Old Stuff: How to Kindly Receive and Reuse

By Julie Rains on 27 August 2010 2 comments

Taking in free items can be a savvy, frugal move. But be on guard so that you won't be the not-so-proud owner of useless stuff.

Those who have recently moved out on their own or had a first baby can be easy targets for others who are looking to unload their things. You may not be able to anticipate what you'll need in the future but will know that there's a great need to save money. When someone offers to give you something free, you're more likely to take things that you might use. At the same time, your friends, family, and even acquaintances will feel like they are helping you by giving you their castoffs. They may even try to pull the frugal card by telling you that you would be wise to accept their old stuff rather than buying new items.

Stay on the offensive to kindly receive the things you need, save money, and stay clutter-free.

Know what you need

You probably have a running list of items that you're planning on buying soon, would like to have if you had extra money, or could always use. Think about these things when you learn that someone else's old stuff is now available so that you can quickly accept or firmly decline.

Know what you don't want old or used

I'm not being a snob here but there are certain items — especially for babies and children — that might require investigation before you can confidently accept and use. Large items subject to recall, such as cribs, strollers, and swings, come to mind. You may be perfectly fine with a used crib but not with one that has been disassembled and is missing some hardware, or a car seat that looks fine but has been in a wreck.

Getting these big ticket items for free might seem like a good idea, but if you aren't able to put them to good use, then they'll just add clutter.

Understand expectations

Most people have some expectations that you will use and appreciate the items that you've received. They never dream that their stuff can cause a burden.

Ideally, you'll get things with no strings attached (emotional or otherwise). In this case, you won't be under any obligation to keep it forever, showcase in your home, or pass along to your children.

But at some point, you will probably encounter some of these stipulations, either expressed or implied:

  • When you're done using the items (when your kids outgrow clothes, for example), give them to someone else who can use them at no charge, just the way you received them. Don't sell them on eBay, Craigslist, or the local consignment shop.
  • Return these items after you've finished using them. A close friend or relative might allow you to use baby things for now but wants them back in about nine months. This arrangement is more of a loan. If you are getting loads of freebies in a short span of time, it's helpful to clarify what's yours to keep and what you need to give back.
  • Hold the items (indefinitely) until the giver is ready to take them back. Watch out for large items that may be extremely useful to have for a while but burdensome to store.
  • Give back stuff that you find you won't use.
  • Donate items to charity, yard sale, etc. after you've finished using them.

Sort immediately

You might be able to sort through items and choose what you need, rather than accepting mixed-up lots of useful and not-so-useful things. Or, you might take bags of old stuff with the understanding that you'll take what you want and pass the rest along to someone else. Either way, sort and organize as soon as you get old stuff so that it doesn't clog up your household.

Take these actions:

  • Put items that you can use right now in their proper places.
  • Assign a storage place for things that you plan to use in the future but don't need at the moment; commit this place to memory so you'll be able to pull from this inventory later. Clothing that is a couple of sizes too big now but should fit your children at some point falls into this category. Similarly, classic but age-inappropriate books and toys might be stored temporarily.
  • Decide whether you can fix items that need to be repaired or altered. If yes, set these things aside momentarily and pick a date for painting, restoring, or whatever needs to be done. If no, get rid of these items as quickly as you can.
  • Reject items that aren't functional or repairable. If you happen to take home some unusable or damaged items, get rid of them immediately.

Though I've been the happy recipient of great used items, I've also had too many things clogging up my basement. However, I have found myself in the position of wanting to get rid of items that range from perfectly wonderful to possibly useful for parts only. Making an announcement to your social network is a simple way to find a nice home for the best items without putting anyone on the spot. Generally, I opt to donate items to a yard sale benefiting organizations that I support; my friends (and other folks) can snag a great deal if they'd like, but not be burdened with my old stuff.

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Guest's picture

One thing that has been huge for me is realizing you can donate gifts. I am no longer weary of accepting items from family and friends because I know they can always be given to the Salvation Army if they don't make sense in my home.

Julie Rains's picture

I like to donate certain items also. Sadly, some of my old stuff is too worthless for Goodwill (even though they kindly take my bags without asking too many questions) so instead of burdening them, I let the yard sale people pick through items and find what is useful to them (which may involve making repairs or ignoring stains). But for items in good condition, many charities will gladly accept and resell.