Inside: Learn facts on donating clutter so that you can make informed decisions on what to do with your unwanted stuff.

Once or twice a year, most of us roll up our sleeves and give our space a deep clean. And as part of that process, it’s common to clear out some clutter. 

That clutter often ends up in a donation pile.

Clothes and shoes you no longer wear, books you won’t read again, art and tchotchkes that no longer bring joy, pots and pans you don’t need, furniture you’ve replaced or outgrown – all of it can find a new home where it’ll be used and appreciated… right?

Not so fast, actually.

While many people think their donated items end up directly in the hands of those in need, that isn’t the reality. Donating stuff isn’t so simple.

In fact, you’d be surprised to see just what happens to the stuff you drop off at donation facilities. 

It’s important to know these facts on donating clutter so that you can make an informed decision on what to do with your unwanted items.

facts on donating clutter

5 Surprising Facts on Donating Clutter That You Might Not Know

The statistics on clutter tell us that we have a stuff problem, which leads to a challenge on what to do with unwanted stuff.

If you haven’t done your research on donating stuff in your area, it’s easy to assume that everything you drop off at a donation center will make its way to those who could need it most.

Dropping stuff off at Goodwill or a public donation bin is the easy solution, especially when you’re looking to get rid of it quickly. But, unfortunately, it might not be the most effective way to make a positive impact. 

While some of your donations will likely help families who need them, that isn’t 100% true. Here are a few facts on donating clutter that should know first:

needy person

#1: Not all donations go to people in need.

Planet Aid collects unwanted clothes in bins, but instead of giving those clothes to the needy, they sell most of the goods and only 15% of that income goes into programming to help people.

Many of us think that by donating stuff to a charitable organization, it’ll go straight into the hands of those who need it most. 

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

There are all kinds of charitable organizations out there, from local operations to massive nation-wide initiatives. The extent to which your donations end up truly helping people depends on how each organization operates, and what they actually do with your stuff.

Some truly do ensure your donations go to those who need it most in your local community. But many turn around and sell your donations for a profit. And that profit isn’t always used in the best interest of those in need. 

Price Increases

Additionally, many thrift shops have drastically increased the prices of the items they sell. Unfortunately, it’s made it more challenging for people to shop there.

Since all of the items are donated, one would hope that people who don’t have significant means could buy items there.

Sadly in recent years, the prices have gone up considerably making it cost-prohibitive for the community that they work to serve. Some are finding it cheaper to shop at Walmart than at Goodwill.

facts on donating clutter

#2: A significant portion of donated clothes and clutter will be recycled – or thrown away.

90% of clothing donations made to the Goodwill or Salvation Army end up at textile recyclers.

Clothes are one of the most common items that people donate – and it’s easy to see why. As sizes and preferences change, we evaluate our wardrobe and make decisions about what we want to wear.

We think we’re doing something generous by dropping off bags of clothes at donation centers – but are we really

In some cases, the answer is yes. Some donated clothes do make it into the hands of people in need. But not as often as you think – and not always in your local community. 

Thrift stores often sell donated clothes for a profit. In a best-case scenario, most of those profits are used to support their community while also running the organization.

But if your donations don’t sell, or they’re determined to be in too poor condition to put on the sales floor, they’ll likely be sold off in bulk and shipped to a recycling center. There, they’ll be repurposed into textiles, rags, cleaning clothes, fabric filler, and all kinds of other stuff.

And in some cases? They end up straight in the landfill. Donated items that are dirty, damaged, or broken aren’t helpful. And they end up in donation bins more often than you may think. 

A short shelf life

While every organization is run a bit differently, I did some digging to understand how the donation process works at my local Goodwill.

I found out that donations that were in acceptable condition were in the store for one month. If they didn’t sell within that month, they were sent to the Goodwill Outlet (which is an experience in and of itself).

The outlet sells items in dumpsters that are rolled out quickly. When items don’t get any takers in a short period of time, they’re either crushed in the trash compactor in the back, thrown in the garbage, or sent off to a textile recycler.

While there is a lot of waste created in this process, I can’t fully fault donation organizations. When shows like Tidying Up come out and a massive amount of donations come in all at once, there is simply no way to keep up with that volume of stuff.


#3: Your donations can hurt the environment.

The average American throws away 81 pounds of clothes each year even though most of them could be recycled.

Donated stuff that ends up in the landfill adds up and creates a negative impact on the environment. 

And many donations are actually shipped far from their location of origin. For example, lots of clothes are shipped to sub-Saharan Africa to help those in need.

While your donation is helping someone in this situation, it’s also contributing to pollution as it’s being shipped thousands of miles across the world. Not ideal. It also leads to this next unfortunate fact on donating clutter…

facts on donating clutter

#4: Your donations can hurt the economy in third-world countries.

