Just like your fridge, your life requires an occasional deep clean. In each case, the stuff you push to the back will eventually grow moldy (or mutate into something completely unsavory). These sorts of things suck to deal with, and since you know it’s going to be gross, it makes it easy to put off. But if you have the stomach for it, here’s how to deal with the worst of your life’s leftovers.
Those photos of your ex on Facebook
Just delete ’em. According to therapist Ryan Howes, “For many, Facebook is the online ambassador representing your life, your interests and your relationships to any curious passerby. If your ex is prominently displayed, what is your ambassador telling the world?” It’s telling the world, of course, that you’re living in the past. Leaving them up likely means you’re holding onto hope that you’ll get back together, or are afraid of hurting their feelings. But breaking up with someone means their feelings are no longer your concern. In fact, Howes says, taking down the photos might actually help you move on, too.
The resentment you feel from your last job
Let it go the moment you walk out the door, says Howes. “Resentment does absolutely nothing helpful for you, so the idea is to get rid of it and move on as soon as possible.” In fact, he compares resentment to a hot coal, and how long do you want to hold that in your hand? So don’t forget about what happened, but learn from what went wrong. It’s also worth remembering that your resentment doesn’t affect your previous employer one bit — “They sleep peacefully at night,” says Howes — so why torture yourself? The only caveat is if you were treated so poorly you feel the correct thing to do is file a claim, in which case, go right ahead.
The childhood friend you don’t really like
As much as you want to drop that friend from way back who really wants to talk about the good old days, don’t do it — not overtly, at least. According to author and friendship expert Shasta Nelson, it’s not a good idea — or even realistic — to cut someone entirely from your life, especially someone from your distant past who you may still run into at class reunions, funerals or friend group get-togethers.
“We still want that person to be a friendly person in our life, so our goal isn’t to cut them out completely — it’s to be sure we don’t feel obligated to spend more time with them [than we want to], or that we’re trusting them or confiding in them,” she explains. A good way to decrease your interaction with people like this is to keep it simple: Give shorter answers, speak less frequently and definitely don’t initiate any conversations. “We can still be friendly to someone while getting them out of our lives,” Nelson says.
Those college-era clothes you can’t bear to throw away
One of the main reasons we all have so much stuff is that we attach meaning to objects. That definitely applies to your wardrobe: Just going through clothes from your younger days can conjure all sorts of emotions (and probably remind you how much thinner you were back then). Even a ratty old T-shirt can be tough to toss if it reminds you of happy times — throwing it away means throwing away memories.
Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo has become a media sensation for dealing with this very problem. She recognizes the emotional connection we have to our old stuff: In fact, she recommends that you consider your objects’ feelings (for example: Are those old clothes actually happy sitting in the back of your drawer or closet, or in a box?) Next, she says, ask yourself whether each item of clothing still brings you joy. In doing so, you’ll probably admit to yourself that you don’t really want to wear this stuff, even though you can’t bear to let it go.
For proper closure, she believes that as you clean out your closet, you should talk to each item of clothing and thank it for what it’s brought to your life. Yes, it’s strange, but it’s a fitting way to bring closure to the irrational emotional connection we have to our old junk.
Bills, receipts, tax documents and other records
We’ve all had nightmares about getting audited by the IRS, and every year we tell ourselves that we’ll track our expenses better to get every last tax deduction we can. What you end up with, though, is a cluttered mountain of paper or packed shoeboxes, more fire hazard than filing cabinet. So what’s essential and what’s clutter? Let’s break it down:
- Receipts: Just get an envelope! Or get at least a couple: One to check your purchases against your credit card statement, and one for the tax-deductible stuff. Throw away the first group every time you pay your credit card bill.
- Credit card statements: Shred ’em once you pay your bill — they’re all archived online anyway.
- Utility and phone bills: Get rid of them once you get the next statement, unless you need to save specific bills.
- Investment statements: Get rid of them after a year.
For the following, get separate, heavy-duty plastic containers:
- Tax returns, annual pay stubs, deduction documents: You need to keep this stuff for seven years.
- Real estate and home-improvement records: Keep them until you sell your home, plus seven years.
- Vital records, passports, etc.: Hold onto these forever, keep them safe and keep them all together. Turning your home upside-down for your birth certificate — or your passport, right before you leave the country — is never fun.
A surprise inheritance
First of all, keep quiet, and don’t make any big changes like quitting your job or buying fancy stuff. Unfortunately, there are certain types of people who, if they find out, will come asking — somehow, some way — for some of that money.
Don’t feel bad about getting something small for yourself, though: That’s okay.
Now, as for how to spend it: First, handle your existing debts, obviously. Next, write up a wish list. Ordering this list is crucial, because unless you’re a sheikh or an oligarch, you also need to recognize that you probably can’t buy everything on your list. Next, put that list down and take some time before making any big decisions. Finally, consider hiring a wealth manager as a buffer — both from all your new friends and from yourself. No matter how much restraint you think you have, that money probably will start burning a hole in your pocket.
Your actual leftovers
A good rule of thumb, according to nutritionist Jason Boehm, is to either freeze or eat food within three to four days. Even pizza, which ranks among the longest-lasting leftovers, won’t be worth eating past four days or so. (The longest, incidentally, are pasta and mashed potatoes, which — supposedly — can last a week.) For sushi, raw fish and other uncooked meats? Don’t even bother taking them home.
And just remember that whatever you’re saving for later, if it has the faintest sense of funkiness, throw it out just to be on the safe side: Food poisoning sucks so bad that almost no leftover is worth the risk.
As for your Thanksgiving leftovers, Boehm advises putting your turkey into turkey wraps, or putting it on salad once you get tired of sandwiches.