If you’re into spring cleaning, you may have taken the opportunity to go through all those tech devices, books, old clothes, and other detritus that has piled up over the years. Or perhaps you’ve upgraded a bunch of your possessions recently and have suddenly realized you don’t have room for the stuff you’ve replaced.
Whatever the reason, if you’ve got bags of tech, clothing, books, and other stuff that you need to get rid of, you want to get rid of them responsibly. Where do you go from here?
As you must know by now, just dumping it isn’t an option. Reusing and recycling old and unneeded stuff has become an important aspect of the push to preserve the world’s environment. Many states and urban areas are mandating the recycling of tech, metals, paper goods, or other substances, but even if you live in an area where the law doesn’t require it, you probably don’t want to add more to the world’s trash.
The problem is finding how and where you can get rid of your stuff with the greatest advantage to you and the least amount of damage to the environment. This may have been more difficult than usual over the past few years because many resources for recycling were suspended during the pandemic and some were slow to come back — or never did. However, there are still a number of online services that can help you figure out how to responsibly get rid of things — and possibly make some money in the process.
Here are some sites to check out, depending on what you want to dispose of and how you want to do it.
If you don’t like the offer from the vendor, you can sell your tech. There are online vendors that will take your used device off your hands and give you something for it. Decluttr, for example, will give you a tentative quote on your phone or tech. (It also takes CDs, DVDs, games, consoles, and books.) You can also sell through a service like Swappa, which charges the buyer, not the seller, a fee. Best Buy also has a trade-in program, although payment will come in the form of a gift card.
You can also give it to charity. There are several programs that give computers to people or organizations that need them. For example, Computers with Causes passes tech on to individuals who need them; World Computer Exchange sends refurbished desktop and laptop computers to schools, libraries, community centers, and universities in developing countries; Bridging Tech donates computers to housing-insecure children, and Globetops lets you choose who will get your refurbished laptop using online descriptions (or you can just donate your tech and let Globetops decide). As with any charitable institution, it’s a good idea to check them out before giving. (There are several charity info sites online.)
If you’ve got tech that is so old that nobody wants it, then it’s time to dispose of it — in an environmentally conscious way, of course. In fact, if you just throw away your computer or TV set, you may be breaking the law, depending on where you live. According to a 2018 article written for the National Conference of State Legislatures, “25 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation establishing a statewide electronic waste, or e-waste, recycling program.”
If you live in an urban area, chances are there’s some kind of recycling program that’s available (or even mandatory). In many cases, stores that sell electronics will also offer recycling (occasionally for a fee); all you have to do is bring your stuff to the store. Best Buy, for example, will recycle up to three devices per trip (with some restrictions); it also has a mail-in service (but you have to pay a nominal fee). Staples has a recycling program for a wide variety of tech devices. Or you can try Earth911 to find the nearest recycling center. However, always check directly with the center or store before you go; hours and what they will handle can change quickly.
Disposing of batteries safely can be a pain. Call2Recycle can help you find out where to drop off that bag of batteries you’ve been accumulating and also offers shipping services. If there aren’t any facilities within reach of your home or office, Cirba Solutions’ WeRecycle (formerly BigGreenBox), will dispose of it for you — but not for free. Prices begin at $44.95 for a box that will hold up to 12 pounds of batteries.
Unfortunately, if you’re still holding on to your parents’ old BlackBerry PDA or Commodore 64 in the hopes that you can donate it to a museum, don’t. Several years ago, there was a chance you could ship old, interesting devices to one of a number of tech museums. But most seem to have disappeared, and any that may still be around aren’t accepting anything but cash contributions. The Computer History Museum website says it’s implementing a new database, so you may want to check back at some point to see if it’s accepting donations again.
You can divide clothing sites into three categories: ones that handle the latest stylish and expensive clothing and jewelry; ones that handle major middle-level brands; and dealers in traditional discount leftovers.
At the high end are consignment companies that act as go-betweens for those who want to sell designer clothing, jewelry, and other valuable objects and those who want to buy them. Some, such as The RealReal, authenticate all of the products that are sold through them after you ship your clothing to the company. Others, such as Rebag and Vestiaire Collective, assess the products via photo. Most only take recent fashions, so they are not where you go to get rid of that jacket that’s been hanging in your closet for 10 years. However, if you’re the kind of shopper who buys the latest styles every season, these may be where you want to sell and buy.
A side note: if you have business clothing that you no longer wear, there are a few organizations that accept office wear in good condition for people who are job hunting. For example, there is Dress for Success for women. (There is also Career Gear for men, but as of July 2023, the website didn’t appear to be accepting anything but cash contributions.) There are a number of locally based organizations as well. The best way to find an organization in your area is to try charity guides such as Charity Navigator or GuideStar.
