Lessons for Life

Spring cleaning by giving back

How to de-clutter by donating your unused items

Spring cleaning

Spring cleaning

Spring is in the air — and that means it's time to get rid of the clutter. But rather than throwing out those unused items, why not get rid of your excess stuff by donating it to charity?

Brittany Martin Graunke founded zealousgood.com, an online community that helps donors connect with charities, to do just that.

"We work with 235 nonprofits throughout the Chicago area," said Graunke. "We help people get that direct transparency so they can know where the items end up rather than just sending things to a donation center."

To use the site, Graunke said, users just fill out a form online describing their donated items and specify whether they'd like to drop them off or have them picked up..

"That information then gets distributed privately to the nonprofits, who can request it if they're interested, or send the user a request directly to their inbox," she said.

Those who donate can often see photos of how their items are being used.

"Let's say you wanted to get rid of your old piano and a community center took it," she said. "They can then send you pictures of it being used so you know that not only you helped someone in need, but you can see how your donation is being appreciated."

Here are some items to consider donating to help you give back with your spring cleaning:

Unused gym equipment.

"We had someone give Friends of the Bessemer Bears her old weight bench, which helped the Bessemer Bears team advance to the state games for the Special Olympics," Graunke said.

Old toys.

"Some of the bigger charities will say they don't want used toys, but there are plenty of others that really need them," she said. "If you have a pile of old trucks or a sandbox in the back yard that you're not using, you can get that picked up by someone who will play with them. And those board games in the basement should be given away too."

School supplies.

"This can be markers, sharpies (or) folders," she said. "Child Link was matched to a box of school supplies and crafts. Young women who are aging out of the foster care system live in Child Link's Transitional Living Program. These supplies were used by the girls in their high school and college classes and the crafts were used in group counseling."

Kitchen items.

"So many people only use a few plates or mugs, but they have so many dishes and glasses," she said. "Also, knife blocks, and appliances are needed. Neumann Family Services (which serves adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness) was matched to a stove and kitchen items by Zealous Good. They used the items at one of their community homes."

Electronics.

"Any random electronics or an old printer, or a laptop," she said. "Even old cell phones. A non-profit that clears data from computers and electronic devices would be FreeGeek Chicago. They received donated phones from Zealous Good and used them to train volunteers how to operate, maintain and repair the devices."

Furniture.

Rather than leaving that chair or couch on the curb, Graunke said to try and find it a home.

"Furniture is so important. And it takes all kinds — big and small," she said. "The social service agency dGreenhouse was matched to a leather chair. This chair was used as part of furnishings for a single former homeless veteran who just moved into her apartment this month."

DVDs and CDs.

After you've transferred those movies or music files onto your computer, Graunke said don't let discs take up space.

"This is a big one. People have piles of unused DVDs or CDs and they can be put to good use. We matched DVDs to Project Education Plus. The organization used them on teen movie nights to give kids in the community a safe place to be on weekend nights."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel

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