When we talk about the steps you need to take to get healthier, they often involve buying new things: workout clothes, fitness equipment, ingredients for healthy recipes, and the list goes on. But becoming the healthiest version of yourself also means throwing away the stuff that’s holding you back—and we don’t only mean junk food. Get your recycling or garbage can ready!
- Old plastic containers
Go through your collection of food-storage containers and toss anything made of clear, rigid plastic, and stamped with a 7 or “pc” (stands for polycarbonate). “These are the types of containers that may contain BPA,” says Sonya Lunder, MPH, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group, who also advises tossing warped or cracked containers.
While manufacturers have taken BPA out of many of the newer polycarbonate containers, old ones still probably have it. “Glass is safer in general,” she says.
- Air fresheners
Though some companies have recently announced they’re phasing out phthalates, which are used to help fragrance linger longer, many air fresheners (solids, sprays, and plug-ins) still contain this type of chemical, which in large doses may have harmful effects on reproduction or development.
- Antibacterial soap
Antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing bacteria than the regular stuff—and they may not be safe, according to a 2014 FDA report. Triclosan, the active ingredient in antibacterial cleansers, has been shown to alter hormone regulation in animals, and there’s also concern that the chemical may contribute to antibiotic resistance.
- Your stash of diet soda
If you haven’t already, you may want to reconsider your diet soda habit—especially if you’re trying to lose weight. A much-buzzed-about study published in the journal Nature found that non-caloric sweeteners such as saccharin, sucralose and aspartame may mess with the gut bacteria that play a key role in healthy metabolism. Researchers found a link between these sweeteners, altered gut microbes, glucose intolerance and metabolic syndrome (both precursors to Type 2 diabetes) in mice and humans.
- Worn-out running shoes
Most running shoes should be replaced every 300 to 400 miles, says Jason Karp, MD, exercise physiologist and author of Running for Women. For a runner who logs 30 miles a week, that’s about every three months. When shoes wear down, they lose their cushioning and are less capable of absorbing the impact of your foot landing with each step, so more force is transmitted to muscles, bones, and tendons, putting you at risk for injuries, he explains. If you’re not a runner, replace them about every six months, or as soon as you notice that the tread is looking worn out.
- Frayed toothbrush
If you’re brushing in the morning and the evening like you’re supposed to, then your toothbrush bristles are probably becoming frayed and worn faster than you realise. “In my experience, bristles start to fray after about two months of use, so I recommend my patients replace their brushes every three months,” says American Dental Association spokesperson, Ruchi Sahota, who is a practicing dentist in California. Worn-out brushes are less effective at cleaning teeth and fighting off decay.
“In the end, we are what we think about, and what we think about is heavily influenced by what we keep around us,” says motivational speaker and life coach, Gail Blanke, author of Throw Out Fifty Things. She calls the things that neither serve a specific purpose nor exist to make you feel good “life plaque”: “The more life plaque we pile around ourselves, the less we can focus on what we really care about,” she explains. Not sure where to start? Toss things that annoy you every time you see them, like socks that have lost their match, or your overflowing kitchen junk drawer.
- Leftovers lingering in the fridge
When it comes to highly perishable food that contains animal ingredients, the rule of thumb is to eat, toss, or freeze after three days, says Michael P. Doyle, PhD, director of the Centre for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. “Listeria is linked to scary things like meningitis, miscarriages, and even death,” he says. “It can grow to millions at refrigerator temperatures in under a week.”
- Stretched-out bras
When’s the last time you went bra shopping? The elastic in bras can get stretched out over time (the washing machine speeds up this process) which means less support for your girls. “Replacing a bra whenever it no longer lends comfort and support will help reduce back pain in heavier women, and can slow the natural process of aging in breast tissue,” says breast specialist Kristi Funk, MD.
- Smart devices
You don’t need to toss your iPhone or Android out completely (phew!), but you should definitely unplug from time to time. Mounting research indicates that information overload—what happens when you use smart devices constantly—is linked to depression and anxiety. Recent studies suggest that this is particularly true for people who are overly attached to their smartphones and tablets, and for those who use multiple devices at once (which experts call media multitasking). Power down and stow your devices in a drawer at least a few times per week to give your brain a break‚ ideally on a set schedule (for example, weekdays after 9 p.m. or weekend mornings before noon).