Friday, May 4, 2012

Still Life With Robin: The Quandaries of Spring Cleaning

Photo by tomswulcer, via Wikimedia Commons
by Peggy Robin

Cleaning out stuff from closets, drawers, and the basement is a lot trickier than it used to be, back in simpler times. So many options! In the old days (the 1990s), it used to be that for every item you no longer wanted, you asked yourself four questions: Throw it out? Give it away? Sell it? Or save it?

These days, you still have those same four questions, but for each of them, you have to walk yourself through an increasing number of sub-questions and considerations. For example, under the heading, "Throw it out?" you must decide where and how the unwanted item should be tossed. Should you...
  • put it in the trash can to be picked up by DC sanitation truck on the next collection day? 
  • put it in the recycling bin to be picked up by the recycling truck on the next collection day? 
  • call for bulk trash to pick the item up with a special pickup (because it's too big to fit in your Supercan)? 
  • take the thing that's too big and break it up into smaller pieces so that it will fit in your Supercan? 
  • put it aside in a box to be taken to the city's Fort Totten Facility for recycling/e-cycling/shredding (on the first Saturday of the month)? 
  • find out when the next neighborhood collection event will take place? 
Of course, everything depends on what the item is and how it fits under the rubric of each of the different collection places. You do have to know the rules. Or at least, know how to look them up.

Now suppose you think that the item still has some good days of use left in it...but just not in your home. Fine, give to someone who could use it. Here's where the options have really multiplied since the arrival of the internet. In the world before online connectivity, if you wanted to give something away, you might offer it to a friend or relative. You would do that on the phone or in person. If you couldn't think of anyone who might want your old cast-offs, you could always try a charity. There were (and still are) charities that will send a truck to your house to pick things up. Or you could wait until your favorite school or community group was putting on a rummage sale. For either of these courses of action, you would need to be sure the item had a decent resale value.

Nowadays, you can search online for charities that will pick up from your doorstep. You can view the criteria for acceptable donations. You may even be able to schedule the pickup with a few clicks of your mouse. So in that regard, the donation option has become easier. Now suppose your item isn't quite good enough to resell in a thrift shop. Here's where you have to start making some judgment calls. Is it something your neighbors might want? Then you could give it away on your neighborhood listserv. (On the Cleveland Park Listserv we ask you to offer it exclusively to your fellow list members before you list the item anywhere else.) If you want to make the item available to anyone in the city, there's always or the "Free Stuff" section of Craigslist. The downside to any of these actions is that you are bound to get a number of responses by email asking you to describe the item further, or asking you to hang onto the item for a week or so until the responder can get around to making a pickup, or worst of all, make arrangements with someone who doesn't bother to show up. (Three helpful hints from my experience: Always save emails from others who ask for the freebie; never promise the freebie to the first to respond -- promise it to the one who seems most in need of it and most likely to show up to retrieve it; never announce an item as "taken" until it's actually been removed from your home.)

The internet has similarly multiplied the options for selling your items, but realize I can't even begin to do justice to all the selling choices in such a limited space. Anyway, I want to get down to what prompted me to go on about the plethora of decisions to be made when disposing of unwanted goods in our modern age: The problem of my old set of Tupperware.

First of all, I should say that the set is not really Tupperware at all; it's some no-name brand. I'm calling it Tupperware for convenience because there isn't a generic single word to use for these plastic, food storage containers with snap-tight lids...and I wish there were (but that's a subject for another column). Second of all (and this is actually the critical factor), these containers are not clear; they're opaque, and for that reason I have decided I don't want to use them anymore, even though they're still perfectly good. It's just too annoying to see one in the refrigerator and have to open the lid to see what's inside. You would think I would remember what food I put into which container, but I have finally concluded it's not worth the time it takes for me to stand beside the open refrigerator door, wondering, before I finally reach in and pull off the lid to double-check the contents. I would rather just stick to clear containers that show me at a glance what left over from last night's dinner. So after 20 years, I am finally going to get rid of this whole stupid set.

But the thing is, it's been 20 years. The insides of these containers are tinged slightly orange from decades of contact with pasta sauce. That is to say, they are no longer thrift-shop-worthy quality. I don't think a charity would want them. Well, they're plastic, so perhaps they should be recycled. Unfortunately, they are so old that they were made before the numbered recycling icons were put on the bottoms of plastic items. I suppose I could offer them to this listserv, but honestly, they are not worth the time it would take to post and then sort through all the email replies to get rid of a bunch of plastic tubs.

So what should I do with them? Um, I hate to admit it, but I have moved them to an out-of-the-way cabinet under the basement sink. That way, they don't take up any room in my kitchen cabinets; I can still dispose of them at my leisure. I just need to remember that I still have them. Maybe the next time I hear of a young relative in college who's planning to move off-campus, I will contribute the opaque non-Tupperware to the household's new kitchen.

Now you you see how long it took me to arrive at a decision on this one item in my cleanup of just one cabinet in just one room, the kitchen. At this rate it will be the end of summer before I'm done with my "spring cleaning." Perhaps I'll just put the rest off until the spring of 2013. That way I don't have to decide what to do about this next thing, either. It's an old Teflon pan that's just a bit too scratched-up for me to use....


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Fridays.

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