Buttoned Up: What happens to the stuff you donate?

Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore

Donations are a wonderful way to streamline your home and do something good for others.

But aren't you curious about what happens when you drop off those boxes at Goodwill, shove your bags in the Big Brothers Big Sisters donation bin in the parking lot or watch the pickup van pull out of your driveway laden with stuff?

We were. So we went looking for answers.

Here's what happens:

All donations first go through a thorough inspection to determine their re-sale potential. If an item is salable, it is tagged with a price and put in a retail sales center. Once someone purchases the item, profits made will be used toward running the business and going to the organization that the store supports.

For items sold at Goodwill, for instance, profits go to helping individuals with special needs obtain employment and receive training to help them live independently or with little assistance. Items sold at the Salvation Army help those who are struggling financially and need help with food, bills and housing.

Items that can't be sold are usually donated. For example, a running car that is donated may be given to an individual who needs a working vehicle to get to work and transport children to school. Without these items many individuals would not have clothing or shoes to wear. Organizations that accept donations depend on them to stay up and running. While some of them may receive some sort of funding through grants or government assistance, often this money is not enough. Donations are usually their main source of being able to stay in business and continuing to help others. Even though most donations are accepted, it is important to check ahead of time to see what kind of items each organization is looking for.

Of course, each organization will have a slightly different process -- so if you're curious, just ask. They are usually more than happy to discuss what happens to items once they are donated. And we found that when we learned more about where our stuff went, we felt even better about letting things go.

What is the hardest thing you have letting go of? Why do you think that is?

The writers are co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized. Send ideas and questions to For more columns, go to