January 18, 2006

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Simplify, simplify
Paring down your gadget collection
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Circumstances in my life have made it necessary to purge.

Yes, I simply have too many electronic goodies. By nature I’m a packrat, and you never know when you might need a 33.6Kbps modem or third-party defragmenting software for Windows 95. From tiny little USB flash drives to desktop computers I never use anymore, it’s time to get rid of it.

My dilemma, of course, is what to purge and how.

The second question, how, is actually fairly easy: a judicious combination of eBay (for light, valuable things), Craigslist, my local dump’s swap shop and any electronics recycling program I can find. A Milford Boy Scout troop is holding a recycling day on Jan. 20, and nearly 1,000 companies are indexed on www.electronicsrecycling.org, some of which will pick up your obsolete junk.

But how to part with everything else? These gadgets we’ve acquired over the years aren’t mere things, after all — they’re memories, relics of technology eras gone by. I’m talking 2002 here.

Here’s the process I’m going through to sort my stuff. Just answer each question with brutal honesty for each piece of tech you own. (The other process, the grieving one, comes later.)

1. Have I used this thing in the past month?
I almost typed “week,” but I’m trying not to be too rough on you here. If you really haven’t used something in 30 days, how valuable is it to you? Has its purpose been subsumed in some other gadget you’ve bought recently? Can you really, truly justify keeping it as a “backup”? If no, keep going.

2. Is it bigger than a breadbox?
Smaller items aren’t out of the woods, but disposing of a large item can be quite satisfying. With just one painful decision, you can clear out a whole cubic foot or more of storage space. Really, there are very few tech items worth having these days that can’t fit in your pocket anyway, save those things whose whole purpose is to be big, like high-definition televisions or toy lightsabers.

3. Are you actually going to use it in an “art project”?
I keep insisting to myself that I’m going to cut up all my old circuitboards into pretty shapes and sell them as Christmas ornaments. Some of the bigger ones maybe I’d hot-glue together into geometric wall decoration jobbies. It’ll never really happen, of course. I mean, what if I need that Pentium II motherboard for something?

4. Is it worth anything at all?
This one might be a little counterintuitive. If it’s still worth something now and you ever want to get cash for it, get rid of it immediately. A few components might gain some value in years to come by virtue of their kitschiness or value to NASA engineers who need to replace something on the space shuttle, but most electronics decline in value rather sharply after their initial release. Even individual components, which can spike a bit in value as manufacturers stop making them even while people still need them, eventually sell for a dollar apiece as keychains if you’re lucky.

5. Who will this annoy?
And is it a cute, funny kind of annoying or an insidious, stake-driving kind of annoying?

Choose wisely.


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