How To Get Rid of Almost Everything
By Barry Wisdom
Posted on March 18, 2008
Photography by Roy Wilcox
Got too much stuff? Here's how to donate it, dump it or sell it.
For more than 40 years, Pat Bruce was content to indulge husband Dick's penchant for collecting&emdash;not just his prized model train layouts, but anything he figured he could use later on.
A retired Campbell Soup Company electrician, Dick also was a tool-crazy hobbyist/handyman who frequently volunteered to repair his Roseville neighbors' lawn mowers, many of which ended up in pieces scattered about his home-based shop. Eventually, Dick's stuff overflowed into the yard, giving it something of a salvage-yard feel.
I felt like it was big, old junk heap, says Bruce, 66. I was a little embarrassed when people drove up, because it looked so junky and so messy. But it didn't bother my husband, and as long as he was happy, that was all that mattered.
After Dick died in September 2007, however, Bruce was ready for an early spring-cleaning.
You can only hold onto things so long before they become an eyesore and a pain in the neck, says Bruce. I didn't want to put up with it anymore.
But how best to make that clean sweep?
My kids wanted me to have a garage sale, but I hate garage sales and didn't want to deal with it, says Bruce, who just wanted to trash her trash. But she soon discovered that doing so is harder than you might think.
First of all, you have to separate everything, and they're so darn particular about what you can and can't do with it, she sighs. When my dad disposed of things, he just crushed it up and buried it, and burned what could be burned. You didn't have to worry about identity theft and all that.
Despite the challenges proper disposal presented, Bruce tried to jettison the junk herself.
My son and I hauled a couple of loads out in his pickup, she says. Then I decided it was ridiculous. There simply was too much stuff.
Based on a tip from a friend, Bruce contacted 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a company that specializes in the removal of rubbish. She readily paid to have it all hauled away.
I thought it would be better to have someone who knew what the heck they were doing to get it done, rather than do it myself, she says.
While Pat Bruce was able to solve her clutter quandary, she hardly was alone in facing a seemingly insurmountable pile of unwanted stuff: Californians produce 92 million tons of municipal solid waste annually.
There are three things that will be around forever: death, taxes and junk, quips Chris Heffington, owner of one the area's two 1-800-Got-Junk? franchises (and Bruce's eventual savior).
We may not be able to beat the tax man or the Grim Reaper, and the accumulation of junk may be inevitable. But thanks to ever-improving public residential waste and recycling programs, online venues to sell and give away your stuff, and companies like Heffington's, there is real hope for recovering pack rats. Here's how to clean up your act.
Do It Yourself&emdash;With Help From Public ServicesPat Bruce had it right: Your friendly neighborhood department of refuse is pretty particular about what it does and doesn't want tossed into your city- or county-supplied bins. Some of the forbidden household hazardous materials (motor oil, hypodermic needles and syringes, bullets, plutonium) may be obvious, others (items containing lead, mercury switches and thermometers, chlorofluorocarbons) less so.
Fully aware that not everyone follows the rules or even knows about them, the city is always looking for ways to help our residents dispose of waste properly . . . to keep it out of the landfill, says Jessica Hess, spokeswoman for the city of Sacramento's Department of Utilities.
The department's latest offering is a free, appointment-based pickup service to recycle household batteries and fluorescent light bulbs, which shouldn't be placed in the trash. You simply call (916-808-5454) for pickup on your next scheduled recycling day.
This new service joins similar pickup programs available through the city, including those for electronic waste (TVs, DVD and CD players, computers, disc drives), large appliances (washers, dryers, refrigerators), and used motor oil and filters.
E-waste recycling is performed by Appliance Distribution (916-497-0274) and Advanced Computer Recycling (916-387-9988). The former offers free pickup within 10 miles of its North B Street location. The latter also collects appliances (a pickup fee may apply).
You can schedule a motor oil/filter pickup from the city (call 916-808-4800) or dispose of these items along with other household hazardous materials at the Sacramento County North Area Recovery Station (4450 Roseville Road, North Highlands; 916-875-5555) or the Sacramento Recycling and Transfer Station (8491 Fruitridge Road; 916-379-0500). Many auto parts stores, quick-lube shops and gas stations also are certified to accept used oil. Call (800-253-2687) for details.
Taking advantage of the city's Neighborhood Cleanup Day program is another option for those looking to dispose of nonhazardous bulky items frugally (it's free) and responsibly (50 percent is recycled). Appliances, e-waste, furniture, mattresses, carpeting, water heaters, lumber and fencing materials are all eligible for pickup. While downtown and midtown are on a city-set annual schedule, a pilot program for appointment-based pickups (free for the first call) was recently implemented for other areas. Call (916-848-5454) for more information.
If you can't wait for your neighborhood cleanup date, there are drop-off locations to dump and recycle your nonhazardous refuse. The Kiefer Landfill (12701 Kiefer Blvd., Sloughhouse; 916-875-5555) is the primary municipal solid-waste disposal facility in Sacramento County and the only landfill facility in Sacramento County permitted to accept residential customers' household waste. Also on the county's list of disposal and recycling sites is the North Area Recovery Station.
Hire Help Despite the growing number of public services available to help rid yourself of rubbish, sometimes it's best left to the professionals, as Pat Bruce concluded after calling 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and answering their trademarked question with a big Yes!
Founded by Canadian Brian Scudamore in 1989, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? opened its first franchise in Vancouver, B.C., a decade later. Today, 324 outlets, including 10 in Northern California, have put a professional face on what used to be thought of as a, well, junky industry.
Before, when you thought of trash hauling, you thought of âSanford and Son,' says Chris Heffington, a former Intel Corp. project manager who bought into the concept of a professional junk hauling company five years ago. No one did it professionally with new trucks, professional employees and with a professional image.
The combination of an untapped market and favorable national media attention has secured the success of both Heffington and West Sacramento-based John McNamara's franchises. There's plenty of junk for both of us, says Heffington, who notes another reason for the company's growth is a lack of time on the part of their customers.
People are more than willing to pay for convenience nowadays, he says. They don't want to spend their weekends going to the dump.
What a customer pays for are two staffers&emdash;all materials must be able to be lifted by them&emdash;and the actual space taken up by what's being hauled away. Fees are based on volume, not weight. You only pay for what we take, says Heffington.
The firm's minimum fee is $100, with a half-load in one of their 15.5-cubic-foot trucks costing $319 and a full load going for $498. Estimates are free and highly encouraged, says company spokeswoman Andrea Bava.
For Bruce, whose discards translated into several truckloads, the charge was about $3,000, but she says it was well worth it.
I was pleased with how quickly and how efficiently they did it, she says. I just pointed to what I wanted out of there and they loaded it up and took it.
Where they take it also is part of the feel-good story. Some 60 to 70 percent of what gets hauled away is recycled, says Heffington, with his staff also diverting as much as possible to local charities such as Goodwill. We take pride in that, he says.
What they don't take: household hazardous waste, including combustible materials and paint.
Sell ItIn pre-PC days, when a home reached critical mass, you stapled a few signs to neighborhood telephone poles and ran an ad in the local paper to announce that fair-weather tradition known as the garage sale.
But thanks to the Internet, those seeking cash for their clutter have gone global in pursuit of buyers for their faded Corelle ware and scratchy LPs.
With approximately 248 million registered users worldwide, the 13-year-old web-based phenomenon known as eBay has made passing along seemingly unsellable junk not just possible but profitable. Now anyone can export (and import) goods 24/7 from the comfort of his or her laptop.
And it seems almost everyone is. According to eBay spokeswoman Kim Rubey, at any given moment there are approximately 102 million listings worldwide, with some 6 million listings added every day.
For the time-challenged but auction-addicted, locally represented eBay drop-off chains such as iSold It and Goin' Postal will list and sell items on the website for you.
While eBay is best known for its auction format, Rubey notes that users also can buy and sell in increasingly popular fixed-price formats.
For those eager to part with their junk but too cheap to pay eBay's listing and transaction fees, Craigslist is an efficient, cost-free and increasingly popular alternative.
In 2007, private sellers looking to lighten their loads and fatten their wallets posted 102,176,454 listings at craigslist.org.
As with eBay, there are dos and don'ts for listing your items on Craigslist to make them more profitable, says Craigslist spokeswoman Susan MacTavish.
