19 October 2013

Doing Good in the Midst of Heartache

 When Dad passed away, I realized that I would soon face the daunting task of cleaning out a house filled with 60 years of stuff. Early on, a few people advised me to call for a dumpster. I found that thought completely repulsive. I knew I could -- and would -- do better than that.

First of all, I could not imagine just tossing once-cherished (and still quite useful) possessions into a dumpster. And second, I wanted to try to make the best of a very difficult situation by keeping as much as possible out of the landfill. For me, that meant finding places to donate items which could not be sold at the auction. I am very pleased to say that I met (and I think even exceeded) my goal.
 I recently made a list of all the organizations I donated to as part of this very sad situation. In today's post, I would like to share this information...not at all in a prideful sort of way, but just so that others who may be going through a similar situation will see that it is truly possible to do a lot of good in the midst of heartache. If anything made me feel better throughout the summer, it was taking tubs and boxes of useful items to groups in need.

I'll share the list of organizations at the end of this post but first want to give you a little information about the process I used. I'm very much a "process person", which helped keep me focused during this overwhelmingly big job.

Sorting with Plastic Tubs  
As I thought about how to approach the "dismantling" of my childhood home, I decided that I would use plastic tubs to sort and organize household items. I found a great deal on tubs at Big Lots, so I bought 25 of them. A woman behind me in line even said, "She must be a teacher!" Ha. I couldn't bear to tell her what I was really going to do with my 25 tubs. It seemed like a ridiculous number at the time, but I used them all and many more.

I labeled the tubs to identify their contents: "Older Towels" were marked to go to our local Animal Rescue League, as they are needed for kitty cages. "Newer Towels" were labeled for the auction. I researched and found local groups in need of toiletries and personal hygiene items such as nail clippers, new combs, new socks, and razors -- anything that would not sell well (or that I did not wish to sell) at the auction. I did this for several groups such as our local food pantry, clothes closet, and book sale. I taped a list to the front of the tub detailing the items needed by that organization. As I worked my way through each room in the house, I placed items in the appropriate tub. When the tub was full, I delivered it.

I also tackled a few items in our own garage to make room for new things I needed to bring home. A local company was collecting used bikes to be refurbished for people in need of transportation, so I donated one. Sure, it could have sold at the auction, but why not help someone in need?

Keep, give away, recycle, toss, sell, or donate?
As I sorted, I had to answer this question about each item, then mark it clearly. Here are some thoughts about each category:
  • My daughter and I labeled things to keep with brightly colored garage sale dots, using a different color for each of us.
  • I set aside certain items to give away to family and friends, again marking them so they would not be missed.
  • I recycled anything at all that could be recycled, such as old papers, metal, and plastic. I filled the recycle bins over and over throughout the summer.
  • I threw away only items that were beyond repair and could not be recycled, such as old carpeting. Had I had time for more research, I'm sure I could have kept even more items out of the landfill.
  • I consulted with the auction staff about the types of items which sell well at an auction. For example, clothing and Christmas decorations do not sell well, nor could I bear to see those items on auction day, so I chose to donate them instead. Items to be sold at the auction were marked as such. Then after considering the items marked for the sale, I identified some unique pieces which needed a special type of buyer, so I pulled them to sell later on Ebay. 

 Groups, Organizations, and Other Ways to Help
Here is a list of the groups I donated to as part of this process. It made me feel so much better to help people (and animals) in need. I know my parents would have been pleased, too. 

There are many more wonderful groups I could have helped as part of this process and, as I re-organize our own house, I hope to donate much, much more. It goes without saying that anytime you're donating, contact the group first to confirm its needs.

Animal Rescue League of Iowa - old towels and blankets to be used for kitty cages and comfort

Johnston Clothes Closet - clothing, shoes, neckties, purses, coats, and gloves to be provided to needy families in our community

Church sewing group - old or damaged clothing, sheets, blankets, and fabric to be cut up and sewn into quilts for charitable organizations

Church hospitality group - Styrofoam cups, napkins, and plastic ware to be used for community dinners and youth activities

DMARC Food Pantry - non-perishable food and paper products

Perishable food - donated by a kind neighbor to local families in need

Central Iowa Shelter and Services - toiletries, new socks and underwear, heavy coats, and gloves

Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation - monetary donations made in memory of my parents

Local nursing home - walkers, canes, and crutches which belonged to my grandma

Piano - donated to a family with a young musician

Des Moines Bike Collective - bicycles in need of repair or refurbishing

Furniture - donated to a family with young children

HCI Giving Tree (supporting Hospice of Central Iowa) - dishes, decorative items, holiday decor, and much more

Local historical museums - items specific to towns in our area to be used in displays

Curbside giving - Following the auction, I placed a few unsold items on the curb and marked them, "Free -- Please take and use." Most were gone in the morning.

* * * * *
If you ever find yourself preparing for an estate sale, or if you just want to clear out the clutter in your life, I hope you'll find this information helpful. It is entirely possible -- and enormously comforting and rewarding -- to do good in the midst of even the most difficult situation.


Karen Conner said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your dad. Hugs!

This is the most thoughtful & useful information ever!

I do this on an ongoing basis at my own house. I have a couple of totes in my utility room. Storing items I no longer want/need to either give away or yardsale.
Really helps with the clutter & keeps us from being a pack rat!!

Have a blessed day!

Janet said...

Thank you, Karen! I am glad you found this helpful. I am going to keep using the totes, too...although maybe not 25 of them! :) Thanks so much for stopping by.

Sarah Coggins said...

Still thinking of you often and hope you are feeling a little more uplifted each day. ((HUGS)) I agree with wanting to find ways to do more than just fill our landfills. With our move last year and even now (seems we are always collecting too much "stuff"), I try to donate to whatever group in my area can be helped. Great list and information you have put together here. I hope it helps encourage others to do similarly.

Heather said...

Wow! I didn't know your parents, but I am sure they would've been very proud of you for taking the time to make sure their possessions went to people that could use them, rather than taking the easy way out and throwing away what couldn't be sold. Good for you!!

Janet said...

Thank you so much, Sarah. I am doing better day by day. It's just going to take time and distance from the house to heal the wounds. I appreciate your kind words!

Janet said...

Thank you, Heather. I have tried to honor my parents' memory through this process, so I chose organizations and groups that I know they would have supported. Thanks for stopping by!

Kristina said...

You helped some wonderful organizations with your generosity Janet.