Bequeathing extra items to charity is a constructive way to honor a loved one's memory

What do you do with a family member's remaining things after their death? Once the important items and beloved keepsakes have been claimed by loved ones, there may still be a house full of stuff left over: furniture, books, and assorted miscellaneous household items.

It's worth taking the time to make sure nothing in the house is needed by another family member. Younger family members just starting out in the world may appreciate furniture or kitchen items, for instance. 

You may want to try to sell some of the remaining items, but it can be hard to sell things like used clothing and used furniture unless they're very unique or high-end. What you can't or don't want to sell, you might try to donate. Bequeathing these extra things to those who can desperately use them is a constructive way to honor your loved one's memory. 

Where is it best to donate? Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and other charity-driven thrift stores are popular choices, and it can be convenient to donate a lot of things to one place. But not everything can be donated there, and even among the items that can, there are other options you might want to consider in order to benefit a specific cause that's meaningful to you or your loved one. 

Be sure you're donating items that are in good or gently-used condition. Anything that's not in decent shape — torn or stained clothing, broken electronics — should be recycled or discarded. We'll offer some recycling ideas along with the donation ideas.

Books

Many libraries have a "Friends of the Library" or similar group that sells used books to raise money for the library. Contact them to see if they're accepting books, and if so, what kind. You may also have one or more Little Free Libraries in your area. These are small, enclosed boxes on posts with a few shelves for books. Anyone can leave a book, and anyone can take one. You could leave books here, although you may only be able to fit a few books at a time on the shelves. Children's books can go to either of the above, or to a local pediatric hospital or women's shelter.

To donate books directly to someone in a situation where books are hard to come by, you might try Books for Soldiers or Operation Paperback, where soldiers can request certain books or types of books and civilians can help fulfill their requests.  Another option is Books to Prisoners, which has a wish list of genres they're currently accepting to send to incarcerated men and women. Books for Africa sends your used books to people in Africa in an attempt to end the "book famine" there.

Books too damaged to donate can be recycled through Franklin Media, or possibly through your local recycling program. Not all recycling programs accept books, so check before you put damaged books in the recycling bin.

Cars

You may have heard that you can donate a car to charity, and this is true no matter what condition the car is in, even if it doesn't run at all. There are some charities that will accept a car donation directly from you, so if you have a car to donate and a favorite charity of your own or your loved one's, check with them to see if they'll accept it. You can also donate a car to a program that will put it to good use for charity, including Volunteers of America, which helps the homeless and others in need, and the Car Talk Vehicle Donation Program, which supports National Public Radio stations.

Clothing

There are so many charities that work to find new homes for your clothing donations, we've broken them down for you here.

DVDs, Blu-Rays, and VHS tapes

You are likely to have a fair amount of trouble finding anyone who wants to buy DVDs, Blu-Rays, and, especially, VHS tapes. But there are absolutely people who can use your donation of movies and television shows. Local nursing homes and senior centers may appreciate your donation of DVDs, and some of them still have VCRs around and can use your VHS tapes, too. DVDs4Vets also accepts donations of used DVDs and Blu-Rays and distributes them to veterans. If you can't find new homes for DVDs, Blu-Rays, and VHS tapes, you can recycle them at a local electronics recycling facility. Check with your town or search for a location at Earth911.

Electronics equipment

You may want to try to sell newer electronics equipment, but if you can't find a buyer or don't want to go to the trouble, your donations are valuable in a lot of places. You can try a local school, church, or homeless or women's shelter. Or you can reach out to one of these organizations.

*Cell phones can be donated to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, which uses the phones to help victims of domestic violence. Cell Phones for Soldiers accepts all phones, including broken ones, selling or recycling them and using the proceeds to provide free talk time to deployed soldiers.

*Computers, monitors, and printers are refurbished as needed by Computers With Causes, which then places them in schools, foster homes, community centers, and more. World Computer Exchange also refurbishes computer equipment and sends it to young people in developing countries to help them connect and learn. The National Cristina Foundation connects you to schools and other charities that are in need of donated computers and other electronics.

