If you're a shopper, you probably have a lot of shoes. If you're female, you probably have a lot of shoes. If you're into athletics (runner? soccer player?), you probably have a lot of shoes. Whether you buy high end or Payless brand, if you're American you have a closetful of shoes. It's a thing with us. Ain't it great to be an American?
But with great power, or great consumption, comes great responsibility. Please take a moment to visualize all the shoes in your house. Start with your closet, then move on to your kids' closets. Is there a pile of (shoes, sure — clothes and gear, too!) in the mudroom? In the garage? Yep, there are piles everywhere. All those shoes reflect a life full of outings and fun activities, but they probably also reflect messy closets. It's time to spring clean. Now, the big question...what do you do all the shoes you're no longer using? Please don't throw them in the trash unless it's absolutely necessary. Most used shoes can be put to good use. There are companies out there making playground surfaces and zipper pulls out of old tennies. You read that right. Don't throw your stinky running shoes out. They're a resource. Wanna know more?
Let's start with the recyclable shoes: athletics shoes and flips. Athletic shoes can be recycled all around the country. Runner's World has a great summary page online with a reference list. In Portland, Nike stores offer convenient drop-off points across town. Just go in the store (including the discount store on MLK) and have someone point you to the old shoe recycle bin. It's usually in the back, as Nike is a retailer. Retailers know that having you walk to the back of the store means you pass cool workout gear for sale, and you might be tempted to spend. This is a challenge to your willpower, and falling for this old trick is like falling for the perfume gals' sales tactics at the front of Macy's. It's beneath you. Drop off your shoes and leave.
Flip flops are also recyclable, but often not locally. Try TerraCycle's flip flip brigade (a partnership with Old Navy). When you start a brigade you receive a box, fill it with your old flips, and send it off to TerraCycle using a postage paid label. If you're thinking, Who can fill a box with old flips?, take a look in your closets. Most families probably can fill a box with flips found in their garage and closets and god knows where else. However, if you cannot fill the box with your own supply, send an email to your friends telling them you're doing a flip collection. Keep the TerraCycle box in your car for a month or two and collect from your friends as you see them. Then ship off the box. It's painless, and your friends will owe you a favor. The flips will be made into a playground or something similarly cool. Everyone wins.
On to work shoes and fancy shoes. Have you considered selling your gently used footwear? No joke! I've sold 34 pairs of shoes in the past couple of years on eBay. Evening shoes, boots, sandals, pumps, leather flips: they've all sold. I have a friend who sold her kids' ski boots for a nice price. Since kids grow out of everything, why not sell or swap their discards. If you've ever been to a clothing swap, consider doing the same with shoes. Invite a bunch of friends over and start trading.
And let's not forget your favorite charity. I'm a fan of Dress for Success, which takes ALL women's shoes. Donations not used to outfit women for interviews are sold at twice-yearly fund raising sales. Google men's work shoe donations for your area or take your clothes to a favorite church or charity clothing drive. People getting back into the work force often lack the funds for a work-appropriate wardrobe. Your gently used items can really help.
Here's the plan. Before you pack away the winter skis and boots, clean out your closets. Separate the athletic shoes from the work shoes from the flips. Send each pile off to the best collection place: either to be made into playground mats or to TerraCycle or to be used by someone who needs the boost. You will feel better for your now tidy closets, and someone else will feel better for the new shoes. The environment will breathe a sigh of relief for everything you kept out of the landfill. Now, GO!