It's the time of year when our homes are absolutely filled to the brim with stuff.


And if you're anything like me, that means you might start just stuffing garbage bags indiscriminately just to get rid of the clutter — forget recycling, reusing and repurposing — you just want it out. But you'll have a clearer conscience and do some good if you find a proper home for at least some of what you want to get rid of. 


Old toys: Chances are that if you have kids, you already know of a parents' swap group in your neighborhood or school. Be sure to take usable toys to the group, or consider putting them on Craigslist (if you put things up as a group, you won't have to post an ad for each individual toy). You can also donate them to lower-income nursery schools in your area, and shelters often need toys. Before you pass them along, be sure to give them a good washing or wipe-down. 


Old holiday decorations: If half the stuff you unpacked from the attic or basement didn't make it on the tree or get used around the house, it's time to get rid of it. Take the usable stuff to Salvation Army or Goodwill, and the broken things can be recycled. Christmas tree lights that no longer work can be recycled by HolidayLED (plus you'll get a discount towards more lights for next year) or taken in to a Home Depot for recycling. Take a close look at other decorations; they might be easily recyclable at curbside in your town. For instance, I can now recycle all plastics as of last year in my recycling bins, so even old plastic garlands get thrown in the bin. 


Extra food: Just because your holiday is over doesn't mean it's gotten any easier to feed the burgeoning homeless population in this country. In fact, post-holiday is one of the most difficult times of the year for food pantries because few think to give, and groups sometimes get tapped out providing holiday meals. Any extra canned and packaged food that you bought for the holidays, thinking it might get eaten, is best given away now. Bring baked goods, like cookie-swap cookies, fruitcakes, tins of popcorn, and other unhealthy treats into your office, or take them to the folks who fix or wash your car, or to a local firehouse. It's better to give the extra food away than to toss it. And anything that you might eat later should be frozen and stored so it doesn't go to waste. 


Electronics: If you now have an extra mobile phone because you got a surprise upgrade under the tree, you might be able to get cash for your old one (search 'cash for cell phone recycling' on Google). At the very least you should recycle it; check Earth911 for local resources. If your upgrade included a computer, here's information about recycling a laptop or desktop. Most other electronics are accepted at Staples and Best Buy; give a call to your local store to be sure they accept what you'd like to get rid of. 


MNN homepage photo: jeweledlion/Flickr

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

What to do with all that extra stuff after the holidays
Find a home for all the random holiday extras, from old decorations to that fruitcake.