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Really Smart Spring Cleaning

Where to safely unload your electronics, toys and other clutter

Q. I want to do some serious spring cleaning, but local thrift stores have gotten more picky about what they'll take as donations. How can I responsibly unload my stuff?

A. It's not just thrift stores and charities being more selective, but also trash collectors who nix pick-up of certain items because of weight or dangerous substances inside (such as mercury and lead in computers and monitors).

So to keep your nonworking donations out of landfills, consider these options:

  • Electronics: Check the Environmental Protection Agency's list of programs and businesses that accept computers, TVs, cellphones and other electronic gadgets for recycling, buy-back or trade-in. The World Computer Exchange, Computers 4 Kids, Computers for Schools and the National Cristina Foundation all accept and refurbish old hardware for use by disadvantaged kids in the United States and overseas. Find local chapters on the organizations' websites or through a search engine.
  • Large appliances. Old refrigerators and certain other appliances may qualify for pick-up as part of your local utility company's "energy savers" initiative. Some will even pay you ($25 or so) to discard older inefficient models.
  • Linens. Local shelters may take them. Goodwill and Salvation Army will shred non-saleable linens into industrial wipes. For really worn linens, consider the local animal shelter, where they may become pet bedding or clean-up rags, notes Consumer Reports.
  • Toys and stuffed animals. For items in better shape, consider women's shelters, day care centers, the local Ronald McDonald House and programs such as, which send stuffed animals to kids in war-torn countries. There's also Beanies for Baghdad, which sends items to our troops overseas for distribution. Before donating, check to ensure the items have not been recalled in recent years. Again, items that are in really bad shape may find use at animal shelters as comfort toys for pets-in-waiting.
  • Paint and building materials. The drama department of the local high school might need these for stage sets. Also try the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Some communities also use donated paint for murals or public fix-up, but if you get no takers, find a recycler at
  • Clothing. If Goodwill can't resell old clothing, it recycles scraps into industrial wipes for commercial buyers. "Gently used" clothing can help disadvantaged folks dress right for job interviews. If it's women's attire, consider Dress for Success. For men's, consider Men's Warehouse's National Suit Drive. Local religious groups and social service agencies may have similar programs. Prom dresses and accessories can go to the Cinderella Project, which helps girls who can't afford new attire for the big night out.

For all of these items and others, including mattresses and furniture, try Freecycle, the largest network connecting donors with those in need to keep items out of landfills. Also check out the ReUseIt Network. Or you can list your donations in the "free stuff" category for each city featured on Craigslist.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues. Check out the Ask Sid archive. If you don’t find your answer there, send a query.