Tackle the Clutter: Strategies to Get Rid of Your Kids’ Old Stuff

If your closets and basement are filled with outgrown clothes, toys and books, here’s a roadmap for reclaiming the space—and making some money or helping others in the process.

Linda Deitch
Trying to figure out what to do with years of outgrown children's stuff can feel overwhelming.

If your basement, playroom and children’s closets are bursting at the seams, spring cleaning presents a perfect opportunity to clear the clutter and reduce your stress level.

But it can be challenging to do a thoughtful purge of outgrown clothing, craft supplies, baby gear and unneeded toys. For many parents, the choices can seem overwhelming.

Keep? Sell? Donate?

Recycle? Give to a friend? Trash?

Children’s clothes and toys can carry a lot of sentimental value, making them hard to part with. Be selective and keep only the most special items. Set a limit of one box of items per child. Will your grandkids really want the Bluey figures, L.O.L. Surprise toys or other fads? Safety standards change frequently, too, so today’s talking plastic panda could be next year’s recall.

Figuring out what to do with years of accumulated stuff can be stressful. No wonder so many parents just stash it in the basement and shut the door.

If you’ve reached the purging point, the most important thing is to just get started. Even if you sort through only one bag or box a day, consider that a victory, says Kathy Chiero, a local Realtor and founder of DownSize Columbus.

Not sure where to start? Look no further. Whether you want to sell, donate or recycle your old stuff, you’ll find suggestions for what to do with clothes, books, baby gear and toys, plus how to handle more off-the-wall items like unwanted trophies, broken crayons and unopened kids meal toys.

Before you put something in the trash, consider the other options. Your unwanted item could help someone in need and reduce the burden on the landfill.

Tips to Get Started

  • Tackle one room at a time. Give yourself more than enough time to do it, but not so much time that you procrastinate.
  • If you think you can declutter a child’s room in a day, give yourself a week.
  • Make an appointment to go to a donation place or resale shop seven days from now. Keep that appointment.
  • Get bags and boxes of donations out of the house right after you sort. Put them in your car’s trunk and make one trip when the trunk is full.
  • Take photos of your progress.
  • If you can’t do the job alone, ask a family member or friend for help, or hire a professional.
  • Parents of adult children should acknowledge that, with the exception of a few heirlooms, no one in your family wants or will ever use most “nostalgic” items.

Benefits of Decluttering

1)    Help yourself. Decluttering creates space, enables better organization and allows you to simply enjoy the lack of a mess. “There is often much anxiety and stress attached to ‘stuff’ because it is a constant reminder of a job left to do,” says Chiero. “In extreme cases, it’s a reminder of failure … failure to keep a home clean and a peaceful environment for others.”

2)    Help other families. “Bless others with things in good shape” is the mantra of Libby Patrick, owner and founder of Blue Robin Downsizing in Heath. By saving items for some unspecified future use, they likely will depreciate from years of storage in dusty or damp places, she says. Instead, give them to community members in need.

3)    Help the environment. By selling, donating or passing down items, it minimizes the burden on the landfill.

Feeling overwhelmed? Take it a little bit at a time.

READY TO SELL?

Clothes and toys are expensive, so it makes sense to try to recoup some of your investment. Make extra cash for a family vacation or a rainy day by selling items in good condition. Keep in mind, in some cases, it may not be worth the time and labor involved to prepare and market them.

Garage Sales

If you’re not turned off by haggling with strangers, garage and yard sales can be a great way to offload unwanted items. And unlike other options, you keep 100 percent of the cash. Holding a neighborhood sale can attract more shoppers. Have older kids help so they can see the value of hard work and practice making change. (Don’t forget to have plenty of small bills on hand, or set up mobile payment.)

Downsides include the need for permits in some areas, time invested to promote the sale and the risk of bad weather. Also, sometimes the crowd your sale draws isn’t looking for the types of things you’re selling.

More:What to know about garage sale liability

Resale Shops

These retail stores pay cash upfront for gently used children’s items. They generally accept clothing, baby gear (no used car seats), toddler beds, toys, bikes, costumes, shoes and more. It’s a quick way to make cash, but many parents bemoan the low payouts. You’ll get a higher rate of return if you accept in-store credit instead of cash. Be aware that not everything you bring in is likely to get an offer.

Once Upon a Child, which has six area locations, pays sellers 30 percent of what they’ll price the item at in the store for clothing and up to 50 percent on higher-ticket items. You’ll fare best if you have a lot of clothes, or big-ticket items. Pro tip from a store manager: Freshly laundered and folded clothing can make the difference between an offer and a pass.

For juniors clothing, try Plato’s Closet (from the owners of Once Upon a Child), Uptown Cheapskate or one of the multiple independent shops around town.

Pop-Up Consignment Sales

You can clear a higher percentage of the proceeds, typically 60 percent or more, versus a resale shop, but you’ll have to work for it. Expect to pay a registration fee, enter your items into an online database, then print and attach tags to your items. Clothing generally needs to be placed on hangers. Options include Three Bags Full, Columbus Mothers of Twins Club, Just Between Friends and Rhea Lana’s. Some sales accept adult clothing, furniture and home décor items, and even gently used children’s socks and underwear.

Social Media and Resale Sites

Before posting to a local buy/sell group, Facebook Marketplace or online platforms such as eBay, Mercari or Poshmark, make sure you’re comfortable interacting with the public and have time to manage your listings. Pro: You name your price. Cons: The labor involved with posting items; packing and shipping costs and hassle; and potential no-shows, hagglers or scammers. If you meet a buyer in-person, many local police departments offer a safe, monitored space to conduct such transactions.

WHAT AND WHERE TO DONATE

First Things First

Whether you’ve decided the hassle of selling items isn’t worth the low return on investment or you just want to help families in the community, here are some tips to follow when donating:

  • Call the organization first to see what is accepted. Some are temporarily out of room to store donations due to the pandemic. Find out if you need an appointment.
  • Check with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for any recalls on your items. Check for damage. Discard anything that’s broken or defective.
  • Clean all items, and don’t forget to check pockets and zippered compartments.

Places to Donate

  • Nonprofit organizations, including Goodwill, Volunteers of America, AMVETS, the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store and Donation Center and a host of others.
  • For-profit organizations such as Ohio Thrift, which purchases some items from nonprofits for resale.
  • Baby banks, resource pantries and free stores, such as Little Bottoms Free Store, which accepts clothes through size 5T, diapers, bedding, winter coats, high chairs and more, and the United Methodist Free Store, which distributes clothing, books, toys, linens and baby items.
  • Teachers, preschools and churches – Some are grateful to receive children’s books and other items, but ask first.
  • Local freecycle or community groups on social media – If you offer clothing for free pickup, group similar items in lots by size or season.

Tips for Specific Items

Diapers and Baby Formula

Some food pantries accept opened boxes of diapers or partial cases of baby formula. The Columbus Diaper Coalition takes donations of diapers and pull-ups (open packs, too) as well as baby wipes. Check the website for drop-off sites.

Furniture/Mattresses

The Furniture Bank of Central Ohio takes mattresses, box springs, dressers, bookcases, lamps and more. Free pickup is available, but there may be a waiting list. Goodwill and other nonprofits accept and resell such items as well.

Worn-Out Clothing

Some organizations, including the Salvation Army and Goodwill, sell stained, torn or faded items to a third-party textile recycling vendor. 

Shoes

DSW accepts new or gently used footwear for the Soles4Souls program and gives customers rewards points to use in-store or donate. Columbus Running Co. and Fleet Feet take outgrown or worn-out athletic shoes—in any condition—for recycling and/or charity.

Books

Some libraries will gladly take items for their book sales. Many preschools and churches eagerly accept them as well, since they can wear out quickly when handled by lots of children.

VHS Tapes

Yes, there is still a market for these relics. Volunteers of America and Ohio Thrift will take them off your hands.

Games

Most nonprofits accept them, or check with a senior living center to see if their residents would enjoy board games, jigsaw puzzles, decks of cards and the like.

Linens

The Ohio Wildlife Center uses pillowcases, large towels and blankets to care for injured, orphaned or displaced wildlife. Many animal shelters accept them as well. Moms2B takes laundered bedding for new moms in need.

You can probably recycle more items than you think, including old toys.

RECYCLING UNWANTED ITEMS

The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, better known as SWACO, has a compilation of local recycling resources and a ZIP code locator for drop-off sites at recycleright.org. One is Accurate IT Services, which recycles electronics, including any toy that uses batteries or plugs into an outlet. There is no cost to drop off old electronic toys.

Car Seats

Target holds two car seat trade-in events each year, typically in April and September. Shoppers who bring a seat, in any condition, get a coupon for 20 percent off another baby gear item. The seats are recycled into pallets, plastic buckets and construction materials. Walmart occasionally offers a similar program. TerraCycle, a national recycling program, takes car seats by mail. You’ll have to pay the shipping unless you’re sending Century-brand seats or baby gear.

Toys

Many toy manufacturers now offer their own recycling programs for broken or unwanted toys, including LEGO Replay and Mattel PlayBack, both of which pick up the shipping costs. TerraCycle facilitates free programs for other popular toymakers, including Hasbro, Spin Master and VTech/LeapFrog.

Crayons and Markers

Some schools recycle crayons, but if yours doesn’t, check out the National Crayon Recycling Program or The Crayon Initiative, which use donated crayons to create new ones. Donors are expected to pay for shipping. The Crayola marker recycling program is paused due to the pandemic. Check crayola.com/colorcycle for updates.

Trophies

Trophies in good condition can be mailed to Total Awards & Promotions in Wisconsin. The company will refurbish and donate them to nonprofit organizations. Donors pay shipping, plus a $30 labor fee to recycle up to 25 trophies.

What to Do With Fast-Food Toys

Kids meal toys are a love-hate item for many parents who dislike the commercialism as well as the waste they eventually create.

The good news is that you don’t always have to throw them away. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio will accept them if they are new and in the original packaging.

We asked Columbus Parent readers to share ideas for how to turn the toys into smiles for others and keep them out of the trash. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Offer them for free at a yard sale. Kids love to discover something they can “buy” for themselves.
  • Give them to a teacher for prizes or treasure box items.
  • Put them in a trick-or-treat basket for kids with allergies.
  • Donate them to Volunteers of America or Ohio Thrift, which will bag and sell them.
  • Drop a few into Blessing Boxes or Little Free Libraries.
  • Give them to a food/resource pantry, church or day care center.
  • Ask an art teacher or camp counselor if they want them for craft projects.

TIPS

Take Pictures

Photograph an item, then sell it or pass it along to someone in need. A photo of your child wearing a favorite outfit, for example, will evoke the same good feelings as the item itself. And you won’t have to go to the basement to find it.

Make Rainbow Crayons

Craft one-of-a-kind art supplies by gathering broken crayons and melting them in an old muffin tin. It’s fun, each one is unique, and they’re great party favors! Find directions at Food.com.

This story is from the Spring 2022 issue of Columbus Parent.