Donating Used Furniture to a Thrift Store? Think Again

It seems like a responsible thing to do: when you've outgrown a piece of furniture, or when it's looking a little broken-down, it's pretty common to take it to a secondhand store and assume they'll take care of it. But the problem is that if there's anything wrong with it—stains, broken pieces, sometimes even scratches—most thrift stores won't be able to use it. They usually have very little floor space (especially in cities), so they can only keep the best furniture that comes in, and as much as half of the donations that come in can end up discarded.

Thrift stores don't often have staff who know how to do repairs, or reupholstery, so even if something is in good condition otherwise, they probably won't be able to fix it. They may send it on to someone who can, but often, flawed furniture just ends up going to the dump. With that in mind, here are a few options for what to do with less-than-perfect furniture you don't want to keep.

1. Fix it! This is definitely the best option. It took a lot of energy, materials, transportation and other environmental pressure to make your chair or table; by prolonging its life, you can help someone else avoid buying something new. (Or you may fall in love with your furniture again, and decide to keep it). Whether it needs refinishing, painting, gluing, reupholstery, or some other sort of loving, repair is fun to do-- and fun to learn, if you don't already know how.

2. Find someone else to fix it If you don't have the time to fix your furniture up yourself, try advertising on the free section of Craigslist, or on a site like Freecycle. There are plenty of people out there who love doing this kind of thing, and will be totally willing to make a profit off your old belongings. Advertising is a better option than leaving something out at the curb, since curbside leftovers will likely head to the landfill.

3. Find a way to recycle the materials If you think whatever you have is beyond repair, figure out where you can take the materials to be recycled. This is definitely not as good an option as actually fixing it up, but it's way better than throwing it in a dumpster. After you take the furniture apart, you might be able to use the wood, fabric, stuffing (or whatever else is involved) in new craft projects.

Otherwise, try giving materials to someone else:

  • Earth 911 can help you find a wood recycler in your area.
  • Smartwood lists companies that use reclaimed wood in their products, and you may be able to donate to them directly.
  • Local schools might be interested in materials for art supplies.
  • Salvage yards like Urban Ore in Berkeley take materials for reuse.

(Image: Flickr member Orin Zebest licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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