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Proper Green: How "Used" Is "Too Used"?

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Take care to donate items that still have a second life in them.

Dear Proper Green,

I’ve been cleaning items out of my house and have accumulated a lot of things I want to get rid of. Some things are old and some are new (unwanted Christmas gifts). I want to donate as many of the items as I can, but for some of the used stuff, I’m wondering what is an acceptable level of wear?

-Mercy N., San Antonio, TX

Dear Mercy,

Way to live green — cleaning out the clutter in your home and donating your items instead of sending them straight to the landfill! After the holidays is a great time to survey what you have, since gift-giving may have left you with an accumulation of duplicate items, or, as in your case, gifts you don’t want or can’t use (not to mention old items that have been superseded by shiny new replacements).

Of course, any new or like-new item is probably great for donating to a secondhand store, while broken items should be upcycled or recycled if possible, and otherwise put in the trash.

But judging the level of wear between new and broken can get tricky, especially for items such as clothing and shoes. If you’re seeking to get rid of clothing or shoes because they’re starting to look shabby, then they might not be fit to donate. Safer reasons for giving up your wardrobe would be you’re tired of the style, or they don’t fit anymore. Make sure they’re clean and without major stains. Though not required, it would be courteous to have them folded neatly rather than crumpled up and wrinkled. Items with multiple pieces, such as toys or board games, should include all their pieces. Be honest in your assessment and try to apply Goodwill’s phrase for acceptable items: “gently used.” If in doubt, opt for repurposing or recycling.

What are some post-holiday items you will be donating this month? Tell us in the comments below.

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Proper Green
Proper Green

Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and... more

  • Cindy W. 3 months ago
    Worn jeans can sometimes have the legs and made into shorts. I save the scrap jean for patching those jeans that fit so perfect.
  • virginia s. 4 years ago
    used towels and blankets can be donated to animal shelters
  • virginia s. 4 years ago
    many thrift shops will sell too-shabby items to rag merchants, so they do not go to waste. some items are given to other thrift stores so eventually they make their way down the chain . you never know what people will buy; I buy clothing that is not wearable and re-use the fabric for other purposes.
    • joanna l. 1 year ago
      Some people buy old sweaters and unravel them for the wool , and they don't have to be in perfect condition to be used for this purpose.
  • Jo A. 4 years ago
    anything that I haven't used in the last year will be donated
  • Laura P. 5 years ago
    Also, my aunt makes quilts out of old shirts, ties, etc. for some friends that lost family members to cancer.
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