Donation Saturation: Where do I donate all my stuff?

A friend of mine, after reading my book and following many of the clutter-clearing strategies, told me that she had difficulties giving away the stuff she no longer wanted.

“Nobody wants it!” she exclaimed. “I couldn’t find places to take the stuff. Everybody already has too much.”

I have also encountered challenges donating the things I no longer want. The abundance of cheap goods, many of which are also poorly made and break easily, has made it easy and seductive for us to accumulate more than we need. Places like dollar stores, for example, make it convenient and affordable to buy new stuff for every occasion, rather than reusing what we already have. Over time, we amass too much and it can be hard to get rid of when the time comes, if you want to do something other than throw it in the garbage.

In reality, going through your things to purge unwanted/unused stuff has almost become two projects:

  1. the actual process of going through your stuff; and
  2. figuring out how to get rid of it!

Here are some strategies to help you through the second project.

Adjust your expectations of the purging process. Start the project with the understanding that after you decide what you no longer need, there’s another step involved to identify places to take your stuff.

Create separate “discard” piles as you go through your stuff into categories like “donate” (for things still in good condition), “recycle”, “giveaway” (for that special friend you know will love it), and “trash”.

Search the internet for charities, or local community centers, that accept donations. Some may even provide pickup. Be sure to read their criteria.

Search for places that accept specialized recycling for things like electronics or mattresses.

If you live in a building, set-up an area where residents can leave items for others to take for their homes. This works wonderfully for things that still have use, but are time consuming to donate, such as wrapping up glassware.

Make a “free” box in your home. Every time you have a guest, offer them the opportunity to take something from the box. I often do this when I’m moving and I’ve had great success.

It definitely takes more effort to try and find homes for all your discarded items, rather than just tossing everything away, but it’s more sustainable and friendly to the environment.

Iceland: Humpbacks!

A definite highlight of the trip was the day we went whale watching from Dalvík, about a 30-minute drive from Akureyri. Before boarding the boat, we spent several minutes struggling to get into these puffy red jumpsuits to keep us warm while out on the water. Even more importantly, they would keep us afloat if we fell in.

The boat departed and I immediately felt excited to be on the water, smelling the salty freshness and enjoying the gorgeous scenery. We were surrounded by low-lying, snow-capped mountains. In certain directions we could see brightly colored houses dotting the shoreline. If we saw any whales, it would be an added bonus to what was already a spectacular boat ride.

Icelandic town from the boat.

And then we got lucky, as the captain spotted six humpbacks swimming a short distance away. We watched in awe as these majestic creatures moved their massive bodies effortlessly through the water, rising up before plunging down showcasing the underside of their flukes. They came so close I could see their blowholes and the outline of their white flippers beneath the surface of the water. Equally exciting was seeing the spray shoot up in the air from their blowholes.

Three humpbacks in different stages of diving.

I could have watched them for hours, but we had to move on to the next activity, fishing. Before fishing, the boat supplied us with hot chocolate and pinwheel cookies spiraled with cinnamon to warm us up. It was much appreciated. I wasn’t into the fishing, but several people in the group caught cod and haddock, which the captain’s daughter filleted right on the boat.

First she eviscerated the fish and threw the guts overboard, to the delight of the birds that were closely following our boat. Then she carved the fish up and placed the choice pieces in a bucket of water. When we disembarked she grilled them with butter. Delicious!

Happy birds following us for the free lunch.

After our fresh fish lunch, we returned to Akureyri for an afternoon of sightseeing and exploring. It was a scenic town from most directions and was easy to get around, even though there was a steep hill.

View of Akureyri from the top of the hill.

Stay tuned for the final days of the trip in the southern part of Iceland.

Read about the other adventures here.

The Trouble with Technology

Technology is supposed to make things easier for us, yet I continually feel that some things are a little bit harder or more time consuming. There’s a big assumption that most people have a base knowledge of how technology works and that programs, or applications, are designed to be idiot proof and intuitive. However, the base level of knowledge that one needs to effectively use and manage technology has never been established.

When I started my blog in 2013, many people told me to use WordPress to build it because it was so easy and intuitive to use. I wouldn’t consider myself a techie, but I do think I’m a tick above average. This is mostly because I had to take courses on it for my library degree. Also, I know if I have to do anything related to technology it’s going to require a lot of time and patience so I set aside several hours to work through any tasks.

Armed with only a rudimentary understanding of how to build a website, I figured with enough time and YouTube videos I could build my blog. I did eventually get the thing built, but it took me a lot of hours. I had no idea how many little steps were required before I could even start to build the blog, such as purchasing a domain name (e.g.,, setting it up with a hosting service, and installing everything.

I spent a lot of afternoons systematically going through all the settings on the backend of my blog and then hitting refresh on my viewing screen to see what the effect was. Although the basic design of my blog has remained the same, I’ve hired two separate techies over the years to do some things on the backend. Needless to say, I didn’t find WordPress easy and intuitive to use.

In a lot of ways, many things with technology have gotten easier and more intuitive. For example, I remember it used to be complicated to add a new network printer to my computer. Now it takes a few clicks. Some apps, like Google Docs, are incredibly easy to start using without any instruction. However, with many other things, I think it’s assumed that the average user knows more than s/he really does about using technology, leading to a lot of wasted time and frustration.

Digital Detritus

One problem with having so many options available for storing, managing, and sharing digital content is that it requires more effort to remember where everything is stored. That is, if you decide to use more than one option.

