Decluttering Your Kitchen: About a Quarter of It Can Go

Monday December 5, 2016

After the living room, your kitchen is the next easiest place to declutter, mostly because if you’re living in a typical American household, SO MUCH OF IT CAN GO. And you wouldn’t even notice it was missing.

Between the obvious clutter (oh hey countertops), the pantry, the dishes, the utensils…I’m guessing all of us are holding on to way more than we need. Or even want. Why do I still have spatulas I bought in college?  Or this barbecue fork. Where did that even come from? We’ve never owned a barbecue.

Ok, so let’s do this. Remember, we’re following the hands-off approach, meant to limit the emotional triggers that make us all hold on to needless clutter. Which means sitting yourself down with a small box and large box and deciding what’s going in each before you even touch it. You’ll hold on to your large box for a week or month or two, then once attachments have worn off, you can decide what in there you’d like to keep.

Let’s get the small box out of the way first. Anything that doesn’t belong in the kitchen goes in the small box. An errant toddler hair clip. A preschooler toy. A caulking spatula (don’t judge me). It all goes in the small box, for you to put away back where it goes later.


Alright, let’s break down what’s going in the large box:


Obvious clutter

Just like your living room, I want you to look at any and all horizontal surfaces (and there are so many in a kitchen! Countertops, islands, kitchen tables, desks) and dump EVERYTHING that isn’t useful or decorative into the large box.

You may object, “But, these are bills I need to pay, just sitting on the counter!” Yes they are, and they need to be stored somehow or elsewhere, like maybe on a tray. (Putting something in a designated tray makes it instantly go from “clutter” to “organized.”)

Or, “But, my child’s artwork! I can’t just throw it in a box!” Yes, you can, because you need to figure out where to put it that’s not your kitchen table. My mother-in-law introduced me to plastic tackle boxes for reigning in artwork and schoolwork. Now, artwork either gets displayed or it goes straight to the tackle box, for sifting through later (and keeping only what’s extra special.)

Or, “But, that’s a bag of rice I’m using for tomorrow night’s dinner!” Ok, yes, this is “useful” so exempt from the big box. But, this is a perfect example clutter-as-symptom. Why isn’t the rice in a cabinet or stored properly somewhere? Likely because your pantry is already full. Right? This is a constant problem at our place (our “pantry” is one tiny Ikea cabinet). This countertop clutter is just telling you that you have a pantry-clutter problem. Which we’ll deal with below.

All obvious clutter goes in the large box.


Pantry clutter

Ugh, the worst. Like me, you’re probably holding on to it as some sort of penance. Like, I won’t throw out perfectly good food! I’ll find a way to use it! I definitely bought this as a mistake, but it’s good food, there are starving children somewhere else in the world!

The reality is that food in your pantry, almost by definition, is food that you aren’t eating. Most of it is food that you don’t eat at all. If you ate it, you’d be out buying more of it. My pantry is always full of quinoa and always out of brown rice and pasta. Because I thought I’d try making quinoa once. (Or, even worse, I have nowhere to put the food I actually eat — brown rice and pasta — because the food I never eat is taking up all the space.)

Ok, so pantry clutter. First, toss out anything that’s been in there for more than 6 months without being used, NO BUTS.

Second, toss out anything you bought by accident or for a specific purpose that never came to be, and that you generally don’t eat. (That time I bought juice boxes for a flight…before realizing you weren’t allowed to bring juice through security.)

Third, toss out anything you bought on a whim, which whim has passed. (Ooooh, potato pancakes in a box!) (Maybe I AM the type to cook with Sherry wine!)

Fourth, check expiration dates (especially on spices!) and toss anything that’s past it’s expiration date.

Are things starting to feel better? Ok, good. Now, put all that countertop clutter back in its proper place in the pantry.


Dishware clutter

This is also a thing for most of us, because sets break over time and you replace them but you still have stragglers jamming up your shelves.

Or, you’re always on the hunt for The Perfect Travel Coffee Mug and you have a solid collection of them to show for it.

This is closely related to the Collection of Bottles/Sippy Cups/Water Bottles My Baby Rejected That I’ve Held Onto Because Do You Know How Much These Suckers Cost?

Yeah, all of that will be going in the big box.

First, any mostly incomplete sets go in the big box, especially if you’ve already replaced them with a new set. You used to have a set of 6 highball glasses. You only have 2 left, and at some point, you bought a set of 6 more in a different style. The original 2? Big box.

Second, any doubles of anything goes in the big box. If you have two travel coffee mugs, pick your favorite (or, the one that doesn’t leak/actually keeps coffee warm/doesn’t have a weird lid etc), the other  one goes in the big box. (Since we aren’t getting rid of anything in the big box for a month or so, you can always retrieve the extra travel mug if you need it. I’m guessing you won’t need it.)

Third, kids dishes that you don’t really use anymore. Either because it’s a water bottle that leaked everywhere and you hate using it because it’s a mess. Or your kid never figured out how to drink out of this one spill-proof sippy cup. Or maybe your kids have outgrown plastic dinnerware. Into the big box.

Fourth, dishes that don’t belong to you, but you’ve forgotten who they belong to. This goes for tupperware too, maybe especially. It’s not yours. You never wanted it. Look, you’ve already screwed up by not returning it, and now you’ve additionally forgotten whose it was. Keeping it will not absolve you of the crime. Let it go. If someone eventually calls you out on it, make nice with a Target gift card and sincere apologies.

Fifth, speaking of tupperware, if you haven’t in a while, toss all of yours out and just get a fresh box of the matching kind that nests.

Feel free to go even deeper, but this is a good first round purge.


Utensil clutter

Unless you’re on top of weeding through your utensil drawers, I’m guessing a lot of this can go too