There is no better time than now to clean house. After all, in the words of best-selling author Marie Kondo, tidying up can be “life changing.” But what’s the best way to go about purging your extraneous stuff? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash in 2013. To help you declutter and do your part in decreasing that number, we’ve run down a list of 50 toss-worthy items and the best way to dispose of them.
OLD BILLS AND TAX RETURNS
According to Consumerist.com, there are a few rules of thumb when purging financials. Toss all monthly bills — except what you plan on writing off at year’s end and credit card bills with big-ticket items (TV, Vitamix, etc.) requiring warranty protection or home or renter’s insurance. Medical bills already paid out by your insurance company can go too. Save bank statements and pay stubs until the end of the year, along with any tax returns less than 7 years old. With so much confidential info, your best bet is to use a confetti shredder instead of a ribbon shredder. Then you can toss those shreds in the recycling bin.
Reader’s Digest has a few cool suggestions on how to recycle single earrings: Repurpose to use as a nifty bulletin board tack, or make a brooch or magnet by cutting off the stems with wire cutters and adding a pin backing or a magnet end with a glue gun. Insta-flair! If they have to go, donate them to an antiques or curiosities shop.
RECEIPTS YOU DON’T NEED
According to TheNest.com, you should confetti shred receipts with your signature or credit card number. And throw out any receipts for simple cash purchases, unless you plan on writing them off on your taxes.
WINDOW BILL ENVELOPES
You’d think this one would be easy to figure out (recycle, of course), but whether or not you can recycle window bill envelopes depends purely upon where you live. Recycle Now says you might have to remove the plastic window before tossing it in your recycle bin. Check with your local recycling directive to get the scoop.
Compact discs are made of an interesting blend of materials, such as aluminum, bauxite and polycarbonate. That said, the CD Recycling Center of America highly recommends they be recycled — or even fixed! To repair minor scratches, rub a mild abrasive (like toothpaste) on the non-label side of a disc in a circular motion from the center outward. Still want to ditch them? Consider donating, trading or selling them. If a CD isn’t listenable at all, look for a specialized e-recycling facility near you.
Related: CD Recycling Cent
According to Crayola.com, you can get awfully crafty with crayon stubs — even melt them down and make more crayons. If you aren’t inclined, consider shipping them off to Crazy Crayons, a recycling program that accepts all types of crayons, preferably with wrappers on to make it easier to sort by color.
Related: Crazy Crayons Recycle Program
OLD PHONES AND CELLPHONE ACCESSORIES
Most cell companies will take a trade-in to refurbish and donate to charity or sell at a lower price, and in return you can usually get store credit. Accessories, like cords for old phones, can be sold through a group email list, offered free on Craigslist or donated.
Believe it or not, you can’t just toss greeting cards in the bin to be recycled with the rest of your paper goods unless they’re made of paper and paper only — no glitter, foil or ribbon, says Recycle Nation. Give greeting cards a second life by cutting out the decorative elements and saving them for cool collages, homemade cards or scrapbooking decorations.
We tend to buy spices to make a particular recipe only for them to sit in the back of our cabinets for months — even years — on end. Go by the expiration date on the container to determine whether to keep or toss, but the rule of thumb is that most spices expire after 12 months, less for finely ground spices and more for whole spices like cloves and cumin seeds. Dump old spices in the trash and wash out glass bottles to reuse — they’re great travel-size containers for things like talcum powder and cotton swabs.
EXPIRED BEAUTY PRODUCTS
Unopened, even if they’re slightly expired, beauty products make for great donations to women’s shelters. However, most people don’t realize that eye makeup should be replaced every few months, especially mascara, and face makeup and lipstick within 12 months. To trash them, remove the product from the packages and recycle the containers. Some cosmetic companies (like MAC) even offer a mail-in program for recycling.
Many old appliance manuals are available online via the manufacturer’s website, so there’s not much need to hang on to them. Unless it’s a seriously decorative endeavor using foil, the good old paper recycling bin will do.
CABLES AND WIRES YOU DON’T NEED
This stuff can’t be recycled curbside — it has to be dropped off at special recycling facilities. However, some big-box retailers like Best Buy have free recycling kiosks for electrical cords and cables
Related: Electronics and Appliances Recycling
TIRED/EXPIRED UNDERGARMENTS (ESPECIALLY BRAS)
According to the Huffington Post, a bra might only last up to eight months. Bras in fairly good shape can be donated to women’s shelters or, believe it or not, recycled. The Bra Recyclers, a textile recycling company, says that although 95 percent of worn or torn textiles can be recycled, only 15 percent actually get recycled. Sign up with the company and it will send out a label to mail in your tired old bras — and you’ll do something nice for Mother Earth.
