Here’s an informative article on clearing out old household items by Jessica Bennett for Better Homes & Gardens.
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Not everything is meant to last forever, and throwing away or recycling past-their-prime items will help declutter your home. Free up storage space for the things you actually use by checking the expiration date on these household items and ditching as needed.
When to toss: After 1 month
Why toss it: Between washing dishes, scrubbing sinks, and wiping down countertops, sponges can come in contact with a lot of bacteria. To avoid spreading germs around your kitchen, it’s important to replace your sponge about once a month. In between changes, be sure to clean your kitchen sponges regularly using a method, such as vinegar, bleach, or high heat, that eliminates bacteria. If your sponge starts to look dirty or smell bad even after it’s been disinfected, you should swap it for a new one immediately
When to toss: On or near the expiration date
Why toss it: Expired foods can lurk at the back of your refrigerator and take up precious space needed for food you actually want to eat. To better organize your fridge, start with one shelf or area, remove all the items, and check the expiration date on each one. Throw it away immediately (or toss it in the compost bin!) if the date has passed or if you notice mold or an unpleasant smell. For prepared foods or leftovers, be sure to mark the date on the container when you first put it in the fridge so you know how long it’s been there.
When to toss: Every few years for storage containers, immediately for disposable packaging
Why toss it: Plastic containers, especially those that are meant to be disposable, were not meant to be used forever. Plastic breaks down over time, which can cause chemicals to leach into your food. Check for signs of wear after each use, and toss any containers that appear discolored, warped, or cracked. You should also get rid of any containers that are missing a lid or have an unusual smell. Always dispose of single-use food packaging, such as yogurt containers or margarine tubs, immediately after you’re finished with the product.
Before you toss plastic containers in the garbage, check to see if it’s recyclable by looking for the stamped number inside the triangular recycling logo, usually found on the bottom of containers and bottles. Most recycling centers take plastic Nos. 1 and 2—which include many beverage bottles, milk jugs, peanut butter jars, and other containers—but it’s best to check with your community’s program to verify which types of plastic they can accept.
When to toss: Every few years
Why toss it: The material inside pillows breaks down with daily use, and all the dust, oil, and debris from your face can transfer to the pillow’s surface and interior space. Dust mites also accumulate, which can be troublesome to people suffering from asthma or allergies.
To get rid of your old pillows, consider donating them (after a good washing) to a local homeless shelter or animal shelter to be repurposed as bedding. However, because not all shelters will accept used pillows, it’s best to call ahead before bringing in your donation.
When to toss: After 2 years
Why toss it: Many of the ingredients that make cleaners and disinfectants effective will break down after time, reducing their effectiveness. Throw them out after a few years and replace them with fresh bottles. Consider labeling the new cleaning products with the date you purchased them so you can easily tell how long you’ve had them.
To properly dispose of household cleaners, check the manufacturer instructions on the label first. Water-soluble cleaning products, such as all-purpose cleaners, detergents, and stain removers, in liquid or powder form can usually be poured down the drain with running water. Once the containers are empty, you can typically recycle them in your curbside bin. For hazardous chemicals like oven cleaners, contact your local waste disposal center to find the best way to dispose of them.
Cooking Oils, Herbs and Spices
When to toss: 2 years for olive oil, 1 year for herbs and spices
Why toss: Light and heat will break down oils and spices over time and make them less flavorful. To extend their shelf life, store these items in a cool, dry spot. Oils will smell rancid when they’re no longer good, and spices will lose their distinctive aromas (pinch some between two fingers to test).
When to toss: After 3 months
Why toss it: Twice-a-day brushings wear down toothbrush bristles and reduce their effectiveness. Plus, stray bacteria or food debris may lodge in toothbrushes. Throw them away after a few months, especially if you’ve been ill. If you have an electric toothbrush, replace the removable head every three months or sooner if the bristles show wear.
Although you can’t typically toss toothbrushes in the regular recycling bin, some special recycling programs allow you to mail in your used toothbrushes for free.
When to toss: Now
Why toss it: Photo negatives degrade over time and are cumbersome to store. To preserve your photos, use a service, such as scandigital.com, that will scan original images and send you digital copies. You can also buy a slide and negative scanner and electronically store them yourself.
When to toss: After 6 months
Why toss it: Most eye makeup has some basic preservatives to keep it fresh, but those wear down or can be overcome by bacteria after a few months. Bacteria from the environment or your face can transfer to the brushes and then the makeup itself, which can cause irritation or even infection. Refresh mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and other eye makeup products after about half a year. Instead of tossing old products in the trash, consider donating your mascara wands to a program like Wands for Wildlife, which uses them to help tiny animals at wildlife refuges.
When to toss: Now
Why toss it: Stacks of business cards can quickly pile up and clutter your desk space. Instead of storing individual cards, add the information to your phone’s contact list. To make this process easier, use an app, ABBYY Business Card Reader, that scans the card and instantly adds the information to your contacts, allowing you to edit as needed. Recycle paper business cards when finished.
When to toss: After 2 years, or the expiration date
Why toss it: Like most food items, vitamins degrade in quality over time. Check the packaging for an expiration date. If the vitamins are unused by then (or you can’t find a date), replace them with new ones. To safely dispose of old vitamins and other medications, the FDA recommends dropping them off at a drug take-back location near you.
When to toss: After every summer, or with the expiration date
Why toss it: The protective chemicals in sunscreen break down over time, reducing the ability of the product to block out damaging rays from the sun. If you can’t find an expiration date on your bottles, throw them out after pool season has ended.
Opened Nail Polish
When to toss: After a year
Why toss it: Once they’ve been used, nail polish ingredients can evaporate or separate, causing inconsistent color and application. To prolong its shelf life, store your nail polish in a cool, dark place. If the polish becomes discolored or especially thick, it’s time for the bottle to go in the trash.
When to toss: Now
Why toss it: Gift cards can easily get lost or forgotten about inside your wallet. Instead, use a mobile wallet app, such as Gyft, to digitize the gift card information and store it on your phone. You can track the balance and redeem the card in-store with just a few taps on your phone.
When to toss: After 1-2 days
Why toss it: Exposure to oxygen, heat, and daylight will cause wine’s aromas and flavors to fade. To keep an opened bottle of wine fresh and drinkable, recork it or seal it with a wine stopper as soon as possible. Stash the unfinished bottle in the fridge (this includes red wines) and plan to enjoy it within the next two days. If you still have some leftover after a few days, pour the remains down the drain and recycle the glass bottle.
When to toss: After 2-5 years
Why toss it: Once the can is opened, the components in paint start to separate and break down. After a few years, this can make the paint difficult to mix, even with the most vigorous stirring. To repaint a room, take the color formula specifications to your local paint, hardware, or big box store and have them mix up a new can of paint to match.