25 things you have permission to throw away

The new year is an ideal time to get rid of clutter and start fresh. But for a lot of us, parting ways with our “stuff” can be difficult. It seems that one of the Laws of the Universe is that as soon as you throw out something, you will need it two weeks later. Still, getting rid of unused and obsolete items refreshes your home — and your psyche — so start 2017 with a clean slate. 

Plastic food containers: You have a cabinet full of mismatched plastic containers and lids. Throw them all in the recycling bin and start from scratch with a new set.

Takeout menus: They take up a lot of room, and don’t you just look online now, anyway?

Magazines: If you haven’t read them yet, you’re not going to. 

Old suitcases: I have a relative who has an entire bedroom filled with old suitcases, and I’m not talking about the cool vintage kind.  Donate these to thrift stores for people who can use them. 

Greeting cards: I’ve kept certain cards with meaning, like the one that my Grandpa sent me when I went away to college, but for the most part, don’t save them year after year.

Hangers: They multiply like rabbits in the closet. Get rid of any you don’t need.

Loose change: Obviously, don’t throw it away. Take it to a Coinstar machine: If you exchange it for an Amazon voucher, you don’t even have to pay a service fee. Or better yet, toss it all in the tzedakah box and donate it to a good cause. 

Old towels and blankets: Your local animal shelter will love them.

Outdated electronics: I have an old VCR that I still haven’t thrown out. This will be the year. Check with your city about environmentally friendly disposal.

Old wedding favors: This is one reason I don’t like wedding favors. You keep tacky tchotchkes on display because your friends’ names are on them. 

Random vases: Unless you’re a florist, you don’t need these space hoggers.

Old socks and underwear: If they’ve lost any stretch or have holes, say bye bye.

Old files and financials: After seven years, you can dispose of tax returns. And go through your file cabinets and clean house. See if there’s a community shredding event in your neighborhood where you can take files and dispose of them safely. (Culver City, for example, has one every month.)

Unused furniture: It’s difficult to sell unwanted furniture, so make peace with giving it away. People looking through the “free” listings on Craigslist will take anything.

Books you’ve already read: Donate gently read books to the library or a hospital. My neighborhood has several of those “Little Free Libraries” in people’s front yards, so I’ll sometimes drop off books in them.

Dead plants: If it’s too sad to throw away a dead plant, put it in the composting heap.

Dried flowers: No, they’re not pretty anymore.

Unused cookware: Scratched non-stick pots and dented saucepans take up valuable space in the cabinets. Invest in cookware that lasts.

Extra cables and wires: We’re all guilty of holding onto them just in case. In case of what? That you’re going to open a Radio Shack franchise out of your home?

Promotional T-shirts: These are not fashion.

Empty boxes: Use them to load everything you’re throwing out.

Old IKEA tools: Every time you assemble a piece of furniture from IKEA, you get a new Allen wrench. You don’t need to keep the old ones.

Abandoned remote controls: Do they turn on anything? Are there even batteries in them?

Extra buttons: They come with new clothes, but have you ever replaced a button?

And finally: Anything that you can’t get rid of because “you got such a deal on it.”

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself  projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

What I learned as a designer on a TV home makeover show

Have you ever wanted to have your home redecorated on a television show? Several years ago, I was cast as an on-camera designer for a cable home makeover series. 

It was fun being on the show, and I enjoyed the challenge. In addition to the demands of decorating a room and keeping to a strict budget and a tight timeline — all while smiling for the camera and making sure I didn’t have lettuce from lunch stuck in my teeth — I also had to please the producers and the homeowner. The experience helped me to be better at thinking of solutions on the spot, at making fast purchasing decisions and at holding clients’ hands to assuage their fears. 

The makeover show also taught me some valuable lessons about design that have greatly influenced how I approach decorating.

Color transforms a room

I’ve always loved color. But for makeover shows, a paint job is the most important ingredient of a good “before and after” video montage. Without a pop of color, there is simply not a big enough change. And we’re not talking a nice shade of tan here. The more vibrant the color, the more dramatic the reveal. 

