Home & Living

How To Get Rid of (Almost) Anything

How does one actually go about getting rid of a lifetime's worth of junk? It's easy with our handy guide.

We all have it. That room—or maybe it’s a closet (or three)—filled with stuff that we don’t need, but just can’t bring ourselves to part with. Maybe it’s that peasant skirt you’re hoping is going to come back in style (again); the upright piano that would be so much fun at a holiday sing-along (if you ever actually had a holiday sing-along); the 20-year-old slicer-dicer-blender-doohickey wedding present thing that you’ve never taken out of the box. Whatever the case, it’s time to take a deep breath, get in touch with your inner Zen, and just . . . let go. Okay, so once you’ve gotten past your over-dependence on your stuff, now what? How does one actually go about getting rid of a lifetime’s worth of junk? We found that there is at least some truth to the old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Most of your stuff can be sold or at least donated to a good cause. (But as for that mysterious wedding gift? It will probably end up in the dumpster.)


That galloping horse pendant seemed like such a good idea when you drunk-dialed QVC in a fit of 4 a.m. sleeplessness. There’s no need to hold onto jewelry you don’t care for anymore—or never cared for to begin with—especially when you can sell it.

If you want to sell: There’s definitely no shortage of jewelry stores that will buy all sorts of jewelry and even collectibles. Radcliffe Jewelers (1848 Reisterstown Rd., Pikesville, 410-484-2900; Towson Town Center, 410-321-6590, http://www.radcliffejewelers.com) is happy to buy your unwanted bling. Heirloom Jewels Ltd. (The Village at Cross Keys, 5100 Falls Rd., 410-323-0100, http://www.heirloomjewels.com) is always on the lookout for eclectic and antique jewelry. Pawnshops, too, can pay top dollar for a wide array of jewelry. The two locations of the super-friendly and quaint Carroll County Jewelry & Loan (1950 Dickenson Rd., Eldersburg, 410-549-7977; 2 Bond St., Westminster, 410-751-2111, http://www.carollcountypawn.com) are good to start out with, especially if you’re new to pawn shops. Another option is Northwestern Loan Company (1701 Pennsylvania Ave., 410-669-5454, http://www.nwpawn.com), the oldest pawn shop in Maryland. And, if you don’t feel like leaving the house, Precious Metals Trading Group (410-654-0821), sponsor of the popular Nusinov Jewelry Roadshow (nusinov.com), a heavily-advertised, Baltimore-area jewelry buying event (at big-name hotels about six times year, including April 1 at the White Marsh Hilton)—will come to your home to evaluate and possibly purchase your jewelry from the comfort of your living room.

If you want to donate: If you’re not hankering for the cash and would rather be more altruistic about it, most of the same places that accept women’s business attire and prom dresses (see page 175) will also gladly accept jewels.

Exercise Equipment

You were so well-intentioned when you bought that treadmill last year. Now the hulking machine is the biggest (and most expensive) clothes rack you’ve ever had. It’s time to get rid of it.

If you want to sell: Since there are no used exercise equipment stores in the Baltimore area, selling your machines proves a little tricky. A good standby is a reputable pawn shop like Northwestern Loan Company (see “Jewelry,” left). While the store can’t pick up machines from your home, they’ll gladly help you unload it once you’re at the shop. Another option is Baltimore’s craigslist (baltimore.craigslist.org), a popular online bulletin board where users buy and sell just about anything. Write an ad (it’s easy, trust us) and slap on a digital photo and you could have a potential buyer (who’s willing to pick the darn things up!) in days—or even minutes.

If you want to donate: Baltimore City’s Department of Recreation and Parks (410-396-7900, http://www.baltimorecity.gov/government/recnparks) is always on the lookout for stationary bikes, treadmills, free weights, benches, Stairmasters, and universals. Equipment should be in good condition (no missing hardware or rusted tubing) and pickup is usually within three business days. The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services will gladly accept that old weight rack or Bowflex, depending on its condition. Gifts are tax deductible; e-mail the public information office at [email protected] for more information. Calling your local elementary, middle, and high schools to see if they’d like donated equipment isn’t a bad idea either—but make sure your equipment is up to challenges of a heavy-use school environment.


