Oh sure, you're all buttoned-up in your daily life; you've got your nails done, hair just so, you even wear matching socks (show-off). But when it comes to getting rid of old gadgets, you're a bit of a hoarder. You collect cyber clutter in tangles of old wires, long-dead battery bricks and flip phones jam-packed into junk drawers. Gadget hoarding. It's a thing.
According to a survey by phone price comparison site SellCell.com — 50% of all Americans have two or more old cell phones just lying around. Now, here comes the good part, they're actually worth an average of $90 per phone. What?! We could have nearly $200 of cold hard cash in place of these dusty ole' digital dinosaurs? Sweet. That's just the start of the old gadget gold-rush hiding in our homes. Seven out of every 10 of us own gadgets we haven't touched for at least two years. With Earth Day around the corner, it's time to pack 'em up and ship 'em out, if not to make money, then at least to do something good for the planet — 20 to 50 million metric tons of mostly toxic e-waste is tossed into landfills each year.
I, too, have a ton of old electronics that seem too valuable to send to Goodwill, or have been dead so long that I can't find the chargers to crank 'em up one last time and wipe all of my information off before passing them along. So now what?
FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT'S IT WORTH?
The first step (after admitting you too might be a gadget hoarder …) is figuring out whether you should resell, recycle, or reuse. Let's start with the idea of getting some money back and figuring out if it's actually worth anything.
Android and Windows phones from the past three or four years are likely worth the time it takes to sell them, and iPhones tend to hold their value even longer. If you're just now getting in on the smartphone craze and are looking to get rid of your antiquated flip phone, it's probably worthless — sigh.
Tablets are slightly different, and most tend to be worth more than their smartphone counterparts released around the same time. For example, an Android phone from 2010 might be a hard sell, but Android tablets from that time are still considered capable devices for Web browsing and social networking, so don't toss it before you find out.
The single easiest way to determine the cash value of your just-replaced gadget is to hop on eBay. But wait! Don't fall victim to the old trap of simply searching for your gadget, seeing the first price that pops up, and thinking that your dusty old desktop is worth a cool hundred bucks. First, filter your search results by clicking the "Completed Listings" check box on the side. This will show you how much people have actually paid for that old whatever, not just how much people are hoping to get.
This should give you a rough idea of your gadget's value, and things like overall condition and included accessories will sway that number one way or the other. If you dumped a bottle of Dr. Pepper on your iPad, it's obviously going to be a bit harder to market. But don't just toss your item on eBay while you're there — you may end up deciding to use eBay, but you have some questions to answer first.
WHERE'S THE BEST PLACE TO SELL?
Where you end up selling your out-of-date electronics should be based on what you want to get out of it. Are you looking for cold hard cash or will store credit be OK for you? Do you care more about a quick turnaround than a top-dollar offer? Are you willing to ship your device or meet a buyer in person? Here are your best bets, depending on how you answer these questions:
GET RID OF IT FAST
Want that old Samsung handset or iPad out of your house as fast as possible? Store trade-in programs and gadget resellers are just what you're looking for. No need to mess around with finding a buyer, no haggling, and no risk of a sketchy buyer e-mailing you two weeks later telling you they want their money back.
Gazelle is the leader in this space, offering consistently high prices for iPhones, Android devices, and tablets. The company will quote you a price online and then send you a prepaid box to ship your device. Easy-peasy.
Retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, and Amazon all accept trade-ins as well, offering credit toward future purchases in the form of a gift card. Best Buy offers the added bonus of letting you walk into a Best Buy store to do the trade, rather than forcing you to ship it. Its offers are competitive and comparable with exclusive resellers like Gazelle, but you have to use your money there.
YOU WANT TO DEAL LOCALLY
If you can't be bothered to mail something, and the Best Buy walk-in trade doesn't fit the bill, Craigslist can come in handy. I'm sure by now, you've heard of this massive "classifieds" section for your city or region. It comes with a huge following and you'll get plenty of eyes on your listing in a relatively short period of time. Be sure to put a real photo with whatever you're selling.
You'll likely need to meet the buyer in this case, which can be a little bit weird, but if you're cool with it, it's a time tested way to get some cash for used electronics. Just be sure to follow safe Craigslist practices like meeting in a public place and only accepting cash — no need to risk your safety just to get rid of an old phone!
YOU WANT ABSOLUTE TOP DOLLAR
The one place you can truly name your price without having to actively peddle your device to prospective buyers is on eBay. With the massive number of eBay members constantly looking for devices new and old, you can be sure that your phone or tablet will get plenty of eyes, and the "reserve" sale price feature lets you set a minimum dollar amount you're willing to settle for.
