Tidying Up? 10 Tips for Donating Locally


February 8, 2019

Local agencies have received a wave of donations thanks to a certain popular Netflix show. Tidying Up with Marie Kondo has inspired people all over the country to declutter their homes and donate in the process. Year over year, local Goodwill stores saw a 16% increase in donations this January.

Maybe you’ve been inspired to donate your unneeded items but you’re wondering what you should donate and who you should give it to. Here are 10 tips to help you “spark joy” for others when you donate.

1. Whatever You’ve Got, There’s an Agency That Can Use It

Chances are you’ve been told at some point, you can’t donate X. But that’s probably not true, even for things that don’t seem immediately useful. Torn t-shirts? A single shoe? Happy Meal toys? Goodwill can take them. If they can’t sell an item in their thrift stores, they can recycle it. Tattered clothing, for example, gets turned into cleaning rags, home insulation, even stuffing for furniture.

“We are the largest recycler in the world,” says Jill Wallace of Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids. “We take clothing that is torn or stained. Same with shoes. If you only have one shoe, we can sell them to a salvage market.”

2. Donate Seasonally

Needs change with the time of year. Here at Heart of West Michigan United Way, we host our Spread the Warmth collection drive in the fall, and other agencies make similar seasonal requests.

“Winter time, there is always a need for warmer clothing, warm socks, hand and feet warmers,” says Jennie Compagner of Degage Ministries. In the summer, they need sunscreen and sunglasses, while during rainy stretches they appreciate umbrellas and ponchos.

3. Don’t Forget the Warmer Months

Agencies need your support year-round. Mel Trotter Ministries tends to see a slump in donations May through September, says Adrienne Goodstal. “Unfortunately, people seem to not think about those experiencing homelessness in the warmer months and we see a decline in donations.”

Mel Trotter’s top needs are men’s jeans, feminine hygiene products, and scrubs – yes, scrubs. “We provide emergency shelter guests with a clean change of clothes when they come in each night. And scrubs are what we’ve found hold up the best for the many washings,” Adrienne says.

4. Donation Drop-Offs ≠ Dumpsters

While all categories of household goods can be donated, no agencies want your literal garbage. Clothes that are wet, moldy, or soiled don’t belong in a donation bin. North Kent Connect, for example, accepts clean clothing “in any condition except wet, covered in pet hair, or with an unpleasant odor.”

Just remember: everything you donate will be handled by a real person, often a volunteer. If you don’t want to touch it, neither do they. Visit reimaginetrash.org to find out how you can keep your un-donate-able items out of the landfill.

5. Use Your Donation to Support a Cause You Care About

With so many agencies accepting donations in Kent County, why not choose one whose mission is close to your heart? Goodwill supports job training. The Women’s Resource Center helps women further their careers. Bethany Christian Services supports foster kids, adoptive families, and refugees. If you care about it, you can find an agency that does too.

6. Busted Electronics Are a Gold Mine

Broken DVD players, Christmas lights, stray cables, remotes from a TV you don’t even have anymore – all of these contain valuable metals like gold and copper that can be salvaged. Comprenew and Goodwill are just two who accept broken electronics. But keep in mind, not every agency is equipped to receive them, so be sure to check their lists of accepted items first.

(Note: Goodwill is not currently accepting TVs and monitors.)

7. Don’t Forget That Tax Receipt

If you itemize on your tax return, you can ask for a receipt when you donate your used goods. All 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations who accept in-kind donations will provide a receipt when asked.

8. When in Doubt, Call to Find Out

If you really don’t know whether an agency will accept your donation, give them a call. Need and capacity are constantly changing, so if you don’t know whether that roll of wallpaper or giant inflatable Halloween lawn ornament will be useful, don’t be shy about asking.

Women’s Resource Center, for example, has limited capacity for storing out-of-season items, and they have strict standards for what they accept at their Business Boutique. “Ask yourself, honestly, ‘Would I wear this to a job interview?’ or ‘Would I hire someone who wore this to an interview?’” says Linda Dietrich. “If your answer is no, that item is not something we will be able to use.”

9. Ask for a Pick-Up

You might want to donate a couch or a whole basement’s worth of clothes. Some agencies, like Salvation Army and St. Vincent De Paul are willing to pick up your donations if you call ahead of time. Just be sure your donation fits within their guidelines and that you give them plenty of advance notice.

10. Already Decluttered? Shop Online

If you’re already living the minimalist life, you can still donate in-kind. Many local agencies post Amazon wish-lists, including us. You can shop online for United Way’s Fill the Cart drive today.

Partial List of Local Agencies Who Accept Donations: