Bring yourself joy: clean out your closet.

The task of cleaning out a closet– I don’t think even Carrie Bradshaw would enjoy going through all of her beautiful things considering which to keep and which to donate and which to just throw out. But it needs to be done periodically. And the good that you can do for people and organizations by finding the right place to donate your unwanted items is significant and profound. 

So what should you donate and where? And how do you decide what stays and what goes?

One very neat trick I came across a long time ago can help you decide which items to keep and which items to purge. This requires some serious advanced planning, but it is worth it. Around a year or so before culling your closet, take down every item of clothing and wrap a rubber band (or something like that) around the neck of the hanger. During the year, when you take that item out of your closet to wear, take off the rubber band. When the time for the purge comes, a year or so later, you will have a record of everything you wore– and didn’t wear– that year. This will help you decide what stays and what goes. Brilliant!

When it comes to cleaning out your closet, there is also the Marie Kondo school of thought. Consider each item of clothing and ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?” No? Gone.

So where can you donate your gently used items of clothing? There are a lot of options. 

Keep your eye out for special events that are collecting coats and other outerwear specifically. Coats and outerwear can be some of the most expensive clothing items families buy; by donating your winter outerwear to these events, you are saving someone a great deal of money and potentially keeping a school-bus-waiting-student warm. 

Consider donating gently-used luggage, including duffle bags and tote bags, to your local foster care agency. Many young people are forced to move from home to home with all of their belongings in a garbage bag or grocery bags. Giving them some luggage helps them relocate to new housing with dignity and pride. 

This is not necessarily closet-related, but if you have unused toiletries of any kind– soaps and lotions you’ve been gifted but never used, hotel travel-sized items, what have you– your local homeless shelters will welcome them for their residents. Shelters also are always in need of unused socks and underwear for unhoused people, not to mention factory sealed things like coffees and food items. 

Many cities across the country have clothing closets for unhoused or impoverished people who are job-seeking. If you have any clothing that is interview- or job-worthy, consider donating those items there. The challenges of entering the workforce for people struggling with their means are numerous. Don’t let their inability to purchase appropriate clothing stand in their way of success. Your suits, work-worthy dresses and skirts, even your gently used shoes can mean the difference between job-seeking and job-having for some people. 

Shoes are a challenge when it comes to donations. Here in Louisville, KY, we have a program called Waterstep that accepts shoes. Here’s their mission statement for shoe donations: By donating your new and gently used shoes to WaterStep, you’ll help fund safe drinking water projects all over the world — projects that help to save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. In addition to funding water projects, donated shoes keep hundreds of tons of waste out of our landfills. We accept gently used shoes that are free of mold/mildew. Athletic shoes are preferred, but we will accept all styles of shoes. Shoes are sold to an exporter and funds received help bring clean water to those in need.”

Formalwear. Do you have some super fancy dresses and gowns you’ve only worn once? Maybe even a bridesmaid’s dress? Girls who want to look nice for their proms and homecoming events could covet your clothing. You may not want to go out in the same dress that you’ve worn before to a social event, but some girl who can’t afford a prom dress will cherish the opportunity to wear something nice. 

And there’s always of course the best-known places to donate things: organizations that operate thrift stores. Goodwill is the first to come to mind. St. Vincent DePaul, named after the Catholic saint of the poor, is another example that is scattered all over the country. These thrift stores sell your donated clothes to raise money for their benevolent causes. You can donate your everyday clothes there. 

Please remember that none of these organizations want your stained or threadbare clothing. All donations should be made with the dignity of the potential wearer in mind. Turn your unsalvageable clothing into rags to clean your house, and do your best to keep them out of landfills for as long as possible.

When you donate to these organizations and causes, make sure to ask for a receipt. Donations to nonprofits are tax deductible.

The “purge” is inevitable but you can keep it as easy and as generous to other folks as possible. Your

Marie Kondo-ing may make you realize that some long-term residents of your closet may not “spark joy” in you anymore, but they can spark joy and relief in someone else, if you know the right place to donate.