Closed September 2017

What to Do With Your Broken, Weird Stuff You Don’t Need

By now my regular readers will know that, as Ambassador of Goodwill's Donate Movement, I love to talk about donating gently used clothing and household items, because donating is recycling and philanthropy all at once, and everyone wins! But what happens when you have objects that are broken or just plain strange or random, and you can't really donate them to nonprofits like Goodwill®?  Well, have you ever used It's a free online service that allows communities to locate homes for objects that are often similar to those in Rudolph's "Island of Misfit Toys." (Just because I am feeling playful– here is a YouTube link to the part from Rudolph's special about the misfit toys.)

For example, I just gave away two broken vacuum cleaners on Freecycle, because I couldn't donate them like I normally would. They are probably easy to fix, but when I weighed the time and expense of repairing them, I was probably better off just buying a new vacuum cleaner. So instead of wastefully throwing them into the landfill, I offered them up on Austin Freecycle and arranged for someone to come and pick them up from my porch. Someone who knows how to fix vacuum cleaners, clearly. doesn't exist everywhere, so you'll need to check the site to see if there is an active Freecycle community where you live. Joining means signing up to receive emails about what is being offered and requested. Click the screenshot graphic here to see a larger, readable view of a typical day's messages on Freecycle. You can see everything from moving boxes to old particle board shelves to an airline dog crate being given away. Again, useful stuff that can't usually be donated to Goodwill.

On Freecycle people preface their subject lines with "OFFER" (things to give away), "WANTED" (requests), and "PPU" or "TAKEN" to indicate to the list that the items have been claimed (PPU is "Pending Pick Up"). In my email screenshot you can see someone requesting a TV antenna, some outdoor fabric and some fence pickets.

The Downsides:

  • Freecycle is a great resource, but it can be time-consuming to manage and does create potential clutter in your inbox. If you sign up, I recommend using a nonstandard email address that you check apart from your daily routine, or otherwise having Outlook or Gmail automatically move those messages to a folder of their own. You can also adjust your settings in Yahoo Groups to reduce the volume.
  • Someone may not show up to pick up your items. I just got royally stood up by a guy who was supposed to take my broken treadmill, and now I will need to bring it to a scrap metal yard myself instead. (Can't bear to throw this giant machine in the landfill.) The better strategy is to arrange porch-pick-ups so you are not bound to a specific time commitment that messes up your day.

I believe it's best for the community in general if you donate to Goodwill whenever possible, since it's an easy decision that benefits everyone involved, including the local economy and job market, and it's certainly much less time-consuming. If you are unsure about what can be accepted by Goodwill, read my previous post on Donating Do's & Don'ts, or you can visit the website of your local Goodwill member agency. But if you can't donate it, Freecycle is a great option, and you get to decide exactly who gets to have each particular item if that is important to you.

Have you tried using Freecycle? What do you think? And what else have you done with your misfit items? Share in the comments!

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I have used Austin freecycle. I love it. I’ve gotten stuff there and donated. We put out a call for overalls for a son’s play. I did not want to buy something he would only wear once, and then have it take up space in his closet. We arranged a loan from freecycle.

Tabitha Kokoska

Thanks so much. I’m big on donating things to Goodwill and other organizations, but I never thought about things like broken vacuums (have one sitting in the garage). I’ve never used freecycle, but will check it out today. I’m usually pretty good about finding another use for/donating things that have become clutter or just unused – I’d much rather have someone use these items rather than leaving them on the curb on “big trash day” – Thanks so much again! I’ll spread the word.


You don’t need to clutter up your inbox with Freecycle posts if, when you sign up, in Step 2 you click the dial button for “Web Only – Don’t get notified of the latest happenings. Read messages only on the web.” Once you do that, you have to go to the Freecycle site to see postings. Once you post something, however, other members will respond and you will receive an email.


I just recently found out about Freecycle and really like it that I have been able to give things to people that really need them and can’t afford to buy them. I have posted a couple of items to give away and got a huge response! But I do get a lot of e-mails and may need to go back at set mine up where I don’t get so many, as suggested by others.

rose carmer

Thank you for this suggestion. I believe in recyling everything possible and I know I will use this idea. Cleaning out my closets now as I switch seasons and besides a Goodwill box, I now will have a Freecycle designation area and get right to finding a different home for my clutter.
Also, our local drycleaner collects coats this time of year for needy families. And in the Spring, they collect prom dresses for girls that can’t afford them. They clean them and distribute to proper organizations.

sylvia resnick

It has always been my impression that Goodwill repairs broken items as part of their putting people to work program. If they don’t , they should. There are a lot of people out there who are qualified to make gentle repairs, sometimes not so gentle. They need the work even at minimum pay. Goodwill take note. I live in a retirement hotel and have no porch, just a front desk and cannot clutter that up with give aways. Any ideas Lori?


Neighborhood listservs are another great way to find stuff you need and give away stuff you don’t. I was wondering the other day about how many cubic feet of stuff our neighborhood has kept out of the landfill over the last year simply because people posted giveaway items on the listserv first. Plus it helps neighbors get to know one another.


You can receive a daily digest for Freecycle. It’s in between the clutter of all the emails and checking online. You get one daily email showing ALL activity on the site for the last 24 hours.
I’ve been using it to track down things for a Halloween costume that I don’t want to spend a lot of money on. I LOVE the idea of a trade (like the overalls for a play) – I think I’ll try that for the tie I’m looking for!!


I love Goodwill, both for buying and donating. But I’ve not really given much thought about where to go for donating broken items. Thanks for the good info.


Here in Rochester, NY we have a group called RochesterReUseIt. Sometimes the FreeCycle group is a little strict on what they will and will not allow people to post. Check local listing in Yahoo groups or with your village or town for other possible ways to give away that clutter.

Lorie Marrero

Hey there, Sylvia, I had to get some info from Goodwill to answer your question.
At one time, Goodwill did employ people to fix furniture and repair electronics. Goodwill was founded on that premise in 1902 as they believed in a “hand up, not a hand out.”
However, they saw as time passed that they weren’t getting the value back at a Goodwill store because they try to keep the prices low. If they fixed the items and charged more for these items, they would not get the revenue needed for job training programs. Therefore, they decided it was best to move in a direction where they sell items “as is”.
Goodwill believes in a fair wage and this approach was more of a match to provide better value for the people we serve.
Also, they want to train people for jobs that are out there so they can be in a competitive market place. If you are training people to repair furniture, you are not training them with skills for a position that is in a high demand.
They do some repair for electronic items through the ReConnect program with Dell: Donated electronic equipment is resold in Goodwill stores and devices in need of repair are either refurbished or broken down into parts to be recycled by Dell partners at locations worldwide.
The Dell-ReConnect program has helped to create green collar jobs for people in need of work — from collecting and sorting jobs, to more skilled positions and the revenue from the recycled computer equipment supports Goodwill’s job training programs and employment placement services. More than 250 green jobs have been created as a result of the Dell-ReConnect partnership.
I hope that helps everyone understand!
– Lorie


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