It’s hard enough sorting through your basement or storage space, but once you have it organized, then what? What do you do with the electric can opener and laserdisc player? How about the box of toys with battery acid oozing from the Easy-Bake Oven or the cupboard filled with old frayed towels?
It’s easy to dump everything in the garbage and get on with your day, but like you, I’m not OK with that. My personal mantra is “use what you have”. If you’re starting a project, instead of making a list of things to buy, gather materials you already have and see if you can make them work. That being said, there is a fine line between saving stuff to repurpose later and all-out hoarding, so keep your stash in check. When things start to pile up, there are several programs in Calgary and most major centers where you can repurpose and recycle your unwanted items ethically and efficiently.
I have compiled some quick resources to help you with:
1. Getting money for your clutter
2. Recycling electronics
3. Recycling batteries and light bulbs
4. How to properly dispose of clothing and textiles
5. Freecycling and bartering
6. What to do with unwanted furniture and appliances
7. Children’s items
1. Getting Money For Your Clutter
First of all, let’s get right to the question we are all asking when we de-clutter our homes – can I make some money back from all of this stuff? The short answer is, sometimes.
Hosting a garage or estate sale is a good way to make some money back, and this article from The Penny Hoarder gives some great tips on how to successfully host an estate sale (and not just when somebody dies)
If hosting a sale isn’t your thing, there are a few ways to recoup some of your investment either online or at brick and mortar businesses in Calgary.
The economical choice for selling almost anything on the internet is Kijiji , an online marketplace that is free to use for buying and selling. Varage Sale is another option that offers easy-to-navigate categories and a free platform for showcasing your goods.
If you have vintage treasures or a stash of crafting supplies you think could bring in big bucks, consider setting up an Etsy shop. Etsy charges $.20 USD to list an item and takes 5% of the total when that item sells. The Etsy marketplace is limited to handmade, vintage and arts/craft supplies. This is a great option for people who have a large number of vintage trinkets or a massive fabric stash they need to unload. The one necessity to successfully run an Etsy shop? Great product photography. Without great shots of your stuff, you won’t make sales, so decide whether this is a project you are willing to take on.
If you prefer to take your stuff somewhere for instant cash or consignment, here are a few suggestions…
Furniture and General Household Items
Kids and Teens
2. How To Recycle Electronics
According to the City of Calgary, e-waste is the fastest growing type of waste in North America, contains hazardous materials and does not decompose in landfill sites. The good news? These materials CAN be recycled, but this depends on responsible e-cycling by people like you and me.
How can you help?
Donate functional LAPTOP COMPUTERS to organizations like the People For Progress Foundation and The Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre where they can be put to use by people in need either in Calgary or abroad.
Many other electronics are still functional, despite being outdated. For these items, check out the Alberta Recycling Hotline to see if they can be reused or refurbished, before sending them to be recycled.
For all other electronics that are broken and non-functional, the city has a list of Electronics Recycling Depots in Calgary
3. Recycling Batteries and Lightbulbs
The 12-volt car battery is the most recycled product in the world. Lead-acid automotive batteries contain a myriad of dangerous chemicals that can eventually end up in our water supply if they are not handled properly. When your car battery has lost its juice and just won’t keep a charge, retailers will usually take your dead batteries for recycling when you purchase a new one. Alternatively, take it to any of the City Landfill Throw and Go sites where it can be recycled responsibly. Vehicle batteries are also accepted at designated Calgary Fire Department stations around the city.
Unusable LAPTOP BATTERIES contain heavy metals and should be taken to an Electronics Recycling Depot.
HOUSEHOLD BATTERIES, including those commonly found in watches, calculators, TV remotes, toys and cell phones are accepted at many local businesses for recycling, including Staples, London Drugs, IKEA and Community Natural Foods. Check this directory for locations around the city.
For LIGHT BULBS, the good news is IKEA and Home Depot both have programs where you can drop off your old CFL (compact fluorescents and fluorescent tubes) bulbs to have them properly recycled and ensure the mercury found within does not leach into our soil and water through landfill disposal.
