Conscious Uncluttering

by Katy on September 2, 2014 · 44 comments

Like Gwyneth and Chris’ conscious uncoupling, I am in the midst of my own conscious uncluttering. Conscious because I am on a rabid quest to get rid our house of anything that’s neither useful nor appreciated, but also because I’m very deliberate about where we send our unwanted belongings.

Today’s donations perfectly demonstrate my insanity efforts.

See this photo? There are three bags of stuff here, plus a laundry basket of yup . . . more stuff. (Don’t let yourself be intimidated by my impressive Pinterest-worthy photo skills.)

Decluttered stuff

Let me break it down for you:

  • The bag on the doorknob is filled with nice stuffed animals. My husband, who is a Paramedic will give them to kids on the ambulance who need some extra comfort.
  • The laundry basket is filled with random miscellaneous stuff. This all went to Goodwill.
  • The paper bag with the white box is filled with various Japanese items that we’ve received as gifts. (Puzzles, origami paper, scarves, etc.) I took this over to the Japanese elementary school for the teachers to use in their classrooms.
  • The black bag is filled with martial arts uniforms from when my younger son took classes. The shirts are specific to the school, which is where I took everything. They accepted everything and will stack the clothes in an area for current families to take.

It would have been very easy for me to just dump everything at Goodwill, but by parceling out the donations, it’s much more likely for my unwanted stuff to get into the hands of someone who does want it.

Do you separate out your donations or are you more of a donate everything at once kind of declutterer? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Zanda September 2, 2014 at 11:25 pm

This is so very cool of you to take the time and really get those things where they will be actually needed and appreciated! You inspire me 🙂


Laura September 2, 2014 at 11:55 pm

We did the same when we were downsizing and getting rid of stuff before we moved earlier this year. It really takes very little effort to separate items and donate them where they might best be re-used. The most difficult thing I had to find a home for was a bag of 1000 origami cranes that I had folded the previous year. I had planned to donate them to the local children’s hospital for craft projects, but an elementary teacher asked for them – she said she could use them for months to teach math concepts to her students. Worked for me!


Thel Burton September 3, 2014 at 1:08 am

I very much appreciate the effort you put into making sure the items find their best use. I work for a thrift store and know that many of the items have to end up being tossed to later end up in landfills. That’s mostly because there is such an overwhelming amount of donated goods right now, it is nearly impossible to process. Also, there seems to be presently an enormous market (overseas) for salvage fabric materials. I haven’t done the research to see where all this goes, but, surprisingly little of the clothing and household fabric items donated ever end up on the sales floor.


PL September 3, 2014 at 2:26 am

I have found the charities have become so picky about what they will take that I would rather put most of my items out at the curb with a free sign on them if I don’t donate them to specific places such as the local school, church clothing bank, library book sale, or furniture bank. I realize organizations frequently get “garbage” and their dump fees become huge, but to have them stop and pick through what they want and leave the rest wastes my time.


Jackie September 3, 2014 at 2:31 am

Hubby and I are looking for a new home (one floor since he has knee problems and I have hip problems) and I’m afraid that right now I’m in the mood to just get rid of stuff we don’t need want or find useful, so it all gets thrown in a box and donated. I make a trip to Savers (Easter Seals, I believe) at least once a week. Never thought of doing it KAty’ s way. I’ll put more thought into it from now on.


Kristen September 3, 2014 at 3:01 am

That’s EXACTLY what I do…my stuff goes to a bunch of different places, depending on where it will best be used.


Elly September 3, 2014 at 3:18 am

We also donate to different places, depending on where the items can best be rehomed.


dusty September 3, 2014 at 3:55 am

I usually just give everything to goodwill, unless it is a very specific item that I think another organization would like. For example, I inherited my mother-in-law’s Persian lamb stole, well I doubt I would ever wear it so I donated it to the local theatre group where she would go and see plays all the time. I liked the idea of that. Also, I have some of her catholic church items (books, medals, crosses, etc) and I plan on donating them her church.


Gail September 3, 2014 at 4:00 am

I give most of my items to a local charity who gives, not sells, their items. I appreciate that my clothes and household items are being given to someone who really needs them. I do Purple Heart once or twice a year. Only because they come to the house.


anna chan September 3, 2014 at 5:08 am

I try to separate what I have to give to those who will get the most use. I also like using freecycle for items that I know are useful but cannot be donated to goodwill, such as used baby equipment.


amber September 3, 2014 at 5:17 am

I also try to sort things out to places/people who will use them.

– Magazines I take to the library and put them in the free magazine swap pile.

