Flaky Goodness

Getting Rid of Stuff

October 14, 2012

The toughest part of my hardware upgrades is getting rid of the old stuff. Most of the time it still works perfectly, and even if it didn’t I wouldn’t want it in landfill. So I’ve been mastering the art of efficiently divesting myself of old “stuff.”

Here’s my current checklist, roughly in order of preference. If you’re already on top of this and are about to skip this post, I urge you to at least read the section about Freecycle if you’re not already familiar with it.


Figure 1: Photo: Michelle Arsenault, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0

Landfill, by Michelle Arsenault, August 2008

Can I hand it off to friends or family?

Typically I will only do this for stuff that is in great working condition and is being replaced for reasons other than obsolescence. I was recently able to hand off a really nice flatbed scanner that I hadn’t used in over a year to my brother. I had to pony up $40 for a replacement powerbrick to make this happen, but I still feel better now that it has a good home.

Can I sell it to a company that buys this stuff?

For some stuff there is a trade-in or cash-back option provided by a reputable retail or mail-order company. For example, in the U.S. Gazelle is apparently very convenient for trading in Apple stuff. Here in Toronto, when I upgrade my Mac stuff I trade it in at Carbon Computing. Carbon is very low-hassle and they’ll cut you a cheque after they inspect and test your equipment. Along the same lines, big camera shops like Henry’s will take used camera gear for trade-in.

You won’t get as much as you would like by going this route, but it’s highly time-efficient and requires very little work on your part. Plus it gets the stuff out of your hands fast.

Can I sell it online?

Your success with this will vary, as will your level of comfort. I’ve sold 3 or 4 used iPhones on eBay over the years, and I’ve made more than enough on each one to fully pay for a new (subsidized) iPhone. Except for the one time I shipped to Malaysia without tracking information, and surprise surprise, the iPhone “never arrived.” It was my own mistake for not charging enough for shipping to pay for a waybill-tracked delivery method, but still, an expensive annoyance.

A couple of my friends are master Craigslisters. I’ve only had one Craigslist experience and it was negative (a no-show on a Sunday night in a Costco parking lot: very shady), and that has put me off. But they tend to deal in high-end furniture and home fixtures, so that scene is probably different than the one for the Xbox I was going for. Anyway, each time they move (and they move a lot), they are able to unload all their old stuff for at least as much as they paid for it, and then refurnish for less than that. I think they might actually be cash-positive on their moves (or at least cash-neutral). They should probably be the ones writing this post.

Can I donate it?

There are probably non-profits in your area that want your working computer gear. I have donated equipment to specific organizations where friends have worked, and it’s a nice feeling to know your stuff will be used for a good cause. It can sometimes take a little work to identify appropriate organizations in your area and arrange for pickups and deliveries, but it’s great when it happens.

Can I Freecycle it?

How can everyone not know about this? Freecycle is magic. It is the fastest, simplest, most responsible, most rewarding and lowest hassle way of getting rid of just about anything, including but certainly not limited to electronics, as long as you’re willing to give it up for free.

Once you’ve joined the Freecycle group in your area, simply post a brief note about what you’re offering (for free) and your major intersection. Once a moderator has approved your post (often the same day), you will start getting e-mails (sometimes a flood of them) from people who are willing to come to your home (or a place of your choosing) to pick up the item.

You can choose the best recipient. Most of the time I will pick the first respondent, but occassionally one e-mail will stand out as representing a particularly good fit for the item I’m donating. You can then arrange a time for the pickup and you’re done. Post another note saying the item has been claimed to stem the assault on your inbox.

I’ve Freecycled dozens of items, including everything from fully functioning rack-mounted servers to “box of random cables, most functional,” and there has never been a no-show or any other hassle. So simple. So awesome.

Can I recycle it?

When all else fails, big box chains like Best Buy are now recycling electronics gear. Apple recycles old Apple stuff, although you can almost always sell functioning Apple stuff. Even your municipality might be aggressively recycling old electronics. Your gear should never have to end up in landfill.