What to Get Rid of Before the Holidays

I feel better when everything is packed away


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I feel better when everything is packed away

’Tis the Season … to Clean

Forget spring cleaning. It’s time for a year-ending, holiday-season clear out. Whether you have guests coming to visit (or stay) and need to clear some space, are tired of your tired old towels, know you’ll never string those holiday lights across the rooftop now that the kids are gone — or realize you will never ever read all those books cluttering your den, it’s time for action. Read on for some of the things that need to go. Now. (And keep in mind that things in gently used condition can be given a “new life” when donated).

Related: Where to Donate Clothes and Clutter for Money

Magnetic and optical media

Outdated Media

It’s a deep, dark secret — shelves filled with VHS tapes of old sitcoms (recorded off the TV, of course) or, gasp, a cardboard box filled with 8-track tapes of your favorite music. There’s something to be said for nostalgia, but when your treasures can no longer be enjoyed — thanks to the digital revolution — it really might be time to cut the cord.    

Related: 34 Products You Never Thought Would be Obsolete

Cleaned and dried laundry folded and being organized
Omar Shamsuddin/istockphoto

Worn-Out Linens

Whether it’s the same sheets you’ve had for far too many years or raggedy bathroom towels that long ago lost their original fluff, getting rid of old linens can do wonders to spruce up a space. Refresh your surroundings by taking advantage of holiday sales, too.     

Related: Useful Gifts for Practical People

Christmas decoration in the box view from above
Sara Garcia/istockphoto

Broken Holiday Lights and Tattered Decorations

There’s certainly something to be said for holiday decorations passed down through the years. Some, of course, will show signs of wear and be a part of a family’s treasured history. But when you have countless boxes jam-packed with tangled strings of lights and ornament boxes with broken bits rattling along the bottom, it’s not nostalgic. It’s time to simply toss them. Some might even be electrical hazards.   


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White book shelves narrowly packed with german books

Neglected Books

Let’s be realistic. You may have a handful — or shelf full — of books that have made an impact on you, from literary classics to coffee-table travel editions. Those are keepers. But how many of us simply have stacks of books we’ll never open again, if we ever did? Buying and never reading the books we buy is actually a habit called tsundoku in Japanese. Sure, reference guides for active collections are useful, but dozens of Edwardian romances … not so much. Time for a new, um, chapter.

Related: Things Around the House You Can Sell for Extra Cash

Wardrobe closet full of colorfull clothes in dressing-room.

Outdated or Neglected Clothing

One of the countless things this pandemic has taught us — with so many working from home for so long — is how little a “formal” work wardrobe is needed anymore. Those returning to the office, in many industries, are seeing that what’s considered appropriate work wear has become more casual. Take an honest look at what you have, what you now feel comfortable/appropriate wearing — and move along what no longer works.    

Related: 12 Places to Sell Clothes for Quick Cash

Old worn sneakers and shoes in a row on shoe rack

Impractical Footwear

Much along the lines of clothing, footwear trends are also shifting. Just walk through any discount-footwear shop and you’ll see the sneaker and leisure aisles far out-measure the dressy selections. Get rid of heels you no longer wear, boots that are out of fashion, and work boots that have passed their prime. It’s a positive step forward.     

Related: Where to Buy Shoes and Boots That Are Made in America

Closeup of Treasure chest

Broken / Unworn Jewelry

We’re not advocating tossing the gold locket that your grandmother left you. No, this is about junky costume jewelry, those single earrings, once-trendy bracelets, and anything else of no real value cluttering up your jewelry box. As you age, you find you better realize what really suits you — and sometimes, purchases that turned out to be mistakes can be moved on. After all, one woman’s formerly loved ear cuff might just be a fresh thrift-shop find for a younger gal.    

box of toys on the floor. Teddy bear in box,vintage tone. charitable contribution. donation. beneficence


If there’s still a space in your house for toys — and your kids are already way beyond the age of playing with them, it’s time to reassess. Sure, they might want to keep a few favorites, or you want something for when the grandkids visit. But, especially for toys where parts can be missing, you’ll want to either invest in new versions or simply realize you now live in a toy-free home. For those with younger kids who still play with toys, be realistic about just how many are needed. As with so much, less can be more.    

Cookbooks on kitchen shelf

Recipes / Recipe Books

If you have folders bursting with recipes torn out of magazines that you never made, snaps of recipes saved from online treasure hunts that never yielded a morsel, or cookbooks saved for a single favorite, realize that these are not smart uses of your space. Sometimes, they even weigh on you, making you feel guilty for sticking to your small repertoire of frequently made dishes. Sure, there’s plenty to be said for cookbooks that are used and hold meaning, but be honest when assessing what you have on hand.   