But I also learned from filming the show that people can respond very negatively to color, especially when they’re used to white or off-white walls. On one episode, I painted a room a rich shade of green that I thought felt very “Zen.” However, the homeowner stole a peek at the room before it was ready, and she freaked out over the new color. To help get her “green light,” if you will, to continue with the makeover, I showed her other color swatches from which she could choose. She eventually chose another green hue that, in truth, was really quite similar to the one I had first chosen. The homeowner loved this new green, but I think that one of the reasons she did was that she’d had time to get used to the room not being white anymore. 

Now, when I work with design clients, I warn them that there is a chance they may hate a color when it first goes on the wall, because they aren’t used to it. With that warning, they usually end up loving it.

Clutter ruins the shot

Nothing looks worse on camera than clutter. The first time I was ever on television, my home was featured on HGTV, and the host took me under her wing to show me how things looked through the lens. She pointed to one of my bookshelves on the playback monitor and said, “Look how busy that looks. The camera picks up everything.” I never forgot that. We get used to the clutter in our lives and don’t even notice it anymore. But the camera sees it and accentuates it.

When I started doing television makeovers, I was keen to make sure clutter disappeared. I didn’t accomplish this by putting everything in the driveway while we filmed. That would be cheating. Instead, I purchased bookcases and cabinets so everything would have its place. In fact, all of my on-screen clients were short on storage spaces. They actually piled up things on the floor rather than stashing them away. I have a saying: “If there’s room for junk, there’s room for bookcases.” Organizing clutter and hiding it in cabinets resulted in some spectacular before-and-afters.

The same goes for my “real-life” decorating clients. I find that a trip to Ikea — or a similar furniture store — for a storage shopping spree is often the first step in decluttering and beautifying a home. 

Good design solves a problem

Perhaps for dramatic purposes, there was always a decorating dilemma I had to solve in each of the television makeovers I did. One person wanted her “girly” bedroom to become more adult. One needed a garage converted into a home office. Another person who worked out of his home needed his living room to be a comfortable meeting space for clients. 

But even though these challenges were put into the script to create a more interesting show, they reminded me that good design isn’t about making things pretty, it’s about making things better. Having concrete goals in mind during these home makeovers actually made the task easier, because it narrowed the possibilities. I knew exactly what the problem was, so I was able to create a solution. 

When redecorating a space, we need to think of how it fits into one’s lifestyle. What is working about it, and what isn’t? How can the design help with the space’s intended use?

I recently designed an office space for a therapist who specializes in working with teens. My objective was to create a welcoming space that would be calming for the young clients, but also reassuring for their parents. Everything I chose, from the wall colors to the style of furniture to the accessories, had those intentions in mind. The challenge of making the space suitable for teens resulted in a much better design than if I had been simply designing an attractive, but generic, office.

Personality is everything

When casting for homeowners who needed makeovers, the producers looked for people with big personalities. It made for more interesting television. And you know what? It made for more interesting design. I had one on-screen client who was a poet who exuded warmth and positivity. She was one of those people who made you feel good just by talking with her. So even though my initial assignment was to create an office space for her, I gave the space a dual purpose as a meditation room, decorating the walls with life-affirming lines from her poetry so she would be surrounded by positive insights as she worked. It captured who she was.

I’ve seen a lot of home makeover shows on which they create beautiful rooms, but the spaces end up looking alike in every episode, because they don’t reflect the homeowners’ unique personalities. That’s why I encourage people not to decorate their home so they look like a page from a furniture catalog. I encourage people to create a space that shows off who they are — quirks and all. You are not generic; your home shouldn’t be, either.

You can get it done 

On television, with the magic of editing, we tried to make it look as if it was easy for me to redo someone’s space in a matter of hours — by myself. But the reality was there was an entire team of people behind the scenes doing all of the work, from painting to carpentry to moving furniture. In fact, I didn’t do any of those things. For example, the painter would paint the entire wall, and then they’d film me holding the paintbrush doing the finishing touches. 

