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Our wooden donation crate


Have you ever decided to donate an unwanted item only to forget about it entirely until you found it again months later sill taking up space in a corner somewhere in your house? Have you ever started to fill up a cardboard box with stuff to donate, only to find yourself taking things in and out of the box a few weeks later, unsure of which items you finally decided to keep, donate or throw away? Has your partner or roommate ever accidentally given away an object of yours, stating that they thought you had recently made passing comment about wanting to get rid of it? 

If so, I have a simple solution: modify a wooden crate to make it into a permanent donation bin.  

There’s a bright orange wooden crate which has lived in a dedicated space at the bottom of one of our closets for the last two years. This is our donation box. We call it the “orange crate”. It has one sole purpose: everything that goes in it is donated. No exceptions. My partner and I are never unsure about the fate of items which end up in the orange crate: items that are placed in it will eventually be donated (usually at the local thrift store).

Why use a wooden crate?
I selected a wooden crate as the box because those are relatively cheap, they have sturdy handles, they’re able to hold heavy items, liquids won’t damage them (contrary to cardboard boxes), they hold no smells, items at the bottom of the box can be seen through the wooden slits, and theses cases can last for multiple generations since you can easily repair them.

Why paint it orange?
I spray painted the wooden crate a bright orange so that there will never be any ambiguity with other crates or boxes in our house; it is clear that this crate is not a storage container which can be used for moving or storing various items. I never have to worry about whether or not my partner forgot about what will happen to stuff that is placed in the only bright orange wooden crate that we own.

How did you make it?

Step 1:  Choose a crate
First, select your crate size and type. We went with a basic pine crate that measures 18” x 12.5” X 9.5” but there are crates made of different woods and of different sizes. Find what works best for you.

Step 2:  Sanding
Then, you’ll want to sand it to get rid of rough surfaces and get the handles nice and smooth for splinter free transportation.

Step 3: Painting
When you’re ready to paint, get some cardboard boxes or plastic sheets to cover the floor and one or two sides of where you decide to work and get spraying. Follow the distance and spray patters as directed on the can.  Ideally you should paint outside or in a well-ventilated space. I ended up needing two cans of oil aerosol paint to get a nice even coat on every surface of the crate, inside and out.  Let the crate dry for approximately 72 hours to make sure the paint doesn’t transfer onto other surfaces or objects. I decided not to prime or seal the crate because I wanted to keep costs down on this project. I wouldn’t add any of those steps if I had to make another one; it has held up perfectly so far.

Step 4. Furniture glides
Once everything is dry, stick some plastic furniture glides beneath each corner of the crate so that it can easily be moved around on the floor or in your car trunk, and to help protect it from rough surfaces (such as pavement). 

furniture glides.jpg

A few extra features
So, our orange crate functions according to a basic rule which never changes:  items placed in it are to be donated. However, over time, a few extra features have been added.  

First, there’s a binder clip which holds rebate cards for our local thrift store. It always stays clipped to one of the walls of the crate. Whenever we go there to empty out the crate, a staff member punches one or several holes in the card. Once the card is full, it can be applied to purchases during a future visit to their store. What we do is fill up those cards each time we go to empty our orange crate and then we donate the cards to a local non-profit which provides free furniture and clothing to those in need. Staff or volunteers at the non-profit can then use them themselves to purchase items for clients or pass the cards on to their clients. It’s best to keep the rebate cards with the box so that the cards can be punched when we go to the thrift store, aren’t lost, forgotten at home before leaving with the crate or accidentally placed in my partner’s wallet, etc.

Second, I also keep a stack of orange stickers with the binder clip so that we can identify larger items for donation that don’t fit in the crate. The larger items are usually kept near the crate so that they’re brought along when one of us makes a trip to the thrift store. I’m using some old post-it stickers for now but I’ll eventually get some large orange stickers that don’t need additional tape to hold well.

Finally, I have a monthly recurring task on my to-do app to drop off the orange crate at the nearby thrift store. This helps ensure that the box doesn’t overflow and that items which might happen to be near the filled-up crate aren’t accidentally picked up and donated when we take the crate to go empty it at the thrift store.