If you can start dinner, flip through your mail, and call your mom while your ancient computer’s booting up, you already know it’s time to upgrade. Whether you have a weathered old desktop or a reasonably new laptop, it’s easy to either sell or donate your computer. Just remember to delete all of your personal information off the hard drive (can you say “identity theft”?). Oh, and be sure that no matter what you decide, don’t throw it in the garbage (see “Toxic Trash”).

If you want to sell: Selling a used computer all depends on its condition, of course, but a great place to start is on eBay. If you’re intimidated by the idea of selling something on the gargantuan online marketplace, storefront businesses like iSold it on eBay (12101 Darnestown Rd., Gaithersburg, 301-990-2040, http://www.i-soldit.com) will sell your items for you. For a more immediate sale, most pawnshops will be happy to take an unwanted computer off your hands.

If you want to donate: Schools are always on the hunt for used computers in good shape. Save some legwork and visit iloveschools.com, where local teachers post wish lists of their classroom needs, which includes everything from computers to rugs and art supplies. The Lazarus Foundation (6520 Freetown Rd., Columbia, 410-531-8485, http://www.lazarus.org) distributes recycled computers (less than five years old) to nonprofits and educational institutions.


We all like to hold onto music that brings back memories. But, really, how many times have you listened to that C + C Music Factory CD in the past, oh, 10 years or so? (We thought so.)

If you want to sell: If the inside of your car is looking more and more like a Sam Goody than an actual vehicle, and you’ve officially run out of room in that fancy entertainment center for another DVD, then maybe it’s time to bring Gonna Make You Sweat and Ernest Goes to Camp over to your local Record and Tape Traders (several locations, including 3003 N. Charles St., 410-662-9610, recordandtapetraders.com) for some cold hard cash or store credit. The longtime chain (30 years and counting, says owner Kevin Stander) also buys records and video games. Sound Garden (1616 Thames St., 410-563-9011, http://www.cdjoint.com) in Fells Point is an area favorite as well, and “buys what sells,” according to store manager Dave Policastri. The shop buys DVDs as well, but not LPs. Discs don’t have to be in perfect condition at Record and Tape Traders or Sound Garden, but you’ll get significantly less for scratched items. Also featured in the “Books” section (see page 177), Normal’s (425 E. 31st St., 410-243-6888, http://www.normals.com) buys records and CDs. But when buying music, Normal’s is on the lookout for less mainstream artists, so you’ll need to take that Hootie and the Blowfish album somewhere else, dude.

If you want to donate: You know the drill: you receive an ill-conceived CD, DVD or video game that—after the grin-and-bear-it smiles are over—just sits and molders in its shrink wrap. Instead of letting perfectly good pieces of entertainment go to waste, why not donate them to a hospital? Children’s hospitals such as the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center (410-955-6276, http://www.hopkinschildren.org) love getting brand-new CD/DVD/game donations; just make sure they’re child-friendly (that means leave Die Hard: With a Vengeance at home, folks). Most libraries accept similar gifts and it’s even okay if those are gently used.


They say the two greatest days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys the boat and the day he . . . sells his boat. While that’s not always true of cars, motorcycles, and RVs, here are some good tips to get rid of yours.

If you want to sell: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the basics of selling a vehicle. There’s the dealer/trade-in route, increasingly popular Carmax (http://www.carmax.com, with locations in White Marsh, Rockville and Laurel), classified ads (on-line or in the newspaper), and the good old-fashioned sign on the car (just make sure you’re abiding by Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration guidelines, detailed on their website at mva.state.md.us, if you decide to sell your vehicle on your own).

