Whether it’s for the New Year, because spring has sprung or that you’re about to enter a new chapter of life, there is no better time than now to clean house. After all, in the words of best-selling author Maria Condo, 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. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for a printable checklist!
1. 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.
2. Single Earrings
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.
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3. 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.
4. 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.
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5. Scratched CDs
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.
6. Old Crayons
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.
7. 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.
8. Greeting Cards
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.
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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.
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10. 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.
11. Appliance Manuals
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.
12. Broken Hangers
Wire hangers can be donated to dry cleaners that always need them — even if they’re bent. Some seriously creative recycling ideas can be found on Homedit.com, including a ribbon or eyeglass holder — even a modern chair!
13. 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.
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14. 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.
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15. Clothes You Can’t Donate
Textiles comprise 4 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. We love this t-shirt jewelry upcycling idea from Brit & Co. To get rid of what’s left, many greenmarkets have textile recycling bins, where really worn clothing is turned into fibers for other products.
16. Old Knives
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.
17. Kitchen 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
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20. 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.
21. 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.
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22. Worn-Out Hairbrushes
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.
23. 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.
24. 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.
25. Worn-Out Shoes
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.
26. Broken Porcelain Curios and Knick-Knacks
Unfortunately, porcelain, ceramic and Pyrex can’t be recycled like glass items can. However, there’s plenty of inspiration when it comes to finding new uses for busted porcelain or china. Transform pieces you love into mosaics, necklace amulets or even a gorgeous tabletop — like this pendant from Etsy.com. Or donate them to someone who can. If the items are still usable, donate to charity; if not, put the pieces in a paper bag and label it before putting in your garbage bin.
27. 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.
28. Books With Ripped Pages
There are tons of ideas out there for upcycling old books that can’t be donated, like this gorgeous butterfly garland from Etsy.com. Rip out a bunch of pages and tape them together to make cool homemade wrapping paper for gifts. Or wrap a page around oak tag paper or poster board, laminate it and add a red ribbon to make a nifty bookmark. Or consider donating them to a community center with art classes to use for projects.
29. 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.
30. Pens Low on Ink
Pen manufacturing companies like Paper Mate and Sharpie work with Terracycle, a recycling organization, to form the Writing Instruments Brigade, a free recycling program for used writing instruments. All you have to do is collect a whole bunch and mail them in.
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31. Old Playing Cards
These days, most paper playing cards are coated in plastic, so they can’t be recycled with regular paper. But don’t throw your vintage decks out so fast: The Penny Hoarder says some old playing card decks are collectors’ items that can be worth as much as $160! They suggest checking websites for card aficionados like ArtofPlay.com and Cardvolution.com as well as finding threads on Reddit.com to learn more about potential card values.
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32. Frayed or Ripped Curtains
Curtains can easily be repaired, but if you’re done with your set you can wash them, dye them, cut them to measure and turn them into table runners or tablecloths. If that’s not your game, consider donating them to a handy friend who likes to reupholster or make pillow covers. If the fabric is beyond use, look for textile-recycling facilities at a recycling center or farmers market.
33. Stained Rugs
Try to get the stain out and consider selling it on Craigslist, giving it away on Freecycle or, if it’s in real rough shape, donating it to an animal shelter (they make for great cage liners and cat scratchers). Also, the government and carpet industry got together to create the Carpet America Recovery Effort, an organization that recycles those old mats and rugs. The website lists CARE drop-off facilities near you.
34. Socks With Holes or No Pairs
Socks with holes make for fantastic dust rags and are just the right texture to buff shoe polish on your shoes. Got kids? What better way to while a way a winter’s day than busting out a few buttons and transforming them into sock puppets? Just want them out of your house? Many farmers markets have textile recycling bins to toss them in.
35. Expired Frozen or Canned Foods
Open cans, toss the food in the garbage (or compost it if it doesn’t contain meat) and recycle the cans. Consider tossing damaged cans as well — botulism can develop easily in damaged cans. Thaw out frozen food before ditching it or you’ll wind up with a wet, weakened garbage bag.
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36. Unused Exercise Equipment
If you bought exercise equipment for it only to gather dust or serve as a very expensive clothes hanger, you aren’t alone. Companies like 2nd Wind Exercise buy and sell gently used exercise equipment, or you can sell them on Craigslist. If it’s a large piece that is broken irreparably, you may have to request a bulk item pick-up from your local waste management company.
