What to *actually* throw away when decluttering this month

Time to be ruthless

Bedroom with orange accent chair, stack of books, and disco ball
(Image credit: Bolora Munkhbold / @boloratheexplorer)

“Spring cleaning” is a tradition that dates back for thousands of years and tends to be a ritual for many people to welcome in the new season. As wintry weather comes to an end and spring flowers begin to bloom, the dreaded (but helpful) spring cleaning can begin. For those eager to get started, there are ways to lessen the burden before you get into deep cleaning. 

Professional home organizer Rachel Kaufman of Rachel’s Organized Chaos says the first step in a pre-cleaning organization session is to set the tone. “One way I like to get in the mood to organize and clean is to play music from a special playlist that’s upbeat and fun,” she says. “This helps my head become more clear to start a new project.”

A clean and tidy teal dining area with a white table

(Image credit: Bolora Munkhbold / @boloratheexplorer)

What to throw away this month

Which places are causing you the most anxiety? Kaufman says that might be where you need to get started. “When it comes to getting ready for a big overhaul spring clean, it is important to think about what areas in your home are frustrating you the most," she says. "These are the spaces that should be worked on first." So after staging the mood, setting that playlist, and dedicating your afternoon, it’s time to make your list. Here are just a few places you can look to find items that need tossing in your yearly pre-clean declutter.

All expired foods

For Kaufman, pre-cleaning is all about choosing one space at a time. “For example, if you want to organize your kitchen pantry, you can take everything out, put the items into categories on the counter and floor, and then clean the space with your favorite cleaner on a towel before putting any of the items back,” she says. Before putting the items back, she reminds us: “Check expiration dates." 

Both in the dry pantry and refrigerator, there are bound to be overlooked food items that need to be tossed. While it’s great to take into consideration whether items can last longer than their expiration date to reduce food waste, items such as milk and even some condiments can be dangerous to eat after their expiration date. Be mindful and take note of anything you seem to toss out often (for instance, if you never get around to finishing the mustard) and that knowledge can guide you to make better decisions at the grocery store, saving you time and money in the future. 

Old electronics

Oftentimes, it can be difficult to figure out where to recycle old electronics such as laptops, tablets, and even old cell phones. Thankfully, there are plenty of local recycling and reuse centers that can either take your recycled electronics or guide you on the best practice for those hard-to-toss items. Items such as batteries are sometimes collected at public libraries. For anyone living in a bigger city, there may be large recycling events where you can get items recycled, reused, or repaired. At least making a list of the electronics and doing research can leave you in a better place for a deep spring clean. 

Cosmetics and medicines

Just as you should always check the expiration labels of consumable foods, understanding the expiration date of cosmetics is also important. Although most cosmetics won’t feature an expiration date, there are ways to find out if your item is ready for the trash or recycling bin. It'll also help you clear out some space in your bathroom cabinets.

While opinions vary, some experts agree that mascara can be the most important item to take note of, with some claiming one tube of mascara only lasts from three to six months. While taking stock of your cosmetics from your vanity to your bathroom, this is also a great opportunity to take a look at your medicine cabinet. Expired medicines and vitamins should be tossed and replaced. 

Various items from your “everything” cabinets and drawers

You may have cabinets in your apartment that have become the variable “junk drawer." Even if you don’t have the time or energy for a complete overhaul of those cabinets, a quick inventory acknowledgment can go a long way. You may find items you didn’t even know were there or recognize items that need tossing or donating immediately. It might be daunting but these cabinets can’t be ignored forever and giving them a once over can help you feel prepared for a deeper organization session later on. For those who are daunted to get started, Kaufman’s advice is encouraging. “Doing a little goes a long way,” Kaufman says. “You’ve got this!”  

Kate Santos

Hello! I’m Kate Santos, a writer and photographer based in Los Angeles. In the design world, I got my start working as an Editorial Intern for Dwell magazine in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve written about design and architecture in many national magazines and online publications, including Playboy, Hunker, and The Culture Trip.

I grew up in a very old house in North Carolina and am still influenced by the rustic, charming, antique and aged elements of a home. Sustainability and longevity is extremely important to me and I believe learning to reuse materials or purchasing items you’ll love forever goes a long way. I also lean towards the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi when designing my own home, embracing the perfectly imperfect items I can find.