50 Things You Should Toss from Your House After Turning 50
Who's ready to host a yard sale?
Thanks in part to hugely popular TV shows like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, more Americans than ever are trying to liberate themselves from the unnecessary junk in their homes. Although this purging can be beneficial at any age, it’s especially useful when you’ve reached 50. Why is the half-century mark such an important time? Well, after five decades on the planet, a person has a way of accumulating some unnecessary items.
It’s not just about finding the things that “give you joy” (Kondo’s words) and discarding the rest. It’s also about recognizing the things you’ve been holding on to for too long and either trashing them or replacing them. That means taking a long, honest look at your surroundings—right down to household items that are now officially old enough to be antiques—and making some minor (and sometimes major) tweaks. Here are 50 things you need to expunge from your home by the time you reach 50.
It’s not just about appearances; there’s a more sinister reason to ditch your chipped or cracked plates. With each wash, water seeps into the cracks and can lead to some really nasty bacteria growth. What’s more, if you use these plates in the microwave, the cracks can deepen, which makes the bacteria grows faster. And you needn’t break the bank on a new set of flatware. Pretty much every store these days sells affordable options. Case in point: Even Target’s décor department sells stylish, sturdy plates for just $2.99 a piece.
That couch or easy chair your parents gave you when you moved into your first apartment should be long gone by now. Not just because it probably looks horrific—which is a bad look even if its confined to a basement rec room—but because it’s also probably doing real damage to your spine every time you sit on it.
DVDs of movies you don’t love
We understand the joys of movie collecting. Like books, there’s something about filling a shelf with DVDs of your favorite film classics that just feels satisfying. But it might be time to review those movies and par down your collection. Are you sure you absolutely love everything in there? Some of those movies you’ll return to time and time again, like The Godfather or The Empire Strikes Back. And some—like, oh, Weekend at Bernie’s II—you may have picked up at a discount bin, and there’s little or no chance you’ll be watching them anytime soon. Do the right thing and thin the DVD herd.
All jarred spices begin to lose their potency after approximately six months. They also accumulate quite a bit of dust—and not on the jar. Dust settles in with the spice itself. You can continue to use spices for up to three years, but the taste will change. If you only need cumin once a year to make chili, toss the old jar and invest the $4 in some fresh cumin for next year’s July Fourth cook-off.
That old hairbrush you’ve been using forever is way too old. Some experts insist you should replace it every six to 12 months. Hair gets more brittle with age, so replacing the brush will help prevent breakage. Also, an old hairbrush is holding on to more gross stuff than you realize. One University of Arizona study found that hair brushes used by women between the ages of 18 and 24 had more than 3,400 different types of bacteria per square inch.
A mattress older than a teenager
A really high-end mattress can last anywhere between 7 and 10 years, and if you really take care of it, even a few years past that. Once you get into teenage years—13 and older—your mattress is definitely in serious need of replacement. And not just because it’s not nearly as firm as it once was. Unless it’s been professionally sanitized, it contains a whole host of icky stuff, like dust mites and bodily fluids that we won’t explain in detail because we don’t want to ruin your day. Oh, and while you’re at it, This Is Why You Need to Change Your Pillow Immediately.
An empty beer or liquor bottle display
No one is impressed with your level of drinking. It doesn’t matter how cool or “vintage” the bottle is, it’s taking up space that could be occupied by something more meaningful than that local IPA you had once on a trip to California.
Flimsy flip flops
Flip flops are fine for the occasional vacation, but as a regular thing you wear on your feet, it’s a bad idea. “Flip-flops don’t offer any arch or heel support, and you have to grip them with your toes to keep them on,” podiatrist Dr. Christina S. Long said in an interview. “Wearing them for too long or for the wrong activity can cause a lot of different problems:” plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, and, eventually, knee, ankle, and back issues. If your toes need to feel free, invest in some Birkenstocks or Tevas.
How old is your favorite bath towel, the one you use after every shower? If you’ve been using it for more than two years, it might be time to say goodbye. That’s around the time when most towels—especially well-loved towels that get used over and over again in a single week—start to lose their absorbency. And here’s a disgusting fact you probably didn’t want to know: skin particles become embedded in a towel after enough time. So basically, you’re rubbing old skin cells on your clean body. Blech! Ditch those towels and get a new set. Use the old ones for cleaning, or donate them to animal shelter.
Remember how you thought your grandfather was crazy for collecting all of those yellowing National Geographic magazines in his garage? Well, at least he had an excuse. He lived in a non-digital age, when you couldn’t read pretty much anything that’s ever been written online, including old National Geographic magazines. You don’t have that excuse. If there’s a pile of New Yorkers or any other magazine taking up space in your home, and the month and year on the cover isn’t the month and year we’re currently living in, they’re long overdue for the recycling bin.
