Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions I receive from clients about how to clear out our houses without filling up our landfills.
What can I do with all these books, DVDs, and CDs?
Schools often have used book sales to benefit their PTA and would be happy to take used books off your hands. If you’re in Alexandria, you can donate books for the George Mason Elementary school’s book fair through Sarah Goldstein. Mount Vernon Community School just launched their Alexandria Book Shelf in the front lobby which enables kids to take as many free books as they want. You can contact the PTA for information about how to donate your used books.
Books, CDs, and DVDs can also be donated to your local library to be placed in circulation or, more often, to be sold at book sales. If you’re in Alexandria, contact your branch’s Friends of the Library. It is helpful to the library if you call ahead of time with information on the materials, the amount of the materials, and the estimated time of the drop off.
You can also take a few books to your neighborhood Little Free Library. We have a few around town like Renée (below left) and Elli’s (below right) on the corner of Windsor and Dewitt. The LFL works just like any ordinary library, except you don’t need a library card and the only request is that if you do take a book, make sure to drop one off for another patron to enjoy.
If you have an extensive collection of media that you think could be sold, you may want to contact Resale Solutions, a company based in Ashburn, Virginia that extends the life of these items by selling them over the Internet. Once items sell, they send payments to you. Resale Solutions also donates any items that they deem unsellable, so items stay out of the landfill. They may also accept some hard-to-find VHS tapes, particularly box sets.
One unique solution: You can donate hardcover books to Caitlin Phillips with Rebound Designs. Caitlin is an artist who creates purses and fun notebooks from the covers (you may have seen her at Art on the Avenue). She uses the pages to create other works or she gives them to other artists for their works.
I have a computer hard drive and a Kindle that have died. How can I recycle them without putting myself at risk for identity theft?
If your computer is functioning at all, you should first back up any data you want to keep. Next, you want to delete all your data. On a Mac, you can do this in Disk Utility under the “erase” tab. On a PC, I recommend Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN) a free, bare-bones data-erasing tool. In either program, play it safe and opt for the most secure (and time-consuming) method — a seven-pass erase.
Then you’re ready to physically destroy the drive. You would need a terribly strong magnet to actually get the job done. Brute force is the better option. You can take apart the drive, sand down the platters, and poke holes in them. You can pound nails through the drive, or smash it into bent pieces with a hammer. As long as the platters can’t spin, you’re all set.
Now your computers are ready to take to the recycling center. Here in Alexandria, the center is on 3224 Colvin Street. They are open Mondays and Saturdays from 7:30 am – 3:30 pm. They also accept Kindles, CDs, DVDs, floppy disks, and VHS tapes. For a full list of what they accept, go to the Alexandria government website.
I have expired and unwanted medicine. I don’t want to flush them down the toilet. What should I do with them?
You can bring expired medicines and vitamins to The Neighborhood Pharmacy in Del Ray. They’ll dispose of them properly and recycle the containers.
Another way to safely dispose of unwanted medicine is to bring them to a Take Back event. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) periodically sponsors drug take back days. The city of Alexandria participates in the DEA’s National Drug Take Back Day every spring and fall.
If you can’t make it to the pharmacy or can’t find a take-back event, the Food and Drug Administration suggests that you take medicine out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter — to make the medication less appealing and unrecognizable — then put them in a sealable bag to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag. Throw the medicines in the trash. Before throwing out medicine containers, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.
I have a piece of furniture that I want to get rid of that is still in good shape. I would love to donate it to a local charity. Any suggestions?
The Mount Vernon Big Flea is a fundraiser which benefits the Mount Vernon Community School PTA. The MV Big Flea accepts items that have resale value, which include electronics, furniture, antiques, collectibles, jewelry, kids’ items (toys, strollers), bicycles, household furnishings, sporting goods, artwork, small appliances and more. If you think your item can be resold, they will most likely accept it.
Sadly, my kids have outgrown many of our art supplies. Is there somewhere that I can donate the supplies?
Yes, you can take them to UpCycle Creative Reuse Center (CRC) at 1712 Mt Vernon Avenue. Upcycle is a non-profit organization that collects and redistributes reusable craft materials for learning and art purposes. They accept donations on Wednesdays from 3:00 – 7:00 PM and Saturdays from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM. Some of the materials that they accept are: paper, fabric, paints, glue guns, game and puzzle pieces, gift wrap, pens, chalk and so much more.
Now you have some ideas on where to donate or dispose of your unwanted items. The sooner, the better! Put them in your car as soon as you are done purging. That way you won’t be tempted to dig back into those bags or put them back into your closet.
Donating, especially locally, is a win-win situation!
All photos courtesy of DIYDelRay.