40 Things to Purge from Your Life After 40, According to Organizing Pros
There's no better time to cut down on clutter, according to mental health and organization experts.
Over the course of four decades, odds are you've amassed a pretty significant amount of stuff, some of which will always be near and dear to your heart. However, hiding among the special items and daily essentials, there are likely quite a few things you'd be better off letting go of once and for all. To spark some inspiration, we've spoken to the top home organizing experts and mental health professionals to create a definitive guide for what you should ditch from your home before another year passes.
All of those half empty pill bottles so old that their labels have started to fade away are only creating more clutter in your home and are potentially dangerous, too. They've overstayed their welcome and it's time for them to hit the road.
"Do a quick edit of your medicine cabinet and pantry and start the new year with a clean slate," suggests Alison Yoder, owner of Blueprint Professional Organizing in Fort Worth, Texas.
Is it nice to occasionally remind yourself of the fact that you won that 10th grade math competition? Sure. But if you're over 40, it's time to let those mementos of your past accomplishments go—short of major professional awards or something that you still find truly meaningful, that is.
"When you let go of awards you've received, news clippings that featured you, and portfolio pieces from work that you're proud of, it sends a strong message to the universe—or at least to yourself—that you're confident that you are going to do something again that warrants praise and makes you proud," says Patty Morrissey, chief organizing expert at Mercari and a certified KonMari specialist.
Mementos from old relationships
Sure, it might be nice to take a trip down memory lane with mementos from the past every now and then, but harping on former relationships isn't doing you any favors in the long run. "Holding on to old things can keep you stuck in your past and not make room for what is to come," explains licensed mental health counselor Brittany A. Johnson.
Clothing that doesn't fit
Hanging on to clothing that no longer fits you or that you never wear anymore is just another way of keeping your mind stuck in the past. "Let go of those things that make you feel bad when you look in your closet and just leave the things that make you feel great," Yoder says.
And clothing from past life stages
Even if some of your old clothes still fit, that doesn't necessarily mean they're still useful to you. Morrissey suggests transitioning your wardrobe along with your life stage and getting rid of anything that feels juvenile to you, like that prom dress that hasn't seen the light of day in decades.
Decent hangers can be purchased at virtually any price range, so there's no excuse to keep those flimsy versions from the dry cleaner around anymore. "Mismatched, misshapen hangers make your closet feel cluttered and messy, and they ruin your clothes," says Yoder. She suggests upgrading to slim velvet ones, or at least matching plastic versions.
Home décor you've outgrown
If your jam band phase is well behind you, it's probably time to ditch those posters, too. And once you're 40, that lava lamp is well beyond its expiration date as an acceptable piece of home décor. "Embrace your growth and allow yourself to let go of items from earlier versions of yourself," Morrissey says.
Mismatched food containers
After you've turned 40, your new kitchen-cleaning mantra for should be, "If the lid doesn't fit, get rid of it." When it comes to Tupperware, "be realistic about how many you really need and get rid of the rest," says Yoder. "Your cabinets will be so much less chaotic."
Rarely used appliances
Unless you have more space than you know what to do with, odds are your kitchen could use some decluttering. In your 40s, it's time to work smarter, not harder—and that means ditching those single-use kitchen appliances taking up space.
"There's probably no reason to have a slow cooker and a rice maker if you have an Instant Pot," suggests Marty Basher, an organization expert with Modular Closets. "Donate the extras or give them to friends."
Extra coffee mugs
Honestly, how many coffee mugs does a person need? "You know you always reach for your few favorites anyway," says Amanda Clark, owner of Ever So Organized, based in Orange County, California. She recommends keeping just the ones that you and your family actually use.
Nostalgia shouldn't be a reason to keep a cluttered home. "It's time to say goodbye to your old electronics including digital cameras, fax machines, and flip phones," says Basher. He recommends contacting your local shelter to see if they'll accept the latter.