The downside of eBay is that your gadget is going to be competing with hundreds, or even thousands of similar devices — not to mention a bajillion other items like toast that looks like religious figures and Beanie Babies — so you'll want to do something to make it stand out. High-quality photos, a thorough description, and perks like free shipping will help you get the attention you need to make top dollar.
WHERE TO RECYCLE
Unfortunately, there's a chance that your smartphone or tablet is just too old — or too busted — to be worth anything. But wait! Even if it's trash to you, it can't just get tossed in with the rest of your daily garbage. Smartphones and tablets contain some components that are not only high tech, but also highly toxic, and you have to ditch them in a way that's both environmentally friendly and economical.
Even if you live in a small municipality, there's a good chance you can find a certified electronics disposal company nearby, and there are tools to help you do so:
Best Buy: Even if your antiquated gadget isn't worth anything to Best Buy, many of the company's stores will take your old electronics and dispose of them responsibly for zero cost to you. Thus far, the company has taken in 909 million pounds of outdated electronics, and there's no end in sight.
1-800-Recycling: It may look like a phone number, but this web-based tool is a perfect resource for finding recycling services in your area. You can filter your results for electronics, view all results on an interactive map, and look up directions.
WHATEVER YOU DO, WIPE IT!
Whether you're sending your device to meet its end at a recycling facility or selling it to an odd dude in a torn leather jacket on Craigslist (no offense), you're going to want to wipe that digital diary clean of your private info. Of course, before you do that, you'll want to be sure to backup all your precious photos, documents, music, movies, and games. Hopefully, you're backing up all your digital data regularly anyway with an automated service like Backblaze or with an external storage device. For Android or iOS devices, you can also store everything in the cloud with Google Auto Backup or Apple's iCloud service.
DELETING YOUR OLD FILES IS NOT ENOUGH!
Okay, clean-up and clear-out time:
Modern smartphones and tablets make this extremely easy via built-in tools. If you have an iPhone or iPad, here's how it works:
• Click the settings icon on your home screen
• Scroll down to the "General" tab and click it
• Scroll down to the "Reset" tab and click it
• Select "Erase all content and settings" and confirm
Android devices are just as simple, though the specifics might vary slightly depending on which version of Android you are currently using:
• Click on the settings icon
• Select "Backup & Reset"
• Click "Reset phone data" and confirm
Windows phones follow the same pattern:
• Click on the settings icon
• Click "About"
• Click "Reset your phone" and confirm
If you have an old clunker of a laptop or desktop from waaay back, like 2009 or even older, the best way to make sure no one can get their eyes on your data is to physically remove the hard drive yourself. For that, you'll need a screwdriver, and you'll want to Google your particular model along with the key words, "remove hard drive." There are many-a how-to all over the Internet. This means that you can't pass the computer on to someone else quite so easily though, so here are some other ways to wipe it down of all your digital data:
On a Windows 8 PC:
• Open your PC's options menu and click "Settings"
• Click "Change PC Settings" and then "General"
• Click "Remove Everything and Reinstall Windows"
• Pop in your Windows 8 installation disc when prompted and the computer will handle the rest
On Windows 7 or earlier:
• Place your Windows operating system disc in your computer and restart it
• Select the "Boot from disc" option when prompted
• Select a "Custom" installation
• Select your computer's main partition (typically C:) and select format
• The computer will then format the disk and reinstall a clean versions of Windows
Note: Different versions of Windows behave slightly differently, but Microsoft's support site is a good place to look for specific details on the various flavors of Windows.
On a Mac:
• Restart your Mac and hold the "Command" and "R" keys while the computer boots up
• Select "Disk Utility" from the menu that appears
• Select your main start-up disk from the list (it will almost always be the largest one) and then click "Erase"
• Select "Mac OS Extended" from the Format menu and click "Erase"
• When the computer is done formatting, select "Reinstall Mac OS X" to install a fresh version of OS X
If you lost your startup disc long ago, like I have, another option to securely erase a Mac or PC is by making a DBAN CD or flash drive. If you want a full wipe, type "autonuke" to erase all drives. Other good services include Active KillDisk for PC's and White Canyon Software's WipeDrive for Mac's. If these are too hard to figure out, you can always get help through a program like Best Buy's Geek Squad, who charge a pretty penny, but usually get the job done well.
That's it! If you have an older flip phone or other device that doesn't use one of these common platforms, you can almost always find the reset option within the settings menu. However, if you just can't find it, simply type your gadget's name into Google along with the words "reset" or "erase" and you're almost guaranteed to find a guide.
While squirreling away old gadgets might just be a distant cousin to real hoarding — not serious enough yet to have its own reality TV show — there's no reason to sit on a mountain of old devices.
If you have questions or concerns about a particular device, be sure to send us a note or use the comments below.
Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY's digital video show TECH NOW. E-mail her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferJolly.