It's no secret that our constantly outdated electronic gizmos are adding up to a big envir­o­n­mental mess. By now, we've seen enough news photos of computer monitors piled in landfills - and of workers in China or India trying to salvage toxic components from the First World's obsolete circuit boards - that we ought to be a bit more clued in about the effects of our technology-buying habits.

But, in fact, I still see those effects constantly in the homes I organize, where old electronics are a big source of clutter. This is e-waste that hasn't even seen the light of day yet - which means we really don't have a good handle yet on just how much of this stuff we're going to have to deal with as a society.

To me, all these gadgets seem like repeats of stuff we already had, but just packaged differently. First of all, many homes I work in still have vinyl records, which people keep mainly because they don't know what to do with them or because they have emotional attachments.


Albums were replaced with eight-track tapes and players, and though it all seems like a blur now, those were phased out a decade on and everyone bought cassette decks and piles of tapes.

And you know what we've all bought (then left to gather dust) since then: Single CD players, multi-CD players, VHS players, a succession of smaller and smaller cellphones, and so on.

Nowadays, most folks have modernized to the iPod or some tiny micro-chipped unit that will let you watch a movie, take a snap, talk on- or off-line, listen to your tunes and cheat on an exam. Funny enough, I prefer the radio.

So picture all that old technology, mainly working but obsolete by today standards, in the basement or hidden in a closet stuffed in a box or two. Then there's the box of old phones - some working, many cheapies and broken - plus assorted cords and chargers. If you have lived in the same home for the last 10 years, you too have these boxes buried somewhere.

Many folks also have a dusty box of limited-edition Disney VHS tapes bought with the best of intentions in order to pass down to someone someday. Not to mention the assortment of unlabelled VHS tapes that people simply can't throw away until they check them one day.

Then there are the oversized computer monitors and the swollen television sets that can hardly be given away for free (or lifted, for that matter). Because now, of course, we all want flat screens.

And we won't even touch on the ever-changing gaming systems that my kids sucker me into purchasing every time.

So here we are left with all this excess junk and much more to come.

A big part of my job is finding a good home for both wanted and unwanted items. But I must admit this has become a daunting task lately.

Many charities simply don't want the items; garage sales rarely move dated technology; and while leaving items on the front curb with a sign saying "Take me, I'm free," works for lots of stuff, it doesn't work for old electronics.

EBay and Craigslist are better options for successfully selling or giving away e-waste; some communities out there, and the odd business, do better than others at finding ways to reuse or recycle the stuff, or at the very least, dispose of it in a safe manner. But, unfortunately, most of the electronics hiding away in the nation's basements will end up in landfills.

I leave you with a quote from the 14th Dalai Lama: "The Paradox of our Age (is) … we have bigger houses but smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees, but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, but more problems, more medicines, but less healthiness."

Brenda Borenstein is your professional organizing guru. Look for her column every second Thursday. For more, visit


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