De-cluttering: Where to donate, recycle or sell unwanted things.

13/08/2020

When tackling a clear-out, it can feel wasteful to throw things away. Fortunately, many services, online platforms and apps can help our old stuff to find a second life. This blog is a rundown of some of the donating and re-selling methods available; what's good about them and the limit of their usefulness.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

When tackling a clear-out, a common barrier is to feel that it is wasteful to throw an item away. If a thing can be re-used or has monetary value, we hold onto it even if we do not use it. It's tempting to squirrel such a thing away in the back of a drawer until someday when we need it. In reality, 'someday' never arrives and all these 'useful' items are doing is taking up storage space.

Sustainability is very important to me and I hate waste, so when de-cluttering I want for the things I no longer need to be re-used wherever possible. The grey bin should be that absolute last resort! Fortunately, there are many services, online platforms and apps around which can help our old stuff to find a second life. Technology has really improved the second-hand goods market in the UK and it is easier than ever to pass things on to new owners.

This blog is a rundown of some of the sharing and re-selling methods available; what's good about them and the limit of their usefulness. Different types of stuff sells better in different places so I've given a steer on what you should take where. Note I'm not trying to advertise any of the brands or services here, rather to offer advice based on my experience of using them to aid a de-cluttering journey.

Money Spinning

First, a word about money. Living with less and adopting a minimalist lifestyle can save you money in many ways and makes both your life and your bank balance richer. Minimalism and money is a topic I intend to explore in future blog posts (so look out for that one all you penny pinchers). However, any money made by selling goods is a secondary win. When de-cluttering, the real goal is transforming your home and cutting some dead-wood from your life. If there's some pocket money on the side, see this as a little extra.

If you can't sell an item reasonably quickly, it's best to forget about selling and find a way to discard it right away. For example, I posted a designer dress on Facebook Marketplace and on Ebay and it still hadn't sold after a couple of weeks. I could have sold that dress for around £100 if I found the right buyer, it was so exasperating. The dress was always in the back of my mind, nagging me to adjust it's selling price and check how many people had viewed it. Indeed, it had become everything I was trying to escape from with my de-cluttering! So, I took the dress and donated it to Oxfam. After all, I asked myself, "would I be happy to make a £100 donation to Oxfam?", the answer was yes. By donating the dress, I had freed myself from a frustrating task and supported a cause I cared about.

Where to Donate, Sell or Recycle Unwanted Things

Gumtree, Freegle and Facebook Marketplace

You can sell just about anything on Gumtree, Freegle or Facebook Marketplace. All three are quick and free to use. However, different types of things sell better on different platforms.

My advice is to go for a quick sale. Take a clear photo, add a brief description and choose an attractive price. The most efficient way to do this is through an app on your phone. You can take a photo of an item using your phone, fill in a few details and post the ad right away. This whole process should take less than five minutes. Both Gumtree and Freegle offer a free app, and you can access Facebook marketplace through the 'normal' Facebook app.

All communication can be done via the app so you need not share your phone number or email address with any unsavoury types (saying that, everyone I have done business with so far has been just lovely). Buyers can message you to agree a price and arrange collection.


Items for the home and garden sell well on Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace. You'll have most success with the following.

What should I sell on Gumtree?

  • Electronics eg: DVD player, radio
  • Small and Large Appliances eg: blender, fridge
  • Furniture eg: bookcase, dressing table
  • Homewares eg: lamp, rug
  • Bicycles
  • Gym Equipment
  • Hobby Items eg: craft materials, power tools.

Sell Bulky Items Locally

It's easier to sell large items on Gumtree, compared to Ebay, because the buyer will likely live nearby, therefor is able to collect. With large appliances and furniture, for example a fridge or a bookcase, it's best to offer at a very reasonable price and state in your listing that the buyer should organise their own collection, and delivery is not available. The last thing you need is the hassle of booking a courier or hiring a van! Just remember when pricing your item that your buyer is taking on the added expense of organising collection. Include measurements in your listing as you will definitely be asked for these if you neglect to include them.

Wild and Free

As the name suggests, you should post things on here that you want to give away for free. The website and app are not the prettiest, but it's still user-friendly and since Freegle is completely ran by volunteers I think we can let them off for that.

You can post things which you could sell but it might be quicker to get rid of them by using Freegle, for example a table. You can also post things which might be useful but don't have re-sale value, for example craft materials. One of my favourite Freegle experiences was giving a couple of boxes of fabric remnants to a lady who was teaching herself to sew. She gave me a couple of jars of home-made jam in gratitude! (Disclaimer: Do not expect payment in preserves for everything which you post on Freegle, you will be disappointed.)

What should I post on Freegle?

