Zero-Waste Downsizing: Where to donate and sell gently used items & avoid the dump

So you want to live with less?

There are many reasons a person may want to downsize their material goods: the coveted minimalistic lifestyle, moving in with a partner, transitioning to a new job, or starting out at a new city.

As I have exited university, I have had to undergo a major downsize, reducing what I owned to nearly half of what I own now. I have been avoiding the dump like the plague and instead have been looking for as many alternative options as possible.

That being said, one cannot give away items to just anyone; a miss-placed donation can easily end up in the dump because thrift stores, and the sources listed below, do not have time to sort your items for you.

Perhaps you are thinking: I’ve got some really nice stuff that I would like to sell while downsizing? I’ve included a couple recommendations about that as well.


1.     Thrift stores - Probably the most obvious answer, so I’m going to say spend some time looking into your local thrift stores and find out their donation limitations, donation hours, and drop off centers. Sometimes the thrift store is not the same location as the donation center and you will not be allowed to just leave your donations at a store.

2.     Battered Women’s Shelters – They are often looking for a variety of donations. In my experience, they have been interested in gently used technology, especially cell phones and computers. If you feel like it is time to upgrade your old cell or laptop, this could be a good place to ask to contribute a donation. A couple of things to keep in mind: donation drop offs can be tricky and need to be arranged in advance as the facilities often do not disclose their locations in order to protect their members. Also, no one wants a 90’s brick phone – please don’t drop off technology that has become irrelevant in today’s society.  

3.     Teen Shelters – We are more often familiar with homeless shelters that house adults. But homeless and emergency shelters for teens exist and they are often looking for donations. This can be a great place to donate new and gently used school and office supplies in July. During the school year, I have seen the shelter’s ask for toiletries, cleaning supplies, recreational activity equipment, and adolescent clothing. DC area: In the past I have donated to the Alternative House in Vienna VA.

4.     Pet Shelters - This is a great placed to take used towels, blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. Dogs and cats like to be tucked into warm beds too! Just make sure to call ahead to confirm the shelter near you is currently accepting donations.

5.     Find A “Clothing Mentor” – This is more than just your older sister’s “hammy-downs”.  I was lucky to receive the hand-me-downs of several of my parents’ friends while growing up. This way I often received nice, gently used clothing that I wouldn’t have been otherwise able to afford as a teen. Now that I am older, I consider the younger or teenage girls that are present in my life and try to reach out if I have clothing that I think may fit them. This is especially easy if you have access to a university or high school network.

6.     Neighbor’s Network & Free + For Sale Pages on Facebook – Most universities and cities will have their own social media or online donation networks. This is how I donated much of my larger furniture. I was able to donate the furniture right from my own apartment and received help removing the piece from my apartment from the person who wanted the donation. That being said, please be careful with people you meet online. Another great web site is Free Cycle

Sell Gently- Used Items: 

***Keep in mind that to sell items to downsize is not the same mentality as selling things to make a profit or money. In order to really sell gently used items that are not collector or luxury brand names you may have to price the item far below what you think it’s worth. It’s awesome to make a little money from your labor but I would keep expectations low.***

1.     Ebay & Etsy - These can be great sites to unload some of your nicer gently used items. Keep in mind that “a picture is worth a thousand words” or in this case the amount you hope to sell your item for, so take the best photos possible. Generally brand name, and artisanal items tend to sell better on these sites. Keep in mind the cost of shipping when pricing your item, and decide who is going to cover that cost. Consider shipping restrictions – it’s hella expensive to ship an item to Australia from the US.

2.     Community Garage Sales – I just tried this for the first time this morning before writing this post.  I learned about the opportunity from my Mom who heard about it through a community list serve. We went, set up a table and a rack and managed to sell around 15 items. Looking around what sold well were: bulk clothing racks where everything was $1-$5 dollars, gently used sports equipment (my brother sold an old mountain bike for $35, I sold my old lacrosse stick for $15), gently used children’s toys and books, inexpensive jewelry.

3.     Local Art, Antique and Flea Markets – This is a great opportunity to sell nicer jewelry, art, decorative knick-knacks, nicer gently used clothing & accessories, and antiques. After my freshman year of university , I participated several times in the Georgetown Art and Antique Market in DC, and I made a tidy profit selling t-shirts I designed and silk-screened and vintage jewelry I had collected. Generally, there will be a point-person you will need to contact to register for a space in the market, and then there will be a vendor fee. For smaller markets I’ve seen the fee range from $8-50 dollars, or the fee will be a recommended percentage of your sales. I suggest cleaning up your goods before selling them, and consider the layout of your goods as well designing the booth.

4.     Local Farmers Market – Farmers markets are generally for food & consumable goods but I’ve seen a couple host other vendors. Again, reach out to the point-person to see what the markets limitations and fees are.

5.     Neighbor’s Network & Free + For Sale Pages on Facebook – Mentioned above, just keep in mind what other things are being sold for and price competitively.

6.     Consignment Stores – Consignment stores can be a great place to sell clothes but I’ve generally found there is more work involved then first meets the eye. Consignment stores generally prefer nicer, brand name clothing, and will usually only take clothing that is in season. So, no Christmas in July, sorry guys. Consignment stores will help market and store your goods, and in return they take a percentage of the sale. Your goods must arrive at the Consignment shop cleaned, and fully intact and some consignment shops ask that you provide the hangers for the clothing. Where I’ve found the bit of a catch is the drop off of clothing and pick up of clothing that doesn’t get sold in time (most consignment stores will only take and display your goods for a short period or that season). You will need to read the store’s rules very carefully to understand the correct procedure and timing of this process. Once, I dropped off a couple clothes at a consignment shop and missed the pick-up return date and my clothes where donated to the local thrift store. This is not all store’s policies, but they don’t have the ability to store all their donations forever.

I hope this post helps you down size while avoiding the dump. Stay turned for more to come!

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