A chair that does not match your contemporary décor, a dress worn on your first date with your husband, or a collection of children books that your kids have outgrown – all items that at one time you loved or used, but no longer work with your family or lifestyle.  These types of items are often hard to get rid of because they invoke happy memories.  However, parting with an item can be much easier if you know it’s going to someone who could not otherwise afford it or it will be used by someone who will cherish it as much as you do.

To help you clear some of your clutter, keep the following in mind when donating your unused or outdated possessions:

Where to Give
There are so many worthwhile causes, but there are also some questionable ones.  By giving to a reputable 501c(3) charitable organization you can ensure your goods are helping others.  A few local organizations I can recommend: Ecumenical Hunger ProgramGoodwillSalvation ArmyInnvision, local library (books and media only). Most provide on-site pick up which is helpful when you finally decide to tackle that messy garage.  Arrange pick-up in advance and your clutter will be hauled away without the hassle of having to find a drop-off location, get there during open hours, and unload your stuff.

What to Donate
In recent years, many charitable organizations have gotten very specific on what they will or will not accept.  Before donating an item check the charities list of acceptable items.  Also ask yourself, “If the tables were turned, would I feel good about accepting this item myself?”  Some examples of what NOT to give – items that are broken and no longer useable, products that have been recalled, and furniture that is in poor condition (ripped/broken/missing pieces/rusted/moldy).

Get your Deduction
The tax benefit of giving away your clutter is very helpful.  But in order to recognize the benefit you have to follow the rules (IRS Publication 561-Determining the Value of Donated Property).  Make a list of the items for donation including; date and location of the donation, item description, condition (fair, good, excellent) and the fair market value.  You can make your own Excel spreadsheet, use a pre-printed donation form, or a software program such as TurboTax ItsDeductible Online (it’s free).  Store the list of donations with the supporting documents for your tax return.

Check for Valuables and Personal Information
Don’t make the mistake of sending your long lost diamond ring to charity.  Before dropping off donations check pockets of clothing and bags for valuables.  Also remove name labels or use a laundry marker to cross-out any personal information written inside an item.

Give Complete and Working Items
Donating a game with missing pieces or a blender that doesn’t work is not helpful to anyone. Use plastic bags or small boxes to keep pieces together.  Test electronic devices to ensure they are safe and in good working order.

Recycle Instead?
Based on some of the comments above, you may realize that donating items can sometimes be cumbersome or not an option at all.  Instead of sending items to the nearest land-fill, help the environment by recycling them:

    • Freecycle or Craigslist (“Free” section is under “For Sale”) – Both sites are easy to use (although you need to join Freecycle in order to use it) and items posted tend to move very quickly.  When creating a listing, for privacy and safety reasons, only provide your e-mail contact information.  Respond to the first person who contacts you and ask for a phone number.  Then call them to arrange pick-up of the item.
    • Curbside – People have been doing it for years and setting your old furniture or unused items on the street with a big “FREE” sign is often very effective.  However, depending on where you live your neighbors may not favor this practice, so use your best judgment.  In addition, if the item is not gone in 24-hours, out of respect to others, you might want to remove it and find a different way to dispose of it.
    • Recycling Center – The Palo Alto Recycling Center accepts your typical recycling items like paper, cans and bottles.  They also have convenient drop off for electronics (working or not), mattresses, books, CD’s, audio tapes, video tapes, etc.  There’s also a Goodwill donation truck on-site, which makes drop-off of your donatable and recyclable items very convenient.  The Palo Alto Recycling Center is located at 2380 Embarcadero Road.
    • Green Citizen – They will accept all electronic equipment whether working or not.  They also do disk destruction of computers and cell phones as well as accepting packing peanuts and Styrofoam (which very few places accept for recycling).

Next time you’re wondering what to do with your framed picture of “Dogs Playing Poker” or your complete collection of 80’s cover bands remember, “One man’s trash in another man’s treasure” and donate to a worthy cause.