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9 Things You Should Throw Out, Recycle, or Donate Today

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If you’ve ever watched any shows about hoarding, you know it can get pretty ridiculous (and, to be perfectly candid, disgusting). The reality is that it’s often a very fine line between hoarding and frugality, with that line being at a different point for everyone.

I often keep leftover scrap wood and nails and screws from home improvement jobs because “I might need them later.” We’ve all been there too, you throw something out and then, like clockwork, seem to need that exact thing the very next day. We keep scrap wood and those “extra parts” because we think one day we’ll need them. Are we hoarders? Or just frugal? Or just want to avoid a trip to Home Depot for a piece of quarter-round? (I think I’m in that last camp… I’m not a hoarder or frugal, I’m just lazy)

Ultimately where you draw that line, of what you keep and what you throw out, is up to you but here is how I approach these common things.

1. Paint

Vintage Paint CansIn our basement, we have about ten cans of paint that correspond, we think, to the colors of many of our rooms. They were left over from when we first bought the house and we’ve never really looked at the cans. We’ve repainted some of the rooms since then and chances are we have paint we don’t even want. Unless you can match the paint to a room in your house, you should recycle it (don’t throw it out, it’s technically household hazardous waste if it’s oil based).

2. Old Clothes

Pile of ClothesEvery winter, we take all of our summer clothes and put it in some bins. We take the winter clothes and put them in our closet or drawers. In the spring we reverse. Invariably, we discover bins we completely forgot filled with clothes we haven’t worn in over a year. Last year, we started donating all of the items we haven’t used in at least a year. If a season has come and gone without you wearing an item (or even remembering you owned it!), chances are you don’t need it and can donate it.

3. Paperwork

PaperworkOne of the best things I ever did was go paperless with our finances. Armed with a scanner and a guide of what to keep and what to shred, I went through and cleaned out pounds of paper records we didn’t need. If you end up with a ton of paper you need to shred, consider taking advantage of free community paper shredding (search in Google) or just take it someplace like Office Max (they charge 79 cents per lb). They’re most common near tax time but you can usually find something. It beats shredding documents for an hour or more.

4. Expired Drugs & Vitamins

Prescription DrugsExpiration dates on drugs and vitamins matter, to the extent that it’s effectiveness is affected. Vitamins and supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA so not all supplements will have dates (reputable ones should), but many do include it to identify when the vitamins are still viable. Drugs can expire and Consumer Reports recommends that you throw out any drug that has expired more than two years ago or if they show signs of degradation. It stinks throw out expired drugs and vitamins but if they expired, did you really need them?

5. Plastic Takeout Containers

Tupperware ContainersWe order takeout food from time to time and occasionally it comes in reusable plastic containers. While we’d never heat our food up in these containers, they are useful for storage. I like to make my own chicken stock and those quart sized soup containers are great for freezing quarts of chicken stock for use in soups, stews, and vegetables later. Invariably, these containers start to accumulate and it’s always nice to go through and purge the cabinets of some of these containers. They go right into the recycling bin.

6. Herbs & Spices

Herbs & SpicesWe like to cook a lot and occasionally we pick up spices that we don’t use quite as often. They accumulate in that cabinet of spices and invariably they lose their potency. After a couple of years, herbs and spices lose their potency and aren’t as good anymore. By about three years, chances are you should replace them (or just use a ton of it!). Personally, we write the month and year on the bottom of the container mostly to see how long it takes to use something up but it’s also useful to know how old it is.

7. Old Technology

Old ComputersAs you can imagine, I have a lot of old technology. With the exception of cell phones, which get sold on eBay or donated immediately, I tend to accumulate technology on the off chance I might need it later. This results in a couple motherboards, a few computer cases, and any number of peripherals and cables stored away in the closet. While I’ve been good about taking some of the stuff into recycling at a local Staples, I still have too much of it lurking in my closet. This is one of the hardest things for me to part with but it’s on my list. :)

8. Books & Magazines

MagazinesHow many books and magazines do you have sitting on your bookshelf? Have you considered donating the books and recycling the magazines? I try to keep only a small number of books (I’m failing) and magazines (I’m better at this, partly because some magazines can be downloaded to my iPad) because they take up so much space given how infrequently I use them. Why not relieve yourself of all that excess paper and take advantage of your local library?

9. Furniture

Old FurnitureDo you have that chair that sits in the corner, doesn’t match anything, and is never sat in? What about wall hangings you stick in the basement room never to see the light of day? Donate them. Get rid of them. Get that space back. There’s something calming about open space, even if you never step in the corner that the chair is in, and you should strive for more of it.

Have you done some spring (summer!) cleaning and know of something you pitched that I should include on this list?

(Photo: breebailey, magnus_d, quinnanya, bitterscripts, kathycsus, mr_t_in_dc, eurleif, generated, chazwags)

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9 Responses to “9 Things You Should Throw Out, Recycle, or Donate Today”

  1. Jim,
    Paint cans often have the maker’s phone number. They can tell you how to dispose of their paint. Old technology should be recycled. It’s becoming more common for cities of all sizes to have recycling centers, of which some actually pay you to recycle certain items.

    -Christian L.

  2. Wilma says:

    My mom just got $300 for her old Mac…..a very old one with the flat screen on the round pedestal. So I guess it pays to go through your stuff. Just gave 7 bags of cloths and 8 coats to the Salvation Army. It was hard to go through and discard but I feel better now. Planning to do the same thing in my kitchen. Too many containers, appliances etc I never use any more. Now my book? Ooo….now that will be a tough one when I get there. I’m still old school. I want to hold my words on paper before me and touch that paper. Nothing like it. Nooks just can’t compare.

  3. Kay says:

    A lot of libraries now have magazine swaps. No sign out dates or any sort of commitment. Just take the ones you want to read and drop off ones you already have. Nice, and earth and clutter friendly! :)

  4. Good guidelines. I already do a couple of these but I will start with a couple other.

  5. Lei Lani says:

    I take my old magazines to the cancer center for the patients to read, and also to doctor’s offices. I offer them to my neighbors as well. Books, I finally decided that I needed to do a purge, and gave away 500 books last July 4th weekend. I decided that it would be better to give them to someone who would read them, and that there were just too many books for my 576 square foot house. Old computer hardware, I offer to a local boys and girls club, and what they don’t want, and I can’t re-build into a decent machine, I wait for my community to have a “hazardous recycling day” and drop them and old paint cans off.

  6. PawPrint says:

    See if your community has a “take-back” program for your prescriptions–that’s the best way to dispose of medications. If not, don’t throw them down the toilet, but take them out of the containers, mix them with stuff like coffee grounds, and seal them in a bag before throwing them in the trash.

  7. Holly says:

    I donate most magazines to the library at my Dad’s senior living building.

    One of the pharmacy chains her in metro Chicago takes old Rx and I assume expired OTC meds.

  8. Paper is easier to deal with than some people make it out to be. Go find whichever school, church, library or senior center in your neighborhood has a paper recycling bin. Now get a box or bin for your house and put all the office paper, newspaper, catalogs and magazines you no longer want in your donation bin. When it’s full, drop it off. These bins are fundraisers for those groups and agencies. Even shredded paper is OK at the bin services used in my city as long as the shreds are bagged.


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