The lesson here that I try to impart to do-it-yourself decorators is to give yourself a break. If you can’t finish your home project in a weekend, don’t worry about it. You’ll finish it when you finish it. When I’m decorating in my own home or for a client, I don’t have the resources of a television construction crew doing all of the work for me. You probably don’t, either. So feel good knowing that, considering that you’re doing it on your own, you’re very much a design star. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Kosher Feng Shui

Jayme Barrett wants you to close your bathroom door and keep the toilet seat down.

That is the feng shui (pronounced fung shway) way of assuring that the positive energy that comes from clearing out your clutter and creating love, wealth and fame will stay in the appropriate places in your house and not drain out every time you flush the toilet or pull a plug.

Tips like these made 35-year-old Barrett, the author of “Feng Shui Your Life” (Sterling Publishing), one of Los Angeles’ leading experts in this ancient Chinese art of object placement. Barrett has feng shuied the homes of Hollywood celebrities, and she has guided many others in creating calm and prosperous home and office environments.

But now Barrett would like the Jewish community to understand that even though feng shui is an Eastern discipline, it is one that is wholly symbiotic with Judaism. As she explains it, objects like mezuzot fill the house with divine energy, and clearing out clutter is akin to cleaning your house for chametz (leavened foods).

“From a kabbalistic perspective, it means you are clearing away the objects that keep you enslaved,” Barrett said. “When you clear up clutter, you are also taking away the things that are depleting you, and then you can purposefully place items in your house in a way that helps you move forward in your life.”

Barrett says that Jews actually need feng shui to keep their Judaism going.

“The home is the center of Jewish life in a lot of ways — it’s where you have Shabbat dinners — and it needs to be a place that emanates peace and order for you to feel happy and comfortable,” she said. “If your home is a wreck, you are less likely to invite people to your house for Shabbat.”

Barrett advises her Jewish clients to put tzedakah boxes in their “wealth center” (one of nine energy centers Barrett says comprise the home) to keep the money flowing in their lives, and she tells married couples to hang their ketubbot opposite their beds.

“You need to create positive energy every day, and you have the power to do it,” she said.

Jayme Barrett will sign copies of “Feng Shui Your Life”
on Aug. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at –Village Books, 1049 Swarthmore, Pacific Palisades.
For more information, visit www.jaymebarrett.com .

Be Your Own Interior Designer

The most important thing to remember in decorating your home is editing. (The same is true of organizing schedules and handbags). Decorating is not about acquisitions but rather about fine-tuning what we have, ruthlessly. Clutter is just that, and a nuisance to tidy and dust. Needless to say, the one design category where accumulating may be acceptable is when you live in an old farmhouse in Wales and you are unaffectedly doing “Sweet Disorder.”


All you really need for great home design are a few great pieces. The selection of these pieces may vary. Look for a great painting or photographs, an amazing old piano, a serious piece of furniture or chandelier. You still must take care to mix these with some other pieces, but the overall viewpoint will be distinguished by the more designed items.


The best color that I have found for walls is named “Linen” on many paint lines. Use an off-white color to contrast slightly on the trim work and doors. If you want to go bolder, consider doing one wall in Rothko Orange or Georgian Rust and the other walls in a warm but neutral coffee shade. This way, the overall look is not overwhelming. Several paint lines are now offering small, reasonably priced “tester pots” that allow you to try the paint on the wall for color and quality.


When you are purchasing a few great pieces, do not forget to buy several area carpets in wool or silk. Traditional patterns with dark ground colors are the best, as they wear well, do not look dated and do not need a lot of cleaning. Wood floors are then the main flooring. Sisal or coir matting is also good as area carpets, and it can be replaced when needed.


It is best to not cultivate nor indulge in any specific style. Waking up in a lime green bungalow or the mall’s version of French Country is just not okay. Well-designed pieces that you appreciate will naturally sit well together.


Do not forget the shmatte! When you go to a fabric shop or showroom, take swatches of the fabrics that you like. Then, ask good questions about the pieces that you have chosen, to be sure that the fabrics will be suitable for specific rooms. For example: Is the fabric durable enough to upholster a sofa that is used by children and dogs when lounging? Will the fabric fade in a sunny window if I purchase it for drapery? What is inter-lining? I am looking for fabric to recover my dining room chairs. Do you have a fabric that is Shabbat-friendly; i.e. crowd and stain resistant? More to the point, fabric that is Uncle Manny-proof?


