Clothes you never wear. Outgrown baby gear, old cell phones, sunglasses, skis, and those Styrofoam peanuts you’re “saving for later.” If any of these things are cluttering up your home, help is here. Our A-to-Z guide to shedding unwanted stuff goes way beyond putting it on the curb or in a landfill. Learn how to dispose, discard, and donate in a targeted and responsible way; save the planet; and even make some money while you’re at it. Ready for a clean sweep this spring? Let the purge begin!
You’re not the only one who wants to replace that ancient, wheezing window unit. So does your utility company, since models made more than 10 years ago can hog energy. Whatever you do, don’t throw it out: The refrigerants are bad for the environment and need to be safely removed. Ask your utility company if it offers rebates for replacing your old A/Cs with Energy Star models. And check with your municipality and local solid-waste management company to find out how to recycle them; some cities will pick up from your curb.
Feel like you’ve used up your craft supplies in the thriftiest of projects? Consider donating any excess, usable materials to local schools, scout troops, senior centers, or community non-profits (call ahead to see what materials are acceptable or in need of). Various creative do-gooders like The Crayon Initiative will also gladly take any and all crayons you want to get rid of -- from used, unused, and broken to ones with or without wrappers! -- to recycle into new crayons and redistribute to art programs at local children’s hospitals. For markers and highlighters that are at the end of their life cycle, Crayola’s ColorCycle program for schools will accept all brands of plastic markers to be recycled and converted into clean-burning fuel.
In most municipalities, you can throw out AA alkalines with your regular trash, but batteries are generally recyclable. Rechargeable, car, and most watch batteries should be brought to in-store and community recycling bins. For extra-good karma, drop off your regular alkalines at the same time.
Many public libraries and Friends of the Library accept donations for book sales, and Books for Soldiers sends paperbacks to members of the military. Books for Africa sends reference books, textbooks, fiction, and nonfiction to students in Africa. As a last resort, mildewy or ained paperbacks can usually be recycled with mixed paper. And the American Library Association has a fantastic page with suggestions for where to donate, including what to do with encyclopedias, which most places don’t take. Our favorite: Give one to a theater to use as a prop.
Whether you’ve realized it doesn’t quite fit how you hoped, or are simply over the style, consider donating any old, gently used, and unwanted bras to someone in need of the extra support. Various non-profits like The Bra Recyclers and I Support the Girls are happy to take bras off your hands -- underwire, sports, training, maternity, and nursing bras of all materials and sizes are welcome -- and help re-distribute them to women and girls in need. If you’re feeling particularly creative, consider jazzing up an old bra to your heart’s content and donate your masterpiece the Gallery of Bras at Bras for the Cause, a non-profit raising funds and awareness for breast cancer, which will then auction off the creations at their annual gala.
A refurbished rare Nokia mobile phone sold for more than a thousand dollars as a collector’s item, but you’d be surprised how much even a two-year-old phone or laptop is worth. If your gadget works and is of recent vintage, you can trade it in for decent money, gift cards, or rebates at Gazelle, Amazon, or Best Buy. Go to those sites and plug in your make, model, and other details to get an estimate. If it’s worthless, recycle it, but first back up your phone or computer, then wipe the memory clean (don’t just delete the files, because someone could use a data-recovery program to find personal information like passwords, medical information, and tax forms). The easiest places to donate or recycle them are Best Buy and Staples stores, and some Goodwill locations.
Cell Phone Cords, Chargers and Headphones
Recycling electronics can sometimes be trickier because even the smallest parts are made of multiple components. For old charger cords and plugs, you should never toss them in the trash as the heavy metals can be harmful as they break down and plastic casings need special processing. Instead, go to your nearest Best Buy to properly dispose of any old cords, cables, and earbuds.
You can ever earn rewards for recycling headphones from any brand by using the mail-in programs from JLab Audio or thinksound. Both companies will reward you with a discount coupon, eligible for use on their products, if you mail in your old headphones.
Dozens of websites resell clothing -- here’s how to choose. For ease, try Thred Up or The RealReal, which pick up or provide you with free shipping kits to send in your discards for sale online. Some users complain that the payout is low, so keep expectations in check. To do some good, try Union & Fifth, a nonprofit online consignment shop that donates 75 percent of the sale to the charity of your choice.
Junior had a growth spurt right after you bought a 100- pack of size 3s -- help! Many diaper banks prefer cash donations to actual diapers themselves. But some cities have drop-off locations and even accept open packages. Email email@example.com for locations; if there isn’t one near you, call a local women’s shelter.
