Volunteers sort through donations at A Wider Circle in Silver Spring.

This Christmas, Allison McGill is thrilled her 2-year-old son can take part in a family tradition: “If we get, we give.”

It’s a philosophy the clutter-averse Hill East resident lives by year round. For example, when she buys new shoes, her least-worn pair gets the heave-ho. “Even if I love them, if I’m not wearing them, I get rid of them,” she says. Her toddler will be expected to do something similar after Santa drops off those presents: He’ll choose two toys to donate.

“It helps with sharing, which is already something we instill,” McGill, 42, says. And it’s a way to teach him that someone else may need them more.

But deciding what to donate is easy. It’s figuring how to donate that can be tricky, despite the vast number of worthy community organizations. Many programs, due to space constraints or safety concerns, can accept only certain items.

Community Forklift, a nonprofit in Maryland, welcomes large appliances and doors, but won’t take mattresses or exercise equipment. BabyLove DC, which holds monthly drives for kiddie gear in Northwest, isn’t able to take used car seats or cribs. Back Porch Thrift, a store in Alexandria that benefits United Community Ministries, appreciates antiques and musical instruments, but doesn’t want computers or skis.

Lisa Weems, a mom of three on Capitol Hill, knows she could throw stuff in a bag and dump it in a donation bin. Where it would go from there, however, isn’t entirely clear. So instead, she’s worked out a more elaborate strategy.

“I set up a calendar reminder the first of the month,” Weems says. That’s her cue to sort through whatever her family is ready to part with.

Some items are set aside to drop off at Goodwill’s South Dakota Avenue location. Bigger pieces, like furniture, are reserved for A Wider Circle, a Silver Spring nonprofit dedicated to the eradication of poverty. Old towels are destined for an animal shelter. “It’s time- consuming, but it makes me feel better,” Weems says.

A Wider Circle is appealing to Weems and many other donors because it’s able to use so many different things. Its largest program, Neighbor-to-Neighbor, helps people in poverty furnish and equip their homes.

“It’s like if you went to set up your first apartment. They need everything you would put in it,” explains founder Mark Bergel. That includes kitchen gear, vacuums, sofas, lamps and beds each year for 4,400 families, who aren’t charged a cent. It usually takes about five donations to gather together everything for each home, he says.

Donations are accepted every day, including Christmas and New Year’s. And if an item is too bulky for you to drop off, a pickup team will be dispatched to truck it away from your place, free of charge. Just expect to wait a few weeks for an appointment.

But what if you want to donate a whole bunch of stuff right away? College Hunks Hauling Junk can usually swing by the same day, says Tim Perkins, D.C. general manager. The company donates $10 of its pickup fee to Goodwill, and sorts through your stuff to make sure it goes to organizations that will want it. So Goodwill winds up with the clothes, Perkins explains, but a sink will end up at Habitat for Humanity.

With around 50 donation pickups a month, CHHJ has seen clients donate every kind of thing imaginable. A guy in Georgetown once had them take away his armor collection.

Goodwill “had no need for shields,” says Perkins, who notes that the pieces wound up in scrap metal. But they probably did help someone down the line, and even a 2-year-old knows that’s what really matters about a donation.

Yes, you can donate that

There’s a common statement people make when donating their things, says Mark Bergel, founder of the nonprofit A Wider Circle. It goes something like this: “It has some rips. But if they have nothing, they should be happy with it.” Wrong. “To donate items in poor condition is not a respectful way to do this work,” Bergel says. The only things you should be giving to charity are ones you’d feel proud about giving to a friend. That doesn’t mean that things in less-than-pristine condition are destined for the dump, however.

Worn-out clothing: For declutterer Allison McGill, unwanted clothing posed a conundrum. “I always wondered what to do with old underwear. I’m not going to donate that,” she says. Then she discovered that H&M stores offer clothes recycling — for all brands and for all conditions. Now she knows exactly what to do when her son stains a shirt beyond repair.

Sneakers on their last mile: Lisa Weems takes worn-out sneakers to a Nike store, which accepts old pairs of all brands and turns them into turf and surfaces for playgrounds. If an item is damaged but still has some life left in it, Weems sometimes offers it up for free on Moms on the Hill, a community group email list. If you’re not a member of a similar group, there’s also Craigslist and Freecycle. These sites can be a handy way to directly pass on something to someone who doesn’t mind a spot or two, or would be willing to make a few repairs.

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