Just a quick note about children’s rooms: avoid an abundance of novelty and storybook prints that have a theme in mind. Avoid themes altogether.

Being a designer, I naturally want to style everything, and I confess to being overly concerned about my domain. Perhaps my daughter, like all children, will rebel against her mother’s sense of aesthetic control. I tease myself with the thought of her someday living in one room with naugahide seat cushions and plastic mini-blinds. She will be under-styled, unfussed, and, no doubt, altogether happy. And that’s the point: the real secret to designing is to help yourself feel at home.

That Clutter-Free State of Mind

I have got to get my car registered before I collect any more tickets. But before I do that, I really should get around to changing the filter in my Brita water pitcher at home because I’ve noticed some black, metallic specks floating around that are probably doing my liver some long-term damage.

Once I do those things, I’ll have that elusive “clean slate,” a clutter-free state of mind that will free my neurotrans-mitters from the shackles of mindless errands. With my affairs neatly in order, those brain cells will suddenly transform from task-doing drones to bon vivants, just toasting each other in the Algonquin round table-like atmosphere of my newly liberated frontal lobe.

Novels and plays will be written. Philosophies of life will be mulled over, honed and tested.

Then again, I have to call Wells Fargo about the mysterious new checking fee I noticed on my statement. Grandma needs a thank-you note for her annual Chanukah check. My hair hasn’t been cut in six months and it’s pretty hard to clean up that slate with a head full of split ends.

Speaking of which, my whole person needs tending to. There’s that weird mole I’ve been meaning to get checked out on my forearm. One of my wisdom teeth is coming in and I should really get it removed. Come to think of it, isn’t it time for my annual check-up at the doctor?

These things must be done. And when they are, there will be time for me to find some sort of volunteer program and commence my weekly tutoring of under-privileged children.

Of course, I’ll have to return some calls first. There’s my beloved former teacher I’ve been meaning to call back. If my mom doesn’t get her weekly call, she’ll immediately assume I don’t love her before having my face plastered on a milk carton. I’ve got to call my aunt to thank her for having me over for dinner last month. And if I don’t return the vacuum cleaner to my building manager, he’ll come knocking at my door with his creepy Coke bottle glasses at some hideous time of morning.

I know that if I could just trim down the to-do list, I would have a chance to kick back and read some George Eliot. I’ve always meant to read something by George Eliot.

Sadly, that will have to wait. I’ve run out of vitamin powder and must replenish my supply at Trader Joe’s. It wouldn’t hurt to pick up some spare gallons of water and batteries in preparation for any Y2K problems that may arise. Which reminds me, I have nothing to wear for New Year’s eve. Maybe while shopping for a suitable frock, I can finally end my quest for a comfortable bra.

Once I find a comfortable bra, deep thoughts are soon to follow.

And how can I delve into the far reaches of my mind when there’s a mound of clothes collecting on my easy chair that need to be hung up in the closet. That easy chair will be a perfect place for George Eliot reading, that is, once I finally buy a lamp.

High on my to-do list lately has been seeing to the task of figuring out why I can never seem to check everything off that list. The list is like a cell that keeps dividing, an ever-regenerating mutant beast that leaves it’s mark in the form of scattered Post-its, torn envelope scraps, several pages buried inside half-used notebooks, list upon scrawled list in a tattered day planner, a computer file, a legal pad clutched by an unforgiving clipboard.

The thing is, life just gets busier. I don’t even have kids yet and I can barely breathe for all this drowning in details.

I suppose the brain’s job is to just keep coming up with demands, to just relentlessly impose them without giving us a chance to stop and divide them into levels of relative importance. The only way to stop this barrage of details from governing our lives and blocking out more spiritual ideas is to give the mind a rest forcibly. I’ve really been meaning to do this. There’s just no way I’m going to let a water filter stand between me and enlightenment.

That’s why I’ve had “meditate” on my to-do list for months now, hovering between number eight and ten but never really breaking into the top three.

Once I bleach that bathroom sink, though, I’m sure I’ll get to it.

Teresa Strasser is a 20-something who writes for The Jewish Journal.