If you want to donate: Donating your vehicle can easily make you a hero with a local or national nonprofit organization (and get you a nice tax deduction in the process). Rockville-based American Kidney Fund (800-638-8299, http://www.kidneyfund.org), provides direct financial assistance to kidney patients, and accepts car, truck, RV, and boat donations (even if your vehicle isn’t in working condition) with pick-up services included. Maryland Public Television’s Motor Donor (888-777-9633, http://www.mpt.org/modo) program accepts cars, boats, motorcycles, and RVs to support its programming, education, and outreach efforts and will also provide pick-up. The famous Habitat for Humanity organization welcomes vehicle donations—including cars, motorcycles, RVs, boats, and trucks—for its Cars for Homes program (877-277-4344, http://www.habitat.org/carsforhomes), and provides pick-up service across the country. And be sure to check your favorite nonprofit—like animal shelters!—to see if they accept cars, too.


It’s been languishing in your attic for 20 years. Maybe it’s time to dust off that old landscape and see if it’s of any value.

If you want to sell: Alex Cooper Auctioneers in Towson (410-828-4838, http://www.alexcooper.com), Timonium-based Richard Opfer Auctioneering (410-252-5035, http://www.opferauction.com), and Laurel Auction (410-880-0864, http://www.laurelauction.com) are all experienced at selling art, antiques, and collectibles and hold regular auctions. If you’d prefer to sell your pieces at a storefront gallery, Flinner Gallery (505 N. Charles St., 410-727-1863, http://www.flinnergallery.com) buys antique art—prints and works on paper—but owner Craig Flinner recommends calling before you stop by to see if he’s interested. If he is, he’ll even make a housecall to check it out.

If you want to donate: The Baltimore Museum of Art welcomes donations, but must adhere to a strict set of guidelines—including whether a potential gift is in line with the museum’s collection—when deciding what pieces to take, according to Jay Fisher, the BMA’s deputy director of curatorial affairs (call his office at 443-573-1740). If the artwork is not up to museum standards, the BMA may suggest another museum or academic institution that could make better use of it. A similar procedure exists at The Walters Art Museum(410-547-9000, http://www.thewalters.org), where they recommend that you send along a photo of the work. The Art Connection (617-338-7668, http://www.theartconnection.org)—a Boston-based nonprofit that links art collectors to nonprofits and public agencies in search of art to display—has less stringent policies about accepting donations. If you’d like to make a donation, send slides or photos of your artwork. Detailed instructions on their website.


Here’s the rule of thumb: If you haven’t worn an article of clothing in a year, get rid of it. You won’t miss it. (We promise.)

If you want to sell: Selling clothing in excellent condition can be a lucrative activity, and Baltimore has some great shops, especially for women’s clothing. Fells Point’s Fashion Attic (1926 Fleet St., Suite A, 410-276-0817, http://www.thefashionattic.com) buys and sells tons of trendy clothing, and consignors get 50 percent of the selling price. If you’re looking to cash in on some couture, Vogue Revisited (4002 Roland Ave., 410-235-4140) will give you a chance to get top dollar for all the brands the girls go ga-ga for.

If you want to donate: Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake (410-837-1800, http://www.goodwillches.org) is more than happy to take any clothing at all (and give you a receipt for tax deduction purposes), regardless of its condition. Baltimore’s YWCA (410-685-1460, http://www.baltimoreywca.com) has a constant need for women’s and children’s clothing (especially women’s business attire and baby clothes) for homeless and transitional women and children. Ladies, if you have unwanted business suits and accessories (purses, belts, etc.) that are taking up valuable space in your closet, there are a number of local organizations dedicated to providing women in need with business attire, such as Suited to Succeed (410-528-1799, http://www.suitedtosucceed.org) andSuccess in Style (443-535-0333, http://www.successinstyle.org). If your college-aged daughter has left the nest, but left her prom dresses behind, contact the Priceless Gown Project (http://www.pricelessgownproject.org). Co-founded by Rebecca Davis in 2004, the organization collects and then donates gowns to Baltimore’s prom-going high school girls who wouldn’t be able to afford a dress otherwise through an annual “boutique.” The project also welcomes accessories (with the exception of shoes) and is especially on the lookout for sizes 16 and up. Fluffy bridesmaids gowns double as fantastic prom dresses, too.