Pots and pans
When’s the last time you looked at the cooking surface of your favorite frying pan? Do you see a scrape on the non-stick surface? Time to toss and replace. And while you’re at it, evaluate what pans and pots you actually use. Just because it came in a set doesn’t mean you need to keep it. Most people do just fine in the kitchen with only a saucepan, a sauté pan, and a stockpot. Everything else is mostly superfluous.
Old cans of paint
Nobody throws away a can of paint. Even if they’ve finished their DIY project and they have no more use for it, they keep those cans in their basement for the next 10-plus years, because you never know when you might need a quarter-gallon of green paint. Get rid of it already! If it’s an oil-based paint, it’s got chemicals that could contaminate soil and water, so don’t just throw it in the trash and forget about it. Take it to your local hazardous waste facility.
Even if you got them for free from a dry cleaner—actually, especially if you got them for free—your clothes deserve better. At 50, you’ve invested time and money into an adult’s wardrobe. It deserves more than wire hangers, which can cause stretch marks on clothes. A wooden hanger might take up more space, but they’re better for your clothes, as they more closely mimic the unique slope of a person’s shoulders. If an outfit has been hanging on a wire hanger versus a wooden one, you can absolutely tell the difference.
An ancient coffee maker
The glass carafe is so stained it’s almost brown, and the coffee always tastes like it was brewed at a gas station. Why are you still holding on to that old coffee maker? It’s not just the funky taste that should be an issue, the machine’s plastic could be shedding toxins into every pot. If you truly love coffee, invest in a machine like Nespresso or a glass Chemex.
Holiday and birthday cards
We know it can feel weird to throw out a birthday card, especially if it’s from a grandparent or someone really special in your life. But when you reach 50, you start to realize that your memories of a person aren’t contained in every piece of paper or cardboard they send to you. They’ll always be in your head and your heart, regardless of whether you still have a box full of old birthday cards you haven’t looked at since, well, your birthday.
Everything exists on the Internet now, including everything you could possibly need or want to know about your bank account. There’s absolutely no reason to fill your file cabinets with reams of old bank statements that you can easily access, with just the click of a computer key or tap of a smartphone screen, online at any time.
If you’ve got a soft spot for that killer mix created for you by an ex or your current partner, you don’t need to cling to those old CDs to keep that memory alive. Get this: the whole thing can all be recreated on Spotify. Most of us haven’t listened to an actual CD in years, we just keep moving that storage box full of CDs out of the way every year when we’re unloading the Christmas decorations box. Now is the time to upload those CDs to your music platform of choice and set yourself free.
It’s time to accept that all of those miniature hotel shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and tiny soaps you’ve been hoarding over the years, storing them in the back of a bathroom closet just in case you get guests who forgot to bring toiletries, will probably never be used. If you actually want to put them to good use, donate them to a homeless shelter, where they’ll be distributed as “hygiene kits” to people who really need them. Or better yet, Operation Care and Comfort has shipped more than 1,000,000 pounds of toiletries to the military, who’s always in need of donations.
Just like a car starts to lose its value the moment you drive it off the lot, your sneakers or running shoes start to fall apart the moment they start pounding the pavement. If you’re really putting them through their paces, even the sturdiest of sneakers should only last four months, or around 500 miles of hard labor. And if you wear them as your everyday shoes, on top of exercise, they may not even last that long.
Vases for delivery flowers
The flowers were the gift, not the vase. Vases tend to be bulky and awkward—not the sort of thing you’ll use a second time. No reasonable person needs more than three vases: a small one, a medium one, and a large one. The rest should be donated to retirement homes or dropped off at Goodwill.
Were you careful to save that accountant’s card from 2001? He has new ones—and probably a new number—by now. With email and texting, Vcards and DMs—not to mention that whole LinkedIn thing—the little paper cards are super-useless. Every junk drawer in America has at least one business card. If you do need it, then snap a picture or type the info into an email, spreadsheet, or your phone and toss the useless cardstock into the nearest recycling bin.
Even if it’s only bent on the one side, it’s still broken. Invest in a nice umbrella that you keep either in your car, in your bag, or neatly in your closet, and get rid of the cheap freebies you’ve been hauling around for too many years.
Cookbooks you never use
The Great British Baking Show has inspired a lot of people to be more ambitious in the kitchen. And that’s fantastic…. except when it leads to more kitchen clutter. Let’s say you decided that this holiday you were finally going to make a Pavlova Fruit Tart. So you bought all the ingredients and the quintessential cookbook on meringue. But then time got away from you and you never got around to making it. Now you have a book that reminds you of something you didn’t do, and probably won’t ever do, staring you in the face every day. The local library would be a better place than your kitchen shelves for an unused cookbook that’s judging you for your culinary failures.
