PORT RICHEY — They started at home, with the old clothes, blankets and baby gear they didn't use anymore.
Then Valerie Bartz went through her old stuff at her parents' house, and Elijah Bartz threw in his duplicate tools. They hit up friends and family for old dishes, lamps, toys and tapes. They even scooped up the unsold items destined for the trash at a consignment shop and a half-dozen garage sales.
It took multiple trips over three weekends, including one final haul in a friend's trailer and a relative's truck, but there it was: 2,665 pounds of stuff — a hulk of clutter that could tip the scales on a black rhino — gathered by one couple to fill the donation bins at Goodwill.
"I want to be known as the guy who donated a TON," said Elijah Bartz, a 29-year-old framing company foreman, as he dropped off the last load of donations Nov. 28 in St. Petersburg.
Of course, there was more than a tidy home, as well as bragging rights, involved. The Port Richey couple won Goodwill's first-ever Next Big Donation contest, smoking the first runner-up by 1,000 pounds. Donations were accepted last month at the Goodwill Industries-Suncoast stores in Brandon, Port Richey, Oldsmar and St. Petersburg.
The Bartzes clinched two tickets to the 97X Next Big Thing concert last weekend in Tampa and got to meet some of the bands.
"We had so much fun," said Valerie Bartz, 26, who is a stay-at-home mother to the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Kendall.
The concert is actually an annual tradition for the couple, as it always falls near Valerie's birthday. But money is tighter this year, so Valerie had begun scouting online for reduced-price tickets. That's when she found out about the contest.
Rounding up donations was easier than they had thought it would be.
"Everyone was so willing to donate," Valerie said, "especially when they heard it was going to Goodwill around Christmastime."
And lots of people have plenty to give. There aren't reliable statistics on how much stuff the average family has, but Americans seem to be acquiring more and more.
The size of the average U.S. home has grown from 1,400 square feet in 1970 to 2,300 square feet today, even as the average household has shrunk from 3.1 to 2.5 people.
And still, people need more space for their stuff. More than 2 billion square feet of rentable self-storage space has been built in the past 25 years in the United States. The Self Storage Association boasts that there is 7.4 square feet of self-storage space available for every man, woman and child in America.
Valerie said it's easy for the clutter to accumulate.
"You put something in a closet or the attic, and you keep putting other stuff in front of it, until you're motivated and have the time and drive to say, 'I'm going to finally go through this stuff.' "
Valerie said it felt good to get rid of the extra stuff — and provide a bounty for thrift store shoppers on tight budgets this holiday season. The sales, of course, help Goodwill assist others in need.
"Without the support of donors like Elijah and Valerie, people who are disabled, elderly or unemployed would not be able to get help from Goodwill," said Michael Ann Harvey, Goodwill's vice president for marketing and public relations.
Harvey noted that three of the four biggest donors in the contest were Pasco County residents, "which says something about how big-hearted Pasco folks are."
The Bartzes didn't go to last weekend's concert empty-handed. Valerie brought her iPhone, and Elijah had a special shirt, both of which were autographed by the rock band Chevelle.
And the couple brought a few more bags of goods to leave at the Goodwill trailer.