Get Rid of Stuff

When the circumstances of life seem out of control—and more specifically, beyond our control—it is human nature to attempt a pendulum swing back to a more measured place.

Those who study Buddhist dharma might fall back on the basic tenant that suffering is largely caused by a desire to attain pleasure and control our environment. The sooner we simply accept the inevitability of change, and the impermanence of the joy found in material goods, the sooner we find inner peace.

I offer another perhaps more direct route to feel at ease in uncertain times. Literally get rid of stuff.

There is a reason Marie Kondo is enjoying such immense popularity. Kondo, the Japanese organizing mastermind, author, and tv show host, trademarked a system of de-cluttering called the KonMari method. The underlying principle is that if an object does not bring you joy, thoughtfully discard it. 

The fact that renewed interest in Kondo coincided with a global pandemic forcing citizens to lock down in their homes for the past 11 months tells one truth. People finally had time to go through those boxes in the attic, contemplate a guest room renovation, and come to terms with the fact that they weren’t going to be wearing those suits and little black dresses again for a while. If ever.

With little else to do, cleaning out the house offered a sense of purpose.

There is, however, a bigger reason we are drawn to simplify in trying times. Psychologically, clutter reads as chaos and that is stressful. A 2010 study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that bothersome clutter can actually create a physiological response including raised levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Clutter also reads as choices—too many choices. That as well has been found to create feelings of overwhelm and information overload. The less choices consumers are provided with at the market, for example, the easier and more stress-free their selections are.

Letting go of things offers a fresh start, and a way to shake up stagnant energy hanging about your abode. The process can also be a way to release items associated with painful memories or emotional triggers.

If I have you convinced it’s time for a closet overhaul, you may be wondering what to do with all the items you are about to part with. There are so many worthy organizations that would be glad for your donations. Here is a comprehensive list of places that may not be on your radar. Bear in mind, out of respect for the folks that will be buying or otherwise receiving your goods, everything should be clean and in good condition.

Though many Goodwill locations have been effectively shuttered during the pandemic, the Salvation Army store and donation center at 21375 Roscoe Blvd. in Canoga Park is open for contactless drive-through donations. They accept most items, though the greatest need right now is gently used clothing; receipt provided. Keep those receipts, and certainly request one wherever you donate; your contribution is often tax deductible. 

The People Concern. This organization provides outreach and shelter to the westside homeless. Most in demand: towels, jeans & casual pants, sweatshirts, T-shirts, sneakers, shower shoes, button-up shirts, sunglasses, jackets, rain ponchos, flannel and long sleeve shirts. Drop-offs to 1453 16th Street Santa Monica, CA 90404. To schedule, please email donations@thepeopleconcern.org or call 323-334-9000

Sojourn is a program under the umbrella of The People Concern; they provide services and safe houses for battered women and their children. As a former trainee and volunteer, I know that many times entering a safe house is a hurried, fear fraught process. Mothers take a purse and phone, and if lucky a bag of clothes; the rest must be provided. As with many nonprofits, storage is not adequate to accommodate the amount of donations received. Currently clothing is not being accepted, but that may change at any time. Keep Sojourn on your list of organizations to check in with. They do have a dire need for new toiletries and personal care products, should you wish to donate those things.

Vietnam Veterans of America will pick up from Topanga addresses on Mondays, or you may drop off your donations. Pick-ups need to be scheduled by calling the 800 number. The website has a list of items VVA accepts, and honestly they accept almost everything except large furniture and televisions. They are especially in need of clothing. 13630 Victory Blvd. Van Nuys, CA 91401, 800-775-8387. www.vva.org

CATS (Center for Assault Treatment Services) is part of Dignity Health at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, and a member of the 24-7 sexual assault response team program in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys. It is a sobering fact that the victims’ clothing must be cut off and given to law enforcement for forensic examination. Upon hospital discharge the patients often are sent home in gowns. This center is always in need of new clothing. If you find yourself in possession of outfits you or your kids never took a liking to, things that remained on the hanger with tags still attached, please consider CATS. 14651 Oxnard Street Van Nuys, CA 91411, 818-908-8632

Topanga Women’s Circle. The TWC bin at Pine Tree Circle is a gentle reminder of the wonderful work this group does. Volunteer based, TWC furnishes dwellings for previously homeless families as they move into transitional housing. Co-chair Lin Ilsley says, “Everything we give them is theirs to keep as they move into permanent housing, so we want it to be nice. We are trying to give them a sense of pride in their new home.”

They accept new and like-new kitchen items, small area rugs, small decorative items, and children’s books. The donation bin is usually open Saturday mornings; however, during the pandemic TWC is accepting items a bit differently. Contact Teresa Royer, co-chair, to see what items are needed and how to get them to her: t.royer1218@gmail.com

Child Development Institute. Their website states, CDI “was founded in 1995 to meet the need for early child development and intervention services for young children in the San Fernando Valley.”  They offer a no cost play area, thoughtfully designed for babies and kids up to 6 yrs old. Also available are free developmental assessments, speech and physical therapy, family counseling, and more. A second location was recently unveiled in Reseda. Good condition books are gratefully accepted; those that are not placed in the reading area of the center are often left for families to take home and enjoy. 7260 Owensmouth Ave. Canoga Park, CA 91303, 818-712-0453.

Santa Monica Library One of the few local libraries taking book donations at this time! You will need an appointment to donate; email to arrange a drop off to the main library:  jeff.schwartz@smgov.net. 601 Santa Monica Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90401, 310-455-8600

Little Free Libraries. Don’t forget about local neighborhood libraries. These often look like mailboxes out front of someone’s home with a take a book, leave a book policy.

West Valley Food Pantry. Located in Prince of Peace Episcopal Church. They are serving 3-4 times the number of families than before the pandemic struck, and urgently need support. Most needed: peanut butter, tuna, soup, and canned fruit & vegetables. You likely will not find too much quality, non-expired foodstuff during a closet purge; however, I thought this community resource worth mentioning. 5700 Rudnick Ave. Woodland Hills, CA 91367, 818-346-5554.

Habitat for Humanity “ReStores” accept gently used furniture, appliances, housewares, and building materials. Proceeds from the sale of these items help Habitat’s work in the community and around the world. 1293-A E Los Angeles Ave. Simi Valley, CA 93065, www.habitatventura.org, 805-520-7717.

Check with local animal shelters and rescue groups regarding towels, pillows, and blankets. Those things are usually very welcome.

For items that cannot be donated due to safety concerns or other regulations, don’t forget about bulk item pick ups. These can be scheduled through Waste Management (800-266-7551), and, depending on where you live, you may be entitled to two free-of-charge pick ups each year. 

When we make space at the physical level, we open space at the psycho-emotional level as well. What will you invite in?