Expired Canned Goods
If a can is dented, bulging, or leaking, compost or throw away the food and recycle the can. Otherwise, the contents are likely still edible long past the sell-by date. According to the USDA, low-acid goods like soups are fine for up to five years after.
Donate old specs or shades to places that redistribute them overseas to those in need. Many Walmart stores with vision centers collect them to send to Lions Clubs; you can also mail them to New Eyes.
Put one on consignment in the fall at a local vintage store or furrier, or, if it’s less than 20 years old, try the online seller Buymyfur.com. (But unless it’s a name brand like Blackglama, or a natural color -- not dyed -- don’t expect to get much.) If Grandma had a taste for big cat or bear, selling is a no-go because of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Donate by mail to Born Free USA from September through December; the fur will be reused as bedding for sick animals in animal sanctuaries.
First, figure out if your piece is worth anything. If you think it might sell for more than a thousand dollars, or you have multiple items, hire an appraiser to get an estimate; search for one by zip code using the American Society of Appraisers’ website. If you have a valuable antique, sell it through a dealer or at auction. Otherwise, consider these online marketplaces, which generally work on commission: For high-end vintage pieces, try Chairish, which interior designers use to move extra inventory; the site is highly selective and therefore gets good traffic. NYC and D.C. residents can use AptDeco, which handles pickup and delivery, something that other options like Craigslist and Krrb won’t. If your furniture is less valuable but in good shape, donate it (see Rugs or Donate in One Stop, below).
Gift Cards for Places You Never Go
Aunt Mildred has had you pegged as a Forever 21 girl since high school, and you’ve got a stack of plastic to prove it. Trade it in for cash at sites like cardcash.com or cardpool.com, or go to your local Coinstar Exchange kiosk (but make sure it accepts the card you want to trade first; go to coinstar.com).
Grooming tools like brushes and combs are usually made to last a long time, but all good things must come to an end. Most plain plastic combs can be recycled, since they’re made from one type of plastic and don’t typically have other components. Brushes, on the other hand, might have wood, rubber or metal pieces within their bodies, as well as sealants and glues. You can purchase a TerraCycle box specifically for personal care and beauty items (or even encourage multiple homes in your community to go in together on one box, rather than waiting to fill one as a family!) Thrift shops and charity organizations usually don’t accept hairbrushes or combs for hygiene reasons, but if you have gently-used items, you can also call your local animal shelter or veterinarian’s office to see if they accept grooming items as donations.
When your daughter retires her Rey or Elsa getup, mail the clean, gently used costume to ’Ween Dream, which distributes to children living in poverty, with special needs or disabilities, or recovering from trauma, like a national disaster.
Jewel Cases for CDs
So you’ve finally consolidated your college-era music in a binder. Technically, you can recycle the hard clear cases with the rest of your plastics. But if you think you’ll ever want to sell those ’90s gems (see Videotapes, below), keep the cases, along with the mini album sleeves.
If your trinkets and watches are worth something, check out True Facet, a site where you can either list pieces for sale or they’ll be sold for you on consignment -- the company sends you a mailing label and takes care of photography and shipping. Alternatively, you can donate gems and gold to charities like the Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse or most of the big charities (see Donate in One Stop, below). Just make sure to get your pieces appraised according to IRS rules if you itemize deductions.
An old toaster or blender that still works can be donated (see Donate in One Stop, below). If you have small appliances that are broken and not worth fixing -- we’re lookin’ at you, ye olde electric can opener -- a local repair shop might take them for free to use for parts. Otherwise, dispose of these items as you would electronics: Look for e-waste rules in your area to see if you can recycle, and use earth911.com to find a location.
How many people does it take to change a lightbulb? One very resourceful one. CFLs (compact fluorescents) and other fluorescent bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, so it’s best to recycle them. Lots of hardware stores, including many Home Depot and IKEA stores, have drop-off areas. Since some can accept only certain types of bulbs, check before you bring. Otherwise, look into your local household hazardous waste policies: Most municipalities have periodic collection days. Incandescent, LED, and halogen bulbs can all legally be put in the trash, since they don’t contain hazardous materials, but you get bonus points for recycling them with fluorescents where you can.
Nail polish, and nail polish remover, should never be poured down the drain. Since nail polish is flammable and can contain harsh chemicals, you shouldn’t put it in your household trash or recycling, either (despite its glass container). Instead, take your polish empties and any acetone removers to a hazardous waste center or schedule a pickup, so they can be processed safely. Just be sure any acetone is in a tightly-sealed container. It’s fine to leave the acetone in the bottle it came in, unless there’s a leak — then, you can pour acetone into a well-sealed metal container, and keep it away from heat until it’s at a disposal center.
