It’s hardly a secret that living in a well-organized, clutter-free home is good for our mental health. One 2019 study found that “an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces” has a “negative impact” on one’s psychological health.
It’s also no surprise that a lot of us live in houses with a definite overabundance of possessions.
The good news is that when you find yourself surrounded by too much stuff, there are free services in the Seattle area that can help get those belongings out of your home — and out of your life.
“I’m constantly downsizing, figuring out ways to get rid of stuff,” says Jacqueline Noles, who lives in Seattle’s Pinehurst neighborhood. She says keeping her home’s clutter at bay “keeps anxiety to a minimum.”
“Once you don’t have all that stuff anymore, it is so freeing,” Noles says. “It’s incredible.”
Here are a few ways you can get rid of those possessions that have overstayed their welcome.
Post it on Buy Nothing
One widely used service for donating and swapping goods in the Puget Sound area is the Buy Nothing Project. Founded on Bainbridge Island in 2013, Buy Nothing is now used in dozens of countries and lets its members give away (or ask for) pretty much anything — from plants and pillows to party supplies and pantry items.
Members of Buy Nothing communities — grouped together by neighborhood — typically use Facebook to post their items or use the Buy Nothing app, which was released in November.
“You can give away anything — we just ask that you disclose the condition,” says Danita Day, who administers Seattle’s Bryant North Buy Nothing group, along with Marni Klein and Sam Thompson.
And the 1,400 or so members of Bryant North really do post just about anything, Day says.
“People [will post] broken patio tables, and then somebody will be like, ‘Oh, I can use that for an art project,’ ” she says. “Broken pottery? Somebody that does crafts can use it.”
Marlee Khastou, also of Pinehurst, says she has been using Buy Nothing to give and get items for a couple of years and is a big fan. “I think it’s just a tremendously wonderful idea,” she says.
Khastou says she feels Buy Nothing is more community-oriented than bringing your items anonymously to a donation center. “It is a more friendly experience,” she says. She recently gave away an Ikea high chair that her granddaughter had outgrown.
“The people who came to get it were really excited about it,” Khastou says.
The community aspect of Buy Nothing can also help people feel safer than using a more anonymous swapping service, Thompson says. “It’s part of the community thing. If you’re done wrong by somebody in your Buy Nothing community, most people wouldn’t want to risk their reputation that way,” she says.
Thanks to Buy Nothing, Thompson says, countless items have seen their pre-landfill time extended by being used and swapped, over and over again.
“A lot of puzzle trading — I’m pretty active on that,” she says. “It’s great because you do it and then you don’t need to keep it on the shelf. You just move it along.”
Get started: Visit bnponfb.org/find-a-group, where you can download the Buy Nothing app or find your local group.
Find a home for furniture, appliances
When Kathy Truher and her husband downsized from a trilevel house in
Bellevue to a one-story home in Snohomish last year, they found themselves with far too much furniture for their new space.
“We had whole rooms of furniture that we knew we weren’t going to bring with us. And it was good stuff,” Truher says. “Chairs, dressers, there were some little nightstands. There was pretty much a garage full of perfectly good furniture that wasn’t going to fit into any of the rooms.”
Truher didn’t want to throw it all out — “Putting it in a landfill doesn’t make any sense at all” — so she reached out to Habitat for Humanity. The housing-focused charity operates stores in Bellevue, Tukwila and Auburn, offering mostly furniture and building materials, including lighting, plumbing, home decor items, appliances and windows. It also accepts donations and offers free pickup.
The pickup service was critical, Truher says. “There’s no way we could get any of [the furniture to fit] in our cars. Wasn’t going to happen,” she says.
Amy Sullivan, retail operations manager for Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties, advises donors to make sure their items have no stains and don’t require any repairs. “Everything needs to be in good, resellable condition,” she says.
Furniture is their biggest seller, Sullivan says, but Habitat for Humanity stores accept tools, lawn and garden goods, cabinets and much more. She notes that they have a “pretty extensive building supply area, which I think sets us apart from other resale thrift shops.”
Clothing, mattresses, electronics and items that need repair are not accepted, Sullivan says.
When deciding whether to schedule a pickup or bring items in yourself, know that time is a factor: Pickups usually can’t be scheduled right away.
