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13 Household Items You Can Safely Toss Out While Spring Cleaning

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Spring cleaning is the perfect time to unearth junk, clear out attics, and question if you should hold on to something for just a little while longer. There’s a lot to purge you may not have considered, but tossing things out doesn’t have to doom mementos and old bills to a landfill. They can also be recycled or donated—so long as they’re no longer in your house.

1. CHILDREN'S ART

It may sound cruel to toss your kid’s macaroni self-portraits, but elementary school art projects can sure add up. Preserve the memories (and your children’s feelings) by keeping only their best pieces. If that still seems like too much to store, consider scanning or photographing art for memories that won’t take up space in the garage. The key to parsing through kids' drawings and art? Don’t feel bad for being selective—other parents are, too.

2. PILES OF MAGAZINES

Magazine subscriptions are perfect stocking stuffers, airline point savers, and bathroom material. But once all those magazines have been read through, they often pile up in the corners of bookshelves and coffee tables. The problem with magazines are their useful tidbits that convince you to keep them forever—but do you really remember which issue had that pie recipe you wanted to try? If you actually reference back issues frequently, they’re probably worth holding onto. If not, consider clipping favorite recipes or inspiring photos and recycling the rest.

3. OLD RECEIPTS AND BILLS

Don’t feel bad about having a file cabinet full of old doctor’s bills and rent receipts—keeping them just in case a payment dispute comes up or for tax reasons is a solid financial move. But after a while, it is OK to let go of documents you likely won’t need any longer. Hold on to sales receipts until warranties expire or you’re unable to return the item; utility bills can be tossed after a year, along with bank and credit card statements. Keep track of medical bills for three years, and obey the golden paper rule: Anything related to filing taxes should be retained for three years. But feel free to clear out those file cabinets and make room for a new decade of (organized) paper clutter.

4. OUTDATED MEDICATIONS

Between allergy season and aches and pains, it’s easy to build up a stash of over-the-counter and prescription meds. Weeding out old medications can keep you from taking a five-year-old painkiller that may have lost its potency. Many police departments offer drug take-back days to safely dispose of old meds, but if you don’t have one coming up, follow disposal directions on the label. If there aren’t any, the FDA recommends removing medications from their original containers and mixing with coffee grounds or cat litter before tossing out in a sealed bag. Some prescription narcotics can be flushed without poisoning your community water supply, but ask a pharmacist if you are unsure.

5. BROKEN JEWELRY

Purging your jewelry box is just like clearing out the closet—seek out broken pieces, rings that no longer fit, and earrings missing their pair. Fine jewelry can often be recreated into a new piece or sold for materials, though don’t expect anything for cheap mall kiosk items. And it should go without saying: Don’t trash valuable family heirlooms or expensive pieces. If you really dislike the jewels, consider passing them on to another family member. As for that necklace from an ex-boyfriend? Sell it.

6. OLD COSMETICS

Makeup, perfume, and nail polish have a shelf life that often begins the moment you open them. Expiration dates for many products are labeled in number of months (normally found on packaging with a jar and lid icon). But for labels that are removed or nonexistent, examine cosmetics regularly before applying. Makeup that has changed color, smell or viscosity has likely expired. Generally, anything applied to eyelids or eyelashes has a short two- to three-month lifespan while lipsticks, powders, foundation, and nail polish can last between six months and two years. As for all of those sample sizes you collect—use them or lose them.

7. EMPTY PENS AND PENCIL STUBS

It’s a universal bad habit to shove nearly finished pens in a drawer or hold on to pencils for the “good” erasers. Save yourself from future frustration by just tossing pens as they dry up and emptying the junk drawer graveyards full of them. Some office supply stores recycle plastic pens, which is the perfect option for keeping you and the environment happy.

8. DVDS, CDS, AND OLD ELECTRONICS

Technological advances and upgrades leave behind a lot of digital stragglers, like entire CD collections, old music players, and old charger cords. Popping CDs into your computer for one last rip before selling or recycling them can help you let go, but when you're ready to part with all your '90s rom-com soundtracks, many electronics stores will take your old items for recycling or offer buyback programs. Before you drop the heftier items, remember to remove old batteries (which are recycled differently) and delete all personal information.

9. SINGLE SOCKS

Once a sock goes missing, it normally doesn’t come back. Meaning, you can end up stuck with a lot of single socks. Rather than letting them build up in the corner of a drawer or closet, turn them into something new like a bird feeder or pet toy, or take them somewhere that recycles fabrics (like H&M or Levi Strauss, both of which offer future discount vouchers for bringing in unwanted garments).

10. OLD KEYS

Losing keys is unfortunate, but not remembering what that lone unlabeled one is for might be worse. If you’ve been holding onto keys for a long time and have never used them, it’s probably safe to toss them. Most keys are made from scrap metal, meaning they can’t be recycled like aluminum or tin, but some metal recyclers will take them off your hands.

11. CHILDHOOD MEMORABILIA AND KNICK KNACKS

It can be hard to part with trophies, toys, and other childhood items. But if they’ve been in the garage collecting dust, the time has come to weed through what’s worth keeping and displaying—and what should get tossed. It’s easy to be sentimental when going through memorabilia and knick-knacks, but culling your collection can help you reconnect with favorite items. Even if you choose to get rid of items, taking photos before donating or throwing away can resolve the sadness of letting them go. If you come across items that you’re hesitant about purging, consider the six-month box method where you place items in a box and store it for six more months. If you don’t go into the box during that time, donate the contents, sight unseen.

12. GAMES WITH MISSING PIECES

The chances of finding missing game pieces long after they’ve been initially lost are slim (this goes for puzzles, too). While board games like Monopoly can be restored with homemade paper money, in most cases, lost chess pieces or missing Rummikub tiles mean you won’t play the game. When sorting, also parse out board games your family or children have outgrown and donate them as well.

13. NOVELTY APPLIANCES

As Seen On TV products come with promises to improve your life and productivity, but they should come with a disclaimer for how much space they’ll take up in cabinets and basements. Downsizing kitchen and household appliances can cut the clutter and make room for the standard appliances you do use regularly. It’s OK to let go of that George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine—just think of how lean and clean your entire pantry could be.

All images via iStock.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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