– Outgrown toys get passed down to our little niece or younger children at church.

– Things that are very worn like play clothes or books we were given free that are very well worn I give away for free on craigslist.


Bellen September 3, 2014 at 5:26 am

We donate to a locale organization that is for Rape and Abuse Emergencies. They sell almost everything that is donated, little is discarded. One of the volunteers even will take dirty/stained clothes and linens home to launder and bring them back.

We’ve found that if we have a game with missing pieces, for instance, we can put pieces in a ziplock bag, write the name of the game on it and it usually sells, either to replace missing game pieces or to use for crafts. I’ve talked to teachers who come to the store looking for misc. items to use in the classroom – they like half packages of pipe cleaners, small balls of yarn, empty spools, etc. so I always save those and package in ziplock bags. I’m told they sell quickly.


Diane September 3, 2014 at 5:47 am

I thought I was the only one who did that….bags of recycled items for the tinkering area at the Children’s Museum, clothes for Safe House, books for Recycled Reads, blankets and towels for Austin Pets Alive, etc. I do end up driving all over to deliver, but feel very satisfied after.


Jane F September 3, 2014 at 5:48 am

Love this sort of stuff! Especially seeing things sent to appropriate places!


Alexia September 3, 2014 at 6:40 am

Oh, I am totally a give it where it’s most likely to be used person. This does sometimes slow down my decluttering process since I feel compelled to find the best place to give something, and I have been known to relist something on Freecycle 3-4 times before findng a taker. However, I also find it much easier to let stuff go if I feel like I’m giving it to someone/place that is really likely to use it rather than just casting it out into the world or trashing/recycling it. (Got rid of 1500 things last year and 1100+ so far this year, so it hasn’t slowed me down too terribly, I guess. And for those who are wondering — I am not living a minimalist lifestyle here. We just had THAT much stuff before I started this process).


Jane F September 3, 2014 at 12:19 pm

How do you keep track of how much you got rid of? Do you have a system?


Alexia September 4, 2014 at 7:29 am

I do have a system, Jane. I have a whiteboard in the kitchen and use a corner of that to keep track of my monthly total. Anything trashed or recycled right away goes on the whiteboard immediately. For things collected for drop off later, I keep a scrap of paper clipped to the bag or box and add to the tally as I add to the collection. I remove the paper when I drop the items off and then add the number on it to my whiteboard tally. At the end of the month, I transfer that whiteboard number to a sheet of paper where I then calculate the YTD tally. I’ve been using the same paper for 3 years now, so I get to see how my monthly average and yearly total have changed over time. #notageek


Alexia September 4, 2014 at 7:36 am

Also, I should say — there are some other rules to my decluttering game. I don’t count anything I would normally recycle or trash (like a can) unless I’ve been hanging on to it for some reason and finally decided to get rid of it. I also don’t count every scrap of paper I get rid of as a thing — a stack of papers 1-2 inches high counts as 1 thing, a paper grocery bag full of discarded paper clutter counts as 5 things. A pair of shoes, gloves, socks, etc. counts as 1 thing. A box of a couple hundred Legos I’d probably count as 5-10 things (because it’s one box, but most of the time they’ve been scattered around my house individually!) So really, if I truly counted every single “thing” I’ve purged it’s probably closer to 10k/year. And still, as I said — you would not look around our place and think we didn’t still own quite a lot of stuff. But I personally do notice the difference.


Jane F September 4, 2014 at 8:01 am

Fascinating, thanks! One more question: Do you keep track for personal interest/progress reports or for tax purposes, or both?


Alexia September 4, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Totally just for personal interest. A few years back I decided to get rid of 50 things a month and it kind of grew from there. Now my goal is 150 things a month, but that’s an average over the whole year. In July, for example, I had too many other things going on and could only manage 27. May was a banner month & I purged 350 things.

J. Pario September 3, 2014 at 6:44 am

Thumbs up, Katy!
I volunteer at a thrift store, and we are scrupulous about trying to use or give away everything we can that gets donated. Stained or torn clothes go to the the local homeless shelter because they sell them to a paper dealer. Broken metal items go to a scrap dealer. Unwanted paper gets recycled. We do what we can, but there are still items we just don’t need that many of.

I’ve discovered that a local parish is building a church from books. They have a cadre of volunteers who sell books on Amazon and recycle the rest. It’s an innovative fundraiser and I like to donate books there because the thrift store where I work is inundated with them and doesn’t need more.


Lesley Parent September 3, 2014 at 11:01 am

This activity is one of my favorite things to do, and it is so nice to be in such good company. Cheers!


