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What to Do with Old Cell Phones: 14 Genius Uses

Updated: May 14, 2024

Don't know what to do with old cell phones? Don't throw those old phones away until you've checked out these ideas that can give your old cell phones new life—even if only for parts.

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old phone
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Use #1: Not your grandma’s alarm clock

Make your old cell phones permanent bedside companions with an app that can help you fall asleep or ease you into your day. Try CARROT Alarm, a fun twist on an alarm clock with witty dialogue, songs, and an innovative wake-up system. Or download Pzizz to help guide you into a deep sleep and then gently wake you up in the morning. Since there’s no need to schlep that extra phone around all day, leave it bedside to recharge. But don’t keep it charging all day.

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Person's Hand Monitoring CCTV Footage On Tablet
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Use #2: A simple home security camera

Use that built-in camera and a WiFi connection to turn your old cell phone, tablet, or laptop into a security system. Download an app like Presence or, as Popular Science suggests, “set up a separate Skype account on an old laptop, then set the program to automatically accept incoming video calls. This will allow you to call home from the office or the commute and check in on your pets whenever you like—with no complicated software to set up and no price to pay.” If you are replacing your old phone because of the battery, there are ways you can preserve battery life on your new phone.

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A new born sleeping in his cradle
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Use #3: Baby monitor on call

Old cell phones or tablets can make a great baby monitor, especially when you’re traveling and want to check-in. Try an app like Dormi. Once connected to WiFi, the app will alert your current cell phone if the little guy starts making noise. You can even soothe your babe remotely by talking back to them.

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Boy playing alone on smart phone in living room
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Use #4: Make reading more accessible

Download a simple reading app to your old phone and hand it off to the kiddos. They’ll enjoy looking like mommy or daddy while they learn.

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Midsection Of Man Applying Adhesive Tape On White Box At Home
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Use #5: Donate your device

There are many organizations that can benefit from selling your refurbished or recycled device. Try donating to Cell Phones for Soldiers, which then buys troops prepaid international calling cards and provides emergency funding to veterans. They’ll even wipe your old cell phone clean of all your personal information first. Or try HopeLine from Verizon to benefit victims and survivors of domestic violence. They’ll accept devices in any condition from any service provider. Want to wipe your own device first? Try a factory reset.

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Use #6: Create your own fundraising campaign

Looking for a way to raise money for a non-profit organization? Selling old devices can be an easy-to-manage fundraising program. Try sites like gazelle.com to create your own fundraising page and encourage your community to trade in old cell phones, tablets, and computers. They get cash and your organization earns a 15 percent commission on every sale. Make sure you also save money cell phone bill with the best ways to lower your cell phone data usage.

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Always be ready to answer when success comes calling
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Use #7: Fight spousal abuse

Spousal abuse centers will distribute old cell phones to women and children who are in abusive situations so that they can use the phones to call for help in the event of an abusive situation. This works because all cell phones are required to allow you to dial 911, even without an active service plan on the phone. Call your local police station to find out how and where to donate. Before you purchase another new phone, make sure you break the habits that could be shortening your phone’s life.

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Use #8: Sell your cell

If your discarded device is in good shape (and even if it’s not), it may be worth some bucks. Try selling your old cell phone directly to a buyer through Craigslist or eBay to reap the most cash. Sites like sellcell.com and even retailers like Best Buy and Costco have buy-back programs. It’s an added bonus if you have the original packaging, cables, and cords. “Many Americans are looking for ways to earn some extra cash, especially in a sluggish economy…So, it is very surprising that consumers are literally sitting on billions of potential dollars in their unused smartphones and feature phones, often stashed away in boxes at home,” Colin White, SellCell.com’s managing director, told Business Insider. Before you think about selling it, consider cleaning off all the germs on your phone.

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Use #9: Let music soothe the soul

Set up your old phone as an mp3 player. Then if you’re beach or poolside, there are no worries if it gets wet or sandy. Or use it as a radio; you can stream music on your old cell phone via TuneIn Radio from all across the country.

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Close up of smartphone in back pocket on pants
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Use #10: Backup cell

We may not be super-secret spies, (at least we aren’t…what you do is your business) but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a time when you’re grateful for a burner cell. Once you unlock the old phone from your plan you can get a new sim card and enroll in a pay as you go plan which can be as low as $2 per day of use. An old phone with a cheap day to day plan can be useful to take to places you’re worried about damaging or losing your new phone or to give to younger children when they may need a way to contact you.

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Smartphone charging wireless in car
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Use #11: Find your car

Keep your old smartphone on a very cheap plan hidden in the back of your vehicle (make sure you keep it charging). Not only is it good to use your old cell phone as backup in case of an emergency, but you can also track your vehicle if it ever gets stolen. Don’t miss the cell phone accessories that will make your life seriously easier.

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Woman photographing friend painting fingernails
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Use #12: Take some photos

Most smartphones and tablets work as compact cameras, too. Let younger children practice taking photos on old cell phones then learn to edit shots by downloading an app like Snapseed. Don’t forget to back up those photos to another device later. Check out these impressive iPhone hacks you never knew you needed, like finding a way to take more photos when your storage is full.

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Young female roommates using smart phones at apartment window
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Use #13: Digital photo frame

Now that the phone has been used to take some incredible photos, use it to display them! Get a cell phone stand and display your old smartphone with your favorite photos—whether you took them or not—running through on a slideshow.

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Use #14: Time to recycle

Whatever you do, don’t throw those old phones in the trash. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be saved from every one million old cell phones recycled. Instead of throwing it in the trash, do some cell phone recycling. This will help reduce e-waste, so you’ll have some peace of mind when upgrading your phone.

Next, don’t miss the best ways to save your cell phone from water damage.