I've spent a lot of my life wondering about items I walk by in thrift stores, garage sales, and yes - even along side of the road. What were their lives? Have they outlived their usefulness or has it just been replaced with newer (and supposedly better) things?
We live in an era of conflicting values. Greed is good (or is it bad?). Buy more stuff (but we have so much already). Rid your home of clutter (but keep everything sentimental - even if you have no use for it). I too, have tossed things out only to wonder if those items could have been used in some other way. As I finally strive to become more environmentally friendly in my personal life, I realized that there are baby steps which everyone can take:
The first step is one that most of us are doing now - recycling. Recycle your glass, plastic, yard waste, food waste, etc. Just doing that one small thing is already having a great impact on our environment. The next step is to donate instead of dump! Yes, garbage should be thrown out! But a chair with a chipped finish, is probably not garbage... a little refinishing and that chair will probably be a very nice-looking (and useful!) item! Just because you don't want it doesn't mean other people won't. The next big step is to try and re-purpose those items yourself - or find someone who will. For example, most chairs and tables can be refinished or reupholstered and given great new lives.
I've seen amazing artwork created from recycled items - items I have actually owned at some point in my life. Artist Nick Cave has done a great job of re-purposing items into incredible pieces of art (If you EVER get the chance to see a Nick Cave exhibit - do so!! His Soundsuits and other art pieces are incredible!)
Art like Nick Cave's, really inspires me to re-think about the items I would have tossed out in the past. Sections of old wooden fence or left-over wood from a shelf-building project have been turned into rustic "welcome" signs. Old, out-dated World Globes have been turned into wonderfully imaginative lampshades. Old T-shirts have been turned into funky vests. What could you have done with those shirts you donated, or the table you threw out? I challenge you to think about ways to re-use your items before you throw them out or donate them. I bet you'd be surprised at what neat things you can do!!