High school letterman jacket
Whether it was yours or given to you, you’re not going to wear it or use it. You won’t even wear it to an ’80s party because letterman jackets always look like they’re from the ’50s. If it means that much to you, take the letter off of the jacket and frame it. But put that jacket out of its misery and out of your space.
Holiday wrapping paper
If you have space in your crafting hut for wrapping paper—or for that matter, if you have a crafting hut—then fine, by all means, you have the storage to keep that paper until next year. But if you just keep shuffling it from year to year and closet to closet, shoving it into storage with all the ornaments, then it might be time to toss ‘em and reinvest next year. Your life is crowded enough, you don’t need four-foot tubes of paper covered in dancing gingerbread men taking up more space.
Last year’s calendar
You’re not up for a seat on the Supreme Court. You don’t need paper calendars clogging up shelves or file cabinets. And if you really want to remember your dentist appointment from 2014, just go digital with your calendar.
Mystery keys and locks
Your house and car keys should be on your key ring. Your neighbor’s keys, if they trusted you to keep a spare set, should be in a safe place. Your bike lock should be on your bike; your gym lock in your gym bag. Every other key and lock in your possession that doesn’t have a specific purpose needs to finally be cut loose. If you don’t know what the key unlocks or what the lock was intended for, you no longer need it. End of story.
There’s being financially resourceful and then there’s being cheap. A collection of old condiment packages that you’ve accumulated over the years isn’t really saving you that much money, and it gives your refrigerator a college dorm room aesthetic. Seriously, it looks about as classy as saving old pizza delivery boxes to use as makeshift Tupperware.
Your tax return receipts don’t need to be held onto for more than three years. After that, you’re literally being nostalgic for pieces of paper with numbers on them representing purchases you made in the distant past. Let it go. Nobody, least of all the IRS, is interested in your receipts from 20 years ago.
You know you have at least a few of them. In some drawer, you have old manuals for phones from 10 years ago, or printers you’ve long since replaced, or even vacuums that, at this point, you could operate with your eyes closed. Holding on to those yellowing documents makes about as much sense as filing away SAT sample questions because you never know when you’ll be taking the SAT again.
The last VCR rolled off the assembly line on July 22nd, 2016. They don’t even make the players anymore. So unless you have sentimental reason for holding onto old VHS tapes—like, say, they contain old family movies—get rid of them. Even the special release collector editions that you thought would be sooo valuable someday, um… We’re not sure how to break this to you, but… They’re not. They won’t ever be. They’re just antiques gathering dust (and giving you an excuse to lecture young people about what life was like when Blockbuster ruled the world).
Whether you work from home or just want your home office to feel like a real office, there comes a time when everyone realizes, “Oh yeah, I don’t actually need Post-it notes or tape dispensers or binder clips or multiple staple removers or sticky tabs.”
Curtains from a former home
Window dimensions can be drastically different from house to house, and unless you have some sewing skills and know how to refashion a set of curtains for an entirely new window, it might be time to say goodbye to those old curtains. The rods could still work, but the fabric rarely does. For the cost of having your existing curtains professionally altered, you could just as easily order a new custom set.
Old cell phones
Nobody wants to throw away an old phone because we’re all terrified of identity theft, and we’re not entirely sure where it’s legal to dispose of them. So instead, they take up space in closets, in boxes full of all the other outdated tech no one knows what to do with.
First, it’s easy to wipe away your personal information on a phone; just use the “factory reset” option. Then, just make sure the SD and SIM cards are removed, and you’re ready to let that old thing go. The best way to recycle an old phone is to donate it. We’d suggest an organization like Cell Phones for Soldiers, who use proceeds from donated phones to provide troops overseas with prepaid international calling cards.
That wad of plastic grocery bags
It feels wasteful just to throw them away, and somewhere in the back of your mind you think you might use them again. Spoiler alert: You won’t. Even with the best of intentions, nobody remembers to grab those plastic bags before they head out for grocery shopping. Many stores are happy to take those bags back, but if not, recycle them and finally invest in a grocery tote.
Kitchen appliances you never use
Making a lot of french fries from scratch, are you? How about homemade ice cream? Paninis? How much rice are you making every year to justify the kitchen shelf, counter, or cabinet space taken up by a rice cooker? Complicated small appliances that have simpler solutions won’t get used. If you haven’t used a kitchen appliance more than once in the past six months, it’s time to either pass them along to someone who will or unload it at your local resale shop.
Three year-old sunscreen
According to the Mayo Clinic, most sunscreens can last up to three years. But beyond that, you’re taking some real risks with that leftover sunscreen. If you’re not sure how long you’ve had that bottle, you might want to play it safe and drop it in the trash. There are some things worth penny-pinching, but protecting yourself against skin cancer, especially in your 50s, isn’t one of them.