K D September 3, 2014 at 12:04 pm

This is so timely. I just gave a friend a bag of my daughter’s discarded clothes today. Tomorrow I will drop two bags of old sheets at a church that has a quilting group that uses such things. Friday I will leave something on the porch for a Freecycle pick-up. I also have books and CDs to donate next month to a group that will have a sale to raise money for charity. Magazines are donated to a local Seafarers organization (for poor foreign sailors).

I’m glad to know I’m in good company, that people take the time to dispose of items so deliberately.


patti September 3, 2014 at 1:29 pm

I like to donate deliberately or else sell the items on ebay where I know someone wants them. I just had a friend who said she needed hot rollers and couldn’t find what she was looking for anymore in the stores. I thought about the ones I had in a drawer which hadn’t been used in about 25 years and gave them to her. She was delighted and I was, too. I only kept them because they were “almost new”. Do similar things with books, magazines, clothing,etc. (try to figure out who can use them vs. taking them to Goodwill).


tamaruchinha September 3, 2014 at 3:07 pm

I think it’s wonderful how you separated your unwanted items so that they had the most chances of being wanted again by someone else.

What I usually do is offer my unwanted stuff through a freecycling web, so that someone who does want it can come and pick it.


Jess September 3, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Trying to do the same here as I prepare to move overseas, but it is very difficult! I got rid of an epic amount of clothes that won’t work at my new locale, but struggled to do so because they are awesome, and I want other professional people to be able to use them. I had friends drop by and take what they wanted, but am having trouble as my departure date nears with giving it to those who need and making time for that amongst everything else!


Jean September 3, 2014 at 3:20 pm

I love the idea of donating the martial arts uniforms–so many activities require expensive clothing that makes it hard for families to afford the activity. We had an informal exchange of stuff between mothers when my daughter was in ballet–most of the leotards, tights and ballet slippers were outgrown before they were ever outworn.

We separate our donated items, too–all books, cd’s, dvd’s and puzzles go the the Friends of the Library Book Sale. Good quality used clothing and shoes usually go to our PTA clothing bank, because they actually give it away to families in need. Usable amounts of fabric, old sheets and sewing supplies go a church quilting group who give away quilts to people in need whether that is monetarily, emotionally or spiritually. Scrap material , magazines, odd craft supplies, toilet paper rolls, scotch and adding machine tape cylinders go to my daughter the art teacher–who is the envy of her teaching friends and shares when she has extra. I think almost any elementary teacher welcomes old magazines, and especially sports and car ones because they don’t get offered those as often as home & garden magazines.
For a while I had no problem giving away household items that were still useful because my children and their friends had reached the stage they were setting up their own households and welcomed the hand me downs. Now I donate more often to the DAV . I loved the concept of Freecycle but had so many no shows it wasn’t worth it.

Does any one have any suggestions for Styrofoam boxes with lids? My husband’s insulin comes from a mail order pharmacy, packed in these boxes with Kool packs. Now, lots of people who camp or pack lunches want the Kool packs, but other than a few of his buddies who use them for bait, I can’t find any takers for the Styrofoam boxes, and they are not recyclable. I’ve even offered to ship them back to the pharmacy since they weigh next to nothing and it seems so wrong to throw them away, but they don’t want them because they aren’t sterile anymore! (That seems crazy to me since the medicine in them is in a vial, in a box, inside a plastic bag–it never actually touches the Styrofoam box!)


Linda September 3, 2014 at 4:57 pm

There are places that styrofoam can be recycled. Here in the Greater Seattle area it’s V& G StyroRecycle in Renton. They take take-out clam shells, meat trays, and packing boxes (#6 polystyrene)also peanuts, flattened cardboard and bubble wrap.


Jane F September 3, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Love reading how you sort various items!

I know you are trying to get rid of them but here are some upcycling ideas…maybe link to this on a freecycle post?


Felicia Wallace September 3, 2014 at 8:42 pm

How big are they? Big enough to be worm farms, maybe?


Jennifer G September 3, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Not only do I sort out all my donations, but all our friends bring their unwanted stuff to me because they know I will get it to the right person/organization. My poor husband is always anxious as to what he will find in “staging” when he gets home!


Nadya September 3, 2014 at 4:00 pm

I am a member of my local Freecycle group. You can post a list of “offers” or “wants.” You can offer stuff that is unwanted and individuals that want it can come by and pick it up. Alternatively, you can post an item that you want for your house (people frequently ask for party decor/baby items/ gym equipment). Everything must really be free and I have had great luck getting rid of gently used baby items, old housing items like rugs or kitchen tools that we don’t use, and even partially used but not loved bathroom supplies like shampoo. I like that a real person that wants the item gets to use it and it keeps stuff out of the landfill!


