Here’s how to take stock of your stuff and get rid of (almost) anything.
How To Get Rid Of (Just About) Anything
Is Aunt Lily’s heirloom armoire doomed to the dumpster or destined for a place of prominence in someone else’s living room? Here’s how to tell—and what to do about it.
We’ve all experienced it. Your new dining-room set is scheduled for delivery next week and you need to find a new home for the set it’s replacing—pronto. Or maybe you’re updating your computer system and know there must be someone out there who can use the old one (it’s only two years old, after all), but how do you find a willing recipient?
And sometimes you just want to throw something in the trash, but how the heck do you dispose of a used fire extinguisher?
If you’ve ever had a hard time getting rid of something—and who hasn’t?—remember that there are plenty of options, depending upon what you’re trying to get rid of and the shape it’s in. Whether you’re redecorating or just trying to divest your house of clutter, start by taking a cold, hard look at your stuff. If there’s a market for the item and it’s in great condition, you may even be able to make a few bucks on it. (After all, one person’s trash is another’s treasure.) Even if it’s not salable, there are many non-profits looking for donations. If you can find one that wants your unwanted possessions, you can get a nifty little tax write-off and feel good about yourself to boot. For some things, there is just no hope and you’ll need to jettison them.
If all this is enough to make your head spin, relax. What follows are tips designed to help you take stock of your stuff—be it furniture, large appliances, electronics, renovation materials, or smaller items—and find out how best to purge your house of it.
You’re doing a little redecorating and found the just-perfect sofa for your living room. But now you need to find a new home for the old one—and before the fabulous purchase is delivered.
As Antiques Roadshow has shown time and again, people are sitting on some pretty valuable treasures. If you suspect that the credenza you inherited from your great-aunt Sarah may be a precious antique, have it appraised by a professional. A certified appraiser can also give you an idea of what you could expect to get for the piece or what its donated value would be for tax purposes. Keep in mind that if you claim a deduction of more than $5,000 on your tax return, you most likely will be required to attach an appraisal. The IRS website (www.irs.gov) has more information on this. Depending on the results of an appraisal, antiques can be sold to an antiques store or auction house.
Many people opt to sell their antiques or like-new furniture through an online auction site such as eBay (www.ebay.com) or a classified site like Craigslist (www.craigslist.org). Keep in mind that you can spend a lot of time putting together descriptions and arranging for payment and shipping. A classified ad in a local newspaper or PennySaver is a good alternative. Even better, many towns have their own websites which display classified ads, allowing you to buy and sell locally. (I scored a Duncan Phyfe dining room set this way.) Local consignment shops also are a reliable option.
Condition: Good Enough
If the piece is in decent enough condition, donating it may be the best bet. The National Furniture Bank Association (www.help1up.org) provides used furniture to victims of natural disasters and working families living below the poverty line. One of the association’s local members is Furniture Sharehouse (www.furnituresharehouse.org), which has a warehouse in White Plains. It recently has begun to charge a $20 fee and also to require a minimum donation of at least two pieces of furniture to guarantee a pickup.
The Salvation Army (www.salvationarmyusa.org) and Goodwill (www.goodwill.org) actually will send a truck to get your used furniture. Once again, the pieces must be in good condition (not stained, faded, or torn). I once had the humiliating experience of having a sofa rejected by the Salvation Army!
Schools, churches and synagogues, senior centers, homeless shelters, schools, and even theater companies (think props) often are looking for gently used furniture. I know of someone who donated her sofa to the local elementary school to use in its revamped staff lounge, scoring plenty of appreciation from teachers and perhaps a little extra credit for her son.
Westchester County offers a Give Away Guide on its website (www.westchestergov.com) that lists area non-profit organizations and what items they need. On the same site is a free data bank called Treasure Hunt that hooks up people who want to give away stuff with those who want to pick up something for free. “We put used but still usable items online by category,” says Peter Costa, Westchester County Environmental Program Coordinator. “Instead of clogging up the waste stream, furniture and other items find a new home.” Freecycle (www.freecycle.org) provides a similar service. Keep these posted to your fridge: Westchester County is serious about recycling and, as of February, garbage that contains recyclable materials will not be picked up at all.
Don’t love the piece but not sure you’re quite ready to toss it? If you’re the least bit creative, you might consider transforming it into something entirely different. Decorators do it all the time—and charge an arm and a leg for the service. One crafty homeowner took an old dining-room table and converted it into a handsome desk for her husband’s library.
If your furniture really is too shabby to sell or give away, your only recourse may be to dump it. Most Westchester municipalities offer curbside bulk pick-up. Check with your local government to find out the pick-up day for your area. If something is too heavy for you to bring to the curb, you can always call a junk-removal service such as 1-800-GOT-JUNK? (www.1800gotjunk.com) and, for a fee based on volume, they will cart away just about anything.
You just ordered a sleek stainless-steel Bosch dishwasher to match your roomy Sub-Zero. What do you do with the three-year-old Kenmore that served you so well and still works perfectly?
You can try to sell your used appliances, but even if they’re in pristine condition, it is probably more trouble than it’s worth. Face it: most people are looking for brand-new appliances. If you just can’t bear to give away that Viking range, your best bet is to place a classified ad in a local newspaper or website. Online auction services are not usually a good option because it’s so difficult and costly to deliver a large appliance. “There’s not much of a market for used large appliances,” says Jim Vinci, Jr., a sales associate at Berger Appliances in Hawthorne. “The average life of an appliance is about twelve years, so it’s not really worth the trouble to purchase a used one.”
Condition: Good Enough
If your appliance is in decent condition, donating it is a real possibility. Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org) often are on the lookout for used appliances in good condition. Another charity, Connecticut-based Green Demolitions (www.greendemolitions.org), works with professional, insured contractors who remove and transport your recent appliances (and kitchen cabinets) free of charge, providing you with a contribution acknowledgement for tax purposes. It also accepts furniture and antiques, rugs, and artwork. Proceeds from the sale of these items benefit Recovery Unlimited, a non-profit organization that supports All Addicts Anonymous outreach programs. On its website, GE Appliances (www.geappliances.com) lists other charities that accept used appliances (check to see if they pick up). If you decide to donate an appliance, make sure that it’s in good working order and that you include all necessary parts.
Many companies will collect your old appliance when they deliver a new one. If you’re receiving a new delivery, check with the company to see if they will cart your former stove or dishwasher in a new-for-old swap.
In many cases you can leave appliances out for curbside bulk pick-up. Refrigerators and air conditioners, however, contain Freon, which must be removed from the appliance prior to disposal. The Westchester County Recycling Office provides numbered stickers to vendors who extract Freon. These stickers must be affixed to these appliances before pick up by the Sanitation Department. A list of these licensed vendors is available from the Westchester Recycling Office (www.westchestergov.com/envfacil). You can find the list by clicking on the ”Reduce, Reuse, Recycle“ category.
You finally replaced your bulky old television with a high-def flat screen that looms large in your living room. What do you do with the former one—which continues to function fine but is seen by your teens as a relic?
If you’re one of those gadget people who waited on a line around the block to be the first to own an Apple iPhone, you most likely can find a market for your one-to-two year old electronics. “There is a small niche of videophiles and audiophiles who like to stay ahead of the curve in technology,” says Robert Zohn, owner of Value Electronics in Scarsdale. “For people in this niche, it could be worthwhile to sell electronics on Craigslist or eBay.” The electronics should be less than two years old and in like-new condition. Placing a classified ad in a local paper or online also is a viable alternative.
TVs and other large electronics are harder to sell due to the difficulty in delivering them. Zohn says that a lot of his customers recycle TVs within their own homes (move the old TV from the den to the basement playroom, for example) or give them to family or friends.
Condition: Good Enough
According to Zohn, there is no resale market for televisions older than five years. Value Electronics donates stock that is more than five years old to Habitat for Humanity, among other charities. The National Cristina Foundation (www.cristina.org) accepts donations of computers, which it places in educational and other non-profit organizations for people with special needs. Donors may be asked to cover shipping costs. Another site that specializes in computer donations is www.techsoup.org. Once again, check Westchester County’s Give Away Guide to find out which local non-profits are looking for these items. You can also list electronics equipment that you’d like to give away on Westchester County’s Treasure Hunt.
The bad news is that most electronics over five years old are considered obsolete. The good news is that an electronic is almost never too old or unworkable to recycle. There are some caveats, however. A lot of electronic waste contains harmful chemicals such as cadmium, lead, and mercury, so it’s crucial for electronics to be recycled in a proper manner by those who know what they’re doing. Some large companies such as Staples have started collecting e-waste in order to recycle it in an environmentally appropriate way.
Earth 911 (www.earth911.org) is a national environmental network that provides access to community recycling donation and disposal options for computers, electronics, and cell phones. And Westchester County offers several Household Chemical Clean-Up days a year that allow you to properly dispose of TVs, computers, and other electronic equipment.
Whether you hire a contractor to put on an addition or you’re one of those weekend warriors who bravely undertake a bathroom renovation on his or her own, you‘ll end up with a lot of refuse. When the dust clears, is there anything worth salvaging in all that mess?
