At this time of year, our thoughts turn from excess and hoarding to cutting down and spring cleaning. But how do you know where to start? Here are a few suggestions for things we think you could do with less of in your life...

1. Plastic bags
Do you have a kitchen cupboard that's been completely taken over by shopping bags? Now is the time to put a stop to this unsightly plastic menace. Many of us attempt to be greener by keeping hold of carrier bags instead of junking them, but seldom remember to take them on shopping trips, which is where the problem starts.

The solution: first, make sure you have some good quality re-usable bags, preferably ones that fold up small so you can always keep them with you if you embark upon an unplanned shopping frenzy: Onya bags are especially good and come in a huge range of patterns and colours. Then, round up all your unwanted bags and return any that are still usable to the supermarket: most larger ones have a bag re-use service. Unfortunately you'll have to bin any torn or worn-out bags, as the materials they are made from aren't usually recyclable.

2. Shoes you never wear

Shoes are one of the worst culprits for taking up more space than they deserve. As footwear prices have plummeted, our appetite for shoes has only increased - resulting in a lot of extra bulky items for you to store. You can tackle this problem by doing a shoe inventory: figure out which ones you actually wear, and be honest with yourself about the slightly-too-small heels you couldn't resist buying in a sale or the boots you bought in an unusual colour, only to discover too late that it'll never suit you.

Charity shops get through a lot of shoes, and should be happy to take your cast-offs off your hands. If they're in really good nick, it's worth trying eBay for well-known brands in particular, but if you do need to throw any out, try to find a charity clothes bin before junking them: there's more info on how to find them at Recycle This. Finally, if you don't yet have a shoe tidy at home it's well worth investing: it should dramatically reduce the amount of space they take up.

3. CDs and VHS tapes

If you're hanging on to old VHS tapes, the time has now come to decide whether you want the extra space earned through junking them, or you want to open a museum! These tapes really have drifted into the arena of the obsolete, and unless you have home movies or rare footage stored in this format, there's no real benefit to hanging on to it. All this does is creates a problem next time you move, as you card box-loads of heavy tapes from one home to the next, probably never unpacking at the other end.

The main problem with getting shot of your old "vids" is that they are not very easy to recycle. Charity shops will generally take them, but they do tend to have a bit of a backlog. You may have to resort to throwing them out with the rubbish, but if this doesn't sit well with your green resolutions, try freecycling them first.

4. Old make-up
Make-up doesn't keep forever, but we tend to behave as though it does. Who can honestly say they don't have at least one eyeshadow that's several years old? The odds are you never use it if you do, because you'll find it looks the wrong colour or falls off when you apply it. Using out-of-date cosmetics may even be harmful to your skin, so why are you hanging on to it? Get rid now! The same goes for grimy old soap bars, yellowing body lotion and old toothbrushes; your bathroom cabinet will thank you.


5. Letters and bills
Do you have a lot of old letters, bills and junk mail cluttering up your home? Some of these can go straight into your weekly paper and card recycling, but many of us hang on to old post because of a very reasonable fear over identity theft. Documents that contain a lot of details about us - particularly if they include sensitive information like bank details - are quite rightly best kept behind locked doors.

There is one simple and satisfying solution to the problem: a shredder! Shredding documents not only reduces the amount of space they take up, it makes them completely unreadable, too. You can buy one from about £10. Next, make sure you check the 'paper free' option on as many of your bills and statements as you can: there is little need for having hard copies sent directly to you for anything nowadays and most banks and utilities will gladly let you do this or even reward you for it.

6. Mobile phones
I must have about four mobile phones, but only one of them gets used on a regular basis, or, indeed, works. It's not a bad idea to keep a 'spare' mobile handset if your current phone's predecessor still has most of its faculties, but you certainly don't need to hang on to your old Nokia 3210 or Motorola Timeport unless you want to open a telecoms museum, too.

Mobile phones are one of the easiest gadgets to recycle as there are so many schemes that will accept them: their parts will be of use to someone even if not to you, and you may even get some money for them. Check out Envirophone, Mazuma Mobile or Recycle 4 Charity - the last of which also takes ink cartridges and toners and gives a donation per item to the charity of your choice. 

7. Odd Socks
Every home has a graveyard for socks somewhere, and exactly where single socks disappear to is one of the great mysteries of our time. If you've looked long and hard for that elusive matching sock and can't find it the odds are it's not coming back, so now is the time to let go! Of course, we can't promise that you won't find its partner the minute you throw it away - that's just the risk you've gotta take with socks...

8. Old magazines and catalogues
Magazines can be bulky things, and you only need half a dozen or so glossies to have a big, unwieldy wodge of paper that's hard to keep at bay. They also tend to be quite seasonal, so there is not normally much point in reading one more than a couple of months out of date.

If you've not already read and digested the contents of a magazine within two months, we put it to you that you're never going to. So bite the bullet and recycle them - then think carefully in future whether you really want to spend your hard-earned cash on more publications you may never read! Same advice x1000 for shop catalogues, which become obsolete the moment a new one comes out.

9. Old clothes
Clothes can be some of the trickiest things to part with, especially if they've done you good service in the past, or were very expensive when you bought them. It's certainly true that investing in good quality garments will result in many years of happy wearing, but even the best pieces succumb to wear and tear eventually. So now is the time to sort through your wardrobe with a fresh and more honest eye. Think about weeding out anything you didn't wear much or at all in the past 12 months.

Because of the emotional attachments we have to our clothes, an objective eye can be helpful, so you may want to enlist a friend to tell you just how knackered that designer dress you bought a decade ago is now looking. Or, she may spot a few items she'd like for herself - ridding you of the task of recycling or donating them! 

10. Pretty storage boxes (and their not-so-pretty contents)
For all but the super-organised, boxes of junk seem to be a fact of life. Frequently found on the kitchen worktop, hall table or desk, these catch-all containers are bought with the best of intentions, but often only serve to encourage further chaos.

After you've got rid of the bigger items as detailed above, you'll probably find that you're left with these random piles of oddments, which represent the front line of your old, less-organised life. Be prepared to take a while on emptying them out and inspecting their contents, but the odds are you'll be left with little more than a keyring and a few old batteries: the rest can generally be up-ended into the bin! Do check first though; failure to do so will almost certainly result in you losing an important business card, cash, or an expensive piece of jewellery.

[Shelves image: striatic]

[Make-up image: omaniblog]