It’s that time of year. The sun is out, the plants are blooming, you’re sneezing, and the house looks really dirty. It’s the sun. It show s what’s really on the floor. And, you know what that is? Winter. Winter is on the floor. So you start cleaning and pretty soon you are CLEANING. Emptying closets and looking under the bed and generally getting disgusted with the state of your house. This happens every year, and every year you come across items that perplex you: old instructional CDs, perhaps? They seem to come with every purchase, and they’re totally useless. They cannot go in the recycle bin, but where the hell do they go?
I don’t have all the answers. (Yes, I act like I do, but it’s an act. I’m stumbling through life same as you.) I have, however, learned a few things lately, and hopefully my cleanup experiences will help you with your own efforts.
1. Friends with garage sales are the best friends ever. Recently I’ve become aware of two friends in different locales who regularly pick up other people’s crap to sell at their garage sales. They’re not sharing the profits, they’re simply saying, I’ll save you the trip to (fill in the charity). If you’ve ever worked a garage sale, you know how hard it is; I personally believe whoever does all that work deserves the proceeds. If you’ve ever had your clothing donations trigger an IRS audit because of the value you assigned such clothing, you may not be super attached to that charitable deduction. One friend keeps the signs for her sale from year to year, replacing those that become damaged. She spends three hours the night before the sale putting up her signage in local neighborhoods, and keeps permanent tables and garage sale bins in her garage. She’s a professional. And I love that she makes money on my stuff. Somebody should. With that in mind today I took her a truckload jammed full of housewares. Bet you have a friend who is willing to do the same. And, since summer is right around the corner, it’s the season.
2. Electronics are commonly in the piles that must leave your house (really? boxes of cords to appliances you no longer use?), but make sure it all goes to a green recycler.
3. Getting rid of vitamins and prescriptions is a particular challenge. Online you will find that there are drugstores that take old prescriptions. It’s really important to keep old pills out of the hands of children. Sometimes your local police department will also take old scrips for the same reason. I am not sure they’re being recycled. Online sites recommend dissolving old vitamins and OTC meds in water, then mixing that water with an “undesirable” substance – like cat litter or coffee grounds – before putting them in the trash. Again, this is to make the meds unattractive to people who may go through your trash looking for them. If there is a green alternative, I haven’t found it. Let me know if you know of one! It’s possible, of course, that this is one of those situations with no good answer. (This is why we are vigilant in so many ways – with electronics and potato chip bags, for example – to make up for the non-recyclable categories. It may be a null-sum game.)
4. Old X Rays contain silver and should not go to the landfill. If you have 50+ pounds of X-rays, there are services out there that will come pick them up from your door and pay you by the pound for them. If, however, you have a 10-pound stack that you’ve been carting around from doctor to doctor over the years, no one will come to your door for that. I called one of these services with my predicament, and was advised to find a doctor in my area who recycles X-rays and see if they would take mine as well. If a doctor is already recycling, presumably they wouldn’t turn down a chance to add a few more pounds to their existing mix. Nevertheless, many doctor’s offices don’t have or recycle X-rays. After several calls to doctors within a mile of my house, I noticed the label on the X-ray packages for the imaging lab. I called and Yes, they would take my X-rays! The offending slides were gone just a short drive later.
5. Hydrogen peroxide can go down the drain. Just sayin’. And, the bottle can be recycled.
6. Shredding services may be just what you need. If you are working through a stack of old records, consider contacting a professional (and green, of course) service. Look online for one in your area. If you’ve burned through a shredder, as I have, take it to the green electronics recycler.
7. Food to birds is a slippery slope. Have you ever tried to clean out your cupboards and wondered what to do with half eaten boxes of crackers or croutons or rye flour? Don’t assume you can feed this to the birds – do some research first. Some food is bad for birds, and some – like white bread – gives them no nourishment (none for us, either, dontcha know). If birds load up on white bread in a cold climate, they could die overnight from lack of nutrients and warmth! Jeez. Why is everything so hard?
8. Glasses, the kind that help you see, pile up in dresser drawers. Fact. Browsing online reveals many thoughts on donating glasses, from being a “feel-good waste of time” to an easy way to help people see. Erring on the side of the less cynical, I put my old glasses in a package and sent them to New Eyes. There are drop-off boxes at many shops that sell glasses, and many other options online, so why not donate your old glasses in the hope they might do some good? If you mail them, remember to keep your postage receipt as it’s tax deductible (a cash receipt, the good kind).
9. Packing boxes: when you need them you never have them. I hate buying boxes or packing material of any kind. Try this first: email your friends and say you need boxes. You undoubtedly have a couple who will respond with two simple words: How many? Next, look around your house for alternative packing options: old suitcases, buckets from Ace Hardware, storage baskets you no longer want. Fill these babies up with crap from your closets. Now, let’s say you still need boxes. I asked my local Starbucks if they had any boxes, and they said they would try to save some for me. Then one of the green-aproned gals said, I have a weird suggestion. (She had no idea what I consider weird.) There’s a lot in the dumpster out back if you don’t mind digging a little. I didn’t mind. The world is full of dumpsters, folks. And boxes. Also think: supermarket dumpsters, furniture stores.
10. Don’t forget about Freecycle.org. I love Freecycle always, but it’s particularly fantastic for items that are hard to move. Have an old BBQ? Post it on Freecycle and let someone else deal with the hauling. As for those stupid instructional CDs, I don’t know. I need to contact SCRAP in PDX and also see if anyone is collecting them online.
Please, please share your tips on creative or esoteric recycling / donating for any type of household leftover. I have been purging my house for two years, and am seriously disturbed about the amount of crap (still) in it. Take a look around your space – do you really need everything there? Are you proud of how much you have, or is it dead weight? If it’s dead weight, do yourself a favor and get rid of it. (Keep the necessities, and the things that give you joy!)