“We’re typically about four weeks out during the summer months,” Sullivan says. At other times of the year, expect a lead time of two to three weeks.
“The quickest and easiest way, if you are able to, would be to just drop them off at the stores,” she says. “You can drop them off any time during business hours. You don’t need to make an appointment.”
Also, items that Habitat for Humanity picks up can’t be located inside your home.
“All items have to be either in a garage or carport, something covered, especially when it’s raining,” Sullivan says.
Get started: Visit habitatskc.org/store/donate-goods to view donation guidelines, find locations or schedule a pickup.
Donate to a nonprofit
The Salvation Army was one of the earliest organizations to set up the now-familiar model of selling donated goods through a network of stores. It’s a win-win situation: Donors get rid of their stuff (and get to write off the value on their taxes), while the not-for-profit Salvation Army sells the donated items and applies the proceeds to its wide array of social programs, including disaster relief, food pantries and addiction recovery services.
“We believe that the Salvation Army is a good recycler,” says Eric Farley, retail operations director of the Salvation Army’s Northwest Division. “With nonprofits, not only are you recycling and reusing, but the proceeds and the sales of these items in the thrift store also go to support local programs. It’s a great cycle.”
The Salvation Army accepts most household goods, including small appliances, books, clothing and sports equipment. It generally doesn’t accept mattresses, large appliances, building materials or items that can’t be resold, such as recalled baby items.
Noles says she often takes items such as clothes and housewares to a Salvation Army location. “I like things repurposed. I hate to throw things in the trash,” she says.
While the Salvation Army has long been associated with its distinctive trucks, pickup isn’t currently available locally. For now, Seattle-area donors can drop off goods at the Salvation Army stores in Tukwila and Shoreline.
Get started: Visit satruck.org to view locations and donation guidelines.
Recycle your old electronics
Some of the tougher items to part with safely and securely are computers, phones and electronics. For these, Seattle Computer Recycling has you covered.
“We’ll recycle almost any type of electronics, really,” says lead repair technician Jaidon Preston.
Seattle Computer Recycling operates a store on Aurora Avenue North that, along with recycling electronics, also repairs and refurbishes items and sells used equipment. They accept most electronics for recycling free of charge, including laptops, desktop computers and smartphones. To get rid of your equipment, simply walk into the shop during store hours and hand it over, Preston says.
“Any type of computers, if they’re functional and relevant to the last few years, they usually get refurbished, and they can be resold here in the store,” he says. “Older machines and things like that can get parted out and used here in various capacities. We really only refuse things that are blatantly scrap.”
Seattle Computer Recycling does not accept televisions, and they charge a fee to take printers and CRT monitors (“the big blocky ones,” Preston says), which contain some hazardous materials.
Get started: Visit seattlecomputerrecycling.net to learn more about its recycling services and to view store hours.
Host an item swap
Of course, you don’t need to go through a service to get rid of your goods. You can set up your own community event.
Seattle resident Michelle Goodman hosted several clothing swaps in her home before the pandemic, and she’s planning to hold another one this summer.
“It was both a very pragmatic thing and also kind of like a party,” she says of the swaps. “It’s kind of an event.”
For her earlier swaps, Goodman invited people to bring clothing they no longer wanted. Once there, they added their clothes to what Goodman was giving away, and could also take any clothes that others had brought.
“It was usually a three-hour thing on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon,” she says. “We would invite maybe 75 to 100 people or more, knowing that we’d have 25 to 35 people throughout the afternoon — which is actually a lot of people to have in your living room.”
For her upcoming swap, Goodman plans to stage it outside and perhaps invite fewer people. She has a bathroom near the backyard that guests can use, she says, and there’s an indoor space where people can try on clothes.
For those who plan to host a clothing swap or similar event of their own, Goodman suggests including parameters in the invitations, so it’s clear what items guests may and may not bring.
For her clothing swaps, she says, clothes don’t have to be designer brands, but they shouldn’t be damaged or stained. Accessories like hats, belts and scarves are fine, but no housewares.
If you’re the host, Goodman says, be aware that you’ll spend lots of time with setup and cleanup. You’ll also need to decide what you’re comfortable with in terms of masks and vaccination status.