CDs and DVDs
When's the last time you used a physical CD or DVD? If you can't remember, it's high time you got rid of those obsolete collections. "In a world of Netflix and Spotify, there's no reason to keep these in your home," says Mary Cornetta, founder and co-owner of Sort and Sweet, Inc., a professional organizing company based in New York.
Old cords and chargers
Don't have that CD player anymore, but still have its power cable lying around, for some reason? Time to take it to the tech cemetery. "We live in an age where it's actually probably easier to get a new cord than to figure out which one in the box is the one you need," says Yoder.
Things you're only keeping because they're expensive
Just because you spent a significant amount of money on something doesn't mean you necessarily need to keep it around indefinitely. Instead of keeping the actual item, "remember feeling bad about the regrettable purchase so that you are not tempted to buy something like it again," Clark says.
Items you're keeping "just in case"
Ask yourself what the odds are of you using that hex wrench that went with the Ikea furniture you built 10 years ago. Not good? Then away it goes! "It's better to empty your home of these things so that you can enjoy the items you actually get use out of," says Clark. She notes that if you did need any of those "just in case" items in the future, odds are you could buy them again or borrow them.
Plastic bags are a major contributor to global pollution, and if we're being honest, that huge bag full of other bags in your kitchen isn't exactly a stylish addition to the space. However, that doesn't mean you should throw them out. "Recycle them immediately at your local grocery store, and resolve to use your reusable ones going forward," Yoder says.
Gifts you never use
It may be difficult to get rid of things other people gave you, but it's important to remove items from your home that you aren't using, even if they came from someone you love. "Say 'thank you' to the person who gives it to you and drop it in your donation pile, guilt free," says Clark.
Old holiday decorations
If they've already been languishing in your holiday supply box for more than 12 months, you probably won't use those ornaments next year, either. "Take note of what you didn't put out this year or didn't love and consider donating them," says Cornetta.
Since so many stores offer the same discounts in digital form as they do on paper, it's unlikely that that folder of soon-to-expire physical coupons will do you much good. As Cornetta says simply, "There is little reason to hoard actual coupons."
Old newspaper and magazine clippings
While you may think you'll get around to doing that vision board or scrapbooking one day, if those clippings don't have sentimental value—as in, they're not your wedding announcement—they're not worth saving.
And if there are some you just can't bear to part with, Yoder proposes that you "come up with a system, like a binder for articles of travel inspiration."
Anything that "contains information you could easily find online" also needs to go, according to Yoder. And that's especially true for appliance manuals—and even more so for gadgets you don't use or own anymore. To the recycling bin they go!
Books you won't read again
Let's face it, not every book is going to become part of your permanent collection. If you're still hanging on to books you know you'll never open again—or books that you never opened in the first place—there's no time like the present to donate them in favor of a more clutter-free home. After all, "you can find anything online or at the library," Yoder says.
Magazines you don't actually read
Not flipping through Cat Fancy as much as you initially thought you would? It's time to say so long to your subscription. However, don't just stop at magazines. "Unsubscribing from things you don't actually read will free up space in your home and time in your life for things you actually read and enjoy," says professional organizer Mariah Ellis of The Organized Dane in Arizona. She recommends ditching unread electronic newsletters and emails, too.
It's easy to let piles of junk mail build up in your house, but if you want to make life simpler in your 40s, start ditching those items before they even get past the door. "Letting it go the minute you get it prevents it from building up to overwhelming levels and then it gets shoved to the corners," says certified professional organizer Lauren Williams, owner of Casual Uncluttering, LLC in Woodville, Washington.
Unless it's a will or the deed to your car or house, if you haven't used a specific piece of paperwork in more than a year, chances are you can—and probably should—get rid of it. "This includes utility bills, bank statements, credit card statements—as long as they aren't for tax purposes—and tax returns over seven years old," says Ellis.
If those organizers aren't being used to actually organize your possessions, consider them clutter. "Unused organizers—or those that aren't working for you—only add to your disorganization," says Ellis.