Nuts & Bolts
Donate workbench extras to Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Rusty nails? Scrap-metal yards will often buy them for pennies on the pound. Wrap up the rest so they don’t cut anyone, and recycle with metals.
Oils Leftover from Cooking
Surprising, but true: You may be able to reuse them multiple times if you strain out food bits and store them in a cool, dry place. How many times depends on several factors, including the type of oil and what you fried in it. If it starts to look dirty or smell rancid, discard by funneling it (after letting it cool to room temperature) into a container and throwing it away. Don’t pour it down the drain, where it can solidify and clog the pipes.
Quilts, Comforters, Towels
Many animal shelters accept donations of old blankets and towels to use for bedding or cleanup. Use the Shelter Pet Project to contact a local shelter, or the Humane Society to ask what it needs.
The Salvation Army and Goodwill take large home furnishings, including gently used area rugs, but check with the location near you, as some prefer large ones only. If your item is too soiled to donate, contact your waste management for details on bulk pickup. (For more information on selling rugs, see Furniture, above.)
Trade in too-small hockey skates or skis for the right size at Play It Again Sports, which has locations in most states. It takes adult and kid gear, as well as big items like soccer goals. Treadmills, ellipticals, and the like can be sold -- the retailer 2nd Wind buys used items and has locations in 11 states. But they don’t hold their value well, so if your equipment is in good shape, consider donating it to Fitness 4 Charity, which gives exercise equipment to schools and rehab centers. Goodwill and the Salvation Army often accept working equipment too.
It’s not easy to disassemble a broken one to recycle the parts, but if you’re determined, you can find instructions online. Before you go there, check the brand’s website to see if it offers a lifetime warranty; if so, ship it back to return it or receive a replacement. Or pull a MacGyver: If a fabric loop has come off the edge, sew it back on. If one of the rivets on a rib has come apart, thread through a bit of wire to hold it together.
They may not seem like much, but these small yet essential garments contribute to the 85% of textiles in America that will end up in landfills, according to the Council for Textile Recycling. Fortunately, many secondhand stores and charitable organizations like Goodwill and the Salvation Army will accept clean underwear in good condition. Any in unsellable condition will head to facilities to be shredded and upcycled as furniture or automobile stuffing. You can also drop off undergarments in any condition at a USAgain collection site to be recycled properly. If your undergarments happen to be 100% cotton, they can even be composted, either in your own garden or in your community’s facility.
Videotapes, DVDs, CDs, Video Games
If you’ve waited this long to get rid of your VHS tapes , now you’ll have to suffer the consequences. They’re not easily recyclable; check with an e-waste recycler (see Cell Phones, above) to see if it’ll accept them. Or you can mail them to GreenDisk, which destroys the contents and recycles them for a fee. You’re in better shape when it comes to CDs, DVDs, and video games: Sell them on Decluttr. You need a minimum of 10 items as well as original artwork and CD cases, but it’ll pay for just about anything in good condition -- maybe even The Hangover Part III.
Viruses on Computers
One of the newest threats is ransomware, a kind of malware that takes your computer hostage. Don’t pay up; there’s no guarantee you’ll get your files back, and then the bad guys win. Step 1: Shut down your computer to disconnect from the internet (which might help prevent malware from spreading or transmitting your private data). Step 2: If you regularly back it up, restore your default settings and reinstall your software (or have this done at a repair shop). There isn’t a solution to every virus, but No More Ransom! can help get rid of some for free.
Donate in One Stop
Donation Town is great all-purpose resource. Type in your zip code and it’ll connect you to organizations that will pick up from your home.
Goodwill has more than 3,000 locations in North America, but it’s made up of a network of autonomous, community-based organizations with varying policies. In general, they take most things, from clothing and toys to furniture and housewares, and may send a truck to pick up large items. Revenue goes toward causes like job training, child care, and mentoring.
Habitat for Humanity ReStores
Habitat for Humanity ReStores accept new or gently used construction materials, large furniture, and working appliances. They sell the items and use the proceeds to help communities around the world.
The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army takes anything it can sell in its roughly 1,400 U.S. stores, including clothing, large appliances, mattresses, computers, bicycles, and cars. The money raised helps support its work, which includes food distribution and disaster relief.
Vietnam Veterans of America
Vietnam Veterans of America has drop-off locations in most states and may pick up clothing, housewares, tools, books, bedding, curtains, and small appliances.