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I'm Cathy Leamy, a Boston cartoonist and medical writer. Check out my comics! They're mainly about health care and autobio stories.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

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Discardia: Celebrating the season of ditching your stuff

We are in the middle of one of the Discardia holiday seasons, a time celebrated by cleaning out stuff you don't need: unused goods, ideas, habits, and more. It's been long enough after the Winter holidays to finally ditch unwanted gifts discreetly, so let the purging begin.

But if you're going to jettison still-useful junk, you might as well put it to good use. Check out these resources for donating material goods. Many of them are specific to the Boston area, but they may also have pointers to their national offices.

Clothing

Women's professional clothing - interview suits and workplace-appropriate outfits - are the staples of Dress for Success, who use them to help provide opportunity to disadvantaged women. Massachusetts has several drop-off affiliates in Boston, Worcester, and Western Mass.

Formal dresses are reused by Belle of the Ball, a program offering prom dresses to high school girls in need. All you former bridesmaids out there, this could be your chance to graciously pass along that gorgeous-but-so-not-my-color wedding party dress.

Assorted other clothing, grooming tools, and toiletries are accepted by a number of shelters in this area, including Rosie's Place and the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans.

Backpacks

The Cambridge drop-in center Youth on Fire welcomes your backpack donations. Check out their wishlist for other needed items (including recreational gear for the center, like board games and art supplies).

Bicycles

Boston-based Bikes Not Bombs are some crazyproductive activists, empowering people all over the world, and they can put your donated bike to very good use.

Books

There are so many potential good homes for your discarded books, it's ridiculous. A few excellent options include hospital bookcarts (try Mass General's volunteer department or check your local hospital's donation options), Books for Soldiers, and Prison Book Program.

Food

Nonperishable and even perishable food can find a place with Boston Rescue Mission. Other organizations that accept food include Greater Boston Food Bank and Boston Red Cross, though it sounds like their food donation programs operate on a larger scale (i.e. unused donations from restaurants and markets), so contact them first to find out if your donation is appropriate.

Electronics

If you're looking to get rid of whatever technotoy you just upgraded beyond, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has a list of several organizations that accept donated computer equipment. You might also find an interested party at the periodic MIT Swap Fests.

Cell phones

Like books, working cell phones will always find a welcoming home. Try the donation program run by MassRecycle, where your phone could go to any number of people in need.

Shoes

This is a sweet idea - avoid chucking your shoes into landfills and send them to Nike for reuse in athletic playing surfaces instead.

Everything else

The resources above don't fit the junk you want to ditch? See if you can pass it along to Boomerangs (of Jamaica Plain), whose proceeds go towards the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.

If that's not working, there are always the perennial fallbacks of Goodwill and the Salvation Army, whose websites you can use to find locations near you.

And if that's still not jetting your stuff, you can always put it up on Craigslist or even Freecycle. Don't underestimate the power of Freecycle - people out there will find uses for the most absurd hodgepodge.

Resources for discarding, uncluttering, and organizing

Once you've pitched the piles (or even if you're just thinking about it), it feels great to maintain that tidied state. My favorite book on this topic is Organizing Plain and Simple, which has a nicely chunked wide range of information.

Online resources include Flylady, with a great rah-rah encouraging approach (if you can get past the kinda scattered design of the site) and organizational blogs like Unclutterer, which I discovered through the rock solid awesome aggregator blog LifeRemix.

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