Has chic turned to bleak in your living room? Fear not, options abound when it comes to finding your furniture a new home.

If you want to sell: There’s always the furniture-rich Baltimore craigslist (http://www.baltimore.craigslist.org), where many a grad student is thrilled to get a good deal on a gently used bedroom suite. Another option is consigning your contemporary or antique furniture at a specialty consignment shop such as Cornerstone (2175 Greenspring Dr., Timonium, 410-561-3767, http://www.onlycornerstone.com) or the time-honored Turnover Shop (3855 Roland Ave., 410-235-9585; 3549 Chestnut Ave., 410-366-2988, http://www.theturnovershop.com).

If you want to donate: The Salvation Army (800-229-7156, http://www.tsabaltimore.org) has a standard large-item pick-up policy. Up to 25 trucks a day are out on the road picking up large donated items like furniture for all seven Baltimore area Salvation Army thrift stores. Unlike Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake (410-837-1800, http://www.goodwillches.org) —which will only pick-up multiple bulk items (an entire dining room set, for example)—the Salvation Army will gladly stop by to get that old couch or loveseat within a day or two, just call ahead to make an appointment. A different route is the Baltimore Free Store (31 North Haven St., 410-522-0722, http://www.freestorebaltimore.org). This environmentally conscious organization accepts everything from furniture to children’s toys and makes them available to individuals who may not be able to afford them otherwise. Donations are accepted every Saturday and Tuesday from 10 am to 3 pm.


It’s a great book and all, but do you really need four copies of The Catcher In the Rye?

If you want to sell: At Normal’s (425 E. 31st St., 410-243-6888, http://www.normals.com) if a title is in print, you’ll get 10 percent of the cover price; if it’s out of print, that jumps to one-fourth of the cover price. If you have an enormous collection of fantastic books (or music) to sell, they’ll even come to you. The Book Escape (805 Light St., 410-576-8885, http://www.thebookescape.com,) gives sellers two to three times as much in-store credit and accepts “virtually anything,” says co-owner Andrew Stonebarger. Keep those old medical books at home, though.

If you want to donate: The Book Bank (501 N. Calvert St., 410-783-1479, http://www.baltimorereads.org,), the donation arm of the Baltimore Reads program, welcomes books of any kind, but has a special interest in children’s and young adult titles. The Bank is set up like a library where teachers, day-care staffers, and health-care workers can stop by and take up to 50 books in a single visit. If you have an especially large load to donate, the Bank is happy to swing by and pick up your donation—something they do about once or twice a month. (Mark your calendars for the first Saturday in May for the Bank’s annual Books for Kids Day.) The Baltimore County Public Library System (410-887-6100, http://www.bcponline.org) and Enoch Pratt Free Library (410-887-6100, http://www.epfl.net) both have annual book sales and gladly accept donations of all kinds. If you’re looking to unload books after hours, the Book Thing of Baltimore (3001 Vineyard Ln., 410-662-5631, http://www.bookthing.org)—dedicated to ensuring that everyone in the city has access to as many books as they need—has a drop-box at their headquarters.


Pianos are meant to be played, and that baby grand in your living room is collecting more dust than a Swiffer pad. So unless you—or the kids—plan on finally learning the Moonlight Sonata, it’s probably best to find a smaller stand for family photos.

If you want to sell: “A used piano’s value is in its function,” says Phil Heiliger, owner of Maryland Piano in Columbia (9139 Red Branch Rd., 410-997-8388, http://www.marylandpiano.com). The shop will buy or consign your piano but be warned: just because you have grandma’s old upright doesn’t mean it will be worth much, if anything at all. In fact, Heiliger explains, many times the cost of repairing a used piano—or even picking it up—outweighs its actual worth. As with all used piano buyers, the price Maryland Piano will pay for your piano varies on a case-by-case basis. The Piano Man in Catonsville (624 Frederick Rd., 410-747-0200, http://www.pianomanusa.com) has a restoration facility on its premises, so Nick “Piano Man” Margaritas may indeed be interested in buying an older model that needs a little refurbishing. Both shops will come to residences to assess potential buys, but only after evaluating them over the phone to see if they’re worth the trip.

