Brainy Bunny is a freelance editor who writes about many topics including personal finance and children’s books.
Your closets are filled to overflowing. Your garage is stacked to the ceiling with bins of baby clothes and toys even though your kids are closer to middle school than diapers. You have your eye on some pretty new dishes, but you don't know what to do with your old ones that are still in decent condition. You know you need to clean up and clear out, but you don't just want to throw everything away, and donating to charity is such a hassle . . . or is it?
Goodwill Makes Donating Stuff Easy
Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Vietnam Veterans of America, and other charitable organizations want your donations, so they make it very easy for you to donate.
Here's what you need to do to make a donation:
- Gather the items you want to donate and assess their condition. Throw away anything broken or stained.
- Write a list of items you will be donating and their approximate value. This is for your receipt.
- Decide whether you need pickup service. If so, call to schedule it.
- Bag or box your small items up. (Clothing and linens do fine in garbage bags, but books, toys, and anything fragile is better off in a box.)
- If you are dropping off your items, drive to a local donation center. Most have a rear entrance or loading zone for taking donations; my local Goodwill has a covered drive-through donation area. If you are unsure where to go, go in the front (without your bags) and ask for assistance. A staffperson may help you unload your car, or may merely show you where to place your items.
- You will get a (mostly blank) receipt. Fill the receipt out at home, staple it to your itemized list, and file it away for next year's taxes.
And that's it — in an afternoon you have cleaned your closet, given to charity, and received a tax deduction. So easy!
Items to Donate to Charity
Most people think primarily of used clothing when it comes to donating, but charitable organizations accept many different types of items:
- linens (e.g., towels, tablecloths, sheets)
- kitchen appliances
- dishes, pots, pans, and glassware
- toys, puzzles, and games
- sports equipment
Due to recent outbreaks of bedbugs and other sanitary concerns, larger organizations usually do not accept mattresses or sofabeds.
Clothing and linens should be clean and in good condition (no stains or rips; if you wouldn't pass it on to a friend then toss it). Household goods, appliances, toys, and electronics must be in good working order. Include any manuals if you still have them. If you are donating electronics such as an old laptop, make sure to wipe any personal information from the hard drive.
There are also specialty organizations that collect other items. A great example is the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which accepts gently used building materials in clean, good condition:
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- kitchen cabinets
- lighting fixtures
- paint (full cans only)
- storm shutters
- plumbing supplies
- lumber and tools
We donated our aluminum storm shutters last year when we upgraded to accordion shutters, and were able to take a hefty deduction, since shutters are so expensive. The guys who came to pick them up were punctual and polite, and they handed me a receipt before I could even ask for it.
Do You Need to Schedule a Pickup?
If you are donating furniture or large appliances, or you just can't fit a dozen garbage bags full of clothes and blankets into your car, most organizations will offer to pick up your items for free. Call the organization you wish to donate to to arrange a pickup time. The Salvation Army usually make appointments 1–2 weeks in advance, and they will come inside to load your heavy furniture if necessary. The Vietnam Vets schedule pickups in some areas within 24 hours, but you must box your stuff up and move it outside yourself. Goodwill offices have individual policies regarding pickups, although it is available in most areas.
How to Value Donations
Charitable organizations offer valuation guides on their websites, but do not appraise individual donations. That covers them from getting in trouble with the IRS. You are ultimately responsible for the values you choose to assign to your items. I usually keep a copy of the valuation guide that I used to help me figure out what my items were worth (I staple it to the receipt and file them together), and if I have any big-ticket items I take a photo, as well, to show the condition.
Valuation guides suggest a low and high fair market value for many different types of items, and you should be accurate when choosing values. For instance, if you are donating two pairs of jeans, and one pair is Faded Glory that you bought at Walmart, and the other pair is 7 For All Mankind from Bloomingdale's, you should value the former at $4 and the latter at $21 (the low and high suggestions from the Goodwill Valuation Guide). Likewise, a brand-new dress with the tags still on would be valued higher than one you wore twice a month for a year before you lost weight and couldn't fit into it anymore.
Some organizations accept donations of cars. The tax implications of donating a car are different from those of donating household items. If the organization sells the car to raise money, you can only deduct the amount the charity actually receives for the sale. If the charity uses the car for operations, you can deduct the fair market value of the vehicle.
For a detailed explanation of fair market value and the tax implications of donating items to charitable organizations, see IRS Publication 561.
Sample Itemized Valuation List
|How Many?||What Kind?||Worth?|
Why You Should Donate to Goodwill (or the Charitable Organization of Your Choice)
There are several great reasons to support organizations such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and local charity thrift shops. Here are a few of the most compelling reasons:
- Support good works: Each charity has a different focus, and you can find one whose mission dovetails with your own values. Goodwill provides job training and family support services; the Salvation Army is a Christian organization that helps the homeless, youth, and the elderly, and provides rehabilitation for addicts; the Vietnam Veterans of America fights for access to healthcare for all veterans.
- Clean out your clutter: You don't need to hang on to clothes your children outgrew last year, or working consumer electronics your family has recently upgraded from. Reclaim your attic, basement, and garage from bins full of stuff, and breathe more easily in an uncluttered environment.
- Go green: Keep your unwanted items out of a landfill by allowing someone else to reuse them.
- Get a tax deduction: If you itemize deductions on your taxes, donations can make a big difference. Just remember to value your items honestly and keep good records.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.