Reader Piper submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I have a bunch of old X-Rays hanging around. Various broken bones, MRIs and things like that.
I don’t really want to throw them away (I’m not quite sure why) but I don’t know what to do with them either. I know I’m not the only one that keeps these things because I’m moving into an apartment and found a couple of X-Rays from the previous occupant.
Right now, they live in the bottom of a dresser drawer. That doesn’t take up much space, but it seems silly to have a curiosity like that around but hiding in the bottom of a drawer. I thought about putting them on a window as a decoration, but decided that was just too macabre and weird.
What an interesting question!
First, you should know that the Environmental Protection Agency claims that x-ray films do “not appear to be hazardous waste.” This means that if you have them in your house in an envelope, you’re storing them safely. The films themselves don’t retain any toxic levels of radiation. I was actually worried about this for a while, so I was glad to learn that handling them was fine.
Now, just because you aren’t poisoning yourself by having them around, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should keep them. The next time you go to your doctor’s office, bring along your collection of x-ray films. Ask your doctor which of the x-rays are worth keeping, and which ones you can purge. If you have an on-going medical condition, your doctor will probably instruct you to keep all x-ray films of importance to that condition. However, your doctor will probably tell you an x-ray of a broken wrist you had in the third grade won’t be important to keep.
The x-ray films your doctor recommends you keep should be stored in your personal medical file in your home filing cabinet. If you don’t still have the envelope they came in, ask your doctor if you can buy one from her. They usually run about $1 an envelope (if your doctor even chooses to charge you). I don’t recommend displaying or doing anything crafty with these x-ray films since you or someone close to you might need to access them in a medical emergency.
Best case scenario, your doctor will offer to recycle any x-ray films you don’t need to keep. If she doesn’t, call your local hospital and see if they accept old x-ray films. If neither your doctor or local hospital recycle them, check your county’s website to see if they have a recycling program for such items or if a recycling center in your area does. Most old x-rays have silver in them, which means that they’re relatively valuable in the recycling market. I’ve never had any difficulty finding a recycling center that accepts old x-ray films.
If you want to do something more creative and artsy with your old x-ray films, I suggest only using ones that have out-dated information on them. An image of your bones while you were still growing is probably safer to use than an image of your bones as an adult. Or, if you had a pin put in your ankle, an image before you had the pin put into it would be safer to use since it’s not how your ankle currently looks. X-rays are very personal information and you wouldn’t want it to get into the wrong hands and have to fight an insurance fraud case.
Thank you, Piper, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.