I’m always curious to try out new applications for digital content. Most of the time, I start using one because somebody recommends it or I’m required to use it for a project. If I like it, I start using it more and “move” in to customize the work space. However most of the time, I only use these apps for a short-period of time and ultimately end up abandoning them, leaving my digital detritus behind.

For example, there was the time I felt inspired to try out Evernote. People raved about it. I installed the app on my iPad and figured I would give it a trial run during a vacation a few years ago. After my vacation, I had barely used Evernote. Additionally, nobody I worked with, or shared with, used it regularly so I lost interest.

The other challenge is that not everybody uses the same applications, which also makes it complicated to manage content. As a consultant, I often have to adopt whatever tools or applications my clients use, even if it’s just for a single proejct. If I’m collaborating with other consultants, I will often use whatever s/he is using, or we’ll decide on something together.

I do my best to clean up my files at the end of a project, but most of the time I’m in a shared space. This means I can’t just delete things according to my strict standards but instead must respect the guidelines of the client or colleague. Sometimes, if I’m working with other people, we don’t all finish the project at the same time which also makes it complicated to clean up the documents. Typically if I’m going to clean up my files, I like to do it as part of my close-out process when I remember things clearly, rather than months later when I’ve already starting working on something else.

It’s easy to create anything, anywhere, anytime, but actually managing and caring for that content over time is much harder. I feel irritated leaving so many digital traces behind and dealing with duplicate content, but it’s hard to control with so many available options and rapidly changing technology.

A Pop of Pink

Each spring it’s always refreshing to see bright flashes of pink amongst the yellows, light greens, pale blues, and whites. The colors that signify the start of a new season, or at least the illusion of one I remember experiencing as a child.

At this time of the year I appreciate how my senses are reawakened to new sights, smells, and sounds. Even though this spring has been particularly cold, gray, and rainy, I feel encouraged by the force of the plants and animals. They are determined to appear even when the weather is not cooperating. 

Burst of color from the rhododendron in my mother’s backyard. If you look carefully you can see a bee.

A personal favorite are the cherry blossoms. The smell is mild and delicate, a perfect match for the soft, fluffy flowers. Even in a place like New York City, the cherry blossoms come out in force providing a colorful contrast to the concrete and brick surrounding the trees. 

Even in NYC the blossoms thrive in the spring.

Equally appreciated are the fresh sounds each spring brings. Birds chirp throughout the day, some of them even start as early as 4:30am! My ears have become attuned to the gentle, muted cooing of pigeons looking for a place to roost. Even with my windows closed and music playing, I can hear those blasted pigeons conversing about potential nesting spots on my balcony. So far I’ve managed to make my space uninviting for them, but I remain vigilant. 

Aside from the birds, the other spring sounds I look forward to hearing are the buzzing of bees and the happy chatter of people enjoying the sunshine, warm weather, and a chance to be outside after a long Canadian winter. The other day I walked through the park near my house and witnessed a group of people participating in a drum circle with singing and dancing. That’s definitely something I don’t see in winter.

The gardens near my house announce the arrival of spring by planting loads of brightly colored and sweetly scented flowers such as tulips, hyacinths, lilies, hydrangeas, and many others I can’t yet name.

The new display of spring flowers at the gardens near my home.

You may still be out these days wearing your winter parka, or warm clothing, but take a moment to appreciate the force of spring. The fresh yellow-green buds bursting from the trees, the fluffy, bright blossoms, and all the new bird songs.

Iceland: Dark City to Goðafoss

After leaving the Tectonic Plates, we finally enjoyed slices of the geothermal-baked bread, slathered with slabs of fresh Icelandic butter. The bread was dense with a slighty sweet flavor to it. Fortified, we headed out to trek through Dimmuborgir, loosely translated as the Dark City. A mass of oddly shaped lava formations towered high above the trail.

Descending into the Dark City

As we descended into the Dark City, we were told to be on the lookout for elves, huldúfolk (hidden people), and trolls. Snow covered many of the rising structures which only enhanced the shapes and shadows. Faces, figures, animals, and other familiar shapes appeared before us with each turn we took, further into the Dark City. Our imaginations ran wild. I could’ve stayed all day in Dimmuborgir exploring, but sadly we only got an hour to look around.

Two lovers kissing or someone raising a fist

Following Dimmuborgir, we headed to another other-worldly site on Iceland, pseudo-craters. The only places one can find pseudo-craters are Iceland, Hawaii, and Mars! Pseudo-craters are formed when water gets trapped beneath lava and creates a crater-like structure from the steam and pressure building up.

A panorama vista of a lake appeared showcasing deep indentations in the earth blanketed in grass and mosses. In certain places, fuzzy white sheep dotted landscape. Most of them were happy to graze as we traipsed by taking our pictures.

It had already been a full day, filled with marvels, but one stop remained on the way back, the majestic Goðafoss, or Waterfall of the Gods. The waterfall was given the name around 1000 A.D. Bending under pressure to convert to Christianity, the community leader at the time threw symbols of the pagan gods the Icelandic people were worshipping into the waterfall. This was to symbolize their intent to start following the new religion.

The majestic Goðafoss

After a full day, we returned to the hotel, freshened up and got ready for a home-hosted meal prepared by a local Icelandic family in Akureyri. Along with a delicious meal, we got to chat with our hosts and learn about Iceland from a resident’s perspective.

The following day we headed out early for a whale watching tour and fishing. Stay tuned!

Read more about the trip to Iceland here.