How To Purge Everything You Don't Need From Your Home

Out with the old, in with the new — that’s what ringing in the new year is about, right? And, while that is a good motto for many areas of your life, it can be downright crucial for making your home more efficient and attractive. An important part of sweeping out the old is strategizing about what, and how, to purge.
We’re not just talking an annual deep-cleaning of your home — we’re suggesting a mindset change in the very way you think about clutter and organization moving forward. Just as there are rules when it comes to tossing mascara, there are also expiration dates for many things in your home.
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Ahead, four professional organizers and declutter experts give us the ultimate checklist for purging. From questions to ask as you sift through items to smart ways to remain organized after the big purge, you’ll find everything you need to complete your home cleanse.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
One of the biggest clutter zones in the kitchen is hidden by a stainless steel door. Enter, The Fridge. Make an appointment to go through it regularly — at least once a week — and throw out expired or rotten food. “The issue is more with refrigerated rather than frozen food,” says Donna Smallin, author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness: One-Minute Tips for Decluttering and Refreshing Your Home and Your Life.

“Some foods, like mayonnaise, should be tossed two months after opening. Others, like boxed chicken broth and almond milk, should be tossed within a week of opening. Err on the safe side and give leftovers the three-day rule. All food is best fresh.”
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
For the times when you’ll want help chopping or peeling veggies, having a couple of knives and peelers is necessary. But, there’s no reason to have three or more of any kind of tool in the kitchen, says Kendra Stanley, owner of Healthy Organizing, a home-decluttering service based out of San Francisco. “You could probably cut most tools down to one,” she adds. And, if you find yourself not using something ever, get rid of it. “A lot of people get gifts for their kitchen but might not need it. If you’re not using it, give it to someone else who can.”
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
These days, it’s pretty standard practice to just go online if you need a specific recipe or cooking technique, so cookbooks, while often beautiful keepsakes, wind up hogging space. Keep your absolute favorites and consider recycling the others. Christine Kell, declutter coach, feng shui consultant, and owner of Gaining Space in Brooklyn, says that chances are, you’re only going to love five to 10 recipes out of a 200-page cookbook. She suggests scanning or photocopying the ones you love and putting them in a binder with tabs and categories that are useful for meal planning. “Then donate the book to a library,” she adds.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
“Anything more than two to three towels per person can become overwhelming,” says professional organizer Melissa Levy, founder of ML Interior, a functional-design company based in NYC. Avoid unnecessary storage deficit by donating the older ones to a local animal shelter.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You may want to have a backup bottle of shampoo, just in case, but that’s the kind of mindset that creates clutter, says Stanley. She suggests giving away any extras you have to a local shelter and sticking with this rule moving forward. “The bathroom is a nightmare” in terms of excess stuff, she says. “You can’t have things in there that you aren’t using.”

And, generally speaking, with so many different cleaning supplies on the market, it’s easy to think you need them all. In reality, Smallin says, you really only need a few things: multipurpose cleaner, tub-and-tile cleaner, glass cleaner, and a set of microfiber cloths. “Give away cleaning supplies you don’t use, and follow instructions for proper disposal,” she says.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
First, take everything out of these spaces to see what you’ve got. You’ll probably be surprised at the things you find. (How many rubber bands does one person need?!) Smallin suggests sorting everything into three piles: Keep, Toss, and Move.

