10 July 2020


Why you shouldn’t donate your unwanted stuff to charity shops (and what to do instead)

Last week, I walked by one of my local charity shops and saw this. 

Just in case you can’t see the photo, it shows a LOT of stuff (mostly clothing) that people have dumped on the street outside the shop doors.

This would be bad enough during ‘normal’ times (although less likely to happen). Right now, this shop isn’t even open. While shops in the UK were allowed to reopen from 15th June, charity shops are likely to find this more difficult, as they rely so heavily on volunteers. 

I know of at least one charity shop near me that has reopened its doors but this one has not. 

And yet multiple persons have decided it’s ok to leave the stuff they no longer want outside it. Who’s going to sort through it all? Who’s going to sell it? Who’s going to want to buy stuff that’s been left to get rained on (and possibly much worse – eeeww)?

The most likely destination for this stuff is the bin, sadly.

Now, perhaps there were extreme circumstances going on here. It’s easy to judge but let’s give the people who dumped it the benefit of the doubt. 

However, it got me thinking. There are probably thousands, of people across the UK who have used this lockdown period to declutter their homes and are now about to descend on the charity shops (hopefully the ones that are actually open).

The charity shops are going to be inundated with donations – more so than ever before.

Why is donating stuff to charity shops a problem?

Even before lockdown spurred many on to have a clear out, charity shops were struggling with the amount of clothes and other items that they’re just not able to resell (used underwear, anyone?).

For years, a large proportion of donated goods have been sent to landfill (or the incinerator) or sent for recycling. A lot of it is also shipped overseas for resale in developing nations. Unfortunately, much of this also ends up being dumped.

We’ve been treating the charity shops like a bin and, right now, it feels like they’re going to be treated like a skip.

I completely understand the urge to get rid of everything you’ve purged from your home as quickly as possible. But if we have a little patience, we can ensure that our unwanted possessions are actually rehomed and continue to get used, rather than contributing to the unmanageable amount of waste.

So, what are the alternatives to donating things to a charity shop? Here are just a few other options for giving your unwanted possessions a new lease of life.

Neighbours, family or friends

The fastest, easiest and possibly nicest way to rehome your belongings is by giving them to people you know. You might even know exactly who could benefit from an item without having to ask.

But do ask them first, otherwise it could end up benign someone else’s unwanted possession.

At the start of lockdown, a neighbour started a Whatsapp group for our street, to support each other. It started as a way to get essential supplies to those who couldn’t get to the shop. Quite quickly, it became a way for us to share surplus food, lend/borrow tools (and other items) and find a new home for the things we no longer need/want.

If you haven’t got a group like this for your street, perhaps you could start one?

Local Facebook groups

Where I live, in Sheffield, there are countless Facebook groups for local areas of the city and for selling or giving away items. If you’re not already a member of any such groups, a quick search of your town/city/region on Facebook should bring up some useful results. 

Perhaps you’re not on Facebook and don’t want to be. You could potentially start an account purely to be able to access these groups – you don’t have to post anything. I would also change the settings, so you don’t get any notifications, if you’re concerned about social media being an unnecessary distraction.

Another thing to look for on Facebook is the Buy Nothing Project. It’s a global movement that originated in the states but now has groups around the world, including the UK. It is all about giving freely from our own abundance to fulfil the needs of others, preventing things from going to waste and preserving resources.

I first heard about it a couple of years ago but there was no group where I live. So, at the start of this year, I started one for my neighbourhood. If you haven’t got a group in your area, perhaps you could start one too.

Freebie sites and apps

Freecycle and Freegle have been around for quite a while now. They are a great place to give away items or find something you need for free. 

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Even things you might think no one would want can get snapped up for upcycling/art projects or for parts. 

A newer kid on the block is the Olio app. It’s great for giving away surplus or unwanted food, as well as non-food items. I’ve given away a few things using the app, from a bottle of sauce I couldn’t eat to a bedside table. Check it out and spread the word. The more people using it, the more items we can save from going to landfill.

The Bermuda Triangle

No, I don’t mean fly your stuff over to the Bermuda coast for it to be mysteriously lost at sea.

In the US sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, Ted and Marshall would leave things they no longer wanted on the pavement outside their apartment. By the time they turned around, it would be gone. They called this little patch of ‘sidewalk’ the Bermuda Triangle.

Ok, so this method perhaps doesn’t work that quickly. However, you might find it’s faster than the other options listed here.

It’s also a lot more convenient, of course – especially if it’s a bulky item.

