Ethical, Sustainable Ways to Get Rid of Unwanted Stuff

Ethical, Sustainable Ways to Get Rid of Unwanted Stuff

Attic bedroom closet makeover

It seems like everyone is decluttering and organizing this month, which is apparently leading to excess donations at thrift shops. Did you know that unfortunately, a lot of donated stuff actually ends up in the trash? If you’re wishing there was a way to make sure that you could give your stuff to someone who can use it, you’re in luck, there is! Here are my favorite ways to rehome your clutter and keep it out of the landfill.

First I want to point out that none of these are Facebook-based. I consider that company wildly unethical, and deleted my account to avoid supporting them. So I get rather disappointed when I see people promoting Buy Nothing groups, which are Facebook-only. Anything I could get from Facebook isn’t worth supporting a company that is literally facilitating the destruction of democracy. But there are good alternatives! Here are my favorites, in order of the ones I use the most to the ones I use the least.

Sidewalk free boxes

Acquiring items via free box is hit-or-miss, but it’s my first resort when I want to get rid of stuff. Even stuff that you might think no one would want often gets taken. I’m sure people think that about some of the stuff I’ve taken. Sometimes I even grab ugly old t-shirts, which I cut up and use for rags for things like painting and staining wood.

I’ve found a vintage typewriter, clothes, unopened pantry goods, jewelry, a wok, a glass schoolhouse-style light shade, fabric, boots and shoes, plant pots, a couple of different tables, copper pipes, sewing supplies, many books, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t recall. And I’ve definitely gotten rid of tons of stuff by just leaving it near the curb.


If you want to get rid of stuff, make it super clear that the items are up for grabs by adding a “Free” sign to remove any doubts.

Obviously finding sidewalk items is a treasure hunt, but if you want to up your odds, be sure to check the sidewalks extra diligently near the end of the month, when people are moving. Student housing near college campuses can be a gold-mine, especially at the end of the school year.

Don’t be too proud to skulk around the garbage bins a bit–I’ve seen perfectly-good furniture left sitting next to the dumpsters.

If bigger items aren’t moving, or you don’t live in a spot with enough foot-traffic, try posting a curb-alert about your free items on one of the below sites.

For items like books, electronics or furniture that could be destroyed by rain, do be sure to check the weather forecast before you leave it out!


The free section on Craigslist is full of weird stuff. As I’m writing this, I’m looking at ads for free multiple 55-gallon drums of expired vinegar, screen print frames, CD cases, a wave runner (sans motor), fill dirt, many couches and toilets, wood, a tetherball pole, “body moving mats,” and a cool-looking mid-century cabinet. Sometimes when I’m bored I look at the free section just to see the weird shit people are getting rid of.

Years ago I got wood pallets, large glass storage jars, and some plants via the Craigslist free listing. But the strangest thing I’ve ever gotten for free on Craislist was a plane ride for my cat. It was actually in the “rideshare” section, but it’s such a good story that I have to share.

When we lived in San Francisco, Steven and I agreed to take my family’s 16-year-old cat, Daisy, so my parents could spend every winter travelling. I was the reason they had gotten her in the first place, so I felt responsible for her. And she was pretty old already, so it didn’t seem like a very long-term commitment.

Well, three years later we were planning to drive across the country to live in Boston, and it didn’t seem like a great idea to do it with a 19-year-old cat in the car, in addition to our two much-younger cats. So my parents agreed to take her back if we could find a way to get her to their house in Oregon. We had originally flown with her down to San Francisco, but we weren’t going to be taking any flights back up to Oregon before we left, so I looked for a rideshare for her on Craigslist. And I found a guy out in San Jose offering a free ride to Portland on his small two-seater plane. A few emails later, and we headed out to the airport to hand Daisy over to the pilot. He gave us his plane ID number, so we could track the flight online, and he safely delivered her to my brother a few hours later.

(Daisy lived with my parents until a few months shy of her 22nd birthday, when she finally died of old age.)


If you’re looking for something specific, save your search and set up an email alert. You do have to set up an account, but it’s super easy.


If you want to be sure that your unwanted stuff gets into the hands of your neighbors, Nextdoor is a really good resource. It’s neighborhood-specific, so you can save yourself the trouble of driving around town to pick up items.

I haven’t used this site as much as the others above, but we did use it to get rid of moving boxes and an old vanity, and I got to dig up some plants from a nice lady’s yard. I also handed off some sourdough starter to a neighbor who wanted some. It can be a nice way to meet neighbors, too!

What’s your go-to method for getting rid of unwanted stuff? Any secret sites I should know about?

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