Do use photos, says MacTavish. You'll save yourself time by having good photos, and you'll save your fellow users time, too. Do write a good description. You're not limited by number of words, so be descriptive and have fun writing a creative ad that will get attention. Don't use marketing speak. Don't capitalize, i.e., shout at users. Craigslist users tend to find that annoying.
Despite the popularity of eBay and Craigslist, garage sales and yard sales remain a mainstay for many looking to cash in on their clutter.
Thanks to such marketing tools as free garage-sale kits, 2,106 ads for these sales dominated the pages of the area's 51 PennySaverUSA.com editions in 2007, proof that print is far from dead&emdash;at least for those who use the free, direct-mail publication to jump-start their weekend shopping expeditions. The Sacramento Bee also offers convenient hard-copy listings of area sales.
There's room for both Internet and print options, says Bruce Potter, manager of media partnerships and statewide promotion for PennySaverUSA.com, whose Wednesday delivery reaches 710,000 Sacramento-area homes. Despite being in the modern age, people just like to go through the paper version and see ads in print they can circle with a pen.
Give It AwayIf you just want to give your stuff to a good home rather than sell it, PennySaverUSA.com and Craigslist both offer free listings to market your goods.
In 2007, Craigslist's free category (incongruously found under its for sale banner) featured 2,582,920 postings.
Another site to check out is freecycle.org. The Freecycle Network, an Internet-based grassroots community gifting movement, found its voice five years ago as a means to promote waste reduction in Tucson, Ariz.
Since then, the nonprofit has taken its changing the world one gift at a time motto global, with 75 countries now hosting some 4,200 free regional websites (including more than a dozen in the Sacramento area) that connect haves with have-nots.
At 4,431,000 members and growing (at a reported rate of 25,000 members per week), the movement has obviously struck a chord with those who either want to go green, save some green or both.
A recent spate of listings on the Sacramento (North) site showed members offering everything from silver Christmas tree candleholders to queen-size box springs to parenting books. The only restrictions: Items must free, legal and appropriate for all ages, according to freecycle.org.
Donating unwanted odds and ends to social-service organizations is a nifty way to clear clutter while banking good karma&emdash;and a tax deduction. Some even pick up your items: The Salvation Army, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and Society of St. Vincent de Paul do; Goodwill Industries of Sacramento Valley & Northern Nevada, Loaves & Fishes and Volunteers of America do not.
Keep in mind, however, that not every agency is set up to accept any and all in-kind donations due to operational, manpower and legal constraints. Whether a nonprofit can put used household and clothing items to good use, either by forwarding them to clients in need or by selling them in thrift stores and to recyclers, should be confirmed by phone or by checking online.
We'll take anything we can sell, says Goodwill Industries of Sacramento Valley & Northern Nevada's director of operations Mark Klingler, who says the nonprofit follows a three-step sales chain, starting with its 14 area retail stores. Donations that aren't sold at its stores move to its outlets, where goods are sold to the public by weight, and finally, to recyclers and textile-sorting houses.
Goodwill, the self-described leading nonprofit donation collector in the Sacramento area, was able to sell 34 percent of its 13 million pounds of local donations in 2006 to recyclers, says Klingler. But he notes the agency also has to spend between $10,000 and $15,000 per month on disposal fees for unusable discards left at its stores and eight
Donation Express sites.
Please do not assume what agencies will and won't take, reiterates Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services' Margaret Carpenter. Though SFBFS is best known for providing food to the underprivileged, it also gave away 411,000 pieces of clothing in 2007, says Carpenter, coordinator of the agency's clothes closet. Used furniture in good condition also is needed for the nonprofit's two-year transitional housing program, she says.
Good condition is a key phrase to keep in mind when giving away used items. As a donation guideline, Carpenter repeats the words told to her by SFBFS founder Father Dan Madigan: Just because people are poor doesn't mean they don't have dignity and pride. When donating clothing, ask yourself if you would wear it; would you let your children wear it?
We really try to discourage things that are essentially household garbage, says Klingler, who also puts large appliances, hazardous materials and chemical waste on the nonprofit's thanks, but no thanks list.
For the most part, people's hearts are in the right place, though some probably want to avoid going to the dump, he says.