When my circa-1987 all-gray kitchen finally underwent a much-needed renovation, my husband and I had to take every single thing out of our cupboards and drawers.
It was kind of like an archeological dig, as we discovered mysterious gadgets, orphaned appliance cords and even a 1990 receipt for a coffeemaker purchased by our home’s previous owners. And we learned a major lesson: You probably don’t need many of the items you’re still stubbornly hanging on to.
I’m all for using things until they fall apart, but when they’re broken, useless or simply no longer needed, it’s time to find them a new life. Donate, sell or recycle them if you can, but just make it a point to ensure they stop taking up space in your cupboards — and your life.
Following is a list of just a few of the items you probably have lying around but no longer need in your life.
1. Old tax return supporting documents
My overstuffed file cabinet held tax paperwork from as far back as the 1990s. It wasn’t that I wanted to keep it all, but more that I never bothered to research how long tax documents should be kept.
Well, here’s an answer from Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson, a certified public accountant:
“You need to keep a copy of your tax returns forever, in case you need to prove you filed. As far as the supporting documents for tax returns, typically, you want to keep them for at least three years after the tax return is filed.”
Stacy goes into further detail, including some exceptions, in “How Long Should I Keep My Tax Returns?”
2. VHS tapes
If your VHS tapes hold precious family memories or are otherwise irreplaceable, you can use a service to transfer them to digital media. (The photo services of CVS and Costco are among those that offer it.) But the mainstream movies that you can now stream — or that you never care to watch again — need to go.
Sadly, not a lot of places recycle the old clunky tapes, but do a web search for electronics recycling in your area to see if any options are available.
While you’re purging your VHS tapes, look for other obsolete media. Got a box of cassettes or 8-tracks sitting around? Or computer games on floppy disk? It’s the 2020s — time to move on.
3. Sports equipment you no longer use
My husband doesn’t play broomball these days, my daughter quit the roller derby, and my inline skates were the awkward high-boot kind that press you in all the wrong spots.
We didn’t need these pieces of sports equipment anymore, and even though they bring up fond memories, it was time for them to find new families.
4. Half-empty paint cans
We painted our basement years ago and kept the half-empty cans of paint, thinking we’d need it for touch-ups. But it turned out we’re just not the kind of people who do random touch-ups.
Instead, I took a photo of each can, so we’d have the name of the color. Then I followed paint disposal instructions from Lowe’s and mixed the leftover paint with cat litter, let the whole weird mixture dry, and set it out with the garbage.
5. Appliance manuals
I had piles of thick print appliance manuals, covering everything from my blender to my beloved rice cooker. But in this internet age, I don’t need them.
Most if not all manufacturers have the info I need online, and I was able to recycle a giant stack of stained and awkwardly sized booklets. If I forget how to make rice — unlikely — the internet can remind me.
I love cookbooks, and some of mine are full of precious memories and will stay with me forever. But I have to admit I don’t use many these days. There are so many online recipe resources, and I’ve bought several e-cookbooks.
I donated about half of my cookbook collection and didn’t look back.
7. Takeout sauce packets
I admit it: When we get takeout, I occasionally stash unused packets of ketchup, hot sauce or soy sauce in a kitchen drawer. Cleaning the kitchen out to be remodeled reminded me that I needed to kick the habit.
Yes, takeout sauce packets are free, but they’re awkward to store and can get sticky, and I have bottles of these condiments already.
8. Storage containers with no lids
I had a storage-container drawer crammed full of Tupperware, Rubbermaid and other reusable cartons I use for leftovers or to send a piece of birthday cake home with a friend. Our forced clean-up for the remodeling work inspired me to match up all the containers together with their lids.
Lidless containers (and containerless lids), and those that had become warped or bent, were recycled. Once I got my kitchen back, I had a lot more room in my container-storage drawer.
9. Outgrown clothes
Ever said to yourself, “I’m keeping this outfit in case I lose/gain 10-20 pounds?” Does it ever really happen? Stop fooling yourself.
You’re taking up precious closet space, and if your weight does ever get to that magic number, most clothes will be outdated anyway. Live in the now.
10. Excess towels and blankets
How did we get so many towels and blankets? Even though they’re not threadbare, some of them have bleach stains or are starting to fray, or they’re just no longer among the favored ones we reach for.
Some animal shelters welcome donations of old towels and blankets. Check with local organizations to see if your discards can help kitties and puppies stay warm and comfy.
11. Toys your kids have outgrown
Face facts: Sometimes it’s the parents who are more nostalgic for a child’s toys than the child.
Talk to your kids about what they really play with, snap photos of anything that carries precious memories and donate their old treasures to a new generation of kids.
12. Old Halloween costumes
For years, I kept a box of Halloween costume props — angel wings, pirate hats, cat ears, doctor scrubs — just in case my daughter suddenly wanted to put on a play, or maybe we forgot about Halloween until Oct. 30. But her random dress-up days are long gone, and she plans her Halloween costume weeks in advance, never once needing to retrieve a devil’s pitchfork from the just-in-case box.
Donate your costumes and props to a thrift store, community center or school theater department.
13. Board games you never play
Cranium, Balderdash, Trivial Pursuit: We loved them all back in the day, but now so many of our favorite board games are just space-stealers, piled on shelves and gathering dust.
Keep the ones you actually play, toss the ones with missing pieces and donate those that someone else might enjoy. Game on!
14. Wedding and bridesmaid gowns
I’ve been a bride once, and a bridesmaid a few times. Trust me, I’m not wearing any of those gowns again.
Some women keep their wedding gown carefully packaged on a shelf in hopes that a child or grandchild will wear it, but a friend of mine donated hers to Angel Babies in Massachusetts.
That group turns wedding and formal gowns into memorial gowns for infants and donates those to funeral homes and hospitals. It’s a sad yet lovely way to help others in need.
If you need a more local solution, some schools and theater groups have uses for formal gowns. My daughter wore one as Peggy Schuyler in a junior version of “Hamilton.”
15. Shoes that hurt or don’t fit
This seems like a no-brainer: Why would you keep shoes that hurt? But along the way, I acquired numerous pairs that I keep thinking I’ll wear, but that pinch, flop or otherwise are uncomfortable.
A local school runs regular shoe drives, but you could also donate to a charity or look into textile recycling. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program, for example, accepts any brand of used athletic shoes.
16. Single socks
I long kept a box of sad, single socks on top of my dryer. These were the mismatched loners that pop out of the laundry missing their mates, which I only sometimes find stuck inside a T-shirt or fitted sheet.
One day I just tossed my whole sock box — my local Goodwill recycles textiles — and vowed to keep any new singletons only for about a week or two going forward.
17. Broken jewelry and single earrings
Like those singleton socks, I kept single earrings for years, assuming I’d eventually find their partner. Guess what? I rarely did. And since my jewelry is mostly the costume kind, it’s not like I’m discarding the Crown Jewels.
If you have a crafty friend, you may be able to hand the jewelry off to them for projects.