*Stereo and television equipment could be a great fit for a nursing home or senior center if it's in good working order. Very old televisions, which can't function without cable or a converter, may not be accepted for donations, so be sure to check with whoever you're considering donating to before you show up with a television.

*Video gaming systems, and video games themselves, are accepted by a couple of organizations working to make a brighter world for children. Charity Nerds distributes donated games and systems to children in hospitals, foster homes, active duty military families, and other places where they can benefit from the joy of play. Gamers Outreach focuses specifically on getting used games and systems to children in the hospital.

If you can't find a home for a piece of electronics equipment, or it's too broken to be donated, the next best option is to recycle it at a local electronics recycling facility. Check with your town or search for a location at Earth911.

Exercise and sports equipment

There are charities that will accept your used sports equipment, from balls to rackets to uniforms, as well as fitness equipment including treadmills and stationary bikes. Some of this stuff is so large and unwieldy, though, that your best option is arranging a pickup by a local thrift store. If you want to look into donating, you might consider organizations including Fitness 4 Charity. Local youth sports programs, community centers, and teen centers might also appreciate a donation of your fitness or sports equipment.

Eyeglasses

The Lions Club is well known for their eyeglasses recycling program. Used eyeglasses are distributed to people in low and middle income communities who are in need of corrective lenses.

Food

If there's food in the pantry that you can't use, you may be able to donate it to a food bank, homeless shelter, or soup kitchen. Food banks can typically use non-perishables like canned goods (though you should skip donating any home-canned or other homemade items), rice and pasta, and so on. Soup kitchens and homeless shelters may be able to use these in addition to some refrigerated foods like salad dressing and coffee creamer. Check with the agency to see what they need before showing up at their door with food. And don't donate anything that has expired or is partially used – only unopened food packages should be donated.

Furniture

Some of the donation ideas here involve sending your donation in the mail, but that is rarely going to be feasible with furniture. You'll want to find something local, if possible, and you may be able to arrange a pickup of large and/or multiple items. Habitat for Humanity sells used furniture in its ReStore outlets, with proceeds benefitting Habitat's programs to build homes for those in need. Another great option for furniture is to donate it to World Relief or another refugee resettlement agency, where it can furnish the home of someone who has to start fresh with nothing. The Furniture Bank of North America offers a network of local agencies that can use your furniture donation to help a family in need.

An Illinois animal shelter recently went viral when they posted a video of their shelter dogs, each sitting in its own well-loved armchair. The chairs were donated by community members and made the dogs feel more at home during a time of transition. Your local animal shelter may or may not want to do the same thing, but if you've got an armchair to donate and a tender heart for dogs, it's worth asking if they'd like it.

Hearing aids

The Lions Club accepts donations of used hearing aids, which are distributed to hard-of-hearing people worldwide. The Starkey Hearing Foundation operates a similar program.

Houseplants

If you're cleaning out a loved one's house that's far from your home, you may not be able to take houseplants home with you no matter how much you like them. But they can brighten up local nursing homes, senior centers, libraries, and other public facilities. Check with them to see if they can use any houseplants.

Jewelry

You may prefer to keep or sell fine jewelry and precious gems, but what about costume jewelry? You can donate that too. The I Have Wings Breast Cancer Foundation will accept your costume jewelry donation, clean it and repair it as needed, and sell it, with the proceeds going to help a mission in Nicaragua. Dress for Success can also accept jewelry as well as clothing for homeless or underprivileged women to wear as they interview for jobs.

Used watches can be donated to Esslinger, which uses them to teach disabled American veterans the art of watchmaking and watch repair.

Kitchen goods

Kitchen goods, from plates and glasses to pots and pans to small appliances, are probably best donated locally. Try local churches, which may know of families in transition who need household items, refugee resettlement agencies like a local branch of World Relief, or homeless shelters, women's shelters, and soup kitchens.

