Organize. Sort. Cull. Declutter. Hold it close and see if it brings you joy. Whatever the approach, millions of Americans are on a quest to get rid of their excess stuff – and many of them are running into an unanticipated obstacle: what to do with all those extra items they are finally ready to bid farewell.
Julie Plaut Mahoney has the answer. Just three months ago, she established a Newton-based nonprofit called Welcome Home. The fledgling organization’s mission is to collect and distribute household items free of charge to anyone in need. The purpose is twofold, Plaut Mahoney said: to provide household goods for people who need them, while also keeping unwanted clutter out of landfills.
Situated in the basement of Trinity Church in Newton Centre, Welcome Home allows clients to schedule an appointment to peruse the well-organized inventory and take whatever they need. According to Plaut Mahoney, clients may be recently homeless people who just found affordable housing, refugees who fled their homeland empty-handed, or domestic violence victims who escaped abusive situations but left all of their belongings behind.
A team of volunteers maintains an ever-changing inventory of gently used silverware, kitchen appliances, dishware, blankets, baking dishes, vacuums, lamps, furniture, rugs, and more. With a policy they describe as “No documentation required; no questions asked,” the Welcome Home team knows only as much about each client as that client chooses to share.
Volunteer and founding member Lisa Porter recalled a recent day when a woman in need of the organization’s help visited the storeroom with her teenage daughter.
“When the two of them started looking through our silverware collection, the daughter said with this sense of wonder, ‘You mean we won’t have to use plastic forks anymore?’” Porter said. “It’s amazing how the things we take for granted can mean so much to people who have been doing without.”
It’s a mutually beneficial system, Plaut Mahoney said. The recipients are grateful for items to stock their kitchens and living areas, to be sure. But the donors are just as grateful – to have a place to bring their unwanted stockpiles of belongings.
Dignity is one of the organization’s core values, Plaut Mahoney emphasized. She and other volunteers inspect every donation to see that it is in good condition, absent chips, cracks, stains, or blemishes, so that recipients never feel that they are receiving cast-offs. Items deemed inappropriate for their own shelves are passed along for other purposes – for example, frayed towels or stained linens might be given to a pet shelter. Nonetheless, all recipients are instructed to thoroughly wash dishware and other items once they bring them home, “just as you should even if you bought brand-new kitchen items at T.J. Maxx,” Plaut Mahoney said.
Many donors are downsizing; others are on a Marie Kondo-like purge. “You might be getting rid of something because it doesn’t bring you joy,” Plaut Mahoney pointed out, invoking Kondo’s iconic rule of thumb, “but it might very well bring someone else joy.”
Although donations often come from seniors who are downsizing or family members charged with emptying a recently deceased relative’s home, goods have come from some unexpected sources as well, such as a professional stager who closed her business and offered Welcome Home a storage unit full of the decorative pieces once used to make homes on the market look more appealing to prospective buyers. Personal organizers, too, are happy to be able to tell their overwhelmed clients about an organization where their stacks of unwanted china or serving pieces will be treasured.
“One interesting situation was a guy who drove up in his little car packed to the roof with items to give away and said to us as he unloaded it, ‘I’m feeling so bad about this. My grandmother knit me this afghan. These were my mother’s tablecloths. But I’m becoming a minimalist and I don’t need them anymore,’” Plaut Mahoney said. “We told him that his mother and grandmother would be happy to know that the items were being put to good use and that someone else was enjoying them.”
Though most items donated are “gently used,” cash donations are welcome and can be used to purchase things that are in high demand, such as coffee makers; or goods that most people would much rather own new, such as sheets.
Also prominent on Welcome Home’s wish list is space. The organization’s basement showroom is accessible and well-organized, but it is small, and an off-site location to store items before stocking the shelves with them would be tremendously useful. Plaut Mahoney is hoping to find a donor willing to contribute an unused garage or empty retail space for this purpose.
“Everybody has some excess, whether it’s because they want to declutter or just want to do a good deed by getting rid of something they don’t absolutely need,” said Cathy Shait of Newton, who lists cutlery, blankets, comforters, a coffee maker, and bake ware among the items she has donated to Welcome Home over the past few months. “It’s a tangible way to help people. When you give money to an organization, you can’t necessarily picture exactly what it is being used for. But when you bring a coffee maker or a set of dish towels to Welcome Home, you know that they will end up with someone who really wants those very items.”
Shait doesn’t only bring her own unneeded possessions; she constantly reminds her friends and associates to do so as well.
“I know that people are happy to donate if they know there’s a need,” she said. “Whether I’m at a class, walking my dog, or doing errands, wherever I run into people I urge them to help out. Not everyone can have exactly the home they want, but everyone has the right to live in an environment that is welcoming and appealing and makes them feel good about themselves.”
To become either a recipient or a donor of Welcome Home,
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Nancy Shohet West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .