Clutter: Get Rid of It Responsibly

Donating, selling and recycling are just a few ways to make the most out of old stuff

Springtime means out with the old clutter. But for those living with cluttered garages, basements, and closets, cleaning up can be a hassle. What should people do with their old kid’s clothes, ancient tube TVs, and beat up couches? Consumer Reports offers these quick and easy tips on how to get rid of practically any kind of clutter.

Long gone are the days of dumping unwanted stuff into the trash and out on the curb. Consumers can make the most out of their old stuff using resources like their local thrift store and online services like Craig’s List. If the items aren’t in working condition, there are ways to get rid of them responsibly.

Here’s a rundown of some of the most creative ways to get rid of unwanted items:

  • Electronics.  Log on to www.ecoqsuid.com to check out options for reselling or recycling old gadgets. Or try selling on eBay; somebody somewhere might be looking for an older model or its components. Best Buy also recycles gear. The stores accept computers, TVs, and more, event when items were not purchased there. Office Depot and Staples also recycle.
     
  • Toys and stuffed animals.  After the kids have grown, many parents have bags full of toys. Before donating or selling toy clutter, go to www.recalls.gov to make sure they have not been recalled in recent years. Standards are tougher now than even a few years ago. For like-new stuffed animals, donate to Beanies for Baghdad, an organization that sends items to armed service units in war-torn areas and they distribute them to children. LovingHugs.org sends soft stuffed animals to children in war zones, refugee camps, orphanages, medical facilities, and elsewhere.
     
  • Mattresses.  If a retailer offers to take away the old mattress with the purchase of a new one, try to find out what happens to it. Some retailers dismantle the mattress and recycle its components, and some don’t. If it’s in good condition, offer it to shelters for the homeless or battered women, or the Salvation Army. Hauling the mattress to the curb for regular trash pickup is a last resort, but if it’s the only option, check with the sanitation department. Some communities require mattresses to be wrapped in heavy plastic and sturdy tape to seal in any bugs.
     
  • Paint.  Put those buckets of old paint to good use by asking around at local charities, religious organizations, or high school or college drama departments to find out whether they can use it. Note that paints made before 1978 might contain lead, and those made before 1991 could have mercury. Some communities collect paint for reuse, but if there are no takers, call a local municipal recycling center or find a recycler at www.earth911.com.
     
  • Telemarketers.  Limit those annoying sales calls during dinner. To get rid of telemarketing clutter, register for the National Do Not Call Registry.  Go to www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222. If you ask a company to remove your name from its call list, it must do so.

If the items are well used

Even items that seem useless can be recycled into something practical for someone else. Try these tips for clutter that’s past its prime:

  • Toys.  Ask a local animal shelter if they can use old stuffed animals to comfort puppies.
     
  • Clothing.  At Goodwill, if they can’t repair clothes for sale, they’ll recycle old clothing scraps into industrial wipes for industrial buyers.
     
  • Cars.  Nonprofit groups like Goodwill Industries and Habitat for Humanity accept vehicles; many don’t care whether they run or not.
     
  • Linens.  Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores accept towels, sheets, curtains, and such. To donate well-worn towels, call a local animal shelter. Often they take them to use for pet bedding and/or cleanup rags.
     
  • Furniture.  Ask the trash collector about curbside pickup. Haul it to the curb a day early and put a “free” sign on it, in case someone might want it.

Stuck with even more old stuff? The full story on how to ditch all types of clutter responsibly is available online at www.ConsumerReports.org and in the March issue of Consumer Reports on newsstands February 8, 2011.  It’s packed with ways to sell and recycle old items including bicycles, appliances, books, and financial papers.