Clothing: Clothes are easy to send on to a new life to thrift shops and donation services. Some of them will make arrangements to pick up your donations at home or work. A number of outfits have arrangements to pick up the clothes as well as stores where you can take them for donation. At Goodwill (see locator.Goodwill.org for retail locations), if they can’t repair the clothes for sale, they’ll recycle old clothing scraps into industrial wipes (cleaning cloths) for industrial buyers. Other organizations also have thrift stores, such as the Salvation Army. Call 800-728-7825 for details.
Financial Documents: Those you can typically keep for a year or less and then shred include: Bank deposits and ATM receipts (keep until you reconcile with monthly statements); credit-card bills (unless you need to prove a charitable deduction or warranty); insurance policies (keep until your new policy comes); monthly investment statements (shred when new statements arrive); pay stubs (keep until you reconcile with your annual W-2 form); and receipts you’re not using to itemize tax deductions or return merchandise. (Find out how long to keep tax records and other documents.)
Furniture: Try selling unwanted furniture on Craigslist or eBay. Early spring and back-to-school are the hot seasons, though you’ll need to market skillfully. “No photo is the most common mistake,” says Martin Herbst, general manager of eBay Classifieds U.S. “Bad photo is the second most common.” Shoot for decent lighting and spare styling.
Charities accept furniture if it’s in decent shape—no broken parts or big rips or stains. The Salvation Army and some Goodwill programs provide pickup service, usually within 48 hours, and tax receipts. Or try Freecycle.org, a members site where you can give and get goods free.
If the furniture is shot, ask your trash collector about curbside pickup. Haul it to the curb a day early and put a “free” sign on it, in case someone might want it. You can also hire services such as 1-800-Got-Junk and Bagster to haul away your old furniture.
Junk Mail: The Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail and email from national companies (at least those that are registered with the service) for five years. Go to www.dmachoice.org.
Linens: Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores accept towels, sheets, curtains, and such. To donate well-worn towels, call your local animal shelter. Often they take them to use for pet bedding and/or for cleanup rags.
Mattresses: They are the stuff of landfill nightmares. If you’re buying a new mattress, the retailer may take away the old one, but try to find out what happens to it. Some retailers dismantle the mattress and recycle its components. If not, the mattress goes to the dump. If it’s in good condition, offer it to shelters for the homeless or battered women, or the Salvation Army. Otherwise, look for a local recycler online or by searching at www.earth911.com; you’ll probably have to pay a fee. Hauling the mattress to the curb for regular trash pickup is a last resort, but be sure to check with your sanitation department. Some communities require mattresses to be wrapped in heavy plastic and sturdy tape to seal in any bugs. (Check our mattress buying guide and Ratings to find the bed that’s right for you.)
Tools: Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift shops and similar outlets often take used tools. Check yours or go to www.earth911.com, a national clearinghouse for all types or recycling, for details in your area.