It can be exciting to discover a convenient resource for donating unwanted goods. When this happens, we might pat ourselves in the back for diverting items from landfills. Perhaps we even assuage any lingering guilt for impulse buys that did not work out.
A few years ago, I was excited to discover that DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) had a used shoe program. It allowed participants to exchange used shoes for discounts on new ones. On the surface, it sounded like a great program.
After some initial online digging, I decided to test it out. I hoped that it would become another helpful resource for clients. Since I did not have any shoes to donate at the time, I spoke with clients who were offloading their own. They were more than happy to participate in my experiment. I loaded my car with their cast-offs and made my way to the store. It was not entirely convenient, but still worth the time and effort because of the potential payoff for clients in the future.
After a fifteen-minute drive to the store, I hauled the stash to the checkout counter and waited ten minutes to speak with a salesperson. Contrary to the information I had found online, the DSW program was not user-friendly. They only accepted “very” gently used shoes. Many individuals use shoes past the “gently used” phase, which eliminated a lot of this program’s usefulness.
I knew that I could collect $2.50 per shoe. Still, the salesperson informed me of what I considered to be another complication. I was not previously aware that they would only give credit for one pair of shoes in any given 24-hour period. This last complication was the dealbreaker. In my estimation, a program participant would lose money on increased gas usage from all the additional mileage and heavier-than-average carload. I also imagine that the extra fuel consumption would partially offset some of the environmental benefits of diverting the shoes from landfills.
Imagine you had ten pairs of gently used shoes. Let us also imagine that your feet do not sport a dainty size 5. Trunk space can be precious, especially in places like San Francisco. You need hidden space to avoid “smash and grab” car break-ins that occur when possessions are left in plain sight. Are you willing to sacrifice a good portion of your trunk for a measly $2.50 per day?
Will you also be willing to drive to DSW ten times to donate all ten pairs? It took 25 minutes to donate one pair. I imagine four hours of your precious time is worth more than a $25.50 discount. That is four hours that you could use to clear out additional clutter so that you are:
All this is not to say that I believe landfill diversion is not a worthy cause. Many simple programs make a positive impact. However, everything can be taken to an extreme that decreases the ability to enjoy a space. Many landfill diversion programs sound great until we look under the hood. Then we find out how many hoops we have to jump through and how much time we will need to devote to it.
Here is an excellent question to ask yourself when examining donation programs: is the offloading project important because you value sustainability, or is it a sneaky case of perfectionism? If your answer is the former, I would like to play devil’s advocate. When cast-offs sit around long enough to collect dust, perfectionism might be at play. Suppose sustainability is such a significantly held value. In that case, I imagine it would be a top priority to remove the items before they degraded to the point that the donation program could no longer accept them. (I frequently see this degradation happen and have to be the bearer of bad news.)
Many individuals, especially in the Bay Area, struggle to let items go into landfill or recycling because it feels like a failure. When these piles of unwanted items sit in the home for more than a few weeks, they become “stale.” They create unnecessary tension. Each time we see the pile, we remember that we wanted to “do the right thing,” but the mere thought of jumping through all those hoops like a circus dog is exhausting. Thus, the pile continues to collect more dust.
Meanwhile, our homes turn into mini recycling centers. We can no longer use spaces for other vital activities in our lives. It may feel a bit controversial to read, but I will state it anyway: not only is it ok to avoid finding the “perfect” home for unwanted items, but, in many cases, it is imperative.
Whether you live in a mansion or a studio apartment, your space is valuable. How much of your precious (and sometimes expensive) square footage are you willing to devote to items that do not deserve a spot in your home? On a square footage basis, how much money are those cast-offs costing you each month?
Additionally, whether you are working your first full-time job or are years into enjoying retirement, your time is valuable. How do you want to spend it?
Think of these questions the next time you have a complicated donation project. If the offloading project is truly worth the time and effort, make it a top priority and get it out of the home within a week. Then it will not stall progress on decluttering. After all, organizational goals do not typically exist because of some moral imperative to be “organized.” In my experience, individuals create these goals so that personal spaces no longer wreak emotional havoc. Other times, individuals set the goals to enrich their lives on a profoundly personal level. And these goals, in my opinion, are worth the time, effort, and money that we spend to reach them.
Author: Judith Dold
Musings from yours truly about all things organizing.