37. Expired Medicine or Vitamins
Whatever you do, don’t flush this stuff. As we’ve previously reported, the EPA recommends removing them from their containers and dissolving the vitamins and meds in a half-cup of lukewarm water. Then pour them in a bag full of coffee grounds or kitty litter to reduce the risk of a kid or animal getting to them in the trash.
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38. Old, Broken Glasses
With parts made of so many different materials, eyeglasses and sunglasses aren’t easily recyclable — but they are often fixable. As LIVESTRONG.COM reported previously, there are many ways plastic frames can be fixed. Are your spectacles in good shape but you’d still like to get rid of them? The Lion’s Club has a program calledLions Recycle for Sight, which accepts donations at various sites or by mail and gives glasses to people in need.
39. Broken Jewelry
The Internet is full of entries dedicated to the many crafty projects one could make utilizing broken costume jewelry. Pinterest contains a ton of amazing ideas, like decorating a light fixture with broken necklaces, turning busted brooches into magnets and old necklaces into gorgeous curtain ties. Also, local bead or craft shops might be willing to accept them as donations. If nothing else, find a recycling center that accepts metals and take them there.
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40. Fabric and Yarn Scraps
Depending on the size of the piece, much can be done with this kind of scrap material. Crochet yarn scraps into a kid’s friendship bracelet, or cut fabric scraps into small squares, stuff with lavender and make sachets that help you sleep. Not your thing? Consider donating the scraps to a place that offers sewing and knitting classes.
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41. Chipped Picture Frames
Wood frames can always be sanded down and painted over for a second life. Or don’t even paint them after sanding and go with the shabby chic look. If you just want to toss them, bundle wood objects and check your local town for wood recycling pickup dates.
42. Half-Used Cleaning Supplies
Most cleaning products are supposed to be water soluble and can safely be diluted and tossed down the drain — but only do one at a time. Simply rinse and recycle the containers they came in. Solid items like sponges, sheets, sticks, pads and towelettes should go in the trash. Aerosol cans should completely empty before recycling with the rest of your aluminum containers.
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43. Dead or Dying Plants
Take the plant out of its pot and save the dirt to incorporate with new dirt in a flowerbed. Composting is always an option too: A lot of farmers markets have composting stations where you can bring old plants to add to the mix. If it’s in a plastic container, check if it’s a number that your local recycling program accepts.
44. Perused Magazines and Catalogs
Consider donating used magazines and catalogs to hospitals — patients really need the distraction. Libraries might accept magazines, or simply offer them to your friends. If that doesn’t work, they can be recycled in the paper bin.
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45. Broken Lamps
As today’s energy-saving fluorescent bulbs contain a small amount of mercury, the EPA or LampRecycle.orgcan tell you how to handle and dispose of them. Lamps themselves can either be donated to someone handy or rewired and sold. Try posting for free on Craigslist or Freecycle.
46. Worn, Ripped Towels
Ripped towels make for awesome rags to clean with. They’re also handy to keep around for leaks. But if you aren’t into that, consider the textiles recycling bin at the farmers market.
47. Watches That No Longer Work
Old, broken watches make for great steampunk jewelry! Consider passing them on to a crafty pal with an Etsy shop or donating them to an antiques or curiosities shop where an artist could use them for a project. Failing that, try going to a watch repair shop — even if you don’t want to pay for the repair, the shop may be able to reuse the parts.
48. Half-Burned Candles
Since they often come in a glass container, half-burned candles can pose a disposal conundrum. The best route is to try and melt down all the wax and recycle the glass container. St. Vincent de Paul, an non-profit human services organization in Louisiana, takes these half-burned candles and transforms them into cool items like recycled skateboard wax
49. & 50. Dried Paint and Frayed Paintbrushes
You have to be careful disposing of paint — it can be toxic and damaging to the environment. According to Lowe’s, you have to add cat litter to the half-used can of latex paint before tossing it in the garbage. Oil paint is hazardous and must be disposed of at a recycling center. Paintbrushes can be donated to a community center or day care center for kids’ craft projects, but if they’re unusable, they have to go in the regular garbage can.
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Use This Checklist!
We’ve created a printable checklist to help you get rid of all that clutter.