If you have recently upgraded to a new phone, laptop, tablet or something similar, you would probably want to do something proactive with the old one. Do not just cut in the trash ̵1; give it to a friend or family member, donate it or recycle it. But there are some things you should do first.
Your primary issue is your privacy: You want to delete all your personal information from one device before it reaches another user. There are fairly common ways to do this (a complete recovery) and more drastic action if you are worried about someone specifically searching for used devices for unnecessary reasons.
There are also some security issues with older devices, especially the battery. But it tends to be handled by the recycler. If you assume that your gadget works, it’s time for it to move to a new home once you’ve deleted your data and any foreign objects.
Step one: Back up and delete your data
No matter what you convey – a phone, a tablet, a laptop, a game console, virtually any type of modern electronics – you want to make sure your personal information is lost first. Not only is this a matter of privacy, but it is also a matter of security: with even seemingly harmless data such as your name and phone number, an identity thief can start a targeted harvest.
Thankfully, virtually all of these devices include an option to reset the machine, delete all your personal information, along with stored files and programs. This takes a few minutes, but it is quite reliable and very simple.
Back up all important information first – on a phone or tablet, it’s easy because most of it is already synced with your Apple, Google or Amazon account. You want to make sure photos, videos, music and text messages are saved. Computers can be more complicated, because you want to retrieve a large amount of data – possibly everything – from the storage device.
Our sister site How-To Geek has simple backup instructions for this process on all the most common platforms:
Once you have backed up all your data, it’s time to restore your device. Here are the relevant guides:
If you want a more secure way to permanently delete files and personal information, you want to overwrite the storage of your device, ensuring that it cannot be restored with various advanced tools. There are a few different ways to do this, but the most important platforms to consider here are Windows and macOS.
Step two: harvest (or destroy) parts
When you are ready to get rid of your gadget, be sure to remove all the physical parts of it that come out as well. For phones, this means SIM card and MicroSD card (if your phone supports them). On laptops and desktops, this means CDs, DVDs, camera cards and of course everything connected to your USB ports. Check for game discs, game cartridges and storage cards on game consoles.
Computers have an even more secure option: You can remove the storage device. This is more complicated and it also removes the operating system, so you need to note that it does not work if you sell or donate it. However, removing the hard drive or SSD and either destroying it yourself or simply throwing it away separately reduces the risk of someone recovering data from it.
Getting the storage device out of a desktop computer is generally easy (although it can be difficult on small computers like the Mac Mini or iMac). Getting it out of a laptop is much more difficult, and may not be possible with standard tools if it is a newer ultra-thin model with storage soldered to the motherboard. Search in Google in both cases to see if you can do it.
You may also be able to use other removable parts in a computer, especially graphics cards from gaming computers. But the odds are that if you are ready to sell or recycle a computer, there is not much in it that will be useful in a new one. If you are passing the computer on to a new user – either donate it or give it to a friend – be sure to give it to them in a useful condition.
So if you donate a computer somewhere, leave the storage space and operating system there after you have deleted your data, unless you know that the organization can repair computers yourself. If you give a computer to someone less technically savvy, you will probably also leave it in working order. If someone is just looking for the parts, or has the parts and the knowledge to fix it, you are welcome to harvest these pieces.
If you pass something on to a new user or donate it, it is polite to make sure it is in the best possible condition. You’ve done it when it comes to software, now it’s time to take care of the hardware.
Dust your thing and maybe not damage some of the debris from the angles with a little isopropyl alcohol. If your gadget is particularly dirty or cloudy, you may want to go for it with a toothbrush (be sure to avoid getting water in vulnerable ports, of course). Keyboards and mice can look especially good because they are constantly touched: There is a more involved process to completely clean and disinfect them.
Where to donate and recycle
Ready to get rid of a few things? There are plenty of places to donate items, and many electronics stores like Best Buy collect electronics for recycling for free. Your local municipal waste or recycling service can also offer free electronics recycling – they make a small amount of money by transferring e-waste to industrial recycling companies.
If your gadget works perfectly, consider donating it to organizations that can distribute electronics to those who need them. There are plenty of these, at least one of which is almost certainly close to you: schools, churches and other religious organizations or homeless and needy programs. Retirement homes and nursing homes also often need electronics of all kinds – especially tablets and laptops.
If you are unsure whether the place you are going to accept your item, just call and ask – someone will tell you if they can use it, and if not, probably direct you where to go instead. If all else fails, organizations like the Red Cross, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army usually take almost everything that works and is created over the past decade.
Those who prefer to donate to non-religious organizations may have some very limited options. You should look for charities looking for donations in the nearest major city. Urgent need for donations is often covered in the local newspaper or shared on social hubs such as Facebook and Nextdoor.
And remember, you can always ask your friends or family if they want or need things you can no longer use. Even if they do not, they may know someone who does.