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By: Justin P. McCarthy   |   January 27, 2022


It’s January and 2021 is in the books. The Omicron variant has been fitted for the mantle of our Latest Supreme Terror, and wears it well, despite
everyone but the Greeks pronouncing it wrong. We and– finally!– our dear children are vaccinated and at least decently protected from COVID-19, for now. You may even (eventually) be heading back to work in an office–with other people!


Hopefully you and yours were able to get together toward the end of the year to celebrate Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule or just the joy of being alive together on our own 6.6 sextillion tons of rock careening through the cosmic ether. As you don’t need a Harvard psychology professor quoted in The New York Times to tell you, “Giving to others reinforces our feelings for them and makes us feel effective and caring.” It can also demonstrate our love, facilitate our romances and enable us to help people, in addition to conferring other benefits.


Like many of us, you probably gave more gifts to more people than usual during last year’s holiday celebrations. What a comforting, nihilist-silencing tonic for the soul to consider billions of humans suffering through a collective, once-in-a-century trauma and deciding, en masse, to shower one another with presents. It’s enough to make even the grumpiest of curmudgeons pause between harrumphs.    


If you’re like us, you and yours likely also received more gifts than usual–the output of all that supplemental largesse had to end up somewhere. By now, though, the boxes have stopped coming. You’ve probably cleaned up the initial explosion of wrapping paper, bags and bows. You might even have sent out your thank-you notes (you do send thank-you notes, right?).

Though your residence may no longer qualify as an auxiliary Amazon distribution center, there’s still work to do: that pile of delightful new clothes, toys, books, countertop appliances and gift cards needs to go somewhere, but the laws of physics still apply and your home hasn’t gotten any bigger. Time for a Christmas Clearout! (Or a Diwali Drop-off, or a…Hanukkah Haulaway?) We do this every January, and it feels so good. Here’s the best of what we’ve learned.


Triage: Pick a few weekend days. Take a couple of hours per room and sort out things to keep, regift, donate, sell, recycle or trash. Don’t feel bad including newly received gifts in this process; if you don’t want them now, you won’t want them later.


Stay microlocal: Can someone you know use your stuff? Siblings’ kids, cousins, friends, your gardener, your kids’ nursery school. For kids’ things, we think, “who is a few years behind us and might need this now, or soon?” We keep eventual regifts in a drawer so we always have something on hand for birthday parties.


Nextdoor is your friend: Especially if you’re willing to go low-price or free (and to forgo any tax benefit), Nextdoor’s For Sale and Free section is a force multiplier for getting rid of your stuff. Take good pictures, and make sure potential buyers/takers know what they need to do to get something out of your home (“The TV is 125 lbs and must be carried up 15 steps,” etc.). If you use less local sites like Facebook Marketplace, stay alert for scams.


Look beyond Goodwill: We spent decades donating everything smaller than a car to Goodwill. Goodwill is great! But there are many specialists who can sometimes put your donations to more efficient or more targeted use, or bring your gifts closer into alignment with your values. Check out:


The Children’s Book Project

Gift Cards for Change Unlike some, they do not take a cut of donated gift cards’ value.

The Bicycle Recyclery Donate for a tax deduction or get credit toward another bike. Great for kids who outgrow a bike every two months!

Soles-4-Souls Donate new and lightly used shoes via Zappos

Even though the Salvation Army has halted large donation pickups during the pandemic, 
some charities will still come to your door. There are many more! Don’t forget to vet charities through a rating site like Charity Navigator.


Recycle it right: Before you start stuffing trash bags, check out Zero Waste Marin for safe, environmentally responsible ways to recycle everything from lightbulbs, laptops and prescription medications to motor oil, box springs and propane tanks. When in doubt, the Marin Resource Recovery Center takes almost everything–including household hazardous waste.


Take out the trash: It’s worth digging into your local waste disposal company’s offerings. Mill Valley Refuse, for example, offers up to four free curbside pickups of up to 21 bags of trash or yard waste each, per year, depending on where you live. They also list useful holiday information, like what to do with wrapping paper and how to tip your drivers.

Justin P. McCarthy lives in Tiburon with his wife, Katie, and their three children--Jack, Ali, and Claire. He’d be delighted to hear from you at
More from this issue:

Follow the Spark Read >>  

Gardening: What Fertilizer to Use?
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January Book Picks: Chinese New Year Read >>

Looking in the Mirror Read >>

Mindfulness in the Making: Happy New Year Read >>  

Diagnosed with ADHD at 38 Read >>

SMMC Ed Series: Essential Nutrients for your Kids’ Immunity   Read >>