Related: The Bra Recyclers
CLOTHES YOU CAN’T DONATE
Textiles comprise four percent of the nation’s solid-waste stream, says the National Resources Defense Council, so if you can’t donate or hand down worn clothes (and you aren’t Etsy-inclined enough to turn an old concert T-shirt into a cool, ironic pillow), cotton clothing can easily be cut up and used as cleaning rags. If you need a little inspiration, Brit & Co compiled a fun list of ideas. To get rid of what’s left, many greenmarkets have textile recycling bins, where really worn clothing is turned into fibers for other products.
Related: 50 Ways to Repurpose an Old T-Shirt
Knives are tricky. They will typically last for ages with simple maintenance, but if the handle breaks, it’s a different story. The thought of just tossing old knives in the garbage may be unsavory, but there is a correct, safer way to dispose of them. Wrap the blades in heavy paper or tape cardboard around them, and then put them in a sealed container. If they’re still usable, donate them to a thrift shop, but if they’re not, bring them to a recycling center that accepts small appliances.
If you’re simply updating your kitchen and the appliances still work, donate them to a charity or list them as up for grabs on Craigslist.org or Freecycle.org. Some retailers like Best Buy have programs to haul away your old appliances and dispose of them in a responsible, environmentally friendly manner.
RUSTED HAIR ACCESSORIES
First things first: Sort through all of your hair accessories. Find any hair combs and picks that you don’t use? Disinfect and then donate them. Rusted barrettes and bobby pins can be soaked or rubbed with white vinegar to remove the rust. Curling irons and straighteners? Broken ones go to a recycling center that accepts small appliances, while ones in working condition that you don’t use can be donated.
OLD OR UNUSED BATTERIES
Call2Recycle is a resource devoted to recycling batteries and cellphones. You can look up the nearest of their 30,000 drop-off locations online. Many local city governments provide used-battery drop-offs in accessible places like public transportation centers and greenmarkets, and recycling centers often have a battery bin as well.
Related: Call 2 Recycle
OLD CALENDARS OR PLANNERS
PopSugar has some great suggestions on how to use old calendar or planner images for good. Among them: Turn old calendar pages into wrapping paper like Paper Source did, or you can create cute envelopes with them. Or, if they’re all paper, simply toss them into the recycling bin.
Related: 9 Ways to Upcycle Your 2015 Calendar
SHORTED-OUT HOLIDAY LIGHTS
Before ditching any broken lights in the dumpster, check with your local recycling organizations for where you can drop them off in your town, says Gizmodo. National chains like Home Depot will also accept lights for recycling.
Know any young doll owners? Worn out hairbrushes missing a couple of teeth can be cleaned out and given to those eager to experiment with new hairstyles. If the bristles are soft enough, they might even be suitable to use on pets.
OLD IPODS, CASSETTE PLAYERS AND OUTDATED ELECTRONICS
Again, Best Buy has an awesome electronics-recycling program that makes it easy to dispose of played-out, old-school electronic items taking up space in your junk drawer. Also look for a recycling center with small appliance bins.
PUZZLES OR GAMES WITH MISSING PIECES
Pinterest has a whole page devoted to the art of repurposing missing puzzle or game pieces, and we love this DIY heart wreath made from painted jigsaw pieces from Essentials. They can be turned into earrings, cool necklaces or autism awareness pins. Not down for crafts? Donate to a children’s art class for possible craft projects.
Related: Jigsaw Hearts
When it’s time to ditch your kicks, Nike has a cool shoe-recycling program that grinds down old sneaks and transforms them into sports surfaces. Also, Soles4Souls accepts used shoes and distributes them to people in developing countries who might not have any.
Related: Soles 4 Souls
BOOKS YOU HAVE READ
Either lend them out or donate your old books to a local school, hospital or library. If you live near foot traffic, turn a profit by holding a book sale — children’s books can especially bring in a mint! — or even just put them out with a “free” sign and donate what’s left. Some websites like Amazon even resell gently used books.
OLD COUCHES AND SOFAS
Couches can be reupholstered, and scuffed chair or tables can be refinished. If that’s not possible, post them on an online classified site or Freecycle. Established charities like Goodwill only accept furniture in great condition, but sometimes they’ll come to your home and retrieve the object in question. Otherwise, see if you can request a bulk item to be picked up by your municipal waste service or take it to the dump yourself. If all else fails, there are junk-removal services that you can pay to haul away your furniture.