Spring is upon us and in South Florida that means Marlins baseball games, swarms of college kids on vacation break and - wait for it – a little household spring cleaning.
Yes, get your mind off homeruns and beer runs and concentrate on one of America's traditional rites of this time of year: cleaning of closets, garages, attics and anywhere else where too much stuff is stored that you either don't need or can't find when you do.
This is National Spring Cleaning Week (ends April 3), and now's a good time to get organized, gain more space in your home, get rid of junk you don't need, donate what you don't use and save money in the process.
I didn't realize anyone could accomplish all of the above until after my wife and I agreed to be guinea pigs last week for a TV segment on spring cleaning for WSFL TV's The Morning Show. The station, owned by Sun Sentinel parent company Tribune Company, invited experts from the Container Store and Goodwill South Florida to visit our home and provide tips on how to clean up effectively, determine what you don't need and make use of what you don't need by donating or recycling.
"The hardest part for a lot of people is figuring out what you don't need. But once you do that, it's just a matter of organizing and arranging things so you can see what you have, get to it easily and get the most benefit from it," said Susan Edwards, one of two Container Store representatives who visited our home to help with the biggest problem areas, the garage and our son's play room.
Where to start. First decide what areas you will want to clean (bedroom, kitchen, etc.), breaking up the project in manageable time periods (perhaps an hour on a closet one day and three hours in the garage on another day), Edwards said. The hardest part may be determining soberly "what you want to keep and what you can do without," she said.
Many of us hate to admit we hoard junk. For us it was numerous stacks of newspapers and bank statements that were decades old, boxes of cassette and VCR tapes we no longer use and old or broken toys that we never got around to getting rid or fixing.
Documents. We started with the newspapers that we save (we are both journalists) other documents we deemed important enough to keep. Among the documents you should keep permanently are annual tax returns, stock and bond certificates, health records and birth certificates, which should be stored in water and air tight containers. Clear containers make it easier to see quickly what is in there. Use archival storage boxes to help protect delicate documents and photographs from sunlight and moisture, then store those in air and water-tight containers.
Among the items you only want to keep for about a year are paycheck stubs, phone and utility bills and monthly bank statements. Keep copies of W-2 and 1099 forms, credit card year-end statements and cancelled checks for about seven years. And consider shredding ATM bank-deposits, non-tax deductible receipts for minor purchases and warranties for items you no longer own.
Group like things together. In the garage, we used large clear plastic containers to organize and store hurricane supplies, garden tools and paints and chemicals. "In the playroom we used clear plastic containers and stored Star Wars toys together and drawing paper and things together," Edwards said. "That way your son can easily find what he wants, dump it out when he needs it and put it back again easily when he's done."
She was right, so far my son has enjoyed seeing his R2D2 and C3PO robots stored with his X-Wing fighter and Millennium Falcon space ships and has in turn been much more willing to "put it in my Star Wars box," as he says.
Donate. Divide what you don't need into two piles, things that are in good condition and things that are not. Send the latter to the garbage and consider donating the former.
"We will take anything that can be resold," said Lourdes Little, a vice president of marketing for Goodwill South Florida. "We will take toys, furniture, electronics, but everything must be in working order and not torn, ripped, broken or dirty. That's the general rule."
Seek out charities such as the YMCA and Salvation Army, which refurbish and recycle cell phones. Visit http://www.Earth911.org or call 800-253-2687 for a list of organizations that collect computers and other electronics for good causes.
Sell or Recycle. Find a responsible recycler, especially if the computer you are replacing is too old to donate. To find a local one, visit http://www.electronicstakeback.com Check if the manufacturer of your old computer has a program to collect, recycle or reuse old computers. The list includes Dell, Sony and Intel.
Check out eBay and Craigslist.com. Try auctioning your computer and equipment for quick cash, or you can use eBay's Rethink Initiative campaign to connect to those who can reuse your old stuff.
To donate to your local Goodwill store in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, visit http://www.goodwillsouthflorida.org or call 954-486-1600. In Palm Beach County, visit http://www.gulfstreamgoodwill.com or call 561-392-0939 or 561-833-1693 (West Palm Beach).
To use the State Department's recycling map, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/waste/categories/electronics/pages/televisions.htm.
Do not throw away old electronics that no longer work. In Broward County, residents can drop off items at collection centers in Pompano Beach, Sunrise and Hollywood. Call 954-577-4160. In Palm Beach County, residents can take advantage of similar sites in West Palm Beach, Jupiter, Royal Palm Beach, Delray Beach and Belle Glade. Call 866-792-4636.
Daniel Vasquez can be reached at email@example.com, or 954-356-4219, or 561-243-6600, ext. 4219. To see more columns from Daniel Vasquez, go to sunsentinel.com/vasquez. Check out Daniel Vasquez's Consumer Talk blog for ways to spend your money wisely, use technology to make life easier and keep your family safe and healthy at sunsentinel.com/consumerblog