Professional Organizers Share What to Throw Out in the New Year

Person organizing a bathroom drawer

Natalia Kostikova / EyeEm / Getty Images

The start of the new year is the perfect time to get rid of any items you don’t use or need, and reorganize your space so it works better for you.

“I tell my clients, the more stuff you have, the more you need to manage,” shares Katrina Teeple, a professional organizer and founder of Operation Organization, with locations in Los Angeles, California and Dallas, Texas. “You first need to rid yourself of the mindset you can’t get organized. Because the truth is, anyone can live a clutter-free life, it’s simply about making the process a priority and then committing to it!”

Ahead, top organizing experts on what you should be purging this year.

Shopping Bags

“Nearly every home I enter has what I call a ‘bag of bags’,” says Rhea Becker, Owner of The Clutter Queen in Boston, Massachusetts. “Shopping bags are ubiquitous in our world—I urge clients to pare down their collections to a handful and discard the rest.”

"Nobody needs twenty Trader Joe’s bags. Make a basket or designate a drawer for reusable bags and whatever doesn’t fit, recycle," says Meg Markland, Owner, Neat by Meg, Houston, Texas.

Mysterious Keys

“Do you have any idea where or what all those keys in your junk drawer go to?” asks Devin VonderHaar, Creator + CEO of The Modern Minimalist in Portland, Oregon. “If not, toss!"

Baby Gear

“There's so much stuff that comes with kids—toys, sippy cups, clothing—and because they grow so quickly, you really need to do a regular edit of their belongings,” notes Rebekah Bashorun, CEO of Organize For Love in Staten Island, New York. “Pay special attention to large toys or things that take up room on the floor but aren't being played with and those with parts that are broken or missing pieces.” 

"Donate any outdated toys or, if you plan on having more kids, place them (with labels) in weathertight bins and store away for future use," says Markland.

Old Holiday Decorations

“That seasonal decor you didn’t put out this year? If you don’t love it now, you’re probably not going to love it next year or the years thereafter,” says Teresa Dinneen, Owner/Founder of Lifestyled in Redondo Beach, California. “Store décor you know you’ll use in future along with heirloom items, then donate the rest to free up space. This is also the time to take inventory of damaged items and things that need repairing.” 

Sentimental Clutter 

“You don’t want it, you don’t really like it, but you feel guilty, so you keep it. Sentimental items you have inherited are the hardest things to part with yet they take up valuable storage space,” says Christine Stone, Founder + CEO of Neatly Designed in Atlantic Beach, Florida. “Letting go of an item does not mean you are letting go of that person. Take a photo and consign or donate to someone who will use it.” 

"Thinking deeply about each item you discard will affect how you live and how you acquire new things going forward. When embarking on a tidying journey with clients, I urge them to be honest and focus on what they want to keep. Items that should be held onto are things you cherish and bring purpose into your life. Items that do not, can be let go of with gratitude,” says Marie Kondo, Tidying Expert and Owner of KonMari Media, Inc., Los Angeles, California.

Cardboard Boxes

“Just about everybody shops online which translates into lots and lots of cardboard boxes. People hold onto them, convinced they’ll need them one day. In my experience, cardboard is the number one source of trash in homes—a professional organizer’s archenemy! Please—take your boxes to recycling,” says Becker.

Instruction Manuals

“Appliance and other home manuals are often kept for reference, but in reality, most of them can be found online along with YouTube videos. Keep a running list of your appliance brands and model numbers on your computer, then recycle all those booklets,” suggests Marissa Hagmeyer, Co-Founder and COO of Neat Method in Littleton, Colorado. 

Excess Storage Bins

“Many people purchase bins in an attempt to get organized yet the fact is, decluttering is how you get organized,” shares Becker. “Your goal should be to minimize storage, and therefore minimize storage ‘solutions’.”

Old Clothing

“Forget the whole, 'If you haven't worn it in a year, get rid of it' thought process. It’s bad advice because there are many reasons you may not have worn something—you forgot you had it, it needs to be tailored, or you don't know how to style it,” advises Laura Cattano, Founder of Organizational Design in Brooklyn, New York.

“Every seven years is a good time to do a major edit of your wardrobe as your life and style tends to change during that time. Ask yourself, ‘Are you now at home with children? Do you need professional clothing? How often do you attend special events?’ These questions are the basis for what to keep or get rid of," agrees Stone.

“Yesterday’s clothing are reminders of a different time of your life—the outfit you wore at your child’s baptism or the dress you had on when you first met your spouse—but when you purge the past, it allows you to start living in the present with clothes that represent the life you live today," says Stone.

"One way to keep track of how often you wear something is to turn all of your hangers backwards in your closet. By the end of the year, you’ll have a visual representation of which items you wore most along with the ones that didn’t see the light of day," says Hagmeyer.

Dead or Dying Plants 

“Lifeless plants perpetuate the idea our living space isn't deserving of love and care. If a plant can be revived great, but if it can't, then let it go and start over,” shares Bashorun. “Compost any dead plants and next time, be more intentional about your choices, ensuring your home provides the right light and ventilation for them to survive.”

Coupons

“Stop the snip!” exclaims C.Lee Cawley, Organizing Expert & Educator of Simplify You in Arlington, Virginia. “Put your scissors away and cease clipping coupons. Instead, download the stores' app or subscribe to their emails to receive paperless discounts.” 

Unused Kitchen Tools

“How many wine openers, vegetable peelers and wooden spoons do you really need? And what about all those kitchen gadgets that are hard to use, difficult to clean and a pain to store? Edit and give away all the duplicates,” suggests Cattano.

