New Ways to Get Rid of Old Stuff (and Find Free Stuff)

Aubrey Vaughn
November/December 2007
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Sometimes all that's needed to relieve stress and create a fresh start is to clean out clutter and unwanted items. Whether it hides in drawers, closets, the garage or even in plain sight, most of us have stuff we no longer need, want or can use. These tips can help you open up space in your home, reduce waste and unnecessary purchases, and maybe even help others find just what they need.

Recycling glass, plastic, old magazines, catalogs and outdated paperwork is a great first step. But for items that can't go to the recycling center, such as clothing and odd dishes, consider bartering, selling or donating them.

Swap parties are becoming increasingly popular, so invite your friends or a neighborhood group over for an afternoon of trading. Everyone can contribute their unneeded items to the pile, and then the fun 'shopping' begins!

When your guests are gone, collect unclaimed pieces and make a delivery to your local donation center or Goodwill. They accept gently used clothing, fabric, kitchenware and hard toys (such as plastic or metal), among other things. Some local centers also take furniture, but be sure to call ahead and check, as they may be limited regarding the type and sizes they can reasonably handle. You can also take clothing to consignment or other secondhand stores. Sell old books, donate them to a library, or send them to soldiers via the Books for Soldiers program.

For usable items, you can post them for sale on eBay or Craiglist. You can also offer your treasures for give-away on Freecycle. It's a great way to find new homes for items that can't be recycled or donated, and maybe find items that you do need, like that folding table for your daughter's dorm room.

Some items, such as stuffed animals, require special cleaning and sanitization in order to be reused, which limits the places that can accept them. Project Night Night collects stuffed animals for children without homes, and Animals Beacons of Light distributes them to shelters, orphanages and other areas where they're needed. Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stationed in Iraq are accepting stuffed animal donations (as well as school supplies and gently used clothing) for Iraqi children. For more information, click here.

Certain products have their own reuse/recycle programs, such as the Reuse-a-Shoe program for worn out tennies. Whether it's a mateless cross-trainer or your collection of high school running sneakers, send them in to be converted to tracks, playgrounds and athletic courts.

There are also special homes for defunct electronic and technical equipment. Most major computer companies now offer recycling programs (for a fee) for their computers. Dell will recycle any of their old computers for free (you just pay shipping) ? and if you're purchasing a new Dell or Apple computer, both offer free recycling (shipping not included) for your old computer, regardless of its brand.

There are many places to sell working electronic equipment, and if you can't exchange them for cash, consider donating them. Greendisk will take your CDs, VCR, cords, cables, MP3 players, video game cartridges, VHS and cassette tapes, digital cameras and other technical items. And you can send your old PDA, pager and cell phone to CollectiveGood, where they'll be recycled or refurbished and donated.

Share your ideas for clutter control in the comments section below.

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