Spring cleaning is the perfect time to unearth junk, clear out attics, and question if you should hold on to something for just a little while longer. There’s a lot to purge you may not have considered, but tossing things out doesn’t have to doom mementos and old bills to a landfill. They can also be recycled or donated—so long as they’re no longer in your house.
1. CHILDREN'S ART
It may sound cruel to toss your kid’s macaroni self-portraits, but elementary school art projects can sure add up. Preserve the memories (and your children’s feelings) by keeping only their best pieces. If that still seems like too much to store, consider scanning or photographing art for memories that won’t take up space in the garage. The key to parsing through kids' drawings and art? Don’t feel bad for being selective—other parents are, too.
2. PILES OF MAGAZINES
Magazine subscriptions are perfect stocking stuffers, airline point savers, and bathroom material. But once all those magazines have been read through, they often pile up in the corners of bookshelves and coffee tables. The problem with magazines are their useful tidbits that convince you to keep them forever—but do you really remember which issue had that pie recipe you wanted to try? If you actually reference back issues frequently, they’re probably worth holding onto. If not, consider clipping favorite recipes or inspiring photos and recycling the rest.
3. OLD RECEIPTS AND BILLS
Don’t feel bad about having a file cabinet full of old doctor’s bills and rent receipts—keeping them just in case a payment dispute comes up or for tax reasons is a solid financial move. But after a while, it is OK to let go of documents you likely won’t need any longer. Hold on to sales receipts until warranties expire or you’re unable to return the item; utility bills can be tossed after a year, along with bank and credit card statements. Keep track of medical bills for three years, and obey the golden paper rule: Anything related to filing taxes should be retained for three years. But feel free to clear out those file cabinets and make room for a new decade of (organized) paper clutter.
4. OUTDATED MEDICATIONS
Between allergy season and aches and pains, it’s easy to build up a stash of over-the-counter and prescription meds. Weeding out old medications can keep you from taking a five-year-old painkiller that may have lost its potency. Many police departments offer drug take-back days to safely dispose of old meds, but if you don’t have one coming up, follow disposal directions on the label. If there aren’t any, the FDA recommends removing medications from their original containers and mixing with coffee grounds or cat litter before tossing out in a sealed bag. Some prescription narcotics can be flushed without poisoning your community water supply, but ask a pharmacist if you are unsure.
5. BROKEN JEWELRY
Purging your jewelry box is just like clearing out the closet—seek out broken pieces, rings that no longer fit, and earrings missing their pair. Fine jewelry can often be recreated into a new piece or sold for materials, though don’t expect anything for cheap mall kiosk items. And it should go without saying: Don’t trash valuable family heirlooms or expensive pieces. If you really dislike the jewels, consider passing them on to another family member. As for that necklace from an ex-boyfriend? Sell it.
6. OLD COSMETICS
Makeup, perfume, and nail polish have a shelf life that often begins the moment you open them. Expiration dates for many products are labeled in number of months (normally found on packaging with a jar and lid icon). But for labels that are removed or nonexistent, examine cosmetics regularly before applying. Makeup that has changed color, smell or viscosity has likely expired. Generally, anything applied to eyelids or eyelashes has a short two- to three-month lifespan while lipsticks, powders, foundation, and nail polish can last between six months and two years. As for all of those sample sizes you collect—use them or lose them.
7. EMPTY PENS AND PENCIL STUBS
It’s a universal bad habit to shove nearly finished pens in a drawer or hold on to pencils for the “good” erasers. Save yourself from future frustration by just tossing pens as they dry up and emptying the junk drawer graveyards full of them. Some office supply stores recycle plastic pens, which is the perfect option for keeping you and the environment happy.
8. DVDS, CDS, AND OLD ELECTRONICS
Technological advances and upgrades leave behind a lot of digital stragglers, like entire CD collections, old music players, and old charger cords. Popping CDs into your computer for one last rip before selling or recycling them can help you let go, but when you're ready to part with all your '90s rom-com soundtracks, many electronics stores will take your old items for recycling or offer buyback programs. Before you drop the heftier items, remember to remove old batteries (which are recycled differently) and delete all personal information.
9. SINGLE SOCKS
Once a sock goes missing, it normally doesn’t come back. Meaning, you can end up stuck with a lot of single socks. Rather than letting them build up in the corner of a drawer or closet, turn them into something new like a bird feeder or pet toy, or take them somewhere that recycles fabrics (like H&M or Levi Strauss, both of which offer future discount vouchers for bringing in unwanted garments).
10. OLD KEYS
Losing keys is unfortunate, but not remembering what that lone unlabeled one is for might be worse. If you’ve been holding onto keys for a long time and have never used them, it’s probably safe to toss them. Most keys are made from scrap metal, meaning they can’t be recycled like aluminum or tin, but some metal recyclers will take them off your hands.
11. CHILDHOOD MEMORABILIA AND KNICK KNACKS
It can be hard to part with trophies, toys, and other childhood items. But if they’ve been in the garage collecting dust, the time has come to weed through what’s worth keeping and displaying—and what should get tossed. It’s easy to be sentimental when going through memorabilia and knick-knacks, but culling your collection can help you reconnect with favorite items. Even if you choose to get rid of items, taking photos before donating or throwing away can resolve the sadness of letting them go. If you come across items that you’re hesitant about purging, consider the six-month box method where you place items in a box and store it for six more months. If you don’t go into the box during that time, donate the contents, sight unseen.
12. GAMES WITH MISSING PIECES
The chances of finding missing game pieces long after they’ve been initially lost are slim (this goes for puzzles, too). While board games like Monopoly can be restored with homemade paper money, in most cases, lost chess pieces or missing Rummikub tiles mean you won’t play the game. When sorting, also parse out board games your family or children have outgrown and donate them as well.
13. NOVELTY APPLIANCES
As Seen On TV products come with promises to improve your life and productivity, but they should come with a disclaimer for how much space they’ll take up in cabinets and basements. Downsizing kitchen and household appliances can cut the clutter and make room for the standard appliances you do use regularly. It’s OK to let go of that George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine—just think of how lean and clean your entire pantry could be.
All images via iStock.