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6 Things To Do With Your Old Junk

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I think to say I'm fastidious would be an understatement. I have a ritual that my close friends find a bit odd, but I find it keeps my life and home in order. I do a weekly purge where I go through my house and evaluate what I really need and what I can do without. Then I take the small pile of things and sort it by a system I called DRAGS: Dump, Recycle, Artifact, Give and Sell. Whatever is truly trash, I dump. Whatever is recyclable (like a glass jar or stack of newspapers) gets put out for recycling. Artifact is something that may appear to be trash, but really I saved it for a reason; it could be a swatch of fabric that I think would make a great pattern for a future line of bedding, for example. That gets put into a binder for future reference. Give is stuff Goodwill will take: clothes, dishes, etc. And finally, I sell anything that is easy to sell, but because I lack the energy to Ebay anything, I usually just end up giving those items to Goodwill, too.

So, you can imagine when people come to my house, how surprised they are to find empty cabinets, drawers and closets. I don't have things in "storage" and there are no crammed closets full of stuff. So living in this minimalist--but comfortable (really!)--house can have you lose sense of what's going on in a normal home.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I spent a week at my family's respective homes. They have kids. And work hectic jobs. And they don't have time to do a weekly purge and restyling of their homes. So I was reminded of the one thing found in most American homes today: the junk drawer. It was fascinating. I just sat there and pored through the drawer and tried to figure out ways to recycle everything in it.

1. Old cell phones and batteries. I work with the non-profit Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), which has collection boxes all over the United States in stores like Best Buy, Lowe's and Radio Shack collecting old cell phones. This is really the best place to donate your phones. Lots of people think they can donate their old phones to be reprogrammed to call 9-1-1 to help domestic violence victims. Maybe 10 years ago---when cell phones were astronomically expensive---it was a good idea. But, today, it's really not the case, with cell phone companies giving away phones. The greenest and best choice is to recycle them. RBRC collected, sorts and recycles them into new metal products. And if you have old rechargeable batteries that no longer charge up (they're found in cordless products like power tools, a Blackberry, a cordless phone), you can toss them into the recycling box for free, too.

2. Eyeglasses. Maybe you had Lasik surgery. Or you just have lots of old eyeglasses you can't part with. Well, you can give someone else less fortunate the gift of sight by donating your old eyeglasses. Bring them to any Lenscrafters store and they'll clean, fix, and retrofit them to give eyeglasses to people in need all over the world.

3. A burnt-out compact fluorescent bulb. We all know CFL bulbs are good for the environment since they use a fraction of the energy than an incandescent bulb and last up to eight times longer. But they do eventually burn out. And because there is tiny amount of mercury in the CFL bulb, it's not a good idea to toss them away in the trash. Just save them up and bring them to Ikea. You'll usually find a recycling box near the Customer Return section. Just drop 'em off and go.

4. Brita water filters. Weird, I know. But I know lots of people who save these water cleaning filters. And it's a good thing they do: these filters actually work, removing mercury, chlorine, lead and other nasty chemicals out of your water. So after cleaning your tap water for two months, these little carbon filers become tiny, toxic bombs. Throwing them away in the trash just re-contaminates the ground with all those chemicals. So save them up and visit to find a local household hazardous waste drop-off site. Maybe it a twice-a-year habit to bring all your HHW items like paint and smelly cleaning products to be safely disposed of.

5. Junk Mail Revenge. Even with all the "do not mail" lists out there, junk mail still finds a way into mailboxes and lots of it gets stashed into the junk drawer for review later. And then most people just throw it away. I like to get revenge of the postal spammers. In most junk mail, you'll find a postage paid business reply envelope. This is provided for people who actually sign up for whatever product their hawking. Instead of signing up, stuff that envelope back with all the paper--the original envelope, letter, paperwork---they sent you. Seal it up and mail it. Not only will they get the junk mail back, but they'll have to cover the return postage cost for it. If enough people did this, I truly believe junk mail would stop.

6. Wine corks. I have a weird obsession with finding new uses for old wine corks. I've made trivets out of them. I glued hundreds of them on a mirror frame to make a wine cork mirror. Here's a more practical idea: Slice a sliver of cork and use it steady an uneven chair. How MacGyver!