Where your stuff goes when it's gone 

Local View

Spring cleaning makes no sense to me.

We've spent much of the winter inside, burrowing in our space. Why is it when the days get longer and the weather begs us to come play outside, we get the urge to clean, organize and declutter?

The website How Stuff Works offers a few explanations for this annual phenomenon. On the historical side, the site says there are cultural roots, whether the Iranian new year that falls on March 21, or Passover, when even the crumbs of leavened bread should be swept from the house. On the scientific side, increased sunlight brings a decrease in how much melatonin we produce, and with more wakefulness comes more energy to clean.

Whatever our reason, we clean. And purge.

I recently dropped a few bags of suddenly unneeded household items at the Goodwill donation center on Garden of the Gods Road, and drove off thinking about what was next for that sweater I donated. And I wondered, with a tinge of guilt, if everything I stuffed into that giant trash bag was even useful to the nonprofit.

To answer my questions, Bradd Hafer, assistant director of communications for Discover Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado, met me at the Retail Support Center on South Academy Boulevard. The center opened last June and acts as a clearinghouse for donated goods. If you drop something at an attended donation center — these include the trucks and the retail centers — it will be sorted, then make its way to this 92,000-square-foot facility.

The end of the year is a busy time, since everyone is looking for their tax deduction. But Hafer confirms that spring cleaning also brings a wave of new, used materials.

Warehouse supervisor Marita Sobotka inventories the center every Monday. On the morning I visited, she counted 3,000 pallets, each containing four large boxes of donated items that would be sent to one of 11 retail centers in the region.

The boxes are sorted into categories, such as "textiles" and "electronics." During my visit, boxes labeled "Christmas," with green and red paper, extended four pallets high, four wide and at least five deep. That's a lot of cast-off Christmas cheer.

Of all of them, though, the ones labeled "Sorted Purses" caught my eye — I wondered, might there be a Coach or two in that collection? But squelching my dreams of making the ultimate thrift-store find, Hafer says they have "treasure hunters" at retail outlets, employees who look for items of value that are then picked out and listed in Goodwill's online auctions. (Find them at pickgoodwill.com.) Hafer says they want donors to know they're getting the maximum value for their donations, since the organization will take that money and put it into job training and placement programs.

Some items placed in online auctions do grab pretty high prices. Last week, a TEAC reel-to-reel tape player/recorder was about to close with 11 bids that had lifted the price to $111.46.

On the other end of the spectrum are Goodwill's Buy the Pound outlet and aftermarket sales. If an item doesn't sell in a retail center, it might find its way to the outlet, which is housed in the facility on South Academy. Here, giant blue bins are rolled in and out all day long as shoppers pick out their treasures for anywhere from 89 cents a pound for clothing to 59 cents a pound for glass.

Or it could go into recycling, which accounts for the aftermarket. Hafer showed me the giant bailer where the clothes that are too stained or tattered to sell are bundled; an additional stream of revenue comes from selling the bundles. Those unwearable items might find a new life as, say, rags at a carwash.

Hafer says fully half of the items have an aftermarket life versus a retail life. And while he suggests donating items you would be willing to give to a neighbor as a guideline, he says, "We don't want to discourage anyone from donating anything."

But actually, there is one thing they don't want: televisions. Virtually no one purchases old TVs anymore, and the regulations on recycling those units are cumbersome. If you've got one to give away, Blue Star Recycling can help you with that.

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