The bad news is that INCANDESCENT and HALOGEN light bulbs cannot be recycled and must go in your black cart as garbage. The City of Calgary has special instructions on how to properly package them to minimize hazards.
4. How To Properly Dispose of Clothing and Textiles
According to various news sources, a lot of donated clothing (particularly items collected by the bins you find in local parking lots) do not stay in the community and are often bundled and sold by weight. These bundles are then shipped overseas to poorer nations. What’s wrong with sending clothing overseas, you ask? Sometimes the economies of these countries are adversely affected by these large scale imports of used goods, putting local clothing and textiles industries out of business.
Instead, see if your items can be repaired or repurposed. If you’re not super handy with a needle and thread, Assemble Workshop has a Repair Café to help you fix that broken zipper or frayed shirt. Alternatively, repurpose old clothes for kids’ dress-up, cut them into small pieces for fabric crafts or as cleaning rags around the house. Schools and community organizations sometimes need old shirts as smocks for art projects – check around your neighbourhood.
Donating your unwanted CLOTHING to thrift stores is always a good option, as this directly benefits the community and, in some cases, other charitable efforts that are supported by non-profits and companies such as The Salvation Army and Value Village. Now, before someone gets their second-hand knickers in a knot over the for-profit BUSINESS that is Value Village, can we please keep in mind the point here - to keep clothing and textiles out of the landfill. Whether you agree with the business strategy behind The Village (soft G) or not, they are a place to both donate and shop for second hand household goods. I personally don't agree with the religious beliefs of The Salvation Army, but for me, the good they do in the community outweighs that difference of opinion.
If supporting local mom and pop shops is your thing, donate to a small business like Zoe’s Store, and take a look around for some cool treasures while you’re at it. As a Calgarian and small business owner, I like to support as many independent entrepreneurs as I can when I’m looking for worn out leather garments to upcycle into Hekkal & Hyde handbags. Donating to thrift stores has far-reaching implications for the environment, the community and the economy, in addition to the obvious benefits of helping people to find affordable clothing and household goods.
For fabric and yarn that is of no use to you (I have no idea what this would be like), there is the grandmammy of all fundraisers, the textile lover’s dream-come-true, the worst-kept-secret in the Calgary sewing community…the Ujamaagrandmas Annual Fabric and Yarn Sale. Honestly, I can barely even describe this to you without tears welling up and my adrenaline pumping (I’m breathing heavily into a paper bag as I type this). The Ujaama Grandmas are a non-profit group of over 500 Calgary women raising funds for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation which helps grandmothers in sub-Saharan Africa who are raising their orphaned grandchildren as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. These Calgary grannies work tirelessly to sort through literally tons of donated fabric and yarn each year, which results in the most amazing fabric shopping extravaganza for an incredibly worthy cause. It’s my favourite day of the year. No joke.
Now, when it comes time to purge your clothing and household textiles, don’t go throwing things in the garbage because they are worn or stained. These items can be recycled and will be if you ensure they end up in the right places. City Landfill Throw and Go accept old household textiles (towels, curtains, sheets), clothing, shoes and bags. What isn’t usable will be recycled – items do not have to be in good shape. Textiles are organized by Clothing for a Cause, who also have donation bins around Calgary.
5. Freecycling and Bartering
Some of my favourite pieces of furniture have been acquired through dumpster diving; the art of fishing free stuff out of the back-alley dumpster and hauling it back to your four-storey walk-up. There are variations on this theme – freecycling unwanted items by leaving that couch on your front lawn with a “free” sign, or placing that BBQ behind your garage, the positioning of it confirming an unspoken agreement that to take it would not be considered theft, as such.
More organized forms of dumpster diving and freecycling can be found at Freecycle Calgary
Their mission statement is “to build a worldwide sharing movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community”, which sounds pretty awesome to me.
Another option with this sharing sentiment is Swap City, where you can trade items with like-minded swappers either in person or through shipping. This is a great way to minimize your environmental footprint by consuming less stuff, while saving money in the process. Bartering, trading and freecycling are also methods of unloading or acquiring goods on Kijiji, so check there before opening your wallet and buying something new, thereby firing up that smoke-spewing factory filled with underpaid workers overseas.