"Never buy sets of anything. Instead, purchase the few knives and pots you actually use which won’t necessarily save you money but will save you space," says Cattano.

Plastic Storage Containers

“Toss containers that are stained or missing lids, then enjoy all the space you’ve gained in your kitchen,” says Teeple.

Outdated Tech 

“If you no longer have a way to play all those CDs, DVDs, floppy disks, and VHSs, they’re simply taking up precious real estate in your home,” says VonderHaar. “Take these devices to an electronics recycling center or pass them along to a person who may have a use for them.”

"Don’t let an item you paid a lot of money for guilt you into keeping it. If you don’t love or use it, sell, consign or donate it to a charity," says Stone.

Wire Hangers

“There’s a reason dry cleaners give wire hangers away for free—they’re not very durable, they bend easily affecting a garment’s shape and they don’t hold onto clothes well, making an even organized closet feel messy. Opt for velvet or wood hangers when considering hangers instead,” says Rachel Rosenthal, Organizing Expert & Owner of Rachel and Company in Washington, DC. 

"There’s something about the uniformity of having the same type of hanger that keeps things tidy. You don’t need to break the bank—check out your local dollar store for inexpensive bundles of white hangers," says Teeple.

Worn Out Socks and Underwear

“Things we wear on a daily basis like worn out socks and underwear are often overlooked. Discarding them is a simple way to kick-start your organizing motivation—it takes very little time and it's hugely satisfying,” shares Holly Blakey, Owner & Founder of Breathing Room Home in San Francisco, California.

"Start the new year with a fresh drawer filled with undies that are in A+ condition," says Janelle Cohen, Founder, Straighten Up by Janelle, Los Angeles, California.

Old Bed Sheets

“No one needs to be storing bedding they don’t use. Many people have linens that match up to beds they don’t even have in their homes anymore. Recycle and donate—most animal shelters will gladly accept old linens,” shares Rosenthal.

Receipts

“Toss old receipts or switch to a digital format if you're in the habit of holding onto them. Many retailers offer emailed receipts to help reduce paper clutter,” notes Louisa Roberts, Professional Organizer of Neat Method in New York, New York.

Empty Shoe Boxes

“If you wear and love shoes, keep them out on a shelf so you can see them and know what you have. They won’t do you any good sitting out of sight in a box, plus the empty box on a shelf or the floor is just taking up valuable storage space,” shares Cohen.

"If you prefer to keep your shoes boxed up, opt for clear bins instead so you can see them—or you won't wear them!" says Markland.

Junk Draw Items 

“Edit your junk draw at the beginning of each year. Old batteries, broken chargers, happy meal toys—should all find their way into the garbage,” notes Jenkins.

One-Time Use Items

“Products such as chopsticks, paper towels, and makeup wipes can quickly turn into clutter. I urge people to re-strategize when making these types of purchases and invest in items that will serve a longer purpose, especially as reusable items are better for our environment,” notes Kondo. “Consider cedar chopsticks that are dishwasher safe, washable dish cloth options versus single use paper towels and reusable makeup wipes.”

Cords and Cables

“You don’t need a box filled with obsolete and/or broken cords and cables, especially when you don’t know what they go to,” advises Cattano. “Stores like Staples and Best Buy often accept old cables and cords for recycling.” 

Toiletries

“Most of us reach for the same beauty products every day so why clutter your space with extra products you don’t use, including face soaps you tried and didn't like, serums that made your skin break out, makeup colors that are now out of style and expired sunscreens that no longer offer protection,” asks Dinneen. “Moving into the new year, look for multitasking products that help streamline your beauty stash.”

Junk Mail

“Many of my clients have no system for dealing with mail—in fact, some have collected a decade’s worth of unopened mail!" says Becker. "I recommend setting up a station with a wastebasket at the spot where you open your mail so it can be sorted daily. Save the important stuff and immediately discard the rest,”

Plastic Cutlery

“People have drawers filled with takeout cutlery...but it’s best to let all of that go and make better use of your storage space. Find places to donate or recycle the extra sets in your kitchen,” notes Rosenthal. 

Gifts You’ll Never Use 

“Don’t feel obligated to keep an unwanted birthday or holiday present. Decide whether to donate or regift it, but whatever you do, don’t shove it into the back of your closet,” advises Dinneen.

Paper Items

“Downsize the amount of paper that has accumulated in your home throughout the year with a ruthless edit. Go through mail, correspondence, and children’s artwork and sort by ‘toss’, ‘shred’, ‘file’, and ‘to-do’,” suggests Hagmeyer.

Hotel Minis

“You’ll gain valuable drawer and cabinet space in your bathroom by letting go of the stash of hotel toiletries collected from your travels. Keep your favorites for your toiletry bag and send the rest to your local homeless shelter,” says Stone.

To-Go Coffee Cups

“When you set the boundary of only keeping to-go drinking vessels that fit into your car’s cup holder, it takes the guesswork out of what to keep and what to toss,” notes Teeple.

Desk Items

“To ensure you start the year off on a productive note, keep your home work space organized,” says Kondo. “Sort through paperwork from the previous year and decide if it’s something you need to hold onto. If so, develop an organization system to file things away neatly. If there are things you no longer need, practice mindful discarding of these items to help ease the environmental impact.”

Coins and Tokens

“Most people have jars filled with coins and tokens sitting in their home. Let go of anything completely not useful, then take any monies to the bank before disposing of the jar,” says VonderHaar.

Water Bottles

“We're all well intentioned with wanting to drink more water and being eco-friendly. However, thermos-type water bottles often pile up and take up a lot of space,” notes Bashorun. “If you find the back of your cabinets are filled with water bottles that go unused, it's time to recycle, donate, or throw out those bad boys.”