12 Things You Can Do With Old Cell Phones


Have you recently stumbled upon a stash of old cell phones in the back of a junk drawer? Or are you curious about what happened to those once high-tech flip phones from a few years ago? Before you toss a house full of stuff you inherited, give the inventory a second pass. There are ways you can use old cell phones if you find them.

Maybe you’ve made a New Year's resolution to help others. What about helping your own family? You’ll help your family out if you periodically clean — it’s a great end-of-life planning tool! You may even consider visiting with older relatives and neighbors to lend them a hand and sort through their belongings.

Older individuals are the most likely to have older, unused cell phones on hand. Here are 12 different uses for old cell phones.

1. Recycle Old Cell Phones 

One of the least creative (but no less positive) ways to get rid of an old cell phone is to recycle it. Many different types of stores and businesses have drop boxes for old electronics that can be brought to processing facilities.

Old devices can be broken down and repurposed into new devices. It’s important to bring your old cell phones or flip phones to a designated bin, rather than just throwing it out on your curb. Some materials found in electronics have to be recycled or repurposed in specific environmentally-friendly ways. 

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2. Get an Upgrade

Is your cell phone old but not that old? You may want to check with your provider or manufacturer about any trade-in promotions. Your phone provider benefits by receiving the old model for user research purposes, recycling, or even reselling the phone. It’s very common to receive a discount or a rebate for trading in a gently used, slightly older model for a newer model. These discounts may be significant — ranging from $100 to several hundred dollars. However, you should be aware that your discount may depend on the condition or age of the phone you’re turning in. 

Better yet, trading in a device for a new one can ensure that your provider answers any questions you may have about storing or removing your data and documents securely. By going directly to your provider and completing a trade, you can ask any questions about the capabilities of your new device. Some providers even transfer your data over for you from your old phone in a process that takes minutes.

While many devices these days are backed up to compatible laptops or the cloud, it may take you longer to complete these data transfers on your own. If you need any additional help configuring your settings or apps, you have access to someone who’s there to help.   

3. Send Cell Phones to the Manufacturer 

Perhaps you’re aware of a rebate program for sending in even older devices. You may have to mail your old cell phone to qualify for a rebate or to help out a manufacturer’s cause. In these cases, it may benefit you to consult the user manual for the phone or consult a local tech professional.

Though it’s likely the manufacturer takes necessary precautions to safely remove your data from these old devices, you may wish to do so on your own. Make sure you follow any other instructions from the manufacturer carefully.   

4. Donate them as a Safety Tool 

Some cities have donation programs that provide cell phones to individuals in need or who may be in danger, such as those at risk of domestic violence. Providing free or inexpensive cell phones to these individuals may provide a unique, safe opportunity to stay in touch with the proper authorities.

Be sure to include batteries and chargers you may have. It’s quite possible that one phone call could mean the difference between life and death.  

5. Donate Cell Phones as a Fundraising Tool

Some charities that accept donations for fundraising. Donating old cell phones or even flip phones is a valuable way to help organizations help those who need it most.

It may be difficult for you to see the value in some belongings, such as cleaning out an elderly parent’s home, for example. However, many things can be reused or repurposed to help someone less fortunate. 

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6. Donate them as a Tool for the Differently Abled

How would you get in touch to help people with disabilities? Hospitals, clinics, and specialty care facilities likely accept donations of all kinds, even old cell phones. Something that may seem old, outdated, or even archaic to you may help improve and fine-tune motor skills of a person with disabilities or someone who is undergoing physical or occupational therapy. 

Having real, everyday items to work with and practice using can give much-needed experience to individuals trying to learn or relearn skills for their workplace or home life. Sensory experiences, such as using everyday items, are crucial to educating certain people with specific disabilities. 

7. Donate them as an Educational Tool 

Do you have friends or family members who are in the education system? Or do you have a young child in school? Phones can be a helpful tool in the classroom, especially for children in primary and secondary school.

Many phones, if not equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities, can serve as calculators or a way for children to familiarize themselves with their letters and numbers. Children can also be taught how to properly call for help during an emergency. 

8. Use Cell Phones for Music (or Games) Only

If you enjoy working on certain projects around the house uninterrupted by calls or emails, it may benefit you to hold onto your old cell phone and use it as a music player or for games. However, if you plan to leave the house at all, it’s a good idea to keep a phone with calling capabilities on you in the event of an emergency.

You may also consider keeping a work cell phone and a personal cell phone if a phone is crucial to your line of work. However, the expense will be twice as much unless you find a provider with a special discount. 

9. Keep Cell Phones (and Chargers) as a Backup 

Accidents can happen to anyone. It may save you a headache, time, and a ton of money if you hold onto your last cell phone after you get a new one. However, it’s common nowadays to participate in trade-in programs, so it’s understandable if this isn’t possible.

Be sure that you also hold onto any chargers or accessories that you used frequently. Then, if the time comes and you have to switch back to your old phone, you still have that option immediately. This way, all of your settings and preferences should remain intact.

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10. Reactivate Cell Phones for Another Family Member 

There’s often nothing wrong with hand-me-down phones. The phone you pass on to your family member may be cutting edge compared to what he or she currently has. Rather than going on a payment plan to pay for a totally new device, re-using one that’s a bit older is not only cost-effective, it’s also better for the environment.

Plus, you can help your family member learn how to use the phone and likely save a few trips to your provider. 

11. Let Your Child or Grandchild Play with Your Old Phone 

Depending on how old your phone is, you may have to check with someone who’s tech-savvy to ensure that all the capabilities you want to be turned off are in fact turned off. The last thing you want is your child or grandchild making unwanted calls or arranging expensive subscriptions through your saved payment information. 

You can help your child or grandchild practice making important calls, especially 9-1-1. However, be sure to reiterate that these phones are just for play, and they need to find an adult or a different phone in the event of an actual emergency.

You can also install educational apps or games if your phone has that capability or use it as a way to practice letters or numbers with your child or grandchild. 

12. Put Your Phone in a Time Capsule

If all other options fail, you can always save your unused cell phones and put them in a time capsule — either organized among your family members, neighbors, friends, or just with those in your household.

Your time capsule can be as official or unofficial as your junk drawer. Put your phone or phones in a closed box and open it on a specific date in the future. 

Help Those in Need (or Our Environment) 

Those old phones really can serve a purpose! You can even make an impact on another person’s life — even if it’s just a small one. A few responsible choices now can easily help the environment or those in need.  

If you're in the mood for throwing out or donating even more stuff you don't need, read our guides to getting rid of junk in your house, how long to keep documents, and how long you should really hold on to those utility bills


  1. “Cell phones - How to recycle/dispose cell phones.” Department of Environmental Protection, Montgomery County, Maryland. https://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/DepHowDoI/material.aspx?tag=cell-phones&material_key=46

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