“Put back the keepers front and center with the things you use most often,” she says. “Toss (recycle, sell, or give away) what you haven’t used in the past year. Move things that belong elsewhere to their proper homes.” Smallin also suggests assigning shelves in a medicine cabinet to family members so everyone’s items aren’t all mixed up.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Putting things under the bed isn’t ideal, says Stanley, but depending on the size of your place, it might be necessary. The one rule to remember is that everything should be in a container. “You can store extra linens and towels in those shrink-wrap bags,” she says. “Once you suck all the air out, it can be squeezed into a neatly organized package, plus your items are protected from the dust.” Long plastic bins are great, too. And, of course, while you’re transferring the items into these containers, take the opportunity to get rid of the things you don’t need.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The only items you need on your table are a lamp and a glass of water at night, says Stanley. The drawer should be tidy, too, having only the necessities such as hand lotion and an eye mask. “You want to keep this area as clean and neat as possible,” she says. “It’s important to go to sleep in that fashion and not wake up in a clutter.”
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
“Using furniture that serves double duty definitely keeps a room looking better organized,” says Levy. “Look for pieces like ottomans with a lid that can provide storage inside or can be turned over to act as a tray table, or a coffee table that will transition into a dining table.” Levy also suggests installing a special wall TV that can be hidden behind artwork or a mirror when not in use. “TVs can tend to make a space look messy,” she says.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
When choosing fabric for your furniture or pillows, neutrals are always a safe bet. “They’re a great way to keep upholstery items looking tidier,” says Levy. “Using textures and subtle patterns can add interest while keeping the space calm.” Are you cold all the time? No need to hide the throw blanket — it’ll keep the room cozy-looking. But, any more than one makes things look messy. Store the others in a storage ottoman or an armoire.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Having too many rugs can make a room feel busy, but there are tricks to make them work. “It depends on the size of the room and what you’re doing,” says Levy. “If you have one big space that serves as the dining room and living room, it’s okay to have two different rugs to designate each zone. You just want to make sure the rugs complement each other, either by matching exactly or having something in common, like the texture or same colorway.”
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The more stuff you have on the coffee table, the more junky the room can feel. While it’s tempting to want to put pretty photography books and centerpieces on the table, Kell suggests keeping it 100% clear, with the exception of a few coasters for drinks.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Avoid the pileup. “Promise yourself to read the magazine within the week it arrives,” says Kell. “Don’t let it sit around collecting dust — finish it before the new one arrives. If you haven’t finished reading it before the next one arrives in the mail, throw out the old,” she says. Another tip: If you’re keeping a magazine just for an article or two, scan the pages and organize them in a “to read” folder in Dropbox or Google Drive.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Even though we’re living in a digital world, it’s amazing how much paper still consumes us. The key to keeping your office space clear is getting rid of all of those loose sheets. “You can keep your tax records for seven years, but everything else should be shredded,” says Stanley. “Even health records are saved electronically now.” If you have a lot of paper to get rid of, there are companies that will come to your house and shred it for you.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Is that USB cord from a camera that no longer works? Take some time to determine the purpose for every cord and wire in the room, labeling each one with plastic bread tags so you know what’s what, suggests Smallin. Then toss the ones you can’t figure out or store them in a shoebox if you’re worried you might need something down the road (just be sure to come back to the box and ditch what you haven’t used in a year).
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
“The only things that should be on your desk are the things you need access to immediately or ones that make you feel happy and at peace,” Levy says. That includes a framed picture that makes you smile, or a small vase that holds flowers to brighten up the room.

Avoid going overboard with knickknacks, though. Go through everything else and toss or donate the items you never use (for example, do you really need 500 paper clips, especially if you’re mostly digital now?). Find a home for what’s left, either in the drawers or elsewhere in the house.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
As we’ve already established, going digital is one of the best ways to minimize the amount of paper that piles up in your home. And, it can also organize you. There are plenty of apps catering to your every need: chore checklists, photo storage, receipts trackers, etc. Smallin also uses Evernote to stay organized. “I use it to clip and save recipes and other information to my digital notebooks,” she says. “It syncs to all my devices, so I can access it from anywhere.”
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Kell’s rule for assessing your clothes is simple: “Go through each piece one at a time and ask yourself how it makes you feel to wear it.” If you don’t feel hot (for instance, Kell says, “Sweats with the elastic cuffs on the bottom — nobody feels hot in those!”), put it in the donation pile. “No matter how much it costs, let it go so you can have room to bring in new things that actually do make you feel good,” she says. Avoid putting things back in the closet until you’ve gone through everything. Then, organize and hang by the type of clothing (dresses together, shirts together, etc.).
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