Cleaning & Organizing
43 Things to Get Rid of in the Next 43 Days
De-cluttering doesn’t have to be an overwhelming weekend activity. Attacking just one item a day makes the process so much easier.
Extra cooking utensils
Even if your drawer of cooking utensils is overflowing, it’s hard to keep track of which pieces you actually use regularly. Chuck any that are chipped, warped, or have peeling plastic. Put the rest into a box on your kitchen counter, says Novak. As you cook, return the utensils you use to their original home in your drawer. “After a week, anything in the box is something you’re not reaching for, and there’s probably a reason,” says Novak. Rummage through for any that you love too much to toss, but get rid of the rest. (Make sure you never buy these 10 common items for your home to keep it clutter-free!)
Fast food extras
All those extra plastic forks, condiment packets, and straws from fast food and takeout orders tend to pile up, sometimes turning into scrunched-up napkins or unwrapped straws. “Some people take these items intentionally, while others just let these freebies happen to them,” says Maeve Richmond, founder and coach of organizing company Maeve’s Method. She recommends picking a number, and capping your saved items to that, like keeping just three soy sauce packets in the kitchen or five napkins in the car. If you never intend to use them (especially the unhealthy condiments), ask the cashier to hold the duck sauce or plasticware so you don’t have to trash them as soon as you’re home.
Most of us have one grungy outfit on hand that we wouldn’t mind ruining if we needed to paint, garden, or do any other dirty work. “They’re not the most flattering, and there’s something else in your wardrobe that you’d probably rather wear,” says Novak. “You don’t have to hold onto them for that occasion that probably will never happen.”
Old papers and notes
You probably scribbled down names, phone numbers, and ideas when planning a trip or life event. “All the information we gather during ‘planning stages’ feels so important, it seems like you will never be able to let it go,” says Richmond. “But the truth is, when the trip or event is over, most of this information is old news.” Glance the information over before you toss it in the trash. Any important phone numbers or addresses can go in your phone, and a memory-filled item can go in a scrapbook or scanned for a digital album.
Those specialty appliances make it oh so easy to make cake pops, quesadillas, and ice cream, but they’re rarely worth the space. “All of that stuff was made in a kitchen before they had a special appliance for it,” says Novak. Get rid of any that you don’t use on a regular basis, or at least move them to another room in the house, she says. Make sure you use these 18 tricks to organize your kitchen.
Food storage containers
It seems like a waste to trash the plastic boxes that come with takeout, but those containers can pile up fast. Hang on to the ones you’d realistically use during the week—like the ones that fit in your lunch bag or are big enough for your typical leftovers—and trash the rest, especially if the plastic is peeling or warped. Better yet, invest in some microwavable glass containers, which don’t have the chemical risk that plastics do, says Richmond. “Somehow we don’t think we should be spending even a cent on something that we can get for free,” she says. “If it’s a day-to-day activity for you, by all means it’s a great idea to invest in something that’s great quality.”
“Travel mugs are the hot new thing to hoard,” says Novak. Between smoothie bottles, tumblers with straws, regular water bottles, and thermoses, those containers take up a lot of cupboard real estate. Pare down to only the water bottles and travel mugs that you actually use on a regular basis. Keep the one that fits in your cup holder, bike, and yoga bag, and let the rest go, says Novak.
Spices and herbs
Knowing when to toss sour milk or wilted greens is easy enough, but you might be holding on to spices and herbs too long. “They won’t expire in the sense that they won’t make you feel well, but they will lose flavor and potency,” says Novak. “Take a bit of the spice or herb in your fingers and crush it a bit. If there’s no scent, there’s no flavor.” If you’re ever in doubt, Novak recommends checking the site StillTasty, which lets you search for common foods to check their lifespan.
Old razors can cause health problems like razor burn and skin infections, especially if you keep them in a moist shower where bacteria grows. Replace any blades that you’ve already used more than four times.
Toss mascara after three months and products with SPF after six. For everything else in your makeup bag, a one-year expiration is an easy rule of thumb, says Novak. “It wouldn’t harm you necessarily—although it could, or cause blemishes,” she says. Write the date on a product when you open it so you don’t forget. Don’t feel the need to hold on for a full year though—throw out products as soon as they change consistency, color, or scent. Make sure you know when to toss out these 12 beauty products.
Plastic shopping bags
Yes, those plastic grocery bags can come in handy, but that doesn’t mean you should keep an endless stockpile. Take a moment to calculate how many you actually use in a typical week. “Do the math,” says Richmond. “It’s what I use when clients are struggling with volume.” Add a pad of five or so to that number to give you a bit of wiggle room, she says.
