How Long to Keep Records and Household Items

Women standing in the doorway of a cluttered room

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A big contributor to household clutter is not knowing how long to keep certain items in your home. That's because most items don't come with a built-in expiration date. 

If you're suffering from clutter taking over your home, you're not alone—in a survey done by SquareFoot in summer 2016, ​51% of respondents described their home as cluttered and 91% have kept an item because they felt guilty getting rid of it. 

It's time to start clearing out your clutter without the guilt. 

There's no reason to supply valuable real estate to items past their prime that are no longer of use to anyone. Follow this guide and begin tossing, donating, shredding and recycling the items in your home and office that have met their expiration dates.

  • 01 of 09

    Clothes, Shoes, and Accessories

    Items Inside of Closet
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    You might be holding onto some clothes and shoes because, once again, you don't know how long you should keep them. You should get rid of clothing, through donation or consignment, when one of the following happens:

    • You are no longer wearing it regularly
    • The garment is stained or needs repairing and you do not want to spend the money on it
    • It no longer projects the image you want to project to the world

    Even if it was a gift or a cherished possession, you don't have to keep clothing you don't wear. If it's a sentimental outfit, keep a picture of yourself wearing the outfit. 

  • 02 of 09

    Food and Leftovers

    Close up of food in storage containers

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    Food is something you *really* want to be clear on the expiration date once it goes into your refrigerator or freezer. To that end, it's always a good idea to keep masking tape and a marker near your fridge and freezer. This way you can mark containers with an expiration date as your storing them. Here are some "use by" dates for common foods:

    • Dairy: 10 days after purchase
    • Eggs: 3 to 4 weeks after purchase
    • Produce: wrap produce in a paper towel to store. Most goes bad after a week
    • Red meat: use or freeze within 5 days of purchase
    • Fish: use or freeze within 2 days of purchase
  • 03 of 09

    Make Up and Cosmetics

    Cosmetics spilled out on white surface
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    What's the shelf life of your makeup and grooming products? Sometimes it's very tricky to tell since makeup and shampoo often don't come with expiration dates. 

    With most products, you can tell when they "turn" by their smell. But here are some general guidelines:

    • Mascara, gel eyeliner and liquid eyeliner: 90 Days. Bacteria build up is common for anything liquid-y so you really need to stick with 3 months or less for these types of products. Toss them after 90 days. 
    • Liquid foundation: One Year. Stored properly, away from heat, liquid foundation can last for up to a year. Avoid double dipping (i.e. putting your finger into the bottle over and over). it's best to use a sponge or brush so you're not sticking anything into the foundation. 
    • Lipstick, lip stain, lip gloss: 6 Months to a year. Since they are not liquid, they can remain bacteria-free for up to a year.
    • Powders of any kind: Two Years. Unless your powder starts to change color or begins to smell, you should be good to go for up to two years. 
  • 04 of 09

    Newspapers and Magazines

    Woman reading newspaper while husband vacuums

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    This is a huge source of clutter for many households! People like to hang onto their daily papers well past their expiration dates. Here are some guidelines:

    • For the weekday newspaper, recycle these every single day, meaning you keep it no longer than one day. As soon as the next one arrives, the old one goes in the recycling bin. If there's an article or recipe you're interested in, tear it out and put it in your household file
    • For the thicker weekend edition, keep those for a week.
    • For magazines, tear out the sections you want to hold onto and use a notebook to organize them. Toss monthly magazines after a month and weekly magazines after two weeks. 
    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Records, Papers and Financial Documents

    Note reminders in planner
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    ​ How long you keep a document depends on several factors:

    • Is it a legal document? In other words, will you one day need it to prove something?
    • Does it contain financial information that you need for your taxes?
    • Is it sentimental?

    If the answer is yes to any of those questions, you should hold onto that document. If not, it should be shredded. 

  • 06 of 09

    Sneakers and/or Running Shoes

    Woman tying her sneaker laces
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    Using sneakers for longer than you should can lead to injury. Also, old sneakers tend to get pretty gross after you've run or walked in them for a while. Sneakers are done after six months to a year or 500 miles of wear. 

  • 07 of 09

    Spices and Herbs

    Spices lined up in a row on white background
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    A few years back food writer Mark Bittman of the New York Times said to throw spices out after one year, and then everyone told him that was too soon. You can definitely go longer than a year, just make sure to store spices away from your stove. That will extend their usefulness to at least two years. 

  • 08 of 09


    How long to keep sunblock
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    Different sunscreens go bad at different paces base don how much heat they've been exposed to and the makeup of the ingredients. It's best to find a sunscreen that is labeled with an expiration date, barring that, throw sunscreen out after one year.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09


    Toiletries in clear travel pouch
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    If they have an expiration date, throw them out when they reach that date, but most don't, so look for these 3 signs it's time to toss the shampoo:

    • Smells
    • Turn color
    • Changes consistency

    A good rule of thumb is to keep toiletries for a year and then buy fresh ones.