There comes a time in every gadget’s life when it needs to accept the reality of growing old—software lag has gone beyond a joke, it’s no longer getting updates, and nothing works with it any more. And maybe the screen is broken too. But while you put in an order for a new toy, here’s everything you can (and should) do with your old device.
We’ve written before about some of the ways you can repurpose old gadgets, but it’s worth remembering that almost any kind of device can be used for something else once it’s gone past its sell by date (or even if it hasn’t).
Sure, your smartphone or tablet might not cut it any more for switching between demanding apps multiple times a day, and loading up the latest games, but if it can run one app well then you can keep it handy—as a controller for your Sonos or Spotify speakers maybe, or as an ebook reader with an dedicated app installed.
You can even put your old phone or tablet to use as a security monitor to keep an eye on the home while you’re away—Manything is one of the apps that will do this for you. You install the app, get your mobile device positioned and powered up, and then you can log in to view the feed whenever you like (you can even get motion alerts).
Another idea is to keep your older phone around as an alarm clock – there are some fantastic apps for getting you to sleep or rousing you from your slumber more effectively. Or, use your spare phone as a dedicated MP3 player (this is a particularly good idea if it still has a headphone jack and you want to carry on using your wired headphones).
Laptops can be reused as well, once they’ve got too old and dusty to handle the rigors of running iTunes, Photoshop and a hundred Chrome tabs. Retire your laptop by reformatting it then just running one app on it: It could be your Spotify jukebox, it could be your smart home hub, or it could be your Plex server.
For laptops or desktops with a lot of local storage, you could think about setting up these outdated computers as full on NAS devices, serving out files to the other computers and mobile devices on your network, even over the web. FreeNAS is one of the software packages that will take care of this for you.
If you want to get more ambitious, pick a flavor of Linux and install it on your old laptop. The less intensive demands of Linux will mean you can carry on word processing, web browsing, and video watching for a few more years yet—or you can give it away to someone else in the family.
Not every old gadget can be repurposed like this of course—it’s hard to think how you might want to put an obsolete smartwatch or fitness tracker to another use—but don’t dismiss the idea until you’ve checked out all the options.
Don’t assume you can’t get any money flogging your old hardware based on its age and condition—plenty of buyers will pick up broken kit with an eye to using it for parts or repairing it and selling it to others. The more expensive your gadget was to begin with the better, but it’s not the only factor.
That said, it’s important to test the waters first. Check through running or completed listings on eBay to see the sorts of prices your unwanted gadgets might get, or have a browse across Craigslist or whatever marketplace you prefer to see if the kind of gadgets you’re selling are proving popular.
Using the likes of eBay and Craigslist is a fairly straightforward process. The golden rules are to take plenty of good-quality, clear photos of your device from all angles, and to be honest about what condition it’s in—if there’s a big scuff on one side, say so, because you’ll be less likely to have to deal with a disgruntled buyer.
You also want to minimize the chances of getting scammed, especially with more expensive, big-ticket items. We’ve already written a comprehensive guide on how to stay safe when selling items, and it includes tips on getting the best price and finding a suitable marketplace too.
If it doesn’t seem worth it for one particular gadget, then wait until you’ve got a few old devices to get rid of, and list them all at the same time. You could bundle them together, if appropriate, but even if they’re sold separately you only have to go through the chore of packing and posting once.
And speaking of packing and posting, go through the whole process as professionally as you can. Maybe you’re not going to set up a side business selling electronics on eBay, but your reputation score is still going to matter the next time you have something at home that you want to shift.
If you’re feeling charitable, then give your gadget away—you might be sick of your three-year-old iPhone, but your nephew or niece will probably love it. Chances are there’s someone in your family, or in your circle of friends, or on your street who would appreciate a free laptop or smartphone in whatever condition.
Check with your local charity shop to see if they’re accepting donations of laptops, phones, or whatever it is you’re trying to get rid of. There are also many organizations that accept old electronics to pass on to free to people in need, so you could donate for a tax write off. Just do the research first. Not all organizations are geared up to take old electronics.
More manufacturers offer recycling programs than you might realize, and that’s before you get to recycling schemes in your own local area. When it’s time to say goodbye to an old bit of hardware that’s beyond repair or unlikely to fetch any cash on the second-hand market, you’ve got no excuse for not recycling it.
Apple has one of the best schemes: You can drop off any old Apple kit at an Apple Store, or put it in the mail, and Apple will take care of it for you. If it’s relatively new and in decent condition, you can even get some money back to use against your next Apple purchase.
Samsung will accept your old phone and recycle it responsibly for you, though you don’t get the same trade-in options as you do with Apple. Put your mobile in the post, send it back to Samsung, and it’ll get dismantled for parts and resources and recycled to the correct environmental guidelines.
LG and HTC have similar schemes up and running, so check with the device manufacturer first to see if that’s an option. Most of the time it’s just a question of posting your old hardware off—the company that made it is probably going to know how best to dispose of it, so it’s worth giving this a go.
If for whatever reason manufacturer recycling is off the table, there are plenty of other avenues to explore. Best Buy will take pretty much any old tech, regardless of what it is, what condition it’s in, or where you bought it in the first place. You might even get a Best Buy gift card out of it. Staples is another big-name retailer with a tech recycling scheme.
Another option for your smartphone is your carrier: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint will all take your unwanted cell phone off you and may give you some money back as well if it’s new enough and in good working order.
That should be more than enough recycling options to be getting on with, but if you need even more to pick from, then a quick web search might well turn up a local e-waste center in your area, which will be only too happy to dispose of your electronics for you. Just make sure they accept consumer donations before you set off, because some are set up for commercial and business use only.
The beauty of recycling is it doesn’t matter how clapped out, old and broken your hardware is, it can still be put to good use. The next time one of your gadgets becomes obsolete, don’t get it gather dust in a drawer or throw it out with the trash—there are so many better options to pick from.