Spring is here, and the sun is shining! That’s a good thing, until it starts illuminating the piles of old junk standing in the previously darkened, cobwebby corners of the garage. We know the therapeutic benefits of getting rid of all that useless stuff we no longer need. But there’s a twinge of guilt as the black garbage bags pile up and we think about the legacy we’re leaving the earth.
Good news: not everything needs to go to the landfill! Recycling is still going strong, and there are new options available for previously hard-to-place items. Better still, reusing has become hotter than ever as businesses and organizations begin tapping into the “green” market.
In this two-part series, I’ve compiled some resources to help you figure out what to do with those boxes of stuff you no longer want?other than setting them out by the curb. You’ll declutter your space, help the environment, and maybe even make a few dollars!
Part I: Reuse!
They say one person’s trash is another’s treasure, and now It’s truer than ever. More and more new venues are popping up to allow you to donate, share, trade, or sell items you have no use for. The following suggestions may help you get started:
What do furniture, mismatched dinnerware, poster paints, towels, a skein of yarn left over from a project, and stationery have in common? Someone, somewhere, probably wants them—and may even be willing to pay.
Garage sales – These are the old standby, but don’t discount them too quickly. Last fall, my family made $90 on several boxes of clutter we were sure wouldn’t sell. The effort required is minimal: if you price items as you sort them, the biggest time investment is a few hours on a Saturday morning. don’t have enough stuff for your own garage sale? Join with a friend, or look into a neighbourhood or community-wide event.
eBay – The international-scale garage sale is another option. Monitor currently listed auctions for a few weeks to see if there might be a market for your goods. In my experience, collectibles, designer or licensed character bedroom décor, gift certificates, and popular but hard-to-find items tend to sell well. Do your research carefully, though. Seller fees can add up quickly, and the auctions are so saturated with certain items that you might even end up losing money.
Consignment and bargain shops – Once solely the province of clothing and jewellery, some resale shops now deal in part or exclusively with household and miscellaneous items. Check store policy ahead of time, as some stores will purchase your items outright, and others will only take them on consignment.
Local papers – If you have bigger ticket items, like furniture, appliances, or electronics, consider putting an ad in a local paper. Many publications charge a small fee, but some allow free ads under a certain word count or item price.
Craigslist it – Craigslist, an online classified ad website with pages tailored to your local area, will allow you to post free ?for sale? ads. It’s particularly effective for big, unique, or collectible things, but since there’s no cost, It’s worth trying no matter what you have to offer.
Swap it – Small online communities are springing up to allow people with specific interests to exchange items. For example, the forums at The Fwoosh allow action figure collectors to swap figures and more. Check online to see if your hobby’s represented?or start your own group!
Freecycle it! – Online community Freecycle.com facilitates free exchanges of those items you no longer need, but someone else desperately wants. Visit the Freecycle website to see if your community has a local group, and if so, start listing those items. Don’t hold back: we’ve successfully “freecycled” half-finished paints and scratched Elton John records—and gotten a few items ourselves!
Consider a junk collection service – If you have a lot of larger items that you can’t or don’t want to deal with on your own, look into a junk collection service. For a fee, they’ll come out to your house and remove the items. You can feel confident that You’re not trashing the planet: many, like www.1800gotjunk.com, promise to “make every effort to recycle or donate the items [they] take away.”
Books may be hard to move at garage sales and on eBay, but there are several other venues available.
Used bookstores – Many will buy your used books and give you store credit, which you can use to buy new reading material. Then, of course, once You’re finished with the books, you can bring them in for additional credit. Sounds like a good deal!
Book swaps – It’s a great way to declutter books you’ve finished with, get fresh reading material for free, and enjoy a little socialization! Check Craigslist or Bookswap Meetup to see if there are any upcoming book swaps in your area. Or organize your own: it can be as small-scale as two friends exchanging books.
Online swap – These swap sites, many of which operate on a points-based system, are especially effective if you are looking to receive a particular book in return. Good starting points are Bookswap and Paperback Swap, but there are many others available.
Amazon.com – It gained fame as an online bookstore, but did you know that Amazon also provides a venue for selling used books? There are no auction-style listings as on eBay, but your listings are active for 60 days, and there are no seller fees unless your item actually sells.
What about old textbooks you don’t plan to use again? Outdated texts might not interest anyone, but current books and literary classics are usually marketable.
Look into buyback programs – Although AU doesn’t have a book buyback program, many local university bookstores might (although some might not purchase texts from non-students).
Go online – Check eBay and Amazon.com to see if your edition is a good seller, or look into an online textbook buyer. My personal favourite is Books Into Cash; you can obtain a quote online and download postage-paid labels right from the website. Other online textbook buyers include Campus Book Swap.
Donate them – Check within your local community; many libraries and other organizations sponsor used book sales as fundraisers. They operate almost entirely on book donations.
Magazines are nearly impossible to move in the traditional venues, but don’t get out your trash bag yet. There are dozens of options for reusing magazines, and they can always be recycled.
Donate them – Hospitals, airport lounges, waiting rooms, gyms, and laundromats are all places where your used magazines could be enjoyed again. Or look into shipping them to relief organizations overseas.
Go online – The Magazine Literacy website facilitates organizations that provide used magazines to promote literacy among at-risk groups. Check to see how you can become involved!
Swap them with friends – Chances are you have quite a few friends with similar interests. Set up a magazine swap and give the mags another life (or three, or four).
Reuse them – Although they’ll eventually end up in the recycle bin, they’ll get another use—and give a great time—if you give them to the kids to cut up or use for projects. Check out websites like Disney’s Family Fun for ideas on what to do with old magazines.
Recycle – Magazines are now generally recyclable with paper. Check out Earth 911 for facilities in your area.
While there probably isn’t much hope for those ’80s-style jumpers at the back of your closet, you might have better luck with some of your more current stuff or with kids’ clothing that’s in good condition.
Garage sale it—in person or online – While adult clothing might be difficult to move at a garage sale, kids’ clothing and Halloween costumes are good sellers. don’t forget about eBay for both adults’ and kids’ clothing, particularly if it’s designer, brand name, or unique.
Consign it – Designer or brand-name clothing—both adults’ and kids’—might be welcome at a local consignment shop. Although most pay when the item sells, some, like Plato’s Closet (check their website for store locations) pay cash on the spot.
Swap it – As interest in saving money and the environment grows, in-person clothing swaps are becoming more popular. Check Clothing Swap or Clothing Swap Meetup to find one in your local area. Or host your own swap party for a fun (and fruitful!) event.
Look on the web – A new website, Zwaggle, is essentially an online swap for kids’ clothes and baby items. Similar to many book swap sites, Zwaggle works on a points-based system. There are other general swap websites out there, as well as some designed for specific brands of kids? clothing; for example, this online group at CafeMom is a source for those who want to sell, swap, or shop for Gymboree.
Donate it – Thrift stores and charity-run consignment shops are always looking for donations of items in decent condition. Check your local listings and ask around; some organizations will come to your house to do a pickup, and you can get a tax receipt for your donation.
Next week, I’ll discuss what you can and can’t recycle—and the answers might surprise you. I’ll also make suggestions on how to keep the environmental impact from used electronics, ‘non-recyclable’ plastics, and other hard-to-place items at a minimum.
In the meantime, there’s a garage full of stuff to start sorting! What are you waiting for?