A Simple System for Donating Household Items and Valuing Them for a Tax Deduction

by Julie on January 16, 2012 · 18 comments

Valuing charitable items for a tax donation

What you see pictured here is a recent trip to Goodwill.

Eight bags of clothes, one bag of shoes, and a bag of cups/water bottles.

(I literally called an impromptu family meeting about the water bottles, which were spilling out of our cabinets. Everyone picked one or two favorites and out went the rest.)

Like so many of you, I am decluttering. Big time.

The method I am using is one that I have used for years and years, and it has served me well.

Here’s what it looks like:

The Staging Area

If you’re committed to decluttering – either as a one-time proposition or an ongoing endeavor – it helps to have a staging area, a place where you can put the things that are on their way out.

It can be as simple as a box by the back door or a spot in the garage. For us, it’s part of a spare closet that is off our master bedroom.

The whole family knows about this staging area and uses it.

The List

Before I make a run to drop off donations, I take everything from the staging area and make a quick list of the items. It’s a very simple list with the name of the item and tally marks of how many there are.

I do this for tax purposes because we write off our donations (more on that in a minute).

The Drop Off

There are several places near me where you can literally drive up, drop off your donations, and get a receipt without ever turning off your car. That’s important, because if donating is too time consuming it’s easy to put if off and the stuff piles up.

We also have some charities that drive through our neighborhood on a regular basis and pick up things that have been left out. I use that option occasionally, but many of my neighbors take advantage of that regularly.

(Check out Charity Navigator if you want to check out the organizations you plan to donate to.)

The Write Off

The biggest challenge with writing off charitable donations for tax purposes is knowing how to value them. That’s where It’s Deductible comes in. It’s Deductible gives you the resale value of your non-cash donations based on the style and condition of the item.

I started using It’s Deductible back when it was a book that you bought. Eventually it became a software program, also available for a price. I happily paid to use It’s Deductible back in those days. It was that valuable.

Eventually Intuit (the company behind Quicken and Mint) bought the program and the good news is that it’s now completely free to use.

It’s easy to use too. It took me about fifteen minutes to input all ten bags of stuff from our donation (and I even took a call from a friend during that time).

It’s Deductible even valued those water bottles for me. They were listed right there under Kitchen>On the Go>Water/Sports Bottle.

When you’re done entering items, you can print off a list for your records. I put the printed list with my handwritten list and then staple it all together with the the receipt from the charity.

If you’re wondering whether valuing your items for a write-off is worth your time, consider this: It’s Deductible valued my eight bags of clothing, one bag of shoes, and one bag of water bottles at $497. 

That was for one trip to Goodwill and I should note that I always choose the ‘medium value’ condition for my items instead of the ‘high value’ option.

Work in Stages

One of the reason this system works so well for me, is that I don’t have to do everything at once. I usually handle donations in three stages:

  1. The rest of the family and I collect items on an ongoing basis since we know where to put them.
  2. When the pile is big enough (i.e. we can’t get to our luggage or other items in that spare closet) I make a list of the times and drive them to the donation site.
  3. At tax time, I take the lists and the receipts from the year and put everything into It’s Deductible at once.

(Note: I’ve added It’s Deductible to the Resources page here at The Family CEO for future reference.)

Do you have a system for donating items that works for you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon January 16, 2012 at 1:34 pm

This is great…I just finished up a post about It’s Deductible (for next week’s declutter Monday) It’s not as detailed as yours, I think I’ll point people to this post…. It has saved me TONS of money!!

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Julie January 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Sharon, great minds think alike! :) It’s Deductible has saved us tons too. And we’re self-employed so taxes are always a big issue for us. Looking forward to your decluttering post.

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Audrey @ Mom Drop Box January 16, 2012 at 2:37 pm

I’ve never heard of It’s Deductible- I’m going to check that out. Thanks!

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Julie January 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I think you’re going to love it, Audrey.

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The Happy Homeowner January 17, 2012 at 10:43 am

I follow pretty much the same routine as you–I love It’s Deductible! I also set up a box in my office so my co-workers can donate items that get left around the office (or if they really want to bring things in from home). I like the idea of the tax benefits, but I love the idea of giving to those who need it more than I do even more!

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Julie January 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Wonderful idea on the office drop box, HH.

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Christa January 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm

My system is to let everything build up until I get a wild hair up my arse to donate — usually twice per year. Then I gather up the stuff that I’ve categorized in my mind as donatable, write a list and drop it at Goodwill. I think I’ll create a donation section soon in the house — my mind’s getting full!

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Rebecca January 20, 2012 at 10:32 pm

THANK YOU for the info on Its Deductible!! I donated about 10-12 LARGE uhaul boxes a few weeks ago and i have a fairly accurate list, but had NO idea how to figure out the value.

I also have the last 3 years of two kids clothes that have been “waiting” for a garage sale, but if i don’t do the next one they’re all getting donated! That will help a done with determining value

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Julie January 20, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Rebecca, you are so welcome. If you have a fairly detailed list, getting them valued should go quickly.

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Jon @ Vertex42 February 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I like this approach SO much better than having a garage sale. Thanks for the great idea.

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Julie February 7, 2013 at 12:20 pm

You’re welcome, Jon. Hope it works well for you.

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