If you want to donate: If you’d rather donate your piano, give local retirement homes, schools, and churches a call to see if they’re interested, advises Anne Levit, manager of Jordan Kitts Music in Lutherville (which only buys used Steinways in good condition). The problem with donating pianos, Margaritas explains, is that donation is sometimes a last resort for piano owners who can’t find a buyer because their piano isn’t in the best shape, so Levit recommends calling a piano technician for a checkup (usually about $75-125). “If you want to donate a piano, make sure that it can hold a tune, and that it’s an instrument not just a piece of junk,” she says. (FYI: If your piano is indeed a piece of junk, dealers such as Maryland Piano and Jordan Kitts will come to your home and haul it away, but this can run $200-300 due to moving manpower and landfill fees.)

Yard Birds

A great way to clean house is a well-executed yard sale. But when’s the right time to hold one? How do you attract customers? And, most importantly, how do you move your merchandise?

Dean Minerd, an executive producer of The Learning Channel’s Clean Sweep recommends putting aside an entire weekend (sunny weather is best, of course) and getting the word out far and wide. “The real key is advertise, advertise, advertise,” he says. Good old neighborhood fliers work wonders—especially when they have a sense of humor, he adds—and online message boards such as craigslist.org can attract customers from outside your immediate area.

As for goods, “price them to go,” Minerd says. “You’d be surprised how dollars and 50 cents add up. People are paying you to clean out your place, look at it that way. You’re not paying to haul it away; anything you get for it is more than before.”

Peter Walsh, Clean Sweep’s on-air organizing expert and author of It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuffand How to Organize (Just About) Everything advises yard sale novices to visit other area yard sales in the weeks leading up to your own to get an idea of the going prices of everyday items. He also recommends that sellers keep like things together (all kitchen items should go on one table, for example) and bundling objects together. “If one book is 25 cents, sell six for a dollar,” he says, and you’ll be surprised how fast things disappear.

Another handy tip to keep things moving: Keep an extension cord handy to allow shoppers to try out electrical goods while they browse.

Two hours before you shut down, slash prices, Walsh says. Anything left over shouldn’t go back into the house; instead, take it straight to charity.

Toxic Trash

Although cleaning house may give you a deep sigh of relief, your household junk could be doing major damage to the environment. Before you go on that trash-bag rampage, take a moment to evaluate what you’re about to put curbside.

Our collective need to have the latest and greatest in technology makes electronic waste—such as computers and televisions—a big problem in landfills these days, says David Mrgich, division chief of recycling and marketing at the Maryland Department of the Environment. Older computer monitors (read: the big ones that take up half your desk) and old-fashioned tube TVs contain dangerous heavy metals such as lead, copper, cadmium, and chromium that can enter local ecosystems by contaminating ground water. If you can’t donate your computer but have designated it as trash-worthy, check with your local recycling center (listed by county and city at mde.state.md.us/recycling) for details on electronic recycling, which is easy and convenient across the state.

If you’re cleaning out basement trash—perhaps you’re in the midst of a renovation down there—other common potentially toxic household items are mercury thermostats, which, like the traditional thermometers of yesteryear, contain actual mercury. Paints, uncured adhesives, and pesticides are also dangerous to toss (or dump in the backyard), reports Scott Lupin, associate director of the University of Maryland, College Park’s Department of Environmental Safety. And, for all you garage warriors out there, dangerous household chemicals also include fertilizers and yes, you guessed it, gasoline. Another toxic trash item many folks don’t think of? Car batteries, Lupin says. All of these chemical-laden items can be safely disposed of through local household hazardous waste days where residents can drop off hazardous waste at city or county-designated locations free of charge.