Kenya’s garment industry went from creating 500,000 jobs years ago to just 20,000 in 2017.

An unfortunate side effect of much of our secondhand clothes being sent to third-world countries is that it’s negatively impacted their own textile industry.

One example is in Kenya where decades ago 500,000 had jobs working in the garment industry. But as of 2017, only 20,000 people had jobs in that industry. Instead of continuing to produce their own goods, they’ve shifted to sending secondhand clothes domestically.

Zambia is a similar example where their clothing industry has largely been shut down due to donated imports. It’s undercut their market so that people could no longer afford locally made pieces.

The continual inflow of clothing from North America makes it nearly impossible for these countries to create competitive products. Unfortunately, that decreases their industry and hurts their economy.

wealthy man

#5: Your donations are helping to pay some CEOs a considerable salary.

Years ago, an image went viral on social media that (incorrectly) showed how much the presidents and CEOs of some of the largest charity organizations in the United States were making. Unfortunately, the data shared wasn’t entirely accurate.

However, in trying to do my own research into what some of the CEOs of the bigger organizations make, it was difficult to find any recent data.

What I did find was that James Gibbons, the CEO of Goodwill Industries until 2018, received $598,300 in 2017 (source). The current CEO, Steven Preston, received a salary of $729,000 in 2019 (source).

Goodwill refutes that any of their CEOs have ever made millions of dollars per year. However, they are well paid and some of the higher-ups in the organization make almost a million per year.

Goodwill Industries does provide programs and support within their communities so it’s worth noting the positive impact that they have as well.

Not all companies are created equal when it comes to helping the needy. Some are contributing the vast majority of their earnings to programming. Unfortunately, others contribute significantly less to their community.

There are some big differences in the way various organizations run as well as how much their CEOs make.

If nothing else, this is a good opportunity to dig into how these non-profits run to see what percentage of each dollar goes back into the community. Then you can make informed decisions on which organizations you want to support.

In number two of the tips below on what to do with the stuff you don’t need, we’ll offer some resources to help.

facts on donating clutter

4 Tips on What Should You Do With Stuff You Don’t Need

Given the facts on donating clutter, what should you do with things you no longer want? Does this mean you shouldn’t donate your clutter to charity?

Not quite!

Donating your stuff is still better than tossing it straight in the trash – as long as you do it right. Keep these tips in mind as you determine how to best get rid of your clutter.

1. Consider selling unwanted items.

Selling your unwanted items could help keep items from going to waste while also putting a little money in your pocket.

There are some things to take into consideration when selling your items, but listing select things online for a competitive price can be a great win-win.

The buyer finds something they need or want for a deal and you get to make a bit of money while preventing the items from going into a landfill.

If the idea of trying to sell your things is completely overwhelming or unappealing, read on for three tips on how to donate wisely.

woman doing research on a computer

2. Do your research before donating to a charitable organization.

The most important thing you can do before making any kind of donation – physical or monetary – is do some research.

Look into the organization and see what you can learn. What reputation does it have? How transparent is it? What do they actually do with donations? What percent of their income actually goes to helping people?

You can ask your friends, search for feedback in community forums and Facebook groups, and check out a charity’s website.

Take a look at independent third-party websites like Charity Watch or Charity Navigator. They’ll give you an overview of the organization’s practices, profits, and more. 

facts on donating clutter

3. Whenever possible, donate directly to those in need.

You can ensure your donations go to someone who needs them by facilitating that transaction directly. Cut out the middleman and find someone who could personally benefit from your stuff.

Websites like Facebook, Nextdoor, and Craigslist can be really helpful for this. Join your local Buy Nothing group and gift your items there.

Find specific groups in your neighborhood or simply share with those you know and ask them if anyone in their network could benefit from the stuff you no longer want.

Chances are, you won’t have too much difficulty finding someone who needs it. Given the rising costs of virtually everything, being able to donate within your community can provide much-appreciated help while decreasing waste.

woman considering a purchase

4. Don’t buy so much stuff in the first place. 

The best thing you can do to eliminate clutter is to avoid it altogether.

By shifting your shopping habits to reflect the “less is more” mentality, you’ll stop the cycle of clutter. And you may even have more money to donate to those in need. 

By being conservative with your purchases and sticking to stuff you truly need, you can reduce waste while minimizing the clutter in your space. 

And by making monetary donations to charities that do meaningful work in your community, you can often make a bigger impact than you can by donating stuff. What many people who are struggling really need goes beyond your unwanted clutter.

Not only do charities typically have vetting processes to ensure the recipients of their help truly need it, but they also have access to better pricing, special suppliers, and other avenues that get them “more bang for your buck” as well as providing other necessary services and support.

