twelve years ago.

“I’m robbing the Sheriff of Nottingham’s coach at ten-thirty. Then yoga at noon. Followed by my bassoon lesson. The baguette is for lunch.”
Cartoon by Paul Karasik

The etiquette governing whom to select among multiple suitors is discussed with Talmudic rigor on Buy Nothing message boards. Some favor letting the offer “simmer” (a Buy Nothing term), so that you have an opportunity to spend quality online time conversing with more neighbors. Others allow a Web site called Wheel of Names to randomly choose a winner. Then, there are those who ask would-be recipients to describe how they plan to use your gift, so that you can pick the most compelling story. Bear in mind that the object under discussion could, for example, be a partially consumed tub of cheese balls.

For those who would like to give less interactively and more anonymously, there are innumerable worthy charities. Goodwill was founded in 1902 by a Boston minister who collected goods from the rich, hired the poor to mend them, and then either sold them back to the rich or gave them to the poor. Today, Goodwill has more than three thousand stores across the country. Most of them are willing to take just about anything you’d give to a friend. The Free Store Project will accept most things except furniture, and you’re welcome to permanently borrow what’s there. (“Take what you need. Give when you can” is the slogan of this place; open 24/7; more than a dozen locations, across Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.) There are lots of other obscure, specialized organizations. For instance, all those old, unusable mascara wands in your bathroom cabinet? Mail them to Wands for Wildlife, a nonprofit that started off as a program at the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge, in North Carolina. These will be shared with wildlife caretakers to comb away fly eggs, dirt, fleas, ticks, and larvae from the wings of birds and the fur of animals ( Fur coat? It is said that nobody wants fur these days, but animals do. Rehabilitators, like those at Sacred Friends, in Norfolk, Virginia, cut up old coats and use the scraps as little capes and stoles to keep sick animals warm ( PETA wants your pelts, too. The organization donates them to the homeless (“the only humans with any excuse to wear fur,” according to its Web site), and lately it has shipped fur garments to Afghanistan and Iraq for use by refugees.

St. Jude’s Ranch for Children will accept any greeting cards, used or new, that you mail to the organization—except Hallmark, American Greetings, and Disney cards. Blame copyright laws. (100 St. Jude’s St., Boulder City, NV 89005.) That piano you thought you were going to play? Give it to someone who really will, or so he thinks ( Never getting married again? Cash for your wedding dress here: Your old bras are welcomed with open arms at the Bra Recyclers, a Phoenix-based enterprise that has sent more than four million bras to homeless shelters, schools, foster programs, and other nonprofits all over the world. As Elaine Birks-Mitchell, the founder of the Bra Recyclers, explained to me over Zoom, bras are not just about fashion. For girls in developing countries, they make it possible to play sports and attend school without embarrassment.

What to do with your nine-foot-tall resin giraffe? The people at Burberry donate theirs, along with a couple of gorillas and some toucans (all are retired store displays) to Materials for the Arts—the largest creative-reuse center in New York City. The goal of the center, founded in 1978, is to provide art supplies to schools and creative types in underserved communities. Feel free to visit the organization’s thirty-five-thousand-square-foot warehouse in Long Island City to drop off your buttons and beads and bric-a-brac, where they will join an array of Winsor & Newton markers, jars from makeup manufacturers, Flavor Paper wallpaper, artificial Christmas trees, orange jumpsuits from “Orange Is the New Black,” office chairs from Bloomberg—and, soon, the broken grate from my Viking stove.

Another good place to donate: the sidewalks of New York and many other cities function as smorgasbords of secondhand goods. A sofa that I couldn’t give away online was snagged an hour after I left it at the curb. The Instagram account StoopingNYC photographically chronicles what’s up for grabs on the streets in all five boroughs. No mattresses, though, since every city dweller fears bedbugs more than the Delta variant.