Reusable bags are sturdier and more eco-friendly than standard plastic grocery bags—if you remember to take them along. Chances are, you’ve bought extras when you forgot yours at home. “Some of those bags are crumply and crinkly and don’t fill to the top,” says Novak. Keep your go-tos and toss any with designs you don’t love, she says.
Don’t hang on to every gift bag you receive, just because you might reuse it in the future. That big stack just makes the bags more likely to wrinkle and look used. Keep just two generic bags each in small, medium, and large sizes, says Novak. “Steer clear of occasion-specific bags,” she says. “Keep pretty bags that could do for just about any gift.”
Worn-out bath mats
It’s time to finally let go of that old bath mat with the rubber backing peeling off. “We act like we’re going to use it again,” says Novak. Toss it in the trash—we guarantee you won’t miss it.
When a pile of magazine gets bigger and bigger, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll actually get to each one. Toss any that older than four to six months, suggests Richmond. “There’s something fresh and new to read instead,” she says. Steal a tip or two from these 10 habits of clutter-free people.
Only keep giftwrap with generic patterns that could be used for birthdays, holidays, and everything in between. “When they’re occasion-specific, you wrap one gift and have 29 square feet of giftwrap that you can use maybe one other time during the year, and it’s unrolling and getting crinkly,” says Novak. Donate the rest to a children’s librarian or art teacher, who can use the giftwrap in art projects, she suggests.
You might not think of them as having expiration dates, but loofahs, bath poufs, and body brushes can harbor bacteria. They’re tough to clean, so you might as well replace them. “They’re usually not so expensive that you can’t just pick up another one and keep skin blemish-free,” says Novak.
It’s fine to hold on to an unmatched sock for a bit while you wait for its mate to show up, especially if all your socks are the same brand and style. But a drawer stuffed to the brim with single socks is a waste of space. “Take that space and translate it to something else, like a sweater or a pair of jeans,” says Richmond. “You’re taking up valuable real estate with a bunch of little things.” Don’t miss these clever tricks for maximizing your storage space.
Drugs lose potency over time, so scan your medicine cabinet for any expired bottles. “Now is the time you want to find out your cold medicine is out of date, rather than when you need it,” says Novak. Check if the Drug Enforcement Agency is collecting in your area, or if your local pharmacy or police station will accept drop-offs.
Don’t hang on to old sheets that don’t fit any mattresses in your house. “It’s that ‘just in case’ mentality,” says Novak. If you really do end up getting a new mattress that size later, you can always buy new sheets. Donate the old ones to someone who can enjoy using them right away.
You probably already know you should pare down your wardrobe, but an overflowing closet of clothes can be overwhelming. To make the task easier, start in the back of your closet or bottom of your drawers. “There’s a good chance that’s the stuff you’ve forgotten about and you will be more likely to let it go,” says Novak. Ask yourself these closet-cleaning questions to decide what’s worth the closet space. (Here are 13 secrets for decluttering your home that personal organizers would never tell you for free!)
Do a quick run around your house to find all those loose batteries lying in random drawers. Pull any out that are past their expiration date or are starting to corrode. Even if those decade-old batteries still have juice, you’ll be on step closer to clearing out that junk drawer. “If you’ve never done the battery challenge, do it once in your home to whittle out stuff that’s just sitting there useless,” says Richmond.
Be honest: You’ll probably never dig out a ratty towel when you have a stack of clean, fluffy ones. “You wouldn’t even give them to a guest, so what are you doing?” says Novak. Keep a few for emergencies like cleaning up floodwater, then trash the rest, she says.
Don’t clog up your closet with T-shirts from vacations just for the sentimental value. “There are some things you think are clothing but are actually memorabilia,” says Novak. “You keep those clothes in your closet, but they actually belong in a memory box.”
Unused specialty foods
You might have used a tablespoon of a special sauce or spice when experimenting with ethnic foods. “We love feeling inspired to cook a new food,” says Richmond. “But some items don’t get used or we lose our taste for the food.” Trash those ingredients in the back of your cupboard that you only used once and have not immediate plans for.
Contain yourself to just one memorabilia box that’s easy to store out of sight. Once that container is full, pare it down instead of letting new boxes build up. Instead of holding on to the physical item, consider taking a picture for the nostalgic value. “Any time you can, take a picture of the item and have a folder of something that’s all your memories,” says Novak. Instead of a bulky box of dusty teddy bears and melted candles, you’ll save those memories digitally. Don’t ignore these 11 signs it’s time to let go of your stuff.