Which of the facts on donating clutter surprised you most? Comment here and let me know! 

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  1. I stopped giving to Goodwill a long time ago when I discovered how much the CEO made. I usually donate to Salvation Army but I found out some disturbing facts about them this past year. They no longer take used furniture that isn’t in very good condition because they only want the best so people with money will buy it. The poorer people who would not mind used furniture are being cheated out of the opportunity and are left to buy cheap junk stuff. The reason they gave me was they were having to pay too much to dispose of stuff. Their purpose now is to run the recovery programs and not to take care of the less fortunate consumers. I can appreciate the cost they have to dispose of unwanted stuff but there should be a way for people to still get good solid furniture that is slightly used. Used clothing is a big problem also and people do need to be aware of it. Your article does a good job of that. I have become a much better consumer since reading your articles. I always ask myself now if it is a want or a need. Most times I do not then buy it.

    1. I have to second this, I am also disgusted with Goodwill and Salvation Army and their practices. I do not donate to them since I live in a place where there are better options, thankfully! In the past I have lived where they are the only stores that take donations and had them refuse items for no reason. Very wasteful and they are not community oriented.

    2. My Aunt Marianne used to hold rummage sales at her house for the purpose of giving things to the families who needed it. She took whatever they offered and sometimes they couldn’t pay anything. Her purpose was genuinely loving those less fortunate and giving them all she had to give. -In loving 🥰 memory of Tante Marianne Herrwick

    3. My favorite donation organization is Vietnam Veterans of America. Their website is very easy to use…and user-friendly. I live in the Washington DC Metro area…and when I want to arrange a pickup for a donation – I goto the website, select a date, indicate my address, indicate how many boxes there will be and what the items in the donation are.

      The organizaiton uses a group “Pick-up Please” and they come to your home and get the items and leave a door tag indicating that they picked up the donation. I always have them knock on my door since my donations are usually a large group of things…and I have them in my garage…and need to open the garage door. Although I don’t need to – I’ll usually help the solo guy with putting stuff into the truck.

      VVA accepts a wide variety of items…except large furniture. All you need to do is look at what they will or will not accept on their website.

      I recommended this group to a friend who lives in another State….and found out that the group doesn’t pickup at her home…but she could do a drop off at a specified location.

      Something to consider for furniture donations. Depending on the group – check with Habitat Restore…sometime they take furniture and will pickup depending on what you have.

      The other options to consider – is resale – via used furniture sites. Each one has their different conditions…some will pickup if you’re in the area they cover…or you can drop off.

      On another note, about 10 years ago, I used a junk removal company to take away an older tv and yes, I paid for them to do this – depends on the amount of “stuff” you’re attempting to get rid of. The price is calculated by how much of the truck you fill up (1/4 vs 3/4 quarters).

      You will need to check with the Junk Removal Company that you used as to what they do with the furniture that is usable…they often will donate the items to church groups, etc. But then they provide you with a follow-up email & receipt indicating which Items were donated on your behalf – so that you can claim the donation on your taxes.

      On another note, you might be asking how VVA uses the things you donated. Don’t assume the physical items are going towards military….it’s not. What the VVA does, is sell of your items…to other groups….and then the money/proceeds is then used towards items that military vets/families need. Purple Heart org does the same thing.

      When I donate items, I write down (itemize) everything that I’m donating on a pad of paper…and the number of boxes in each donation….which later gets transcribed into an excel spreadsheet that eventually gets printed and included with my tax returns.

      The link for the website is listed if you’re interested.

      As previously mentioned, I like donating to this group as they come to my home for pickup…and I select the date when I’m ready to donate. All that I have to make sure is the items are ready for pickup day.

      Good luck.

    4. I worked for a charity managing a second hand clothing shop for 18 years. The reason that charities do not accept some furniture donations is that even people with low socioeconomic means will not accept damaged or furniture they deem unacceptable. Most are very fussy, even though it is being given to them. A mark or chip can make an item unacceptable to many. People should also be treated with dignity and given the opportunity to purchase, at a lesser cost to them, their own items. Many people do not want things at no cost. They want to feel that they can make choices and pay for what they receive for their self esteem. When charities accept furniture which cannot be passed on, it is expensive to “dump!” With clothing, most of the synthetic clothing cannot be recycled and has to be dumped. Again, most people are selective in what they wear, and so they should be. They should not be expected to wear clothes with holes or which are not suitable for them. Self esteem is so important to everyone, even those without homes etc.

