So You’re Using Quarantine to Declutter. Here’s What to Do With the Stuff
You’re stuck at home for the indefinite future. No better time to make your home a more enjoyable place to exist in, right? Well, sort of. While it’s never a bad thing to de-clutter your space (you’d be surprised how much an organized home contributes to productivity and mood!) there are best practices for decluttering during a pandemic. Especially if you’re planning to donate the things you’re casting aside.
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Whether your favorite donation center is closed or you’re not sure how to drop off donated goods in the safest way possible, here’s everything you need to know about getting rid of your stuff during COVID-19.
What should I do with the things I declutter during self-quarantine?
KonMari consultant Jenny Albertini, founder of Declutter DC, also works as a public health advisor at the U.S. State Department. While you may feel inspired to reflect on and implement your personal vision for your home, she says it’s important to shift your personal perspective outward during COVID-19. “We’re in a moment of collective concern for others—there’s a lot more discussion around how we can care for our neighbors and communities, even when we can’t be close,” she says.
The short of it: Your belongings can harbor potentially harmful germs, which you definitely shouldn’t pass on. Plus, dropping off donated goods could also overwhelm an under-staffed charity. So it’s more important than ever to be strategic with donations.
Practically, what does it look like to consider your hypothetical neighbors’ well being as you declutter? It may mean you spend time decluttering your home, but instead of running out the door to donate, you consider a number of safer alternatives for the time being. If you have extra space in your home, like a basement or attic, Albertini recommends setting up a holding area where you keep bags or bins of stuff you want to get rid of. If you live in a small space, put those belongings in the trunk or your car or just relegate them to the closet you just cleared out.
“Focus on the vision of decluttering and organizing your home without physically letting go of everything at the moment,” Albertini says. “Get it all packaged and ready to give away once the restrictions on movement are released.”
Are donation centers open during the coronavirus crisis?
It depends on the center—but as long as sheltering-in-place is in effect in your area, expect some changes to your normal donation routine.
For example, Lauren Lawson-Zilai, senior director of public relations at Goodwill, says nearly 85 percent of Goodwill stores are closed. “As a result of COVID-19, our local Goodwill nonprofit organizations across the U.S. are handling and processing donations based on recommendations from local government and health officials,” she says.
The stores that are accepting donations are handling them with safety in mind, using a variety of cleaning supplies as well as holding donations for a period of days. Some stores are asking donors to place their donations directly into a container to limit exposure to employees and the public. “For those Goodwills unable to accept donations at this time, we encourage the public to hold on to them,” Lawson-Zilai says. To check if the Goodwill in your area is open, search your zip code on goodwill.org or call 1-800-GOODWILL.
What about charities like homeless or women’s shelters?
Whether these organizations are open and accepting donations depends on the city you’re in. The important thing to consider is how to donate responsibly. Albertini says many non-profit organizations are financially strained or understaffed due to the pandemic, and dropping off a huge bin of goods they don’t actually need could be more overwhelming than helpful. (Something that’s always welcome? A cash donation, if you’re able and inspired to offer support.)
Even if local shelters are open, the types of donations they will take on may vary. Most shelters have a need for the same things we’re trying to get at the store—cleaning supplies, paper towels, and toilet paper. Unopened sample sizes of personal care items could also make good donations as more and more people seek shelter and resources. Albertini recommends calling the shelter to coordinate a donation.
Can I mail donations?
The short answer: Yes. The mail system is still operating, and many donate-by-mail organizations are still accepting contributions (such as prison book programs and ThredUp, who is partnering with Feeding America to turn your donations into cash for food banks).
However, since so many people are ordering supplies or groceries, the mail system is also under considerable strain. “If something isn’t urgent to send out or order online, consider not doing it right now,” Albertini says. “The more people can wait to mail or dispose of things, the more we can minimize the burden on donation systems and the mail system.”
What are the best practices for sanitary donating? Should I disinfect everything?
If a donation center is open and your donations are on par, great! Chances are, the organization or person accepting the donation will disinfect your things before using them. But that doesn’t eradicate your responsibility as the donator. Albertini recommends wiping donated goods down with an alcohol-based wipe (always follow instructions on the package) and placing them in a clean bag. Try to have clean hands, too, when you’re passing off a donation, and maintain social distancing guidelines to leave 6 feet or more between people.