How to Declutter Responsibly

PCMag
PCMag
Jan 14 · 6 min read

Decluttering is all the rage, but what do you do with the things you purge? Here’s how to reuse, recycle, and resell your electronics and other household items.

By Jill Duffy

You’re ready to clean house, unclutter the garage, and tidy up the odds and ends that have accumulated in your office. That’s admirable. But what are you going to do with the things you don’t want?

Many people know they should dispose of items they don’t want, including electronic waste, in a responsible way. What constitutes “responsible” is the part that leaves a lot of people guessing.

When in doubt, leave it out…of the trash, that is. Here’s what else you can try.

Resell Computers, Tablets, and Smartphones

Reselling used electronics is a great option for desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. It can work for other items, too, but those aforementioned items are easy wins. The downside is that reselling can be a time-consuming process, so if priority number one is getting rid of clutter, you may have to skip this one (look at recycling instead).

When you sell back your electronics, the reseller usually cleans them up and sells them yet again as refurbished models. For your own safety, be sure you erase all information from your devices and perform a full factory reset.

While some people assume they need to have last year’s model for a resale to be worthwhile, that’s not always true. Your devices don’t have to be pristine, either, although their condition will affect the amount of the offer.

There are half a dozen good online resellers in the US. Look around online and be sure to read recent user reviews. You can also go to the manufacturer directly to see if they have a reselling program. Apple, for example, has a decent one. Going directly to the manufacturer is best when you plan to buy a new product from the same company, as you can usually get a good offer in the form of store credit.

For more, see how to sell your iPhone safely and how to sell your Android phone safely.

Reuse Computers and Smartphones

There are numerous ways to repurpose an old computer or smartphone. One of the simplest is to use it for a single task or function. An old smartphone can become a storage unit for music, audiobooks, or ebooks, for example. An old computer in a guest bedroom can turn into a more limited internet browsing machine or even just a device for streaming movies and shows.

To give an old machine the best shot at running a little faster, be sure to wipe it first. You can search for instructions on how to wipe your particular device or operating system. Or for less than $20, you can use a utility with a wipe option to blast away the past.

Recycle Electronics

Details about how to recycle technology vary based on where you live and what kind of technology you have. The long and short of it is that electronics manufacturers (Apple, Dell, HP, etc.), phone service providers, and electronics stores (BestBuy, Staples, Office Depot) often have programs for recycling the same kinds of devices they sell.

Just as when you resell an old electronic device, be sure to wipe the disk of anything that can store information on it, and that includes printers! Search online (or in the manual) for your printer model and instructions for how to wipe the disk. Then, recycle or donate your printer by looking for a local store that accepts them. Check whether the same company takes old printer cartridges too, as those shouldn’t go in the trash either.

Miscellaneous: Cords, Headphones, and Batteries

It’s almost easier to get rid of large electronics than it is the small ones. There’s always a drawer or box where you can stash one more charging cord, cheap pair of headphones, dead fitness trackers, or used batteries.

I let these items collect in a bag in my kitchen, somewhere not too hidden so that I occasionally see them and don’t forget they exist. Then, once a year, I leave them at a drop-off site. Grocery stores sometimes have them, as do big-box home improvement stores, such as The Home Depot. Keep your eyes peeled at the entrances and exits of big stores for them. If you’re not looking, they’re easy to miss. These locations sometimes accept lightbulbs, too. If you’re anywhere near a MOM’s Organic Market (I used to live near one), they have drop-off recycling bins for everything from eyeglasses to cork.

If you’re in a rush, you can buy a tech recycling box from Office Depot and send in all your tech odds and ends in one shot. They cost $5, $10, or $15 for a small, medium, or large box. The price covers the cost of the box and shipping to the recycling center. You can include cords, phones, keyboards, mice, digital cameras, video cameras, and much more. See Office Depot’s tech recycling info for additional details.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

As you clean up, keep in mind the decades’ old mantra: Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Reduce means limiting your consumption in the first place. When you don’t buy things you don’t need, you don’t have to dispose of them later. Always consider whether you can stretch the lifespan of a product a little longer to reduce your consumption.

Reuse means repurposing belongings by finding new ways to use them. The longer you keep items in your possession in use, the longer you stave off additional consumption. Upcycling, or physically changing a product to give it a fresh purpose, is another type of reuse. You don’t have to take on zany DIY projects, like turning a VHS player into a toaster, to do it, as some of the previous examples show.

Recycling is something should you only do once an item has reached its end of life with you, is often the hardest of all because it involves sorting goods, finding organizations that know how to break them down and repurpose them, and delivering the items to them. If you know where to look and plan ahead, the process can be easier and more convenient.

Here are a few more resources to help you get rid of unwanted items when you’re doing a big declutter project:

  • Recycle Now’s list of items you can recycle and tips on how to do it
  • PlanetAid resells used clothing, textiles, and shoes to businesses in developing markets, and can make use of goods that would be rejected by thrifts stores
  • Nike Grind is a program that repurposes the components of old sneakers; the site has a list of Nike stores where you can drop them off
  • Blue Jeans Go Green is a partnership program that turns your old denim into housing insulation; in return, you get a discount at a clothing retailer, such as Madewell and Levi’s.

Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com on January 14, 2020.

PC Magazine

PC Magazine: redefining technology news and reviews since 1982.

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PCMag

PC Magazine

PC Magazine: redefining technology news and reviews since 1982.

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