Craft items you're not using
You may think you'll eventually find your passion for macramé, but if a significant amount of time has come and gone without you using those crafting items, it's time to find them a new home. "Find a charitable organization who can use your old craft items and let them go," suggests Yoder.
Broken things you haven't gotten around to fixing
Be honest with yourself: Do you really believe you'll find the time to fix that chipped plate or broken chair that's been on your to-do list for months at this point? "If you accidentally broke [it] and insist you'll fix it but won't, you're misusing your precious space and punishing yourself for being human," Williams says.
If you're over 40, odds are you can get the hang of occasionally watering a succulent, meaning it's time to bid those fake plants farewell. "Just go buy the real thing and breath some O2 into your space instead of chemicals that have been on a barge across the ocean," says Leigh Spicher, National Director of Design Studios for Ashton Woods.
Sorry, Joanna Gaines—farmhouse style is going the way of the dodo. "We still want the casual, lived-in vibe, but without apron sinks and shiplap," says Spicher.
Do you really need a reminder in your kitchen to laugh or a sign explaining the purpose of your laundry room? "Let's get back to artwork or photography," says Spicher.
Mounted taxidermy, real or faux
Whether your decapitated animal heads are real or fake, it's time to swap your décor in your 40s to something a bit classier. When referring to the faux versions, Spicher says, "they aren't cute and they are even scarier than the real thing."
If they're not part of an actual collection but simply clutter up a surface in your home, you should be ready to ditch those tchotchkes by the time you're in your 40s. Feeling guilty about getting rid of them entirely? "Consider storing them to remove busyness and only take them out for special occasions," says interior designer Colin Haentjens, an interior designer at Knobs.co.
Toys and other items for your children that've been recalled
If you're over 40 and have kids, this one's especially important. "Toys are recalled all the time due to updated safety guidelines each year," says Laura Kinsella, owner of professional organization service Urban OrgaNYze. Pieces of kids' furniture, feeding supplies, and other baby essentials are also recalled. If you want to keep your little ones safe, make sure you're staying on top of recent recalls and purging anything that could be dangerous.
It's always fun to get something for free, but unless you want to look like a walking billboard for your local charity, a 5K race you ran, or a particular brand, it's time to ditch all those freebies that are only taking up valuable space in your closets and drawers. "The next time you support a good cause, do just that, and leave the swag bag behind," says Kinsella.
Flower shop vases
"Unless you display more than one bouquet at a time, pick your favorite vase and ditch the rest," Kinsella advises. Luckily, those additional vases can be easily donated to thrift shops or make a pretty delivery vessel when you want to give a bouquet to someone else.
Things other people left at your house
While you may have been happy to let your home serve as mini-storage for friends and family members in earlier phases of your life, when you hit your 40s, it's time to ditch this habit for good. "Shoot them an email, text, or video chat for them to come reclaim what is theirs," suggests Kinsella. Or, you can also offer to drop off the items in question yourself if you have the time.
Or things you're only keeping to make other people happy
If you're over 40, you're old enough to stop doing things solely to please other people—and that includes keeping certain items around your home. "If it doesn't help you and doesn't feel good to you, give it away," says licensed clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. "Don't spend this year being someone you aren't."
Old or unused toiletries
Those half-used bottles of old lotion or makeup are only cluttering up your house—and they could be making you sick, too. "Take an afternoon, put on some music, and throw it away," says therapist Lauren Cook, author of Name Your Story: How to Talk Openly About Mental Health. "Trust me, you won't miss it once you've tossed it."
Anything you haven't used in a year
Regardless of what it is, if it hasn't been used in a year, odds are you probably don't need it anymore. "Whether it's puzzles, cookbooks, or clothing, let go of items that you're no longer interacting with," says Cook, who recommends passing along still-usable items to friends or family members, which may make it easier to get rid of things.