Neglected musical instruments
By the time we reach 50, the number of people who still play the musical instrument they learned in their teens cuts in half, according to statistical data. If that guitar or trumpet you loved in high school is just gathering dust, it’s time to give up the ghost. Hoarding something you have no intention of playing is just denying the chance for somebody else to discover it. There are many charities that would be happy to take your donated instrument, including one that helps bring music to the lives of military veterans.
Board games with missing pieces
Whether it’s a missing revolver card in Clue or a suspicious lack of hundred dollar bills in Monopoly, board games with missing pieces don’t just make gameplay more challenging—they ruin the entire game. If you ever find yourself saying, “Hold on, I’ll just borrow the dice from Yahtzee,” the universe is telling you something: Buy… another… game.
Maybe they came with takeout food and somehow ended up in your utensil drawer. However they got there, you need to finally set them free. If you don’t already have some high-end eating utensils, the kind that don’t look like they belong at a child’s birthday party, turning 50 is the perfect excuse to finally make your kitchen look like an adult cooks there.
The giveaway t-shirt you’ve never worn
We all have at least one of these, whether it’s a promotional shirt from a local radio station that we got at a summer carnival, or a commemorative shirt from an office team building event that’s either two sizes too big or small for you. You’ve held on to it all these years because… why, exactly? You don’t have to keep moving it to the side in your drawer as you look for a shirt you actually want to wear. Take it out of its misery and donate it to someone in need.
We have a soft spot for encyclopedias too. They were the Google of yesteryear. If they’re a handcrafted set handed down from generation to generation in your family and you have special shelves to display them, by all means, hold onto those tomes. But if it’s just the Britannica from your childhood bedroom, it’s time to open that space up. You can replace them with a little thing called Google, which takes up exactly zero space in your home.
Tupperware containers missing their lid
It’s time to accept this cold, hard fact. You’re never going to find those lids. They’re long gone, along with the missing socks that you keep hoping will turn up so you can reunite them with their twin.
Books you don’t love
We have to respectfully disagree with Marie Kondo’s argument that 30 books is enough. There’s no reason to have such strict limits on the number of books in your library. But you should take a more critical eye to the books you’ve been hanging onto over the years. The books that shaped you as a person and are reminders of why literature can be so meaningful, you can and should hang onto those.
But the books you’ve held onto from school, the ones you kinda read but not really, and the books a distant relative gave you as a birthday gift because “You like mysteries, right?” Those can go. If your neighborhood has one of those little free library boxes, that’s a great place to help your unloved books find another home. Or give them to your local library, retirement home, or veterans’ hospital.
Unused exercise equipment
We applaud your commitment to get healthy and start exercising more. But if your treadmill or stationary bike has been sitting unused in the guest bedroom for longer than you can remember, and it’s been used primarily for hanging wet laundry to dry, it might be time to set those machines out to pasture.
Random items in your freezer
That includes the open bag of frostbitten peas and the half-used (and mostly smashed) bag of tater tots buried under last summer’s popsicle remnants. Toss it all. That cauliflower pizza crust you thought was brilliant idea last May? That can go too. Or the frozen curry your neighbor dropped off months ago? Gone. It’s time to make room for quality meat, fancy ice cube trays for amazing cocktails, and some actually fresh bags of peas and tater tots.
Here’s a fun weekend activity: collect every pen or marker in the house. Check every desk, purse, jacket pocket, or kitchen drawer where they might be hiding. You’ll probably be shocked at the volume. Then get a notebook and test each and every pen, and throw out the ones that aren’t working. The pens that remain should get filed in one place, perhaps in a plastic storage organizer which you can get on the cheap for less than ten bucks.
You can argue to keep some things for sentimentality, but a toothbrush isn’t one of them. The American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush at least once every three months. If you haven’t bought a new toothbrush since early October, it’s time to add it to your shopping list.
We live in a digital age now, and not only could you find any restaurant’s menu so much easier online than digging through kitchen drawers, an online menu is more likely to have up-to-date and accurate info on food options and prices, and will also tell you if the restaurant’s phone number has changed.
Expired or “mystery” medicine
All medicines have an expiration date. Check the box for details, or if it’s just a batch of mystery pills in an unmarked foil blister, chuck it. No good can come by making a lucky guess about what the medicine “might” be. If it’s a prescription drug and your doctor hasn’t specifically ask you to continue taking it, it’s time to let it go.
Some drugs can be thrown in the trash, but for prescription drugs it’s best to check with disposemymeds.org to see where your meds can be safely returned. And if you’re trying to make space without tossing everything, check out these 20 Cool Ways to Store Things You Never Thought Of.
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