Related: Clever and Practical Cookbooks to Give Everyone on Your Gift List

Wedding gifts

Shower and Wedding Gifts

What to do when you come across that extra toaster you never got around to exchanging or a silver platter still in its box? Shower and wedding gifts that miss the mark can often languish in the back of a closet. Hopefully, you wrote a pleasant thank-you note, but you are not obligated to keep things you don’t need or like.    

Related: 11 Marie Kondo-Inspired Storage Ideas to Organize Your Home

Household Equipment or Appliances in a Cardboard Box

Any Broken Small Appliances

A phonograph that no longer spins. An iron that never fully heats up. A blow dryer that’s been known to spark … any small appliance that cannot perform its intended purpose — and isn’t worth attempting to repair — needs to go. You get no points for holding onto that VCR with the tape jammed inside.    

gift packing

An Abundance of Gift Wrap

Depending on your level of skill or interest, wrapping gifts can be a joy or a dreaded chore. For those who find it the latter, gift bags have become a savior. No matter, it’s a good bet that there's many a household with a stash of gift wrap, ribbons, and tags that no matter how many gifts are to be given will never be used up. This is the perfect time to donate to a nonprofit that offers gift-wrapping services to raise money. 


Other Paper Goods

Do you have boxes of stationery, dozens of birthday cards, when all you do these days is send e-cards or … gasp, just a text? Well, for those who no longer value the written word — and the tradition of sending cards — remove those reminders of an earlier time from your surroundings.    

photos of the family in various photo frames

Unpleasing Wall Art

If you’ve had a nondescript landscape hanging in your family room for decades — and you don’t even remember where it came from — you can get rid of it, you know. A home should reflect its residents and their current interests and likes, so any piece of wall art given as a gift and never hung, posters that no longer hold meaning, or even framed photographs that no longer elicit a smile can be removed.    

low angle view human hand holding a bottle of raw food from kitchen pantry cabinet shelf
Edwin Tan/istockphoto

The Pantry’s Forgotten Residents

When you buy something, such as an exotic spice, for making one dish and then never use it again, it often gets pushed to the back of the pantry. For example, do you have McCormick spice tins in your house? If it’s anything except black pepper, you might be freaked out to know it’s at least 15 years old! Take the time — and a magnifying glass — to look over every box, tin, and package on your shelves. The expired goods have to go; the ones that are still fresh but not going to be used can be donated to a food pantry.  

Opened freezer

The Fridge and Freezer’s Old Items

If you’re having guests for the holidays, the last thing you want is to pass them the mustard jar and have them see that it expired months ago. As above, the refrigerator and freezer can stand a thorough once-over to make sure out-of-date salad dressings, cheeses, or eggs don’t undermine your guests’ enjoyment (or your own family’s health).         

Related: Here's How Long 53 Leftovers Will Last in the Fridge

Alcohol with glasses.

Old Spirits

We don’t mean ghosts … be sure that your bar cart or liquor cabinet is also filled with fresh options. If you thought you’d finish that bottle of wine you opened and left out, (um, when was that?) … then you need to replenish. In addition, opened liquor usually has a shelf life of two years, so if you’re not big drinkers, don’t serve anything that old. (And while we're at it, refrigerate those bottles of vermouth, port, and cream liqueurs.)    


Related: Spirits and Mixers Every Home Bar Should Have

medicine pills and bottles

Expired Medicines

Check the medicine cabinet for expired pain relievers, cough syrups and more, especially going into these winter months when you may have a need for them. Replenish what you need as soon as you can. Same goes for any prescriptions in the house. This is not just “housekeeping” but a safety issue, as well. 

Related: How to Safely Spring Clean Your Medicine Cabinet

Yard Work Tool In a Shed
A. Hart/istockphoto

Garden / Yard Tools

The last thing you want to do is pull out the shovel after that first big snowfall and find its handle is broken. Same goes for the rake. Basic maintenance tools for yard work that are damaged are, let’s be honest, useless. Put them out for the garbage’s bulk pickup — or you might even be able to sell the metal pieces for scrap — and vow to replace them. It will make your yard maintenance much easier.  

messy desk

Outdated, Work-Related Paperwork

Do you have old desk drawers filled with meeting agendas from a job you left years ago? Go through anything related to your employment, current or past, and save only what is pertinent. So, yes, weekly pay stubs from the 1990s can go. (Just remember to shred anything that has personal information).   

