When you just want to give it away

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Spring cleaning isn't always about making money. For many people, it's about simplifying and often contributing to a good cause.

But that's getting harder to do.

The booming economy is raising expectations for quality throughout the second-hand industry, says Christine Nyerjesy Bragale, a spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries, which operates 1,800 thrift shops throughout the US.

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Goodwill spends $7 million to dump "donations" in California alone, says Ms. Nyerjesy Bragale.

That's a common bugaboo in the industry. "Charity shops have become ersatz landfills," says Kate Holmes, editor of the "Too Good to Be Threw" newsletter for secondhand shoppers and resellers.

"We're looking for things that are gently used and in working order," says Nyerjesy Bragale.

These shops used to wash clothes, rugs, and drapes. Now that's up to donors, says Nyerjesy Bragale.

But Goodwill keeps 90 percent of its donations, she says.

Torn clothes are sold to rag merchants. Obsolete computers are dismantled and sold for parts in several cities. Nothing older than a 486 PC or an Apple PowerPC has any value used, even overseas.

Books, clothes, and baby gear are the mainstays of such charity shops, but they also profit from a steady supply of electronic goods, records, and tapes.

Charities are on a campaign to reject products that have been recalled. And most don't accept kids' bike helmets or car seats, because they have no way to confirm they haven't been damaged in an accident.

Several charities around the country, most notably a few regional Special Olympics organizations, also accept used cars as donations. Most go to auction, some are wholesaled, and the rest are sold for scrap. But most regional Special Olympics are moving away from recycling cars, because the profits are marginal, says Kristin Suto, a Special Olympics spokeswoman in Washington.

Instead, they take used ski equipment for Special Olympians to use.

Whoever you donate to, make sure most of the money really goes to charity, not bureaucracy, says Holmes.

And be prepared to throw away things in such bad shape that you wouldn't buy them yourself, says Nyerjesy Bragale.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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