How to get rid of practically anything

Consumer Reports magazine: March 2011

Illustration: Janice Nadeau

Here's how to expand your attic, basement, bedroom, closets, counter space, garage, and/or shelving without paying a dime to a contractor. Sell, donate, recycle, or otherwise get rid of stuff that you no longer want, that others could use, and that's hijacking space in your home. But before we get to all the stuff around your home, here's advice on how to eliminate two nuisances from your everyday life.

Junk mail

The Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail and e-mail from national companies (at least those that are registered with the service) for five years. Go to www.dmachoice.org.


To register for the National Do Not Call Registry, a free, easy way to keep telemarketers at bay, go to www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222 from the phone you want to register. If you ask a company to put your number on its own do-not-call list, it must. (Calls from or on behalf of political groups, charities, and surveyors will still get through; so will calls from companies you do business with.)

In the list above left you'll find a number of decluttering options for your home. We'd also love to hear your ideas, so send them to us at springcleaning@cro.consumer.org.


Cars and trucks

Nonprofit groups including Goodwill Industries and Habitat for Humanity accept vehicles; many don't care whether they run or not. Because of stricter tax rules in recent years, you shouldn't expect a whopping deduction. To donate a vehicle, first check whether an organization is a charity that can receive tax-deductible contributions by perusing IRS Publication 78, an annual list of most charities, at www.irs.gov/eo. Look under "Search for Charities." (Some nonprofits such as churches are not listed.) "A Donor's Guide to Car Donations," a free download at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/pub4303.pdf, notes what paperwork you'll need to claim a tax deduction.

Motor oil and gas

Never dump used motor oil on the ground, in the trash, or into drains or storm sewers. Pour used oil into a clean container with a secure lid and label; don't use containers that once held bleach or other chemicals. Walmart lube centers and some service stations accept used oil. You'll also find local recyclers at www.earth911.com.

Store unwanted gasoline in a childproof metal or plastic container approved by Underwriters Laboratory or another independent testing lab. Label the container. Then contact your hazardous-waste-collection center. To reduce the need for disposal, consider using a gasoline stabilizer, which keeps gas usable for a year or more.


The nonprofit Recycle-a-Bicycle in New York City (www.recycleabicycle.org) takes used bikes to help teach kids bicycle repair and other skills. The nonprofit Pedal Revolution bike shop in San Francisco (www.pedalrevolution.org) is similar and accept bikes with no severe rust or damage. Other organizations specialize in refurbishing bikes and sending them to developing countries. For local bike shops and groups involved in this kind of work, go to www.ibike.org/environment.



The growing popularity of e-readers may mean that people are becoming less attached to their old books and are looking for new homes for them.

To sell used books, check out:

  • Cash4Books.net
  • BlueRocketBooks.com
  • Half.com, an eBay company
  • Craigslist.org
  • BookScouter.com (compares prices at dozens of book-buying sites to find the one that will pay the most for your books)

To donate your books, contact a local library, church, day-care center, senior center, school, homeless shelter, or nonprofit agency, or try the Vietnam Veterans of America, Goodwill, or Salvation Army. Other organizations that accept used books (typically in very good condition) include these:

  • ReadingTree.org
  • BooksForSoldiers.com (lets you send to troops once you've registered as a volunteer)
  • BooksForAfrica.org
  • BooksForAmerica.org

Children's products

Illustration: Janice Nadeau

Child car seats

Before you sell or donate any baby gear, go to www.recalls.gov to see whether items have been recalled in recent years. Standards are tougher now than even a few years ago. For baby gear in good shape, sell it on eBay or through another outlet or donate it at a Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift shop.

We advise against reusing child car seats. It can be hard to tell whether the plastic's strength has degraded after years of use or storage. Designate this as trash and dispose of it according to your community's rules.

Stuffed animals

For like-new items, Beanies for Baghdad, at www.beaniesforbaghdad.com, sends Beanie Babies, stuffed animals, and other items to armed service units in war-torn areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan and they distribute them to children. LovingHugs.org sends soft stuffed animals to children in war zones, refugee camps, orphanages, medical facilities, and elsewhere. With both, you pay for postage. For well-used stuffed animals, some animal shelters use them to comfort puppies. Call yours for info.


Clothes are easy to send on to a new life to thrift shops and donation services. Some of them will make arrangements to pick up your donations at home or work. A number of outfits, have arrangements to pick up the clothes as well as stores where you can take them for donation. At Goodwill (see locator.Goodwill.org for retail locations), if they can't repair the clothes for sale, they'll recycle old clothing scraps into industrial wipes (cleaning cloths) for industrial buyers. Other organizations also have thrift stores, such as the Salvation Army. Call 1-800-728-7825 for details.

Consumer electronics

To see whether you can get money for your old gear, go to www.ecosquid.com, where you can identify possible options for resale and recycling. Or try selling on eBay; somebody somewhere might be looking for an older model or its components. At www.earth911.com and www.digitaltips.org/green you can search for local electronics recycling programs.

Manufacturers and retailers also recycle gear. Best Buy accepts computers, TVs, and more, even items not bought there. Remove your computer hard drive or the store will charge $10 to do it. Acceptable items vary somewhat by store; check at www.bestbuy.com. Office Depot charges up to $15 for old electronics. Staples charges $10 to recycle large items, but there's no charge for Dell products.

Cell phones

Many manufacturers, retailers such as Ace Hardware, Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe's, Office Depot, and Staples, and charities collect cell phones. Go to www.earth911.org or www.call2recycle.org and type in your ZIP code for locations near you.

Before you donate a phone, erase all identifying information, including your phone book, text messages, and calls you've made and received. To find out how, go online to your phone's manufacturer for instructions for the make and model of your phone.


Try to sell what you can on eBay, Craigslist, or similar sites, or trade with or give to friends. At Swap.com, trade your CDs, DVDs, or books for 50 cents or a dollar apiece plus shipping. As a last resort, recycle CDs at Best Buy. Check at www.bestbuy.com to make sure your local store accepts them.

Financial papers

Those you can typically keep for a year or less and then shred include: Bank deposits and ATM receipts (keep until you reconcile with monthly statements); credit-card bills (unless you need to prove a charitable deduction or warranty); insurance policies (keep until your new policy comes); monthly investment statements (shred when new statements arrive); pay stubs (keep until you reconcile with your annual W-2 form); and receipts you're not using to itemize tax deductions or return merchandise.

Home products

Illustration: Janice Nadeau


When you buy a large appliance, most retailers will haul away the old one. ApplianceSmart.com, Best Buy, Sears, and some utilities participate in the EPA's Responsible Appliance Disposal Program, which ensures, among other things, that chemicals are recovered and the metal, plastic, and glass are recycled. Some utilities will even pay you to dispose of an energy-wasting appliance. Find out whether your town or county government offers an appliance-recycling program or locate one on the Steel Recycling Institute's website, at www.recycle-steel.org. To donate appliances large and small in good condition, check with your local Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Salvation Army, Vietnam Veterans of America, or other charity.

Building supplies

Habitat for Humanity runs ReStores in the U.S. and Canada, which sell leftovers from retailers and homeowners. For other options, go to www.earth911.com and type in the item you want to donate.


Try selling unwanted furniture on Craigslist or eBay. Early spring and back-to-school are the hot seasons, though you'll need to market skillfully. "No photo is the most common mistake," says Martin Herbst, general manager of eBay Classifieds U.S. "Bad photo is the second most common." Shoot for decent lighting and spare styling.

Charities accept furniture if it's in decent shape—no broken parts or big rips or stains. The Salvation Army and some Goodwill programs provide pickup service, usually within 48 hours, and tax receipts. Or try Freecycle.org, a members site where you can give and get goods free.

If the furniture is shot, ask your 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. 1-800-Got-Junk, a hauler, charges $100 and up for a couch. Bagster, at www.thebagster.com, charges $29.95 plus a $79 to $159 collection fee for a 3-cubic-yard bag.


Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores accept towels, sheets, curtains, and such. To donate well-worn towels, call your local animal shelter. Often they take them to use for pet bedding and/or for cleanup rags.


They are the stuff of landfill nightmares. If you're buying a new mattress, the retailer may take away the old one, but try to find out what happens to it. Some retailers dismantle the mattress and recycle its components. If not, the mattress goes to the dump. If it's in good condition, offer it to shelters for the homeless or battered women, or the Salvation Army. Otherwise, look for a local recycler online or by searching at www.earth911.com; you'll probably have to pay a fee. Hauling the mattress to the curb for regular trash pickup is a last resort, but be sure to check with your sanitation department. Some communities require mattresses to be wrapped in heavy plastic and sturdy tape to seal in any bugs.


Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift shops and similar outlets often take used tools. Check yours or go to www.earth911.com, a national clearinghouse for all types or recycling, for details in your area.

Household hazardous waste

Illustration: Janice Nadeau

Municipalities sometimes sponsor collection days several times a year; call yours. The site at www.earth911.com can direct you to sites in your area.

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs

Tossing CFLs in the trash isn't a bright idea; the bulbs contain small amounts of mercury. Some areas require recycling, so check with your sanitation department and ask about collection programs. You can also drop off used CFLs for recycling at Home Depot, Ikea, Lowe's, and some Ace Hardware stores, or go to www.earth911.com to find a local program.

Household batteries

It's important that you recycle rechargeable batteries, whether from a mobile phone, power drill, or any gadget, since their heavy metals are hazardous. The nonprofit Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp.'s Call2Recycle.org program lists some 30,000 collection sites in the U.S. and Canada that take these batteries. Some sites also accept single-use alkalines and button-cell batteries. Check at www.earth911.com for drop-offs in your area.


Paints made before 1978 might contain lead, and those made before 1991 might have mercury. If your paint doesn't contain either, ask local charities, religious organizations, or high school or college drama departments whether they can use it, or see whether your community collects paint for reuse. If there are no takers, call your municipal recycling center or household-hazardous-waste center, or find a recycler at www.earth911.com. Your municipality can also tell you about local requirements for proper disposal (such as taking the lid off latex paint and letting it dry before disposing of the can). Oil-based paints should be disposed of at a household-hazardous-waste collection facility.


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