6. Furniture and Appliances
Before you drive that old fridge out to a farm where it can run and play with other kitchen appliances, or let that washer and dryer go to the big laundry room in the sky, be sure it’s really dead. Often, these items can be repaired or refurbished and resold at bargain prices, saving money and the planet. The CBC Calgary Eyeopener has great tips on when to repair or replace broken appliances.
If those old appliances have really kicked the bucket, you can have them hauled away by a junk removal company such as Just Junk, or take them to the landfill for recycling. For freezers and refrigerators, The City of Calgary has a refrigerant removal charge, so check first with your retailer to see if they have a complimentary recycling program when you are buying new appliances.
If you are upgrading or renovating and have functional furniture and appliances to donate, the Habitat For Humanity Restore is a great place to send your old stuff to make room for the new.
Speaking of renovations, if you want to update your living space, save money and the planet in one stop, you have to check out Tim’s Reusables, easily the most eco-friendly supplier the world has ever seen, keeping a ridiculous amount of perfectly good building materials from going to waste by salvaging and selling to eco-chic people like you and me. Need a mid-century front door with a diamond shaped window? Tim’s your guy.
To really make a difference with your furniture and appliance donations, the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre has a move-out program which provides low income Calgarians and people at risk of homelessness with the essential items they need to set up a home. You can drop off your furniture and household goods at their donation centre (3640 11A Street NE).
The Women In Need Society (WINS) is another place to send items that directly benefit women and children in Calgary. They have multiple thrift store locations around the city.
Another option (and a fantastic place to find cool stuff), is the Calgary Interfaith Furniture Store. They accept furniture and household items, but no appliances.
7. Children’s Items
Of course, the best way to manage outgrown kids’ stuff is to pass it along to someone with kids younger than your own. The age-old tradition of hand-me-downs is king of the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). If you live in a child desert or are new to the city, Family Fun Canada promote community clothing and kid gear swaps to help you ditch your small stuff for some larger stuff. You can organize your own swap on social media or through your child’s school/daycare.
If you want to try and recoup a few bucks from the small fortune you’ve spent on kids clothing and gear, as mentioned above in this post, you can take preloved kids items to Once Upon A Child or Sproutz Kids for some quick cash. These are also good places to score clean, gently used items for your growing offspring.
If you would like to donate your items, there are some great charities that will put your preloved kids’ stuff to good use. The Children’s Cottage accepts new and very gently used items. They have seasonal wish lists for what is needed most, so check out the website to see if you can help. Of course, the Women In Need Society (WINS) can greatly benefit from your donation of children’s items as well.
For kids CAR SEATS, your best bet is to pass them down to someone you know, so that you are able to verify the history of the seat. Most thrift stores and charitable organizations will not accept car seats or bike helmets for safety reasons. According to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, if your car seat was manufactured on or after January 1, 2012, you can advertise and sell it legally or give it away to someone. Car seats made prior to this date are technically illegal to sell or even give away – the logic being the buyer cannot be certain that the seat has not been involved in an accident and therefore may no longer meet safety standards.
If you don’t know of anyone in need of a car seat, Kidseat Recyclers has a recycling program. Check the website for guidelines and drop-off locations.
If you have CHILDREN’S BOOKS that are in good shape, Calgary Reads is the place to contact. This organization helps kids with literacy and provides thousands of free books to children around the city every year. They hold a massive annual used book sale in conjunction with CBC Calgary. As a former CBC employee and used book addict, I can honestly say this book sale is AMAZING! Listen here to learn more about last year’s CBC Calgary Reads Big Book Sale.
For book donations all year round, check out Books Between Friends. Proceeds from their sales go to various local charities.
Remember, use what you have, and you will need less. I didn’t have images for this post, but I did have some cool old toys to shoot instead of buying stock photos. With frugality comes forced creativity!
For more information on how to live green in Calgary and for resources on recycling items not mentioned in this article, check out the Green Calgary Directory and the City of Calgary Recycling and Disposal Search Tool.