How to Actually Rid Your Apartment of The Things You’ve Decided to Donate

published Oct 7, 2016
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Marathon runners will tell you that the last mile is the toughest. And so it goes (in, admittedly, a lesser way) for organizing your apartment. The journey from kitchen or closet to a box by the front door might feel like a mission in itself, but getting that box out to a donation center, resale shop or just to the recycling—that might be even harder.

So step five of The Great Small Space Cleanout is dedicated to just one thing: Picking up and sorting through the things you’ve decided to clear out and, perhaps most importantly, taking them where they belong. It’s a plan to empower you to make the best and most sustainable choices with your unwanted things to keep your well-meaning piles from becoming a burden.

From Step 1: Paperwork

You should have two things left over from paperwork day: your “To Shred” and “To Recycle” piles.

To Shred

Anything that feels semi-confidential (like a letter from your bank without any account numbers on it) can be torn three or four times and tossed with the recycling. Everything else that absolutely requires shredding should be taken to a company that offers a proper shredding service (your local FedEx is one). If you happen to have a shredder or shredding shears at home, that will work too, just know that thinly shredded paper can’t be recycled by most programs, so just drop the shreds into the trash.

To Recycle

If you don’t have a recycling pick up in your neighborhood, Google “[your city] recycling” to find a recycling center nearby. You’ll need to do a bit of sorting first, though. You need to check with your municipality or local recycling program for a complete list of what can and cannot be recycled where you live—but here is a quick cheat sheet of things you might find in your paper pile that may not be recyclable:

  • Wax paper
  • Wrapping paper
  • Paper or cardboard lined with plastic (i.e. bubblewrap envelopes)
  • Waxed/waterproof cardboard
  • Dirty/greasy paper
  • Sticky notes

And don’t forget to remove staples and paperclips!

(Image credit: Ana Kamin)

From Step 2: Kitchen

Your donate box should be the only thing left over from step two in the kitchen, filled with things like canned soup you weren’t going to eat, or pots and pans you almost never use. You have two options with these things: Give them to friends, or give them to charity.

A Quick Note on Resale: Selling your in-good-condition items is always an option, of course. But I find that most people, once they’ve decided that resale is the route they’d like to go, tend to procrastinate on taking photos and actually getting their listings up. Decide for yourself if the money or the time is more valuable to you.

If you know friends who could use your extra plates or kitchen tools, pass it on to them, of course. But if not, here are a few places you can take your donation items from day two:


Search for a nearby food bank via the Feeding America website or


Your local Goodwill or Salvation Army would love to take your gently used kitchen gear from you, or search Zealous Good to help connect you to specific charities that are in need of exactly what you’re offering. From the Zealous Good website: “Many charities are in need of kitchen items including Friends of the Bessemer Bears, Child Link, Facing Forward to End Homelessness, Matthew House, Inc., and Street Level Youth Media.”

(Image credit: Emily Billings)

From Step 3: Bathroom

After spending step three in the bathroom, you should have one or two things to sort through: A donation box, and possibly some “trash box” medicine that needs to be disposed of properly.

Bath and Beauty Products and Tools

The donate box from step three in the bathroom might contain items like unopened makeup, toiletries, styling tools or extra towels. Again, you can pass these off to friends, or donate them to charitable organizations. If you decide to go the donation route, homeless shelters and women’s shelters are a great destination for these sorts of goods. If you don’t know of one nearby, the Homeless Shelter Directory and can help.


The other thing you’re left with after step three is potentially some expired or just unused medicine to get rid of. Many medicines include instructions on their packaging about the best way to dispose of them. If not, consult this resource from the FDA.

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

From Day 4: Wardrobe

Handling step four’s stuff might just be the easiest. The result of your wardrobe cleanup is three bags of clothing, each with its own predetermined destination. Gather up your dry cleaner, tailor and shoe repair bags and load them into a car to be carted off to the professionals.

There’s a reason that we scheduled “get rid of it”-day to fall on a Friday: You can and should take the weekend to make sure that everything you’ve cleaned out from your apartment ends up where it’s meant to go. This final step is a key moment in the whole process—it’s the dot of the “i” and the cross of the “t” which helps you to close the book on your cleanout and finally relish in your neater, more organized space.

At the end of the weekend, when everything is out of the apartment and on its way to people who will appreciate it far more than you did, I’d love for you to come back and share your thoughts about The Great Small Space Cleanout with me and the rest of Apartment Therapy’s readers!

Missed anything so far?