We all have junk drawers. And we all have various junk floating around closets and garages we know we need to get rid of.
And on top of those piles of junk, many of us also have certain items we straight up keep—and add to—without even thinking about it. But sometimes this habit can ultimately lead to an unfortunate (mild to moderate) case of hoarding.
Do you have this problem? I certainly do. And some of the odd things I can’t seem to throw away are shared by others—and listed below. Read on to find out some weird things people hoard and how to purge them if you do the same.
1. Tons of totes
The No. 1 thing people seem to hoard? “Free tote bags,” says Marissa Hagmeyer, co-founder of the NEAT Method, a nationwide professional organizing company. “I frequently find an entire closet or pantry floor full of them.”
Hagmeyer encourages her clients to pare down their collection to only a few totes.
“I ask them to realistically think about how many totes they can use at one time,” she explains.
The remaining tote bags are donated or used to carry other donations to a drop-off center. But the best strategy for getting rid of tote bags is not accepting free ones in the first place.
“Just say no,” says Hagmeyer.
2. Ancient paperwork
“I see plenty of clients hoarding old paperwork and receipts,” says David Aylor, CEO of South Carolina’s David Aylor Law Offices.
Some paperwork—such as old tax returns and financial records—is necessary to keep, at least semipermanently. But when you’re holding on to a 20-year-old receipt for a computer that you don’t own anymore? It’s time to purge.
Pay stubs and monthly financial statements need to clutter your desk for only a year. And toss utility bills after one month.
“Keep taxes and supporting financial records for seven years, then shred them to protect your sensitive financial information,” says Aylor.
3. Buttons, buttons, buttons
“I like to hoard buttons,” admits Setlla from Gobadtips.com, a website dedicated to food storage and spoilage. “I think they’re cute and I find nifty little boxes to store them in.”
But the truth is, those cute little buttons can pile up. For Setlla, the button brigade became overwhelming and she had to figure out a way to winnow the herd.
“Now I use the buttons to make small handmade objects such as embellishments for woolen dolls, button paintings, or on earrings,” she says.
4. Plastic shopping bags
James Crawford, co-founder of the shopping voucher website DealDrop.com, recalls helping an elderly relative move to a nursing home.
“My job was clearing her house,” he explains. “She was always a tidy person, and it should have been straightforward.”
So Crawford wasn’t prepared when he found a home crammed full of plastic shopping bags.
“Everywhere I looked—in every room, in the garage, in the attic, under beds, in every cupboard—there were thousands of plastic shopping bags neatly folded away.”
Crawford found a charity that took the bags to use in its shops. And a classified ad he placed led to a crafts group taking some for an art project.
“But I often wondered why my relative didn’t just buy a reusable shopping bag,” he adds.
5. Pens and pencils
“I know, I know, pens are always handy to have,” says Marty Basher, organization and decluttering expert with Modular Closets.
We all have had a time when we really needed a writing implement but didn’t have one. That said, no one needs enough pens or pencils to supply an entire school.
To purge pens, Basher advises testing each one to see if it works. Throw away any that don’t. If you still have more than a large cup can hold, donate any you got as a giveaway or don’t like.
For pencils, toss broken or stubby ones. If they’re mechanical pencils, chuck any that are out of lead or erasers.
You’re at a store and you see the cutest mug in the world. You buy it, take it home, and realize your mug shelf is already stuffed—with the world’s cutest mugs.
“Go through your collection, and set aside any that have nostalgic value or are your absolute favorites,” advises Basher. Give away or donate the rest of the mugs.
“If you can’t part with enough mugs to make a dent, repurpose some into small planters,” adds Basher. “Simply drill a small drainage hole into the bottom.”
7. Takeout containers
“The weirdest thing I’ve hoarded are plastic takeout containers,” admits James Jennings, creative manager of Home Garden HQ, one of the United Kingdom’s top home gardening sites.
Think: disposable plastic cups, boxes, bowls, lids, deli containers, and sushi trays.
Yet Jennings has a creative way to purge.
“As a master gardener, I use plastic containers as pots for my seedlings and grow some of my plants in them,” he explains. “This way, I turn my hoarding addiction into a recycling endeavor.”
“I have yet to go to someone’s house, look through their condiments, and not find at least three expired ones,” says Basher.
Other common problems: a fridge door crammed with 10 types of mustard or a jam jar with a half-teaspoon left.
To unburden your fridge, go through all your condiments and check the expiration dates. If they’re old or mostly empty, trash them. If you have some that are unopened and not expired, donate them to a food pantry.
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