It’s hard to think about our stuff as junk, especially the sentimental stuff we finally ready to let go of. But sometimes our donated clutter costs the thrift store money to haul off—money that takes away from their charitable work.
I hadn’t given that much thought until my daily coffee run began taking me past our local thrift shop. Every morning, I’d see employees tossing things into a dumpster. The man on the loading dock said there were always huge bags of things sitting there when the shop opened, and most was junk that would never sell.
It winds up in the trash sooner or later, this way was just quicker because they didn’t have the resources to do anything else with it. But you and me? We do. So read on for things we shouldn’t drop off at charity shops and who wants them instead.
Charities are in the business of turning donations into cash to support the communities they service. They don’t have repair facilities or the staff to repair things. So when we drop off broken, chipped or worn out items, they usually wind up in the trash. But, as I explain, there are some people who’d love them.
That crash pad
Many thrift stores don’t want used mattresses due to the risk they’ll spread bedbugs to other things in the store. Some will take them, and some will only take box springs.
Call before taking dropping off these things, because they’re expensive to take to the landfill. The man on the loading dock said that’s why so many people dump them at the charity shop—so they get stuck with the bill.
Opened or not, most thrift stores do not accept paint, motor oil, or cleaning product donations because they’re hazardous materials their insurance company doesn’t want stored on site.
But some charitable organizations be interested. I take cleaning supplies to a local women’s shelter that’s always glad for them, and local school art or theater programs often appreciate open cans of paint. Otherwise, contact your hazardous waste department for instructions.
Grandpa’s jar of geegaws
Thrift stores can easily sell unopened packages of things like screws, brad nails, or tools—ours is my first stop when I need things like that. But they don’t want your half-finished box of laminate flooring or the jar of nuts and bolts your grandpa spent forty years collecting.
If you have leftover building materials, contact your local Habitat for Humanity’s Restore, or see if you can donate them to a nearby art department or wood shop. They might even like that jar.
Your home pharmacy
Many thrift stores will accept crutches, wheelchairs, walkers and other assistive devices. Ours does, but they don’t want disposable supplies like bandages or syringes, and they definitely don’t want equipment like CPAP machines.
Shelters might appreciate the bandages and syringes, though. Contact an employee to ask. Otherwise, a local medical supply company might be able to help. Ours recycled my husband’s old CPAP machine so I didn’t have to throw it out.
Surprisingly, there are still some old tube televisions out there heating up entire rooms and making the house electricity flicker when they’re turned on. But thrift stores are where people go to find good bargains on nice things, not stuff that poses safety risks.
If you think something is old enough to have value, list it on Facebook Marketplace or eBay. If no one else is interested, that’s your sign it’s time to haul it to the landfill yourself.
You don’t need to check every item you’re thinking of donating to see if it’s been recalled, but don’t knowingly donate anything you know is a danger. Throw it away or contact the manufacturer for advice—don’t pass on the risk to someone else.
Your unminded mending
There are places that buy up used clothes to recycle—you can find them online. Or add it to one of the yellow clothing recycle boxes you can find in most towns. And if we’re talking towels? Call your local animal shelter.
Your naughty bits
Most thrift stores do not want your underwear, clean or not. Assuming you don’t want to sell it on eBay—where there is a surprising and weird market for such things—you can contact a local women’s shelter to see if they’d be interested in the clean ones.
What to Do with Items You Can’t Donate
Now, don’t jump in the comments coming at me over adding to the landfill. Just because a thrift store doesn’t have an interest doesn’t mean you have to throw things out.
There’s an entire cottage industry of people on the lookout for damaged, worn out, or torn things. Sometimes, they fix and flip them. Other times, they repurpose them into new useful items or works of art.
If you’ve got the capacity for it, list the item on Craigslist, Freecycle, or Facebook Marketplace, or in your local Buy Nothing Group. Be sure to describe any flaws so people know what to expect. It may surprise you how much stuff you can get rid of this way, even if it’s not good enough to donate to charity.