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10 Things to Purge at the Start of the New Year

It's time to toss the old toothbrushes and takeout menus

A side by side image that shows two worn toothbrushes a person holding a prescription pill bottle and a makeup brush

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Why wait until spring to clean and organize your life? The start of a new year is the perfect time to refresh and reset. Here are 10 simple things you can do to start fresh in 2020.

Toss your old toothbrush

How long has your toothbrush been hanging around? The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends replacing toothbrushes every three to four months, or more often if the bristles on your brush are visibly matted and frayed. Start the new year with a new toothbrush and buy a multipack so you have replacements on hand throughout the year.

Replace your kitchen sponge

Your kitchen sponge is meant to wipe down surfaces and scrub pots and pans. But how much cleaning is it actually doing? Researchers have found that kitchen sponges are “the biggest reservoirs of active bacteria in the whole house,” and some of the bacteria they harbor can cause illness, according to a study in Scientific Reports. Zapping unwanted germs by boiling or microwaving sponges doesn't do much good. The same study found that sponges regularly sanitized by these common cleaning methods did not contain less bacteria than uncleaned ones, and even had an increased abundance of some bacteria. The study's authors recommend replacing kitchen sponges weekly.

Clean out the condiments

The new year is a great time to sort through all the half-empty jars of pickles and bottles of barbecue sauce that litter the side door of the fridge. Some condiments will need to be tossed (anything fuzzy is a no-go); others can be incorporated into new dishes. (Check out Bon Appetit's list of 10 ways to use up your nearly empty sauces and dressings.) For those that get to stay: Group condiments together so you know what you have and where it is.

While you're at it, clean out the whole fridge

Yes, this is a slightly more daunting task, but one that's necessary, especially when it comes to staying healthy. Make sure the fridge temperature is set between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says. And do not use solvent cleaning agents or abrasives to wipe up spills on the shelves. Warm, soapy water will do the trick. Don't neglect the condenser coil, a critical part that helps keep everything cool. It's usually located either on the back of or underneath your fridge. Check your owner's manual. Unplug your fridge, then go over the condenser coil several times a year with a brush or vacuum cleaner to remove dirt and lint buildup that could affect the appliance's ability to maintain proper temperature, the USDA says.

Get rid of expired medicines

Is your medicine cabinet overflowing with pill bottles? Get rid of the drugs you no longer need, as well as any expired over-the-counter medications. The best way to dispose of old and unwanted medicine is to take it to a drug drop-off or take-back site. (Check the Food and Drug Administration's website to find a location near you.) If you can't make it to one of these sites or there isn't one nearby, the FDA has instructions on how to properly flush or throw away medicine.


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Wash your makeup brushes

Over time, makeup brushes collect dirt, oil and bacteria that can lead to breakouts. Experts at the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommend washing makeup brushes once every seven to 10 days in lukewarm water to minimize the risk of a rash or breakout from a dirty brush.

Tackle the tech drawer

There's a price to pay for keeping up with technology, and that's a growing collection of old phones, chargers, tablets and computers. If you have a device that still works, donate it to a charity or a nonprofit that could put it to good use. Take electronics that are past their prime to a designated electronic waste (e-waste) drop-off center so they can be recycled. Most municipalities have one; large retailers including Apple and Best Buy also collect and recycle e-waste.

Clean out your emails

Tired of logging in only to find pages of unopened emails in your inbox? It might be time for an “unsubscribe” spree. Go to your inbox and open each legitimate email you've subscribed to that you want gone. Think email newsletters you no longer read and offers from retailers you no longer frequent. Scroll down to the small print at the end of each message. That's where you should find the unsubscribe button or link, which allows you to opt out of future emails. It'll take some time, but the payoff is a less cluttered and more manageable inbox. As for the junk emails you don't recognize, rather than unsubscribing, it's safer to mark them as “spam” so they no longer show up in your inbox. Why? Clicking the unsubscribe button in a scam phishing email can alert the scammer that your email address is active — resulting in even more scam emails.

Organize the junk drawer

The start of the new year is also a good time to get a handle on the collection of hair ties and headphones that make their way to the junk drawer. And don't forget to toss out old takeout menus and broken pens. Designate a bag or small bin for loose change, and make sure tools that you use often (screwdriver) or might use in an emergency (flashlight) are easy to access.

Straighten up the sock drawer

Have a lone sock that still hasn't found its match? Clear it from your drawer — and the same goes for any with holes in the toes. Getting the sock drawer in order can save you some time on busy mornings so that you're not scrambling for an intact or matching pair.

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