What you really need for the holidays: A tech purge
The traditional time for airing out your closets and getting rid of all the clutter and stuff you no longer need is from New Year’s to spring. They even have a name for it: spring cleaning. Although, honestly, wouldn’t you rather be outside doing fun spring stuff instead of rummaging through dusty bins and junk drawers?
I propose you carve out some time from your holiday schedule to take a look at the technology you’re not using and consider selling, donating, recycling or just tossing what’s no longer needed.
Yes, I know you’re busy. But there are a number of good reasons to do it now. You could pick up a little bit of spending cash. Your gently used tech items that you don’t need but that others find precious make a good end-of-year donation for people in need. And if you found some tech gifts waiting under the tree, it’s a good time to make room for them in your digital life.
But what should you purge? If you’re like me, you might have a closet full of old cables, barely-functioning USB headsets and random adapters you’re keeping around “just in case.” Who knows when you might need a VGA-to-DVI monitor adapter for an emergency multimedia presentation in your living room. What if you suddenly need 10 USB thumb drives to distribute your one-person multimedia show, “USB Or Bust” to the media?
Let me say this clearly and please allow it to sink in: “Just in case” is never going to happen. And if it does, we live in a world with two-day Amazon shipping and eBay. You can find that weird adapter without too much trouble.
So let go of these things. You’ll feel unburdened, I promise.
What to delete
Clutter guru Marie Kondo famously asks you to examine items in your life, from the contents of your sock drawer to your keepsakes, and ask: “Does this object bring me joy?”
With technology, it’s less about joy than about utility. Does this object really have a use in your life? Is it making your life easier or just taking up space? Would a cheap upgrade to a better version of that item bring you fewer hassles?
Those are the questions you should ask as you examine your aging tech products. A good rule of thumb: if you haven’t used something in six months, it probably should be on its way out of your life.
Here are just a few items upon which you should be casting a skeptical eye:
■Old cables and adapters: If you don’t know what a power cable or adapter is for, you don’t need it. Older cables such as S-Video and Component should be purged unless you need them for a specific gadget you’re still using.
My rule of thumb is to keep one kind of each cable (USB, RCA, etc.) as a “just in case,” but even that might be overkill. Any cable that’s frayed or doesn’t work reliably should go. Keep HDMI cables unless they’re not working properly.
■VCRs, tape decks and non-Blu-Ray DVD players: It’s a cumbersome process to transfer old home videos and cassettes to digital, but it’s got to be done sometime. Those old tapes are only going to keep degrading. There are businesses that will do it for you, or you can invest in a gadget for transferring yourself (warning: this can be very time-consuming).
If you’re not willing to let go of your DVD collection, DVD players can be pretty cheaply replaced with Blu-Ray players (they also play regular DVDs) or even a 4K Ultra Blu-Ray player. These newer devices can typically also can access Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services.
■Old game consoles: Unless you’re playing those games or saving them for your kids, trade or sell them to a store such as Game Over Videogames or donate them. A lot of games from old consoles are readily available for newer game consoles.
■Old thumb drives and external hard drives: Transfer the contents of smaller drives to one big one (and remember to have a backup) or if you trust the cloud, keep the bulk of your files there.
Do a secure format of any old storage media you plan to donate or if you’re paranoid, just destroy the hard drive before sending it to a recycling center. Storage is cheap and solid-state drives are much faster than traditional hard drives. Old drives age fast.
■Computers: Slow and barely functional? Upgrade. But make sure to clear out your data and de-authorize apps such as iTunes that are used on multiple devices.
■Old software: There’s really no need to keep discs of old versions of Windows or TurboTax 1998. Destroy or recycle old installation discs.
■Anything broken or unusable: This goes for old TVs, cracked smartphones or an old computer you think you’re going to get fixed someday, but probably won’t. In most cases, it costs more to fix a broken gadget than to just replace it. Stop pretending you’re going to find a way to repair your gadgets cheaply
■Cameras: If you’re a photography hobbyist, by all means hold on to that gear. But if you’re like most of us and taking most of your photos with your phone, you probably don’t need an old point-and-shoot camera anymore. Donate.
What to keep
It’s not all about purging. Here are a few things you might want to hold onto a little longer or use in a new way:
■Smartphones and tablets: Smartphones age really quickly through software updates, but sometimes it’s worth hanging on to a phone or tablet after you’ve upgraded. If you have kids, a non-activated smartphone can make a good internet device and music player. And some people use an old phone or tablet as a smart home controller/remote control or even an always-on security camera.
■Land lines: Yes, we have cellphones, but if you work out of your home and live in an area with poor cell reception, a phone land line is probably a better solution than relying on Skype and other internet services all the time.
■Computer monitors: Upgrading to a new monitor usually means getting rid of the old one, but if you do a lot of desktop work, having a second or even third monitor in your home office can be a game-changer.
■Streaming boxes: An old Roku or Apple TV might not be your best option for family room viewing if you have a new 4K television, but they can make a good option in a bedroom or guest room, especially one not wired for cable/satellite.
Disposing of purged items
Now that you have decided what should stay and what should go, you have a lot of options on what to do when these items.
■For newer tech such as tablets and smartphones, the best first option is probably to try selling or trading in if you’re in the market for new gadgets. Gazelle, NextWorth, Craigslist and Ebay are good places to start. If you’re selling to individuals instead of a company, be prepared for flaky people, offers to trade and lowball offers. But a little cash is still better than nothing.
■Donating your tech is always a good bet. Goodwill is usually my go-to, although there are some local organizations that are looking for specific items such as lightly used desktop computers, tablets and professional camera equipment.
If you keep track of donations for tax purposes, don’t forget to ask for a receipt.
■Recycling is always a much better option than just throwing your old tech in the trash. Best Buy and Target are good places to unload non-functioning phones, cameras, TVs, old ink cartridges and some appliances.