Upcycling, Recycling and Removing Old Junk


Last week, we asked our experts for their best advice on how to help homeowners fight clutter and keep their homes organized. One of the most common bits of advice we got was to just throw things away. You don’t need all that junk you’ve got lying around. But sometimes, throwing things away is more complicated than you might expect. What’s recyclable? How do you properly dispose of old electronics or other non-standard refuse? What things can be upcycled into stylish and useful new house items?

Why We’re Asking:

Far too often, homeowners end up keeping things that they no longer want simply because they aren’t sure how to throw them away. Who doesn’t have a pile of old cell phones or an out-of-date television hidden away in a corner somewhere? Throwing things away can be a lot more complicated than you’d think. And some of those trash items might be better utilized in an upcycling project, to give them a second life. Our experts have seen it all, and we want to hear their suggestions.

So tell us, experts:

How do you know when to recycle, upcycle, or remove old junk?

Are there any items that people might be surprised to learn are recyclable?
How can homeowners find the proper place to dispose of old junk?
Do you have any favorite upcycling projects?
What items do homeowners seem most confused about when it comes to disposal?

Disposing of old junk can get complicated quickly, but it is vitally important to ensure that it is always done correctly. Choosing the right way to trash your junk is good for you and the environment.

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!


  1. After just trumping through a pile of mail I found the NYC Department of Sanitation, Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling pamphlet howling my name. To my surprise you actually can return CFL’s (light bulbs) to Home Depot, Ikea and Lowe’s among others according to this mailer. Wireless cell phones can be dropped off at retailers–I won’t go into detail about the Miami Vice electronics that were gobbling up closet space one spring. I can’t remember having such a laugh.
    There is the saying one man’s junk is another man’s treasure…which I think is absolutely true. Anything that is usable I don’t think should be placed in the garbage. Salvation Army and Goodwill will take many items like furniture, clothing and shoes and resell them. There are also organizations that use repurposed materials for art which are then distributed to schools for art supplies and theater programs such as Materials for the Arts (MFTA) and Friends of Material for the Arts (FOMA).
    Among my favorite upcycling projects are my decon-recon bags and dresses I make out of used t-shirts. This is a creative outlet I’ve indulged in since I could hold a pencil.
    I think items difficult and confusing to dispose of are oversized items that can’t be recycled such as that jacuzzi that was state-of-the-art back in ’78 when your rich uncle bought it but now it’s a hovering bug-house begging to be dragged out and put to it’s final rest in some pool graveyard. Unfortunately, I don’t have advise for that one.

  2. It seems now a days you can recycle just about everything and anything back into use. Land fills are filled with items that have recyclable value, but many homeowners don’t know where to go. Paper, aluminum cans and bottles use to be what people thought recycling was. The number of new products out there is staggering that have been reborn form old, unusable products. From cloths to cars to just about anything you can think of gets a second chance of making back into your home. With the way the economy and employment is, many people have become experts in the field of recycling.

    A great resource is your local recycling center who have list of items that have value in recycling. Even hazardous waste, such as paint, oil, pesticides,and batteries no longer target dark alleys for dumping. With the many “no questions asked” roundups in most cities you have resources, and most are free. Just about any appliance that had better days, have recycle value. The number of trucks I see that have “we pick up metal” are growing everywhere. So, contact your local recycling center and load up all your stuff and you may even make a few extra bucks!

  3. Since I remodel homes I run into this as we prepare for tear outs. Between the old things our clients have stored up in their kitchens or basements and their larger items like cabinetry, appliances and windows and doors. We deal with this all the time.
    Seattle is a great place to recycle and re-use. Sometimes newer appliances can work for churches, or food banks; it’s worth checking in your immediate area. We have several companies that will pick up all kinds of things and provide a value for donation. My favorite is Second Use. I fill out an online form, attach pictures and they will tell me if they would like the cabinets, or lighting, whatever know they might be interested in. They even take old kitchen gadgets, big planters, and vintage metal milk containers.
    They can take items as a donation or they have a consignment option. Besides arranging to have materials picked up for my clients; I’ve been a buyer. I’m building a garden shed and I wanted old mullion windows, a pair. Second Use has their inventory on line so I found several possibilities, went down last weekend and bought them.
    So many building materials are recyclable; you just need to go online to check. This is the Seattle link to what you can place in your home pick up recycle bin. http://www.seattle.gov/util/MyServices/Recycling/HouseResidentsRecycle/WhatsAcceptedHouse/index.htm If some of these items aren’t able to be picked up in your area, I would contact your utility and see if they might be interested in expanding their services as Seattle has over the last twenty years. In Seattle there is a fee with electronic purchases and we have locations all around town that you can drop off old electronics for free or the residential pick up will cart it off for a 20.00 fee. We even took our old, very large copier in to a location and since some of it was salvageable they paid us 80.00.
    This saves energy, creates jobs and finds a home for your vintage, space hogging stuff!

  4. As far as I go, if I don’t need it I goes into the trash. To find out where you can find a recycling drop off point is, just call your town or county waste office. They can lead you there. I live in a rural area without any type of trash pickup so I have to go the a county dump site in which they have a complete recycling center there, including appliance and electronics drop off points.

  5. I recycle hundreds of pounds of brass every year, this is in the form of faucets I remove and replace. Not smart, not green, why? If quality faucets were installed to begin with, the life cycle would/could be ten fold. As it is, the money spent on this short sighted trendy purchase goes to China. As does most of the recycle! China has very polluting manufacturing methods, “not green” this is my point. Buying local is, buying long life cycle products is also. Shipping products across the Pacific Ocean to and from is a form of externalized costs to the product, thus the planet. Why? because slave labor makes a product so cheap the “ROI” on an ethical purchase seem foolish, too costly, so we in our short sighted trendy budgets, we pollute China them recycle to be “green” I had better get off my soap box, this computer is made in China. As a note, I wear US made shoes, pants, shirts, socks and yes, underwear. I pay extra sometimes, sometimes not and my US made products last longer and are a free choice I make.

  6. There are a host of opportunities in our local market for recycling. There local governmental agencies are eager to promote such vendors on their respective websites and are easily available. Private trash haulers are also getting in on providing separate dumpsters to facilitate recycling.
    Whenever possible we recycle in our business as we provide green cleaning alternatives to our clients.

  7. Beyond organizing your closets/garage and the standard “spring cleaning” overhaul, here some tips we give our residents who are looking to get rid of “junk.”

    First, we make sure that it is, in-fact, junk. Old clothes, furniture and toys, while often out of style or old, may be likely to be trashed, they can often be reused or refurbished. We recommend our residents either host a yard sale (and get their neighbors in on it, too), donate items to organizations like Purple Heart or Good Will or try reselling it. There are re-sale and consignment stores that will take gently worn clothes off your hands and put some money in your pocket. Thrift stores or antique stores may want your toys or furniture, too!

    When you’re left with your “junk,” we also suggest getting your neighbors involved. Renting a dumpster or trash hauler may be expensive for one house and you will most likely not fill it up; involving your neighbors will lower the cost of these options and can strengthen your relationship with your neighbors!

    We always ask our residents to recycle when they can. There are many organizations throughout Houston that accept “larger” electronics, like keyboards, computer monitors, old phones, printers, ink cartridges, etc…

    • Great suggestions! Renting a dumpster with your neighbors will surely help everyone in the long run.

      (Community Manager)

  8. Its a simple answer…when you spend more than an hour a month re-arranging the junk, or trying to find a new home for it in your attic or garage, then its time to just recycle or give it away. Freecycling is a great option and there are plenty of local sites to help you with that, or just go to Craigslist. My favorite form of freecycling is just leaving it on the sidewalk…it will find a home all by itself. I’m really not sure about some of these other answers though….the question is, “When is it time to recycle/upcycle?”.

    • Hey Richard,

      We think that the ‘re-arranging/finding a new home’ trick is a nifty way to make a decision!

      As for your question suggestion, ‘When is it time to recycle/upcycle?’, hopefully our other experts can help out with that!

      (Community Manager)

  9. Thanks to all my fellow professionals for the great tips!

    However, there is one Truth you cannot escape–The junk you keep you will probably never use, and the junk you dump you will probably wish you had back by next week.

    Thanks to Melissa for a great topic !
    Pablo Solomon
    Artist & Designer

    • Hey Pablo!

      Thanks for the reply, and we agree so much! Sometimes you just have to come to terms with regretting something you have sent to the dump.

      You should definitely be thanking our whole team for the question! We have meetings in order to select questions that will inspire as many professionals as possible. We are happy to hear you love this topic, as we do too!

      (Community Manager)

  10. I don’t keep anything I have no use for, will either ask friends or family members if they could use it and if not I pitch it in the recycle bin or drop it off at the salvation army or goodwill it’s tax deductible.

  11. My co-founder, Jessica, and I came up with a great list of things to throw-out, give away or re-purpose when working on our own spring cleaning project. The whole time we kept asking the question – “What do we do with this?” Here’s our answers for what to do with each type of thing you don’t really need, but still have in your house:

    It seems every time we attend a volunteer event, a school play or a celebration at work, it comes with a T-shirt. I’m not sure why all these groups have not caught on that these T-shirts inevitably end up in the basement. Sometimes we have sentimental value attached to these shirts: because we were in the school play, or planned that big event at work. But you know what, keep the memories and the pictures, not the t-shirt. THROW OUT!

    These also sometimes have sentimental value attached to them. But if it is a trinket that used to sit on your dresser and is now in a box..it is time to get rid. SALVATION ARMY!

    I had a bunch of fold-out arm chairs with beer holders that are great for BBQ’s or outdoor events. But I’d be OK to sit on a blanket on the floor, and haven’t needed to bring my own chair to a BBQ…ever. GIVE TO A WANTING FRIEND.

    If your office is business casual, or you don’t have an afternoon wedding in the foreseeable future, give it to a group that can use it. CAREER GEAR or DONATEMYDRESS.

    Remember how popular roller blades were in the 90’s? I had roller blades that I used to use a lot, but pretty much had traded blading in for biking a long time ago. Let’s get real – I will never use my roller blades again. PLAY IT AGAIN SPORTS.

    While this is a nice thing to have, it was in my basement. That says it all. CRAIGSLIST.

  12. Can recycle what you don’t need with a lot of different organizations. You can also get rid of what you don’t need. You can also give to volunteer organizations or to Habitat for Humanity who could possibly use it.

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