In the New York area, Renewable Recycling will pick up your mattress for a modest fee and repurpose its components, turning the padding into cushion fillings, the springs into appliances, and the wood frames into mulch. To find a taker or hauler near you, consult the listings on and If you have too many corks from wine bottles lying around, maybe recycling isn’t your biggest problem. Nevertheless, two companies, ReCORK and the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance, will take your bottle stoppers, and make sure they find an afterlife in shoes, fishing tackle, model-train tracks, and more.

Electronics deserves its own paragraph, given that e-waste is “the fastest growing waste stream in the world,” according to the World Economic Forum. Always looking out for herself, Alexa informs me that it’s illegal to throw out electronics in many states. Yet more than fifty million tons of the stuff is produced every year and only twenty per cent of it is formally recycled. (If you like to measure everything in Eiffel Towers, that’s the equivalent of about five thousand of them.) Better to give your old tech items to Computers with Causes, which passes them on to people and organizations that need them, or to World Computer Exchange, an organization that refurbishes computers and then donates them to schools, libraries, community centers, and hospitals in developing countries (; If you’d rather sell your devices, Decluttr will give you cash; Amazon’s trade-in program will compensate you in Amazon gift cards; and SellCell compares more than forty buyback companies so that you can get the most cash for your cell phone.

Finally we come to the heavy, bulky crapola, especially furniture, that is prohibitively expensive to ship, and not much fun to drag to a thrift shop. Most of it arrived in trucks and, I am happy to report, some of it can be taken away in trucks. There are many junk-removal services (1-800-Got-Junk?, Junk King, College HUNKS Hauling Junk & Moving), but I’m partial to the Junkluggers, because once it showed up with two trucks and swooped up mountains of castoffs (including a parking meter) from my boyfriend’s storage unit; so far, the junk has never come back. (It charges around nine hundred to a thousand dollars to remove a truckful in the New York area.) Moreover, the organization tries its darndest to donate your junk to charity and give you a tax-deductible receipt. GreenDrop, which may sound like a square on the Candy Land board, is a donation dropoff-and-pickup service that serves the East Coast. You can designate which of the handful of charities it partners with you’d like your flotsam and jetsam delivered to. The organization accepts kitchenware, games, books, and small appliances and furniture. If you live somewhere outside the GreenDrop domain, you can consult the directory on the Donation Town Web site which suggests charities nationwide that pick up in or nearest your Zip Code ( Other organizations that just might come for your stuff include Habitat for Humanity ReStores (home goods, including air-conditioners); and Pickup Please (easy-to-arrange scheduling and pickups, usually within twenty-four hours of request; helps American veterans).

Schedule permitting, volunteers at the House of Good Deeds, in New York City, will pick up whatever you have to give, in its graffiti-covered van or school bus. The aims of this nonprofit are to help those in need and to keep as much as possible out of landfills. The charity was started, in 2017, by Leon Feingold and his fiancée, Yuanyuan Wang, who was given a diagnosis of terminal endometrial cancer a few days after the couple became engaged. They were so moved by the kindness of strangers and friends, who, responding to a social-media post, helped not only with medical bills but also with all the wedding costs, that Feingold and Wang created the House of Good Deeds. Wang died shortly after the wedding, but the charity has flourished. Since its founding, there have been regular giveaway events, at which everyone is encouraged to take whatever he or she desires rather than leaving it for a hypothetical person who might need it more, and then to reciprocate the gesture later. “Let’s say Bill Gates saw a belt buckle he liked,” Feingold told me over the phone. “We’d want him to take it and pay it forward.” Has Gates ever come to an event? “Not yet, but he’s welcome to the belt buckle.” Donations can be dropped off 24/7 at the House of Good Deeds office, which is also Feingold’s apartment. If Feingold is away or asleep, you can leave them with the doorman (1 River Place, Suite 1406, New York, New York; 917-325-4548).

