If you've lived in New York long enough, you've probably accumulated a bunch of junk you don't want and don't know how to get rid of. A friend of mine has had a broken VCR in her living room for two years, right on top of her new one. Everyone I know seems to have a dirty, unusable rug gathering dust (and taking up valuable space) in the closet. I even know a guy who paid his landlord $50 on moving day to ditch his old mattress because he didn't know how to do it. The irony is that there are plenty of people who'll come to your home and take away your trash for free or even pay you for it. You just have to know where to find them.
Your biggest ally in Operation Rubbish Removal is New York's Department of Sanitation. Not only will they take most anything, they even have a 24-hour Action Center hotline (212-219-8090) you can call for guidance on getting stuff trashed. A nice guy there named Leslie confirmed that just because you can't fit a ratty old couch into a trash bag doesn't mean you're stuck with it forever: You can put up to six large items -- couches, mattresses, rugs, cribs, computer monitors, you name it -- on the curb the night before the last trash day of the week.
Leslie also says that if you have a big-ticket item that's more than 50 percent metal (like a VCR), you can place it on the curb for recycling day. But it's important to call the Action Center three days before putting out anything containing CFCs (refrigerators, air conditioners, etc.), so workers can remove the ozone-damaging chemical and tag the item as safe for pickup; you also need to remove fridge doors so kids playing "fort" on the street don't lock themselves inside the neighborhood Kenmore.
Sanitation workers will arrange for the removal of abandoned cars without license plates if given notice (those with license plates need to be reported to your local police precinct), but if you're the owner, you are responsible for your car's fate. Some desperate souls take the film noir route and ditch their clunkers in some no-man's-land (like along the Greenpoint waterfront in Brooklyn). But the smart (and legal) thing to do is to call several businesses listed under "Automobile Wrecking" in the Yellow Pages to see who'll pay the most for your car. The going rate is $75 to $125, although if it's a real dud, you may have to pay someone $50 to take it. Donald Albertini, manager of Fountain Auto Group in East New York (653 Fountain Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-649-2020), notes that the price you get is going to depend on the make and model of what you're turning over to him. "A 1990 Ford Tempo may not go for that much," he explains, "but a 1990 Crown Victoria could get $150 to $300, depending on its condition." To a salvage yard, the best thing your car can offer is its parts, which can be resold. In addition, you are required by law to sign over the title of the car to the salvage yard, thereby transferring ownership. For men like Albertini, anything less is a waste of time. "Some shell of a car with no title -- I'm not going to pick that up," he says.
Many charities, including Heritage for the Blind (800-2-DONATE), the National Kidney Foundation (800-488-CARS), and the L'Chaim Society (800-288-7799), will take your car off your hands and, because of an altruistic tax code, you get to claim a big write-off. Just so you know: "In very few cases do charities actually use the automobile; they're not using it to take groceries to sick old ladies," says Jennifer Lammers of the Better Business Bureau. Charities cut deals with for-profit wrecking companies, who pocket most of the proceeds when your car is resold or used for parts or scrap. "The charity receives only a flat fee for the vehicle, often less than $100," Lammers says.
If you don't have a car, it isn't easy to donate your cast-offs to charity. Goodwill Industries (718-721-2900), for instance, will pick up furniture only in Manhattan -- on Tuesdays and Saturdays if you live on the East Side, and on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays if you're a West Sider. The Salvation Army (800-95-TRUCK) is a better bet for a philanthropist who actually has a job: You can usually persuade it to take your goods on a Saturday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. If what you're getting rid of is upscale clothing or accessories, it may be easier to donate to Lighthouse International (212-821-9300), which will pick up from midtown and Upper Manhattan locations -- like your office -- on weekdays (except Mondays) from 9 a.m. to noon. They'll be sold in the association's annual Posh sale. Or you can hop a cab to Housing Works (212-366-0820), which will usually reimburse you for $10 cab fare in return for your designer duds.
Likewise, why dump an old Pentium on the street on trash night, to the delight of a crafty computer geek, when you can give it to a school or nonprofit? An organization called PENCIL (Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning) hosts a "resource bank" on its Website (www.pencil.org), where public-school principals list their kids' needs -- including not just computer equipment but fax machines, VCRs, air conditioners, and other supplies. Most of them are so glad to get your stuff that they'll offer to swing by your place to pick it up. Another nonprofit, Share the Technology, maintains a database that includes a list of potential New York recipients (libertynet.org/share), and an organization called Non-Profit Computing (212-759-2368) has been matching up donors and technologically challenged New York nonprofits for fifteen years.
If you've developed an allergy to your Jack Russell terrier, a neighborhood flyer might still be the best way to locate a foster parent. Or try the ASPCA (212-876-7700), Bide-A-Wee (212-532-4455), or the Humane Society (212-752-4840) -- but don't expect any of them to make a house call. If your furry friend has already passed away and you'd like to have a more ceremonial good-bye than a drop-off at the vet or a GoodFellas-style park burial, let Kathleen and Raymond Leone of Carroll Gardens' All Pets Go to Heaven Pet Funeral Home (718-875-7877) whisk it away and prepare it for a viewing and full-fledged funeral service. In addition to offering more traditional internments, they also will cremate, freeze-dry(!), or embalm your best friend, should you desire.
OTHER WAYS OF LOSING IT
How you dispose of the rest of the clutter that is quietly taking over your life depends on what kind of clutter you're dealing with -- each kind of trash has its unique demise.
* Instead of simply recycling your twenty years' worth of National Geographics, get paid for them. A&S Magazines (212-947-6313) will pick up your old magazines (particularly Playboys, Vogues, and old Peoples) and give you 10 percent of the cover price, give or take.
* You can leave hazardous materials like latex paint and ammonia on the sidewalk, but if you'd like to ensure they don't harm anyone (and you should), mix them (and other dangerous fluids) with kitty litter and dispose of them little by little. If any should leak onto the street, the kitty litter will keep the puddle contained and will also appear unattractive to four-legged sidewalk noshers.
* Despite what you may have heard, fluorescent lightbulbs and household batteries are trash-ready, too; even syringes are fair game if you put them in "leak-proof, puncture-resistant containers" like coffee cans and laundry-detergent jugs.
* If you have so much junk that you often fantasize about having your own Dumpster to fill, a waste-disposal service provider such as Frank DeCostole of DeCostole Carting (718-241-6428) can make your dreams come true. For $300, he'll show up at your doorstep with a ten-cubic-yard container. Fill it up, and Frank will take it off your hands by hauling it to his own "transfer station" (i.e. dump) in Brooklyn.
But don't forget the basics. While doing so is not an official practice, the guys delivering your new furniture will often cough up a small amount of cash to take away your old furnishings. And don't discount stoop sales, where everybody wins: shoppers feel they're getting a steal from an unsuspecting seller, while you count your money -- amazed that so many people actually want all your junk.