Too Much Stuff

Amassing a front closet collection of post-holiday clutter including 17 scented candles, three pairs of fuzzy pink slippers, two juicers and a Snuggie, all still in boxes with the tags attached?

You’re not alone. Here’s where to donate post-holiday clutter.

Collectively, we are drowning in stuff. Transcending crowded houses and complicated lives, the insatiable desire for short-lived consumer products drove the United States to import $320 billion in Chinese goods in 2007, according to a 2008 report by the Economic Policy Institute.

Want to see the full impact of the American love affair with acquiring things, especially during the holidays? Check out Annie Leonard’s website “The Story of Stuff,” which has garnered more than 7 million views in less than 2 years. It’s a fast-paced, 20-minute video about the environmental cost of American consumer culture.

Don’t feel bad about the one-two punch of a crowded house and a complicated world. Here’s a list of convenient resources—no matter what the immediate impetus—for giving holiday discards a new life.

I want it out of my house, like 10 minutes ago:

Load up your car, type in your ZIP code at to find the nearest Gaia Movement 24-hour drop off box. With locations including Wilmette,
Glenview, Northbrook and Evanston, the ubiquitous green boxes help to recycle more than 100,000 pounds of clothes each week, according to Alex Curry, assistant manager of the Gaia Movement.

“A lot of the clothing that goes in the drop boxes, no matter what the organizations, is resold for recyclable material, while some is donated to third world countries,” Curry says.

I want to see who gets my stuff

Freecycle Libertyville (and other Freecycle community networks) is an online phenomenon and a growing movement of individuals and organizations who want to keep stuff out of landfi lls by promoting reuse through gift giving.

How it works? Members post free items on the moderated network for any interested taker, then the two parties make independent arrangements for an exchange.

“There’s real joy that extends beyond the holiday season from a random act of kindness and knowing that you’re helping to reduce your carbon footprint,” says Megan Davis, a repeat Freecycle network user whose gifts include a ceramic Flatiron and new Isotoner gloves.

I want someone to come and get it

A number of organizations including the YWCA of Lake County, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Cancer Federation will come to your house and pick up any unwanted clothing and household items from most North Shore locations.

Our dirty little North Shore secrets

Botox, faking homemade cooking, threatening to move back to the city to send our kids to Latin and (gasp) regifting.

Luckily, the new economy has ushered in a new tolerance for regifting, according to the Etiquette Bitch, aka Marianna Swallow, a Chicago writer and speaker who wants to bring good graces backs to the 21st century.

“The key is to do it right,” Swallow says. “There’s a difference between a gift that says, ‘I picked this for you,’ and one that screams, ‘I don’t want this crap.’”

With help from the Etiquette Bitch, we offer some dos an don’ts to avoid a regifting faux pas:

1. Do unwrap, de-card and re-wrap. You might as well just show up with a half-open bag of Cheetos for Aunt Shelly and Uncle Morry’s 40th anniversary party if you don’t take the time to at least remove the Bath and Body Works scented soaps you’re foisting on them from the Happy Birthday gift bag with the “Have fun, Lisa” tag.

2. Don’t give anything that’s dusty, burned or has traces of pet fur or kid’s drool. Enough said.

3. Do give unused gift cards. Don’t give the restaurant gift card with a $17.19 balance. It screams: “We ate here once and we all got a crazy case of the runs, so there’s no way we’d ever again enter this rat infested dump, but good luck to you.”

4. And finally, don’t regift if your family is at all like mine. I’ve got crazy in my family on so many levels. First, my kids are insane chocoholics and would open the package of Fanny May Turtles that I was planning on bringing for a hostess gift, eat 20 of them, and then rewrap the box to hide the evidence.

And my mother-in-law, an amateur Angela Lansbury, would ask for an original receipt—even if she loved the beautiful Ferragamo scarf—just to catch me in an act of negligence.

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