If you’re renovating your master bath and want to update all your bathroom fixtures, make sure you don’t throw the claw-foot tub out with the bathwater. There are many architectural salvagers out there who would love to get their hands on your discarded balustrades, crown molding, wainscoting, and stained-glass windows, to name just a few marketable architectural details. These interesting gems may fetch a nice price on eBay or Craigslist. Not only will you make some money off that single-faucet pedestal sink, you will feel happy in the knowledge that you are preserving history and, at the same time, saving precious landfill space.
Unopened cans of standard premixed paint such as primer usually can be returned to the store where it was purchased for a refund. You may also have luck selling your excess renovation materials, say subway tiles or brick pavers, through a classified ad in a local publication or website.
Condition: Good Enough
Of course, donating is another great option. Check with local schools, churches, and synagogues, as well as other non-profits to see if they are looking for paint or other leftover materials. Habitat for Humanity has a Habitat ReStore in New Rochelle that accepts donations of quality used and surplus building materials, which it then sells at greatly reduced prices. Proceeds fund the construction of new Habitat homes within the community. Build it Green! NYC (www.bignyc.org) in Astoria, Queens, also accepts donations of a wide variety of discarded building materials including sheetrock and countertops. All proceeds help support the Community Environmental Center’s educational programs.
According to Joe Mangone, a purchasing and contracting administrator for Cappelli Enterprises in Valhalla, the government offers incentive programs that encourage building companies to recycle materials from major construction jobs. “It costs money to have someone pick up, separate, and recycle building materials,” says Mangone. “But this is the direction of the future. It’s good for the world.”
Then again, after working so hard on your own demolition project, no one could blame you for wanting to simply junk everything. “Most do-it-yourselfers just want to get rid of the old materials,” says Mangone. “It’s usually not really worth salvaging materials unless you have them in bulk quantities anyway.”
And, of course, there is always a large amount of construction debris that can’t be reused. Contractors are required by law to dispose of all refuse from a construction or renovation job, the cost of which is included in the contractor’s final price. Those who opt to do their own demolition duty either can rent a dumpster from the Sanitation Department or dispose of their debris in small batches on curbside bulk pick-up days.
“You can put out sinks, doors, fiberboard, even paint,” says Costa, Westchester County Environmental Program Coordinator. “But with paint, you need to make sure that the can is empty or dried out and hardened with kitty litter or some other type of drying material. You should also remove the lid.” Although paint can be left at the curb, asbestos is another matter. According to Costa, it must be placed in sealed bags, clearly marked as asbestos, and disposed of during one of Westchester County’s Household Chemical Clean-Up days.
You’re doing a little spring cleaning and you stumble upon all sorts of items that you would like to find a new home for, or just plain get rid of, but you don’t know how to go about it.
I’ll admit it: back in the day, I sold my share of books to the Strand. And you can, too. Books, CDs, and DVDs in good condition can be sold to second-hand book or CD shops. You can clear some shelf space and earn some cash, which, if you’re like me, you’ll probably use to buy more books, CDs, and DVDs. You can also try to sell these items on amazon.com or half.ebay.com, an eBay site for selling smaller items. An alternative is to visit the CD Exchange (www.the
cdexchange.com), a site where you can sell or trade in your old CDs and DVDs. The discs must be in excellent condition with no scratches on either side and the artwork must be included and in good condition as well.
Books make great donations to local libraries, schools, and hospitals. The Global Literacy Project, Inc. (www.glpinc.org) collects, sorts, ships, and distributes books and other educational materials to communities in developing countries. It only accepts books in pristine condition and the books must still be relevant (I guess my 1997 Farmers’ Almanac will remain on my shelf next to Zagat New York City, circa 1999).
Consignment stores that specialize in children’s merchandise are a good destination for used toys and games. These items can also make great donations to nursery schools, children’s hospitals, the Salvation Army, and Goodwill as long as they are in fine condition, have all of their parts/pieces, and meet government safety standards.
Condition: Good Enough
If you can’t sell or donate it, the next best thing is to recycle it. FundingFactory (www.fundingfactory.com) collects and recycles used cell phones and printer cartridges. Some of the proceeds benefit educational and non-profit organizations. You can also recycle your small technotrash, including old CDs, DVDs, audio and video cassettes, cords, computer mice, and jewel cases by mailing them in to GreenDisk (www.greendisk.com). The company charges a small processing fee, and you have to pack and ship the materials yourself, but it’s good to know that these things will have a second life.
What on earth do you do with all that other “stuff,” like old fire extinguishers, fluorescent bulbs, telephones, and barbecues collecting dust in your basement or garage? Westchester County will accept all of these items on Household Chemical Clean-Up Days. Check its website to find out when the next one is in your area. You just may thank your lucky stars for these county services when you find yourself with extra drawer space and peace of mind.
Elizabeth Cunningham Herring, a freelance writer and editor, is a former senior editor for Avenue Magazine. She lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, with her husband, two daughters, and the “stuff” she opts to keep.