For less upscale clothing, you can try sites like Thredup, which handles thousands of major brands; you send your gently used clothing directly to the service, and if it accepts (and sells) your clothing, you can choose from cash or credit from either Thredup or an associated retailer.
If you want to get rid of your older clothing, you may find it a bit harder than it used to be. Many charities that used to accept worn or outmoded clothing have become pickier, partly because the business of reselling old clothes overseas is waning. In addition, savvy consumers are becoming wary of the omnipresent drop-in clothing bins since many actually belong to for-profit companies.
If you can’t make it to your local Goodwill store, one place to try is Vietnam Veterans of America. Its website will let you schedule a pickup (assuming it services your area). GreenDrop has limited locations in various states where you can drop off clothing and household goods. Give Back Box encourages you to use the box your new clothes were shipped in to send your old stuff to a charity of your choice; the site provides a prepaid shipping label for $20.
Books made of paper rather than pixels are still around, and if the piles are getting too high for your home, then you probably want to get rid of at least some of them.
One solution is to sell your books through a site such as Amazon, although that can get complicated. As an individual (as opposed to a business), you have to set up a seller’s account and pay Amazon 99 cents per book. And your chances of actually selling may be slim to none; there are a lot of professional booksellers who use Amazon to get rid of extra inventory, so they will sell their books for 99 cents plus the shipping fee, making it difficult for individuals to compete.
You can also try popular resellers such as Powell’s or AbeBooks. You give them the ISBN and the condition of the book(s), and they will give you a quote. Then, you mail the books to them and reap your reward.
If you’ve got textbooks you don’t need anymore — and we all know how expensive those can get — you can try AbeBooks or GoTextbooks. BookScouter will show you the prices offered by a variety of booksellers, along with user ratings, and you can choose which one to sell to.
If you just want to get rid of your books and aren’t worried about getting paid, there are sites like Better World Books, a for-profit company with drop-off boxes around the country that uses a percentage of its earnings to promote literacy. There are also specialized organizations online that help you send books to people who need them, such as Books for Soldiers.
You can also go local. Libraries and used bookstores have traditionally been good ways for people to unload books they no longer want. Many libraries still take books that they can add to their collections, sell, or give away. (Many stopped that practice during the pandemic, so it’s a good idea to check with your library’s website or call ahead to make sure they accept donations.) Used bookstores will usually accept books for either a small payment or for credit toward book purchases. The best way to find out if there are any in your area is to go to Google Maps and search for “used bookstores.”
Finally, you can build your own library. The Little Free Library site provides all the information you need to start a book-lending program right outside your house. And if one of your neighbors has already started one, maybe you can donate to them!
When you want to sell your stuff, one of the places people still think of is eBay. And rightfully so: this is where a lot of buyers go when they’re looking for a deal. People who sell on eBay range from one-time-only folks to professional retailers. Here’s how it works:
- You get up to 250 free listings a month for most product types; after that, it’s 35 cents per listing.
- Once your item has been sold, eBay collects 13.25 percent of the final value up to $7,500 and 2.35 percent on any value over $7,500 for most items. There is also a 30 cents per order fee.
- There are several exceptions: 6.35 percent for guitars and basses (with 2.35 percent on any value over $7,500); 3 percent for heavy equipment (with 0.5 percent for values over $15,000), and 14.95 percent for movies and TV, except for vinyl records (with 2.35 percent on any value over $7,500). There are other exceptions; you can find them all here.
(Note that eBay also has different fees for various levels of professional sellers.)
Selling on eBay takes time, effort, and patience, but it may be worth it. The best way to start is to do a quick search and see the range of prices your object (or a similar object) is selling for.
There are other places you can sell your stuff. If you’re on Facebook, you can sell stuff using its Marketplace. It’s easiest to sell locally, where you can meet the buyer to do the exchange or arrange for a drop-off. You can also arrange to ship your item; if so, there are a number of rules to follow. Other sites that help you sell or give away items locally include Nextdoor and that old standby, Craigslist.
For giveaways only, Freecycle is a service that introduces local people who have stuff to other local people who want that stuff. Once you find your community Freecycle through the main site, you are instructed on how to advertise what you are giving away. (You can also advertise for something you want.) Anyone who wants the object replies, and after that, it’s up to you to contact the person and arrange for the giveaway. BuyNothing works in much the same way, except it operates mainly via a mobile app: you find your community, describe what you’re giving away (together with a photo), and make arrangements for the handoff.
Either way, you’ve made two people happy — you and the lucky recipient.
Update July 5th, 2023, 1:33AM ET: This article was originally published on January 10th, 2020, and has been updated to account for changes in available services.