6 Things to Get Rid of Right Now to Make Your Home a Little Safer

published Oct 14, 2019
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Credit: Anna Spaller

Welcome to Risk Month at Apartment Therapy. For the month of October, we’ll look at what risk means in the context of home—whether it’s taking a big design risk when creating your home, dealing with the inherent risks that are associated with owning a home, or anything that involves putting yourself out there without knowing what awaits on the other side. Check out all of our Risk Month content here.

The hardest thing to declutter is anything you’re keeping “just in case.” Hanging on to potentially-useful belongings touches our deep-seated sense of home as our safe haven, our base, our storehouse of what we need to live.

But here’s a secret: The best way to break the ties we have to things that are clogging our spaces is seeing that the reasons we’re holding on to them are smokescreens anyway. In fact, sometimes your “useful someday” items are worse than merely not useful—it might be a bad idea to hang on to them at all. They pose potential risks to the health and safety of your home and the people that live there.

So if you’re looking to reclaim your space, start with these items that each pose a unique downside to storing them for later:

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Items With Old Electrical Cords

Whether it’s the lamps you inherited from your grandmother or the tangle of extension cords your dad collected from garage sales, items with damaged electrical cords are a shock and fire hazard. Look for cords that are loose, frayed, or hot to the touch, if you dare to plug them in. If the corded item is more than 20 years old, you may also want to examine it for modern safety features, like polarized blades (where one prong is larger than the other to make sure it can only be plugged in one way), and a large plug face that covers the outlet’s slots.

If you decide your cords or corded electronics are out of date, you can have the item re-wired or cut the cords and donate it (someone else may love your grandma’s lamps enough to re-wire them).

Recalled Or Outdated Kids’ Gear

Hanging on to baby gear as you’re growing your family saves money and time. All that research, not to mention the money spent, isn’t something to squander. But when these types of items are stored for years in the attic, it’s easy to forget that they may no longer do what they’re supposed to do with the same level of safety. In addition to the toll that time takes on some baby gear, recalls are another factor that can get overlooked when baby items are kept indefinitely.

Here are some kids’ items that are past their prime or considered unsafe and that you can let go of with good reason:

Carseats that are older than six years.

Every carseat has a label with a serial number and date of expiration and using a carseat past this time is risky.

Recalled items.

Before you store or decide to keep items like bassinets, rockers, or cribs, check a recall list. SafeKids.org is one good resource.

Old or cracked helmets.

Much like carseats, helmets break down over time through use and exposure to heat. Inspect the shell for hairline cracks and don’t keep longer than five years, per manufacturers’ recommendation. Also, remember that helmets are single-use safety devices, which means that if they’re worn in a fall, they are compromised and should be replaced.

Credit: Piyawat Nandeenopparit/Shutterstock

Chemicals That Pose Combustion or Indoor Air Quality Hazards

Combustible chemicals like engine oil or gasoline for the weed eater should never be kept near a heat source, such as a water heater or furnace. Paint- or oil-stained rags are combustible, too. Some garden chemicals are also hazardous. Before you stash away any chemicals or chemical-soaked tools after a DIY project, do a little research to make sure it’s safe to do so. And if you’re storing anything right now that you feel iffy about—go ahead and get rid of it. Combustion and inhalation hazards are reasons to think twice about keeping anything along these lines that you don’t absolutely need.

Old or Cracked Wooden Utensils and Cutting Boards

Wooden utensils and cutting boards bring a natural and beautiful element to cooking and they’re surprisingly hygienic when cared for correctly (wood has natural antibacterial properties). But when wooden cutting boards and utensils get cracked, they can collect and harbor food particles and the kinds of bacteria that even the strongest woods can’t dispel.

Small, hairline cracks in wooden cutting boards can be repaired, but if the crack is more than 2 millimeters thick, you’re free to (please do!) let them go.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Expired Food, Condiments, or Beauty Products

Bacteria is also the culprit when it comes to food and personal products that are expired. Canned and packaged food is generally safe to eat after its expiration date; the dates often indicate peak freshness with packaged items. However, there are instances when even packaged food is either too old or unsafe. Discard any canned goods that are more than four years past the date on the package, cracked, dented, bulging, or rusted. Flour and packaged goods that contain oil may taste off when their oils go rancid.

Beauty products often have expiration dates stamped onto or even into their plastic. Sometimes, you may find a PAO symbol (period-after-opening) instead. Using them past the date or PAO time means using a less effective product, which isn’t always a big deal, but can be if the product is something like sunscreen. Outdated products can also cause irritation or introduce bacteria to your skin.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Old or Expired Medication

Like expired food and beauty products, expired medication isn’t necessarily unsafe, but it loses its effectiveness. Consider whether you want to give your cat-allergic, sneezing guest less effective (i.e. expired) allergy medicine when you decide whether to hang on to it or replenish.

Medication also poses a poisoning risk to pets and children. If you have prescription medication that you’re no longer using, check to see if it’s on the FDA flush list. These medications can be deadly and should be discarded immediately. Check out the FDA guidelines for safe disposal of unused medication that isn’t on the flush list.