Linens

Sheets, towels, and blankets are also best donated close to home, where a variety of organizations can use them. You might not have thought of your local animal shelter, but they can absolutely use your old linens, which will be repurposed into bedding for animals. Homeless shelters and women's shelters may also be able to use donations of linens.

Luggage

One great use for used luggage is a donation to children in the foster care system, who often end up transferring their clothes from home to home in garbage bags. A suitcase or other bag can give them more dignity during a time of upheaval. You may be able to donate through Suitcases for Kids or through a local foster care agency, child welfare board, or Child Protective Services department.

Makeup and other beauty items

Not all used makeup and personal care items are a great fit for a donation. If the item is old and/or more than half gone, it should probably be discarded. But some gently used makeup, haircare products, lotion and more can be donated through Project Beauty Share, which distributes them to women in need through social services organizations. You can also donate in your community via a women's shelter.

One makeup item that just can't be shared after use, for sanitary reasons, is mascara wands. However, you can donate them to Wands for Wildlife via the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge, which has discovered they're perfect for cleaning fly eggs and larvae from the fur of wild animals.

Medical/Mobility equipment

After the death of an elderly or disabled person, there may be medical and mobility equipment such as walkers, wheelchairs, shower chairs, hospital beds, and more. Donations of these items are greatly needed, as others with health and mobility issues may very well be on fixed incomes. The Muscular Dystrophy Association accepts a wide variety of medical and mobility equipment. Your local or regional chapter of the ALS Association may also accept wheelchairs and other mobility equipment.

Musical instruments

Musical instruments can be donated to enrich the life of a young person who wants to play music but can't afford the often steep cost of an instrument. Hungry for Instruments accepts all instruments other than pianos and organs, even if they aren't in perfect condition – they can refurbish if need be. The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation accepts instruments in working order, other than pianos, organs, and accordions. If you have a piano to donate, you can try the Beethoven Foundation or the Society of Unique Artists. 

Office and school supplies

If there are office and school supplies that need new homes, like paper, pens, markers and crayons, and the like, contact a local school to see if they can use them. Classrooms are often short on basics like this, and you just might make a teacher's day if you can donate them.

Purses

Gently used purses can find a new home while helping combat sex trafficking. Donate them to Change Purse, which sells them online and at special events, with the proceeds going toward organizations that work with sex trafficking victims and survivors.

Records, CDs, and Tapes

A vinyl record collection can sometimes bring some money, and it may be worth trying to sell them to a used record store. CDs might also be resold, but they are harder to get much money for, and cassette tapes are almost impossible to sell. You might be able to donate all three to your local Friends of the Library, like you would books. Another option is the ARChive of Contemporary Music, which collects music in all recording formats for historic preservation. If you can't find a home for CDs, they can be recycled through the CD Recycling Center of America.

Reusable shopping bags

If your loved one got on board with the reusable shopping bag trend and left behind more than you can use, you can donate them to someone who might not be able to afford them. Reusable bags can be brought to a local food pantry, whether or not you have food to donate along with them. You can also donate them to a homeless shelter. Another option: If you're donating clothing to a local thrift store or charity, pack the clothing in the reusable bags. They can then be sold or otherwise passed along.

Tools

Used tools can be donated to your local Habitat for Humanity. They may be used to build houses for those in need, or they may be sold in the ReStore with proceeds going to help Habitat's programs. The Toolbox Initiative accepts donations of some kinds of tools, which are distributed to jewelers in West Africa to help them make a living. Your area may also have a local tool bank, where people can borrow tools like they would borrow books from the library – try searching online.

Toys

You may be able to donate toys locally, as there are likely to be children in need right in your community. Try local daycare centers, churches, preschools, foster care agencies, homeless shelters, or women's shelters to see if they can use any toys you may have to donate. On a national level, Second Chance Toys accepts donations of plastic toys to be distributed to children in low-income families.

Related: What to do when someone dies