Wanda September 3, 2014 at 4:08 pm

When I decluttered my books ,dvd’s and cd’s they all went to the library since they would get the most use there.

Pretty much anything that I can transport goes to goodwill. If it requires pick up( furniture) it’s off to Salvation Army.


Ruby Julian September 3, 2014 at 4:32 pm

We do the designated donation thing too Anything pet-related, like outgrown harnesses and puppy crates, goes to the thrift shop that supports our municipal no-kill animal shelter. Old blankets, sheets and towels go there too. Books are donated to our small city library, and everything else goes to the Salvation Army.


Linda September 3, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Not only am I a conscious unclutterer. I specified in my will where I want my stuff donated too.


dusty September 4, 2014 at 3:40 am

that is a great idea!! I will be working on my will shortly and this never occurred to me.


Lynda D. September 3, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Perfect timing for your post!! I have been downsizing (from a 4 bedroom home to a 1,200 sq foot apt) for several years with particular intensity this last 14 months as I am moving into a 600 sq ft apartment in 1 month.
I always try to get donations to the “right” place. It can definitely slow down the process but, as someone mentioned, it just feels so much better knowing the items are going to be used and appreciated rather than sold by the tonnage overseas.
In no particular order, I have given items to family and friends, local environmental organization for education programs, church book sale, used the Craig’s list “curb alert” and “it’s free if you pick it up” options, Savers (supports Big Brothers/Big Sisters), consignment shops, local thrift store that supports 2 homeless shelters, eBay. Someone mentioned they donate to the local theatre group so I will call them about a couple of items I have!
The hard part is that no matter how much I try to be organized and plan ahead, when the deadline looms I do end up donating willy nilly/en masse to a place like Savers. I guess I could do worse things so I will try not to feel guilt and regret.
This process of downsizing to living in 600 sq feet has been HARD and FREEING!


Tracy Stone September 3, 2014 at 5:39 pm

This is awesome! I try to take time to sort out and give to different places. I would love to be able to find more places that are more creative with their donations. I actually stopped volunteering at a Help Center because I was so disappointed at how much they threw away. Maybe I could go back and figure out where some things could go. Glad to know there are others who sort out their donations.


Alycia September 4, 2014 at 7:54 am

This is a great post! Earlier this summer my fiancé and I moved into a late relative’s house and had the daunting task of sorting through someone else’s lifetime of stuff. (Not to mention ours that we brought with us!) We donated quite a bit of stuff to Goodwill, but I also took the time to ask friends and family if they were interested in anything. There were a ton of gently used art and school supplies, so I asked a friend who’s a first grade teacher if schools would ever accept things like that and she not only said yes, but asked if she could have them. (We live in different states but already had a trip planned back home, so that’s when we delivered them.) I am so happy to see stuff find a place where it’ll be used and appreciated.


WilliamB September 4, 2014 at 6:10 pm

I prefer to find good homes for stuff, but sometimes the effort that takes is too much for my sanity.


Katy September 5, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Me too. Sometimes it’s a barrier to decluttering to find the perfect home for each and every object, so I just donate to Goodwill then.


Kristin September 5, 2014 at 4:16 am

I have begun a massive declutter as well, loosely following Flylady’s weekly zones to help me focus. I am trying to donate consciously and find good homes for other things. Since our house needs decluttering really badly, I am finding a lot that just needs to get tossed, or put in the shred pile for a couple of weeks from now when our local recycler has a Shred-O-Rama. Residents can bring up to five boxes of paper to get shredded right there. This is a huge help, since my little office shredder probably can’t take the abuse!


Maria Ehlers September 5, 2014 at 5:56 am

YES! I do this, and it does look chaotic. 3 categories of recycling, library donations Goodwill (local equivalent), Scouts, and family piles. Also books to get resale credit (local).


Betty Winslow January 12, 2015 at 9:37 am

We call this “adopting out” LOL! Yes, we do this, too – books to either the library or the local used bookstore, magazines to several waiting rooms, baby clothes/toys to the local pregnancy center or to several single moms we minister to, adult clothes to the local church free clothes project, knickknacks to Goodwill, small gift items to the school I work at that holds a Xmas rummage sale for the kids every yr….. if you dump it all, there’s a good chance it won’t go to good use. It does mean a few more trips, but most of the places are either someplace I go anyway or are close by.


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