I’ve given away a few items this way in the past. It’s not my preference, because I like to have an idea of where it’s going to and that it will actually be used, but I’d still try this before taking something to the charity shop (especially at the moment).

Sell them

Some people prefer selling in-person via car boot / garage / yard sales. These can be a great way to get a bit of cash for the items we no longer want. However, the current situation means these probably aren’t going to be the preferred option for a while.

Selling our things online was becoming more popular even before the covid pandemic and now, social distancing guidance really makes it the go-to option.

Most people will have used eBay to buy or sell something these days. It’s free to list an item but they take 10% of the total price an item sells for (including postage). Look out for their £1 maximum selling fee offers.

Alternatively, you could use Preloved, which offers completely free listings. You can upgrade to a paid account to give your listings priority in search results.

Another free option is Facebook marketplace. I find it a particularly good option for items I want the buyer to collect in person.

If you’re selling clothes, check out the Depop app. I’ve only recently downloaded it and I haven’t used it to sell anything yet – but it looks good. They charge a 10% fee (same as eBay). For designer, retro or vintage clothing, this might be a good option.

Repair, repurpose or upcycle

If you’re getting rid of something because it’s tatty or broken, consider if you can fix it, give it a face-lift or turn it into something else that you will actually use.

For those new to repurposing or upcycling, there are SO many ideas and how-to guides on the internet. A quick search should give you enough inspiration to get you started. Alternatively, ask a creative friend to help you or put a call out for ideas on social media.

If an item is broken but you still need or love it, and would look to replace it, why not have a go at fixing it? Again, a quick search on the internet should bring up some useful how-to articles and videos.

Alternatively, look to see if you have a repair cafe in your area. A group of volunteers will help you to fix/mend it for free (or a small donation to help cover the costs of hiring the space and purchasing tools/parts). If they can’t fix it, they’ll be able to signpost you to someone who can.

I’ve seen an incredible array of items being given a new lease of life at my local repair cafe – from a lawnmower to a games console controller and from jeans being patched to a shower curtain being turned into a rain cover for a wheelchair.

Of course, it’s okay to donate items (in good condition) to charity shops. It just needs to stop being our default option.

If you do have some bits that you want to take to a charity shop, give the shop a call first, just to make sure they’re ready to take donations.

Have you used any of these avenues to pass your unwanted stuff on to others? Have you rescued something you may otherwise have thrown away? Is there something missing from my list? Let me know, below in the comments.

Photos my own, please do not use without permission.


charity, charity shops, decluttering, donations, eco living, ethical living, green living, intentional living, less stuff, less waste, living with less, low impact, low waste, re, recycle, reduce, reducereuserecycle, rehome, repair, repurpose, repurposing, rethink, simple living, slow living, sustainability, sustainable living

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  1. I find it disgusting that charity shops throw out perfectly good items. I'm sure not all charity shops do this. However there is a particular kids charity shop which EVERY day throws out bags of perfectly good items. I rang them as couldn't believe that the bags of items in First Mile 'recycling' bags were really going to landfill. The shop confirmed they were. I have gone through them some nights and taken loads of perfectly good items. I felt really embarrassed to do it but it made me feel sick to see them go to waste. It's disgusting. I sold some on gumtree and donated to a worthy cause. I would advise others to do so.

  2. I have worked in a charity shop for six years, stuff does get thrown away, which I hated the idea of at first, but all the available space in the premises is ABSOLUTELY packed out with stuff, the room out the back basically has a thin pathway of carpet not covered in stuff, to pass through to the adjoining garage, which has a thin path through to outside. The one section in the first room, i've never seen the floor after working there six years.
    Clothes never get thrown away, any that are damaged are sold by weight as rags and they get recycled after shredding, same if someone brings in a bag of damaged worn clothes marked 'rags'. We do sell used underwear, normal product, just like other clothes, anything such as jeans or clothing with an armpit has the potential to be nasty if in bad condition. People bring in general items that are damaged or dirty etc., like the shop was a rubbish tip, so they need to be thrown away. The biggest throwaway is all the carrier bags full of books, we use what we can, but there is so many! The manager lets me have the pick of any books they throw out, apart from what I like, I do take some just to donate to other charity shops, I feel they take in a lot less due to location, our shop is near a roadside with a parking strip, so perfect for customer ease of parking. I also donate the ones I have, when i've read them.

    Our company nationally, I think they raise about 30 million pounds for charity, so a lot of good comes out of it all at the end.

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