Chances are, someone out there will get more use out of that costume jewelry than you do. Consignment shops will often buy jewelry on the spot instead of paying you after it’s sold, and community theaters use costume jewelry as props, says Novak. You could also consider selling the pieces on Etsy. “People that use them for their art projects will buy it,” she says. “That’s your target market right there.”
Trash any stockings with runs or intimates with elastic that’s barely hanging on. “All those support garments should actually support you,” says Novak.
You might be holding on to the original box for a big-ticket item like a TV or computer just in case you want to sell it or need to move, but they’re usually not worth the space. The few extra bucks you might make selling it in its original packaging probably aren’t worth it, and you shouldn’t start hoarding boxes unless you plan to move within two months, says Richmond. “If you think you might return an item, by all means hold onto the original box for a month or two,” she says. “But once that item becomes a member of your family, that original box isn’t important anymore and can go.”
You probably have a few go-to purses and barely touch the others. Get rid of any bag that’s so heavy you hate carrying it, looks ratty, or has torn lining. “If it’s not something you would spend money on to have it repaired—if it even could be repaired—you can’t use it,” says Novak. (Here are the 11 cleaning short cuts every lazy cleaner needs to know!)
Toss old lunchboxes that have broken clasps or zippers, or that aren’t insulated if you need to keep your food cold. “Some of them are so gross in the corners with food stuck to them,” says Novak.
“They’re not good for you—you could injure yourself,” says Novak. Anything that you wouldn’t hand to a guest doesn’t belong in your cupboards, she says.
Choosing a book used to require a trip to the bookstore, scanning the shelves for the most interesting ones. But now that new books are just a click away, they tend to pile up before we can read them, says Richmond. “Knowing we spent money on something and didn’t use it triggers this personal guilt issue,” says Richmond. Sit down and figure out when and why you bought each one, then send the ones you don’t plan to read anytime soon to a book donation organization.
Get the clutter-free home you’ve always wanted by cutting out any home décor items that just don’t suit your personality anymore. “They’re in the home so long they’re just part of the landscape,” says Novak. She recommends clearing off your bookcase, then considering whether you actually love each item before putting it back. (Steal these 16 kitchen organization ideas to keep your pantry spick and span!)
Holiday table runners
Keep a few tablecloths and table runners in basic colors that could work in different seasons. Ones that only work for one specific holiday just take up precious storage space. “You don’t have to have occasion-specific ones that take up room year-round but you use once a week of the year—maybe, if you remember you have it and want to iron it,” says Novak.
Cutting down on the number of toys your kids have is the first step to cutting down the mess they make during playtime. Anything with broken or missing pieces can go in the trash. If you’ve noticed your children don’t touch all their toys, ask them to pick three to give away. “Let them know that you’re giving them to an organization for kids who don’t have any toys,” says Novak. You could also put less-used toys in a box for six months, she says. If your kids don’t ask for the playthings back, they probably won’t miss them if you give them away.
“Life is changing fast,” says Richmond. “Technology we spent good money on only a few years back is now antiquated.” They’re hard to let go because you remember how useful they were, she says. But unless you can honestly say you would use that outdated phone that doesn’t have a charger, get rid of it.
Bath bombs and salts
If you don’t generally take baths, you’ll probably never get around to using those bath bombs and salts you’ve been hanging on to. By the time you finally do use them, the moisture and traffic in the bathroom will probably make them unusable. “A ball of salt or bath bomb crumbles aren’t relaxing to put in the tub,” says Novak.
Designer dress bags
Don’t feel obligated to keep the protective bag that an expensive dress or suit came in. “Think of them as a transportation device,” says Richmond. “Then, if you want to use it in your closet…by all means protect away.” But if you’re more inclined to smush it into a corner of your closet, let it go.
“A lot of people have an inordinate number of drink coasters in their side table as if they’re having a huge party,” says Novak. Unless you do, in fact, do a lot of entertaining, throw out the extras that you never reach for. Any that are wobbly or have chips or a soiled cork can go straight in the trash. (Learn how to organize your home like a professional using these 50 tips!)
Junk in your purse
Spare change, scraps of paper, dead pens, and wrappers should all go straight in the trash. Check if any of your loyalty cards have apps so your wallet isn’t so fat. “We’re trying to go paperless when we can,” says Novak.
Give that potpourri a whiff. “If it doesn’t have a scent, it’s lost its purpose,” says Novak. Refresh the container, or get rid of it for good if you don’t use it for the aroma.
Dump that basket of extra buttons and threads that came with clothes you might not even own anymore. “You would never be able to match it up,” says Novak. “There are so many colors of thread that a tailor can certainly match the color to whatever.” (This little known five-second trick will declutter your home for good!)