Related: How Long You Should Keep Your Tax Returns and Why

Messy Chaos Closet

An Overstuffed Closet

If the closet in your guest room — or any space that will be turned into a makeshift guest room for the holidays — has become nothing but a depository for random items, coats not worn in years, boxes of silverware, paper goods and more, then it’s time to sort it all out. You want to offer your guest a true welcome, not make them feel like you really had no room for them. 

Related: 15 Inexpensive Ways to Make Overnight Holiday Guests Feel at Home   

Wire hangers on pole rod in closet for hanging clothes

Wire Hangers

If your basement rafters hold hangers from multiple trips to the dry cleaners, move them along. They may have been free, but they are no friends to the longevity of your clothes. The flimsy holders really can damage your outfits.  

car needs cleaning

A Messy Car

During the holiday season you may be driving guests around or carpooling to a gathering of friends. The last thing you want is for them to step into your car and step on your umbrella, sit down on a packet of tissues, or be overwhelmed by the smell of last night’s Chinese takeout. Your car is yet another reflection of you, so keep it neat, clean and fresh. You never want to make someone wish they’d called a car service instead.  

Related: Ways You're Ruining Your Car and Don't Even Know It

Garage Mess

The Garage Pileup

As your car is an extension of you, so is your garage and shed. By nature, these places are meant for storage, but don’t let them get out of hand. When you have stacks of old magazines, tools that are never touched, or anything, really, that isn’t practical for your daily life. Be honest and clear the clutter. Old paint cans, we’re looking at you!     

Colorful warm clothes in the form of hats, gloves and mittens.

Unnecessary Seasonal Wear

As you find yourself reaching for a scarf, do you pull down a storage box filled with a dozen, most never worn? Do you have gloves with a hole in one finger? Perhaps you know, in the back of your mind, that the back of your closet harbors a beach bag filled with three swimsuits that no longer fit. It’s easy to focus on the day-to-day wardrobe needs, but every so often it’s good to look at the bigger picture. Decide, once and for all, that you’ll no longer settle for damaged goods no matter the season.   

Travel size beauty products overhead

Toiletries and Cosmetics

Perhaps you “collect” those hotel mini shampoos or soaps. If so, those on hand are probably pretty outdated. Maybe you’re a sucker for every new hair product that guarantees to fight frizz — or the hubby has multiple canisters of shaving cream on hand. Just like the fridge and pantry, give your toiletries an overhaul. (And that extends to makeup and nail polish, too).   

Somewhere In There.

The Junk Drawer

Sure, everyone has a junk drawer. By nature, it’s designed for, well, junk. But every once in a while, it’s a good idea to dump it out and really go through what’s in there. Do you need those dried-out rubber bands, bent thumb tacks, or the magnifying glass with the broken handle? We didn’t think so.   

Stack of Bills, Letters and Cards on a Desk
John M. Chase/istockphoto

Outdated Paperwork

It cannot be stressed enough, especially in these days of climate change when so many face unexpected problems from disasters ranging from flooding to fires to hurricanes. You should have your important paperwork in order — and safe. A lockbox is a good idea. Identify what your family needs — warranties for appliances you no longer own, for example, can certainly go — and make sure what you do need is safe and can be easily found.    

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Bottles of wine in a knitted cap of Santa Claus.

Extra Gifts

Are you the type who never wants to be caught shorthanded? You buy bottles of wine, picture frames, mugs, cozy socks, cosmetic bags, and neckties, just so you know you’ll always have a last-minute gift if you need one. You might think you’re saving time, but sometimes, these generic gifts show a lack of thought and make the recipient feel insignificant. Take all those random purchases and either donate them to the thrift shop or local nonprofit where they can find a needy (and appreciative) recipient. And remember, if you’re giving a gift to someone, you should care enough to purchase it specifically for them.    

Beautifully Christmas Decorated Home  Interior With A Christmas Tree And Christmas Presents


Okay, we’ve put you through the wringer, urging you to clear out your closet, fridge, whole house, car, shed, and more. Yes, it can be time-consuming and mentally stressful. But once it’s done, we promise you’ll feel lighter and better. “Stuff” can weigh you down, even if you don’t realize it. Once you’ve accomplished the “good riddance” of your things, make a promise to also toss out the negativity. After all, looking toward the New Year with positivity is something we should all try to embrace.    

Related: What to Do If You're Feeling Alone This Holiday