Returning to your childhood home and crawling back into your old bed can seem sentimental, but the truth is, that mattress probably should have gone in the garbage a long time ago.
And it’s not just that old bed. And it’s not just your parents’ house. No matter who you are, chances are, you’re surrounded by stuff you should be getting rid of. Here’s a quick guide to when it’s time to replace a few key household items.
A pillowcase can only protect a pillow so much. It’s still made of absorbent fiber, so rest assured that body oils, dead skin, and dust mites are making their way into the stuffing. You should be washing your pillows every three to six months, but according to sleep psychologist Dr. Michael Breus, you should replace regular polyester pillows every six months, and memory foam pillows between 18 months and 3 years.
You might have heard that the weight of a mattress can double over the course of eight to ten years, from dead skin, dust mites, and their fecal matter. Yes, a lot of that stuff does accumulate in your mattress over the years, but that ratio is extreme. Regardless, the National Sleep Foundation recommends changing out your mattress every 10 years. According to a study at Oklahoma State University, replacing your mattress after five years can even improve sleep and lessen back pain. Feel guilty chucking a perfectly usable mattress? Donate it via Freecycle, or try taking it a part and recycling the pieces.
Yeah, you’re going to need those paint cans sitting in your garage one day, right? For touch ups! Well, after a while they do lose their luster. Bob Vila says that oil-based paints can last for 15 years, and water-based for 10. Within those time frames, if you can still stir it, it’s probably fine, but if it has frozen at some point, or has lumps, then chuck it. Don’t put it down the sink, though. For water-based paint like latex and acrylic, absorb it with double the amount of clay cat litter and throw it in the garbage. Oil-based paint is a little trickier; check with your state’s Department of Environmental Conservation or call city hall to find out about household waste collection day in your neighborhood.
One of those things you hopefully never have to use, it’s easy to let a fire extinguisher go unchecked for years and years. According to a local fire captain with the Los Angeles Fire Department, the California state fire code recommends replacing or refilling dry chemical (the most common kind you get from the hardware store) fire extinguishers after five years. It’s imperative to maintain one that will do its job right in case your experiments in the kitchen go awry. Contact your local fire department to help you test or dispose of an old fire extinguisher. They should be able to test units’ pressure and functionality, but if you want it refilled, you would typically have to contact a licensed private company (search “licensed fire protection systems” to find one locally).
You grab some batteries from the drawer for your trusty flashlight on the way out the door to go camping, only to find they’re out of juice. Check the expiration date on the package for these energizing little power sources—generally alkaline batteries can last around five to ten years and lithium batteries last ten to fifteen years. (Some people believe storing batteries in the refrigerator will extend their life, just like food, but it’s a myth. Keep your batteries at room temperature). Since these everyday staples are toxic in landfills, what are you to do with used or expired ones? Typically, you can drop them off at the library or post office, where they’re often collected for recycling. This goes for internal power supplies in electronics as well.
Fresh new pillows will definitely induce a long, blissful sigh the first time you lay your head down—a fire extinguisher, not so much. But after purging a few things literally gathering dust in your home, you’ll feel safe and sound.
Illustration by Karley Koenig
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