    5. Salvation Army also sells items for a ridiculous price. It’s free, some people shopping can’t afford those prices.

  2. I heard about the textile recycling and am not surprised. I had been donating clothing to Goodwill and using Buy Nothing for everything else. Of course not everything gets picked, so I now take things to our local working wardrobe program (for good clothing and accessories) and the rest goes to our local AIDS thrift store. But acquiring less in the first place is what we all need to do.

  3. I donate a lot of clothing to The Mustard Seed, an organization that gives the items directly to homeless people.
    I also give clothing and other items to people who ask for help or a Facebook group called Calgary Kindness.

  4. When donating fabric or clothing, please be sure it is clean! My daughter works for a charity shop and has to empty those large black bags to sort clothing for the racks. It is amazing to me that people donate clothes they are too lazy to wash. Last week she came down with poison ivy that apparently came from clothing she had handled. If it is badly stained, but clean, it can be recycled as fabric. If it is dirty, it goes straight into the landfill bags. It costs the charitable organization time and money to dispose of what could have been handled at home. Thanks for the helpful article.

  5. Our church has a Clothes Closet for anyone in the community coming for clothing assistance (babies through adults). Members of the congregation donate usable, clean, gently worn, unneeded clothing, shoes and accessories to the all-volunteer-run local charity. Needed items are sometimes announced and requested at church services for harvest season, winter warmth or career clothes. We often hear words of gratitude. Knowing the clients served helps determine what best to donate to this charity.

  6. I donate to local charity shops when I can. The one I prefer to donate to does actually sell the clothes cheaply and locally, then after they have been on the rack for a while the clothes that didn’t sell go in the free bin for the homeless and needy to take. I even will dig stained, worn, or otherwise ruined articles of clothing out of the bins to use as shop rags, rather than paying for rags at the store. It’s certainly not ideal that some of the stuff does get thrown away, but I know this place helps local people and I even shop there for jeans and such since their prices are very reasonable and I’m not wealthy myself. Donating is better than just tossing usable goods.

  7. A person can donate nice clothes for battered women who need nice clothes to go back to work. Most cities have programs for women and their families. Check with a pastor or department of health and warfare. Less fortunate people don’t realize clothes need to be clean before donating . I’ve worked in a local thrift shop. Very sad about goodwill! I don’t donate there!
    Why do foreign countries take our donated clothes when it hurts their economy? I thought it went out to places where they actually needed them.

  8. I donate good coats socks hats gloves to my hospital. Many times they treat homeless that come in with lice and are given a fresh set of clothes.

  9. is the information in this post all based on the USA experience?
    Or are there UK examples here- important to know that!

  10. Disappointed this article doesn’t actually give useful tips for recycling & earth consciously getting rid of items. Earth911 is a good resource & several clothing/ shoe manufacturers offer textile recycling at their locations.

  11. I have a lot of old magazines that I am not sure what to do with. they are handy man with plans with project plans for woodworking. What can I do with them? Thank you!

    1. Donate them to the Vietnam Veterans of America. They will accept your magazines and any books to include text books. About 4 years ago, I donated all my national geographics and their cases. It was a huge relief to be able to get rid of them after transporting them around for 30 years.

  12. Join the Buy Nothing community (or set one up in your area) Been using it for years to recycle, reuse, rehome, re-purpose…not only does it reduce products from landing in landfills but it also fosters a great networking community….I highly recommend!

  13. St Vincent de Paul is a wonderful charity that sells your donations for charity fundraising, but also provides clothing and household items to people who are in need after a fire or disaster. As a single parent from many years thrift stores and garage sales were how I kept my children and myself clothed.

  14. In our town we have a furniture bank, similar to the food bank. People donate furniture, household goods, kitchen wares, bedding and such. It is a great organization we have donated to several times.

  15. It’s sad that a lot of battered women’s shelters that done accept donated clothing. They do give vouchers to shop at local second hand stores they are affiliated with. I try to donate to those stores.

  16. I often wish I could hire you to decluttered my entire small apartment!!!
    Thank you so much for all your wonderful information.

  17. Hi, I’m in the U.K. and don’t have a car. I have been decluttering for a few months now and take a bag at a time to the local shops.

    There are approx 5 charity shops there. I do see books that I have donated on the shelves to sell. I never donate to the cancer research (even though I had cancer) as a relative worked high up and left as she was disgusted at the high salary they paid her!!!

    They also charge a lot to buy the donated goods. Books are double!

    I don’t know if the author of this article knows anything about U.K. charities but I have nowhere else that I can get to!

    Thanks, Melanie

  18. Consider donating clean used appropriate clothing to NURSING HOMES ( call and see if they will accept it.)
    Some people in care facilities may not have family who will buy them new clothes as their old clothing wears out.
    (Also, large bibs may be made from men’s/ladies shirts that allow dignity for the seniors, and adaptive clothing may be made from larger sizes.)

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