  • Anything also suitable for gumtree
  • Homewares, furniture and appliances
  • Hobby Items
  • Kitchen Utensils eg cutlery, pans
  • Tools and Gadgets eg: nails, screwdrivers
  • Gardening items eg: plant pots
  • Bundles of Children's Clothes
  • Children's Toys and Games, Baby Accessories

Bulk Buying Services

Books, CDs, DVDs and video games are commonly collected and shelved. It's likely you have quite a collection of at least one of these. All can be sold to a specialist bulk buyer, such as Music Magpie or We Buy Books. Both of these offer a free app to scan barcodes and get a quote for your collection. They'll send you a freepost label, then you simply pack everything into a box and post it to them.

If your books are in excellent condition, you absolutely could sell them individually over amazon or ebay, but no way would I ever recommend this. Selling books individually requires investment of time and money, with no guarantee that they will be bought at all. I'll say it again, the focus of de-cluttering is to restore order to your home and life, money-making is just a perk. If you use a bulk buying service, your books are sustainably re-used and you collect some pocket money as a bonus.

I say 'pocket money' as you should be prepared to earn only a meagre pittance per item sold to a bulk buyer. Expect each book to fetch around 20 pence with the occasional windfall of a book deemed worth £3.60 thrown in there. By my estimations, you can make around £10 per shelf of books. It's a similar case with music magpie, some CDs will be bought for less than 10 pence each.

The Benefits of Bulk Buyers:

  • Quick
  • Guaranteed Sale
  • Sustainable - all items will be reused or recycled

Some items won't be accepted by music magpie or we buy books, you can of course donate these to a charity shop or community library. For example, my local Tesco's has shelves of second-hand books near the entrance. Customers can take a book and donate to charity through an honesty box. If there's a similarly lovely community project near you, you might prefer to donate your books rather than sell.

If there's a book swap as cute as this near you, you might prefer to donate your books.
If there's a book swap as cute as this near you, you might prefer to donate your books.

Charity Shops and Door to Door Collections

Charity shops are my number one choice for donating clothes, shoes and accessories. Many also take books, children's toys and homewares. (The jury's out on what exactly is meant by 'bric-a-brac'.) Crucially, not every shop takes every thing, so be sure to check this before donating. You can always ask shop staff if there is anything in particular they need, or anything they don't want.

It's important to also think about the quality of what you are donating, is it in saleable condition? Would you happily give it to a friend? If the answer's no, the charity shop is not the right place for it. The last thing you want is for your donation to become dead-stock, or worse for the charity to have to pay to dispose of any of it.

Choose a charity you believe in and do some good with your clutter.
Choose a charity you believe in and do some good with your clutter.

Donating to charity is an easy way to sustainably discard items and has the additional benefit of helping worthy causes. Thinking back to my tale recounted earlier about giving my designer dress to Oxfam - contributing to charitable organisations feels good! Pick a charity you really believe in and make the most of your clutter.

Charities for Large Appliances and Furniture

Some charities offer free collection of large items such as beds, fridges and bookshelves. For example, where I live in Bolton, homeless charity Emmaus is great at this. British Heart Foundation also offer free collection of furniture in many areas. A quick google should reveal who's offering this service in your area.

I'd like to give a shout out to Emmaus Bolton as they are really doing great work with re-using and recycling all types of goods. Some charity shops cannot take donations of electricals because of safety regulations, whereas Emmaus can PAT test electrical items for safety. They also promise to recycle anything they cannot sell. As-well as large items, Emmaus take all the usual charity shop offerings like clothes, books and even the mysterious 'bric-a-brac'. Theoretically you could donate all your unwanted clutter to Emmaus and kill several birds with one free home collection.

Your Friends, Family and Colleagues

Usually, I don't recommend giving things away to friends and family because they may feel obliged to accept what you offer them even if they do not want it. It's likely you've personal experience of being the reluctant recipient. Who hasn't visited an older relative and somehow ended up with a crystal vase, some old plant pots and half a packet of crunchy nut cornflakes (real life examples, I promise)? The last thing I'd want is to transfer clutter to someone-else's home.

The exception to this rule is if you have a collection of consumable items which you'd like to reduce. For example, maybe you have 19 bottles of shampoo or 22 packets of rice. It's usually food or cosmetic items which fit the bill. Most people would be happy to receive free things which they really would use, and by giving them away you'd be reducing waste.

Now Say Goodbye

As mentioned above, the grey bin is the absolute last resort, however it's still an option. If I can't find a way for something to be re-used or recycled, even if it is useful, I will just get rid. Chuck it in the bin (even though the environmentalist in me is shocked and appalled that I should write such a thing!). This is because to experience the total benefits of de-cluttering, you must be thorough. That means, to borrow a phrase from my yoga teacher, it's important to "let go of anything which is no longer serving you".

The aim of this blog has been to help with the practical aspects of discarding excess stuff. I'd be glad if reading has motivated you to tackle some clutter in your own home. Decluttering can be a daunting task to tackle alone. If you're feeling overwhelmed and don't know where to start, you don't have to just put up with things. A Professional Organiser can help clear out, reorganise and restore order. Get in touch today and start your decluttering journey.

123freespace@gmail.com 

So you can say goodbye to that which is no longer serving you.