How do I get rid of things, and where do they go?
December 25, 2014 1:44 PM   Subscribe

So I am at my mom's house (my childhood home) and I am trying to clean out some of the decades of detritus. Some of it's easy - recycle paper trash, donate books and clothes - but what do I do with all the other weird stuff I've accumulated? Snowflake: garbage makes me really really nervous.

I hate throwing things away, so as an adult I've made efforts not to accumulate tons of crap. As a kid/teen, I didn't really have a say, so I have an entire room full of weird items that I don't know how to get rid of.

There are two main categories of things that I don't know what to do with.

1. Old toys, especially stuffed animals. Some are in good condition but like, they're old, and who would want them. But is there some way to recycle them or do something useful?

2. Electronic stuff. I have drawers upon drawers of old CDs and cassettes, miscellaneous cords and plugs, old keyboards and mice...what do I do with this stuff? Does it really just go in the trash?

Note that I am not at all crafty, so I will not be upcycling, but I would be happy to assist upcycling types if any of my stuff would be useful.

Also helpful: advice on how to feel less horrible about throwing things in the garbage and imagining all of this stuff rotting there for thousands of years (I have had anxiety attacks about garbage before; would prefer to skip that step). Part of the reason i have put off dealing with this stuff for so long is knowing that I will realistically have to throw a lot of it away. I am not especially sentimental, it's just the landfill thing, I guess. I just hate it.
posted by goodbyewaffles to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Would it help to think about how much you have not put in landfills over the years and allowing yourself to do so now when you really need to?

Be kind to yourself.
posted by harrietthespy at 2:05 PM on December 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can probably drop of most of that stuff at Goodwill or your local thrift store.
posted by rodlymight at 2:06 PM on December 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: One idea is to list on Craig's list free stuff. There seem to be people who will take anything. You can just say "one box full of CDs, cassettes, misc electronics and cords," and someone may take it. If not places like Best Buy and Staples often have bins for those items.

For your old stuffed animals: my cat was recently in a pet hospital and the staff had put stuffed animals in with the pets, which seemed sweet to me. Maybe you can call a shelter or pet hospital to ask if they want yours?
posted by JenMarie at 2:09 PM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Most cities do not allow you to discard electronics in the regular trash pick up. Look up Your City + Electronics + Recycle, and you should find the information on where you can take obsolete electronics to be recycled.

There is an organization that accepts stuffed animals, Stuffed Animals for Emergencies.

The first step is to just sort everything into separate boxes. Tell yourself you don't have to throw anything out yet, just sort.

Then tackle one box/category at at time (such as, drop off the electronics at a recycling center).

There is also Freecycle.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:11 PM on December 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you experience anxiety about completely discarding things, you can certainly delegate disbursal. As a professional organizer, I often work with clients with the same concerns as you, and while it would be better for you to eventually become comfortable with the concept of inanimate objects having a logical life cycle, that's not what you're requesting today. So, a smattering of options:

1) Most children's charities will not accept used stuffed animals, for hygiene reasons, but local thrift stores may, and pretty much all soft toys can be donated to animal shelters for the animals to play with, cozy up to, etc. (Animal shelters are also a good place to donate blankets and rugs that might no longer be so aesthetically pleasing. Puppies don't care if a blanket has a grape juice stain.)

If the toys are NOT soft toys and are in moderately good condition, you can donate them almost anywhere. If they aren't so good and are plastic, you can take them to your local recycling center, and they can tell you if the type of plastic is recyclable. If metal, particularly if they are old enough to have lead paint, you need to make sure you don't donate them, but if not, metals can be recycled. By tomorrow, your local recycling center should be opened, and you can describe the items you have.

2) The cords, keyboards and plugs and mice can absolutely be donated -- Goodwill may or may not want them, but local thrift stores will likely eat them up. People buy these things for all sorts of reasons -- to make gag gifts, to make Grandma's computer keep running long after it should, etc.

Green Disk is a great resource for recycling techno trash like CDs and disks/diskettes, and I think they will still take cassettes and VHS tapes. However, if the cassettes have store-bought music, you could donate them.

The only thing I want to stress is that if you have "good" stuff and things that you're not sure a charity will accept, go ahead and separate the containers. That way, when you take the donations (especially if you're taking them to Goodwill or similar), they can escalate the container you've marked as of "uncertain" worth to their in-house expert on these things.

I understand this experience is causing you anxiety, but you can gently offload the painful decisions on this particularly pile of stuff, while still anticipating a future when you will be more comfortable with making these decisions for yourself. Good luck!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 2:11 PM on December 25, 2014 [15 favorites]

Try to see if your county or town has an electronic recycling program. Here is one in Chicago that accepts cords, plugs, keyboards and mice.
posted by dangerbird at 2:12 PM on December 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Textiles and electronics can both be recycled.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:25 PM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: List anything you think people even might want on Freecycle. A surprising number of people who drive old cars still want cassettes, for example, and you don't even have to drive a very old car to want CDs. People who rebuild computers may find your cords useful. List what you have honestly and generally, provide a window of time where you're looking for people to pick them up, and see who wants what. A lot of stuff will go to people who will use it, rather than landfill.

I had somewhere near 2000 empty CD cases once I broke my discs down into smaller packages and I thought no one would want them and was horrified that they weren't recyleable, but I listed them on my local freecycle and they were gone within 24 hours to someone who really wanted them. That was so much better than throwing three garbage bags full of CD cases in the trash.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:28 PM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I come from a family of hoarders, and it can be hard for me to throw things away. Concur on Freecycle and Craigslist free section. I generally spilt my giveaways into "good" and "bad" piles- the good go to the local thrift stores that are actually charities, and the bad goes to the for profit thrift store (Savers) in order to try and not have the true charity pay for disposing of things that realistically no one might want.

Having said that, I helped my brother to clean out a relatives house, and it got to a point for time management purposed we just had to throw stuff out- this was after the used book seller came, we gave away as much as we could, took what we wanted etc, and I just had to make up self talk things to say to myself- some of which were admittedly crazy like- "I am helping future archaeologists to discover our civilization by throwing these photo albums of my cousin's furry convention pictures".

Finally, again as someone who has fought generations of hoarding- there are times when I just can't get rid of something that I am pretty sure I am not going to use- I put it in a tub, and store it for a bit, and then return and consider it, and 9 out of 10 times I am ready to get rid of it at that point. I do this with many things- like things I have saved from my children's babyhood- not one will really want a stained newborn onesie in the future, but when they were 2 years old I just couldn't part with it- at 3 years I was much more prepared to.
posted by momochan at 2:42 PM on December 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Here's my number one method for getting rid of stuff:

Put it outside (in a box, if it's a bunch of small, loose things). Put a prominent sign on it that says "FREE! Take me!".

That's it. It's amazing how quickly things disappear. Of course, you don't want to put things outside if the forecast is calling for rain – and depending on where your mom's house is located, there may not be much foot traffic (or many people who are inclined to take things from the side of the road). But it's an option to consider.

Other than that: yeah, Craigslist is always a good option, though in my experience people tend to be very flaky.

I would give old toys to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.

Many secondhand music stores will buy CDs, though they pay very little. Sometimes you'll get a little more if you trade the CDs in for store credit instead of cash.

You could always sell the CDs online (Amazon, eBay, etc.), though I doubt the profit would be worth the effort.

Best Buy accepts old electronics for recycling, but there's a limit of three items per day.

Miscellaneous cables and plugs? If they're still useful (e.g., USB cables), give 'em to a technically inclined friend. Otherwise, just throw 'em out.

And, lastly, you could always hold a yard sale – but there's no guarantee that you would sell any significant portion of the stuff, and it'd be a little more work.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:52 PM on December 25, 2014

Best answer: I am clearing out things too, and it is sad and exhausting going through memories and thoughts with those objects. Here is what I do, now:

I use Kondo's book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in deciding what stays or goes, which is, touch each object and ask "does this bring me joy?" The answer will be clear and as your pile of give-away gets large, you then let go of your objects emotionally, by thanking them for their service and then send them to places where someone else can find use for them. It allows you to emotionally let go. I know, it sounds "woo" but it addressed the emotional dimension of possessing and being possessed by one's things. A lot of organizational books address systems and this book tipped me to rethinking the process.

I freecycle items and things get picked up very quickly. If you post, be sure to state that the person needs to pick up the items, no delivery on your part and take a quick photo for the posting.

Tidying up should be a liberating experience, making you mindful of the things one has, things one must let go of and opening space for the future.
posted by jadepearl at 2:55 PM on December 25, 2014 [15 favorites]

Old toys can be worth quite a lot. Tread carefully with the throwing away. Use google...
posted by Namlit at 3:43 PM on December 25, 2014

All those toys, CDs, cables, stuffed animals, whatever, can all go to Goodwill/Salvation Army/any thrift store pretty much. Some will pick up, but I find it's easier just to load up the car and drop it off. I guarantee you they can sell pretty much anything.
posted by Slinga at 3:52 PM on December 25, 2014

Don't get trapped in the "this might be worth something" google spiral. Give things that are gently used to Goodwill. Otherwise, you have this Internet stranger's permission to throw things away. It is ok. You have been mindful about possessions and will continue to be so.

These situations are so emotionally charged - don't make this harder on yourself than it already is. Take care.
posted by sockermom at 3:58 PM on December 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

Best Buy takes small electronics junk.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 4:20 PM on December 25, 2014

We just did a big clean out at our house of old random junk. I actually found a company that would deliver a small dumpster to our house which we put everything in. Instead of going straight to the dump with our junk, the company actually sorts it all and recycled/donated whatever they could and the remaining waste was sent onward. Obviously some stuff is pretty easy to separate and donate, but for all the stuff we weren't sure about this seemed like a good solution to us. Maybe you could find a similar type dumpster company in your city.
posted by noneuclidean at 4:25 PM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Animal rescues and SPCAs will take stuffed animals - they'll take the eyes off and give them to a pup who will be overjoyed and probably immediately rip it apart in a blissful paroxysm of joy. Towels and sheets, if you have any to donate, can become bedding for various animals in their care.

Seconding the notion to take care of everything now, while you're in the proper mental space to do so. Worrying about 'worth' will just prolong the process and make it harder to let go.

Craiglist/Freecycle are excellent ways to get rid of large amounts of miscellaneous that give items a chance to find a new home before hitting a landfill.

But, if it really is trash, do what you can to throw it away instead of using these methods to have other people do so for you.
posted by bookdragoness at 4:32 PM on December 25, 2014

I see from your info that you're in a big urban area. If that's still the case for your mom's house, there is the high likelihood that there is a company you can pay to handle this whole project for you, for the most part. Search for "junk removal" and find a company that stresses its "green" qualities or how it's eco-friendly and will sort items and take care of garbage the "correct" way as per local laws, and maximize its donations. After a consultation on the phone where you estimate about what fraction of a truck would be filled with everything that needs getting rid of (often the smallest amount will be a quarter of a truck, but you might be shocked at how easily that can be filled), you'll need to go through and cherry pick the things to keep. Put those in a designated keep area. When the junk removal people arrive, stand back. They might ask you to double check that you want to be rid of some things. Just say yes, don't think about it.

It costs a good chunk of money but if you have it it's completely worth the time and emotional upheaval it saves.
posted by Mizu at 4:43 PM on December 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Plenty of thrift stores welcome and make good use of the materials, ARC, Salvation Army, Disabled American Vets. I think if the stuffed animals are in decent shape they would love to have them for their toy sales. There is plenty of space at these stores that has electronics and old PC stuff, as well as CD's, DVD's, and VHS cassettes. There is another whole economic system that will keep using it. Computers, Mice, Printers all can help someone keep their old PC going.

CD's might still be saleable for some small amount at plenty of music shops. Not a great amount but you could by some groceries with it.
posted by nickggully at 5:30 PM on December 25, 2014

escape from the potato planet: "Miscellaneous cables and plugs? ... Otherwise, just throw 'em out."

GAH! NO! If they're plastic coated copper cables, the copper can be recycled. You probably won't get any money for a small amount of cables, but I would highly recommend dropping them all off at a scrap metal yard. It keeps valuable copper out of landfills.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:45 PM on December 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've GOT it!

1-800-Got Junk! I've used them and they're wonderful.

They come and tote it all out for you. They'll sort it all out, trash to the dump, electronics to the recycle place, anything that can be sold like old appliances, etc, they're all set up to off load that stuff. We got rid of a microwave and a trash compactor when we renovated our kitchen and they hauled it away and probably put it on a container bound for Latin America.

It's about $500 for a truck load and they'll take it ALL. The good news is that you know they're disposing of it all in the most efficient way possible.

If you're that bound up in insuring that it goes somewhere proper, these guys are the pros.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:26 PM on December 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

I can vouch for 1-800-Got Junk as well. When I lived on the other side of the country I used them twice and they were excellent both times. Most recently here on the west coast I needed junk removal (apartment got flooded and tossed, let's not even start) and subsequent research turned up a better local company that charged less and focused on recycling small things correctly. You've probably got options, this is not an uncommon problem for people to have and there are businesses that are in place to solve it, if you have the money.
posted by Mizu at 7:51 PM on December 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Collections of randomness, like stuffed animals and old electronics, have been popular with the art program at the local college. A charity rummage sale I worked for used to set aside stuff that wasn't saleable, and then invite the art kids to come look at the unsaleables and the leftovers and take them to make art, before we had the junk guys take the rest.

If you do free cycle or Craig's list you can include "found object art supplies" or similar as a keyword.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:14 AM on December 26, 2014

If you'd like to bypass some/all of this stress, there are professional services that can do this work for you. "Senior Downsizing" and "Senior Move Manager" are good search terms to use. The National Service of Senior Move Managers has a directory and a description of typical services offered, which include "organizing, sorting and downsizing; arranging for the profitable disposal of unwanted items through auction, estate sale, buy-out, consignment, donation, or a combination of the above."
posted by ourobouros at 7:46 AM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the junk removal companies, if you have enough stuff to be worth it! Since you're in Chicago, I'll specifically recommend Junk Remedy -- I used them after a divorce when downsizing from a 4-bedroom house with basement, garage, and attic to an apartment. They are a locally owned and operated company and the workers are SO SWEET AND NICE. They will take anything from clothes to electronics to furniture to straight up garbage. (One of their hauls from my house was a bunch of construction debris, lumber, old windows, etc from a crawlspace; all junk that came with the house when I bought it but the new buyers insisted it be removed. This stuff was covered in rat waste and it was so gross and they handled it all with a smile.) I sorted stuff slightly into "worth donating" and "total garbage" to help the guys load the truck logically, but you don't have to do that.

I will say it probably isn't worth hiring a company if "a whole room full of stuff" is really just like a dozen boxes or so. But if it's a lot of stuff, or it will help you emotionally deal with this task, it may be worth the $100-200 or so I bet it would cost. After my divorce, my ex left a lot of stuff behind in the house and I had to deal with it. Thank goodness for junk removal services because I'm not sure I could've handled it all (emotionally or logistically) otherwise.
posted by misskaz at 7:47 AM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here is a summation of Kondo from this website:
  1. Sort by category, not location. I used to go through one room at a time. One weekend I'd tackle my bedroom. The next weekend, the basement. According to Kondo, this is a fatal mistake. To truly see what you have, you must gather every single item in a particular category in one place, then consider them all side by side. (One friend who read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up went through his shed, basement, and garage and realized he had . . . drumroll, please . . . 15 hammers
  2. Pick up each item and ask yourself, "Does it spark joy?" Actually hold each item in your hands and consider it anew. Then ask yourself if it brings you joy. If it gives you a thrill as you hold it, keep it. But if it doesn't, that's all you need to know: throw it in the donate pile. Seriously, try this—it's eerily accurate.
  3. Don't downgrade clothes to loungewear. If you have clothes you know you'll never wear outside, don't let them pile up as loungewear. I had an old sweat-stained t-shirt that I would wear on the weekends. But it became a barrier to going out, because in order to do an errand or see a friend, I would have to change into something less embarrassing. So I would just stay home. When I freed myself of this t-shirt, in a way, I was saying "yes" to life.
  4. For unread books, "sometime" means "never." There is a small window of time to read a book after you purchase it. Once that window closes, and it has gathered dust for a while, your chances of reading it are slim to none. And forget about rereading books you liked. How many books have you actually read a second time? Donate that unneeded book to someone who will get a thrill when they pick it up, and spend your time on the one book you're excited to read right now.
  5. Recycle those piles of papers. Kondo's rule of thumb for papers is "discard everything." According to her, papers will never inspire joy. Old lecture materials? Recycle them—you got what you needed from the experience of attending the talk. Credit card statements? Check them for errant charges, then into the shredder they go. Kondo reveals that her clients who had the hardest time getting rid of papers were a lawyer couple. Their refrain: "What if this document is needed in court?" They finally got rid of almost all their papers, and guess what? They're fine.
  6. Don't keep gifts out of guilt. Admit it: you've gotten gifts you don't like. The point of a gift is to express someone's feelings. After the joy of the gift-giving moment is through, you can donate the gift without guilt; it has served its purpose In my experience, people don't notice when their gift is missing from your house; they notice that one gift that you kept and love to display.
  7. Recycle electronics packaging. As soon as you get your new cell phone or iPod out of its packaging, recycle both the box and the manual. You can always get answers to any questions online. All of Kondo's clients have recycled these, and according to her, not one has ever been inconvenienced.
  8. Rid yourself of komono. This is the Japanese word for "miscellaneous items." Spare buttons, unidentified cords, free novelty goods . . . the list goes on and on. Clear 'em out and make space for the things you truly love.
  9. Declutter photos and mementos. You don't need to keep all those old birthday cards and blurry photos of European architecture. Kondo promises that if you take out each photo from your album and ask yourself if it inspires joy, you'll end up with only about 5 photos per day of every trip. They will be the photos that best bring back the joy of that time. Let the rest go. Ditto with old birthday cards and love letters. Their time in the sun has passed. Repeat Kondo's mantra: "Cherish who you are now."
  10. Storage experts are hoarders. Beware focusing on clever storage solutions before you've gone through every item in your house. Many storage experts focus on stuffing as many things as they can into your closet, without stopping to examine whether they bring joy. Don't make that fatal mistake.
I am by no means perfect at all this, but after owning the emotion it was easier. Once you turn to the question on what to keep, well letting go was easier.
posted by jadepearl at 6:36 PM on December 26, 2014 [53 favorites]

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