People divesting themselves of quantities of books (and this applies to LPs, too) often start by thinking, Oh, boy, I’m going to make so much money selling these precious volumes!, and end up saying, “I will pay you any amount of money to take this shit off my hands.” A friend who specializes in rare books at a big auction house told me, “I get calls all the time from people who say, ‘I have four thousand books, and I think they’re valuable.’ My first thought is: No, they’re not. Usually, if a collection is valuable someone knows.” To determine how much a single book will go for (not what you’ll get for it), check the price of similar books on a site, such as AbeBooks, Alibris, or Biblio. If you have a huge library, Michael Pyron, a bookbinder and bookseller in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, suggests putting together a representative box and taking it to a bookseller, who can then decide whether your collection warrants a house call. The Strand, in Manhattan, will accept walk-ins of up to forty books and will give you cash. (If you’d prefer store credit, you’ll earn fifty per cent more.) As to what types of books are accepted, Billy Mowbray, who co-manages the buying desk, e-mailed to say that “a good guideline for most subjects is going to be titles which are considered classics or those published within the past year.”

TIP No. 4: Be forewarned: Age doesn’t make a book intrinsically valuable.

Nor is the worth of a book necessarily enhanced by its being a first edition. The first printing of the first London edition of the first Harry Potter book is “stupidly expensive” (one sold for around $471,000), Pyron said, explaining that not many copies were printed because no one expected that it would become the Pet Rock of the publishing business. First editions late in a series can go for less than the cost of postage. The same supply-and-demand reckoning applies to signed copies. Hemingway? Yes. Updike? Not so much. It turns out he signed so many books that it’s a mystery how he found time to write any.

“For me, the threshold is a book I can put a price of twenty-five dollars or above on,” Pyron told me. “If a dealer is offering you a dollar a book, it’s not worth shopping around,” he said. “If someone offers you a hundred and fifty dollars for a book, it might be worth getting another opinion.”

It’s probably time to throw your remaining books overboard—but throw them where they’ll matter. For instance, prison libraries (; Books for Africa (; public libraries (

The desperate go to the dump, which seems like a not-trying-too-hard euphemism for the landfill. What we used to call a dump—ripe rubbage, rats, l’eau du rotten egg—has been illegal since 1976. The dump has been replaced by the transfer station, strictly regulated sites that operate as temporary repositories until the refuse can be transported to landfills. If landfills are the Las Vegas of waste management (what goes there stays there), recycling and transfer stations are communist utopias where givers are encouraged to be takers, too. Need some Christmas decorations, side tables, the contents of an old lady’s scarf drawer, perfectly good books, mulch?

As you surely have heard, the younger generations have no interest in inheriting the loot amassed by their materialistic baby-boomer parents. Silver, crystal, fondue sets, Ethan Allen hutches—they want none of it. Why are they looking gift horses in the mouth? A young friend tried to explain. “Our generation wants to feel like we’re in a space that we put together and designed ourselves, not a microcosm of our parents’ house,” he said.“Since so many of us were largely financially dependent on our parents into our early twenties, we want to feel like we built some aspect of our lives without help.”

A twenty-seven-year-old told me that she’s grown used to sharing six hundred square feet of space, “which involves a very defined stuff limit.” She added, “Also, I think our generation doesn’t have the expectation of owning a home or living in a much larger space, so we learn to buy things that we need and have space for, rather than accumulating a bunch of junk that will fit into some larger home that we’ll live in someday.” A friend’s twenty-eight-year-old son offered the most philosophical explanation. “Maybe we buy as much stuff as any other generation, but much of it is digital—in-app purchases or memberships or things to be stored in the cloud,” he said. “This allows us the illusion of being minimalist. We’ve substituted spiritual clutter for stacks of paper.”

TIP No. 5: A major perk of death is that you don’t have to clean up after yourself. If you can’t muster the courage to deal with your three storage units, leave the contents to your heirs. Mention in the will that there’s something valuable in one of them. ♦

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Materials for the Arts.

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