Making Friends with Expiration Dates

I love when my clients say they want to organize the kitchen or the bathroom, because I know that expiration dates can be your best friend.

People have varying reactions to discovering that an item’s “use by” date has passed. Some want to toss the item right away. Others say, “Oh, those dates don’t mean anything!” But what do expiration dates really mean?

When it comes to food, as articles on WebMD and Cleveland Clinic explain, the date printed on the package more of  a suggestion regarding freshness rather than an outright statement that the food has gone bad. (The one exception is infant formula, which is the only food required by federal law to have a food quality date on it.) You can usually rely on your eyes and your sense of smell to determine whether a food has turned.

Regarding over-the-counter medications, articles in The New York Times and Harvard Health Publishing explain that you may not get 100% effectiveness past the “discard by” date, but the product will most likely still do its job. If you have a splitting headache and the only analgesic at hand is past its prime, it’s better than suffering!

So why do I say that expiration dates can be your best friend when you are organizing? An expiration date lets you know just how long ago you bought that item. If your Advil expired in 2015, or that packaged cake mix expired in 2016, it’s an indication that you just aren’t using those items frequently enough to warrant keeping them. It’s best to throw them away, especially if you have other packages that are fresher. We often buy something that we think we are going to use but instead we try it once and then never look at again. Or we never even open the package.

Rather than stubbornly clinging to the illusion that you really will use this item, it’s best to accept the reality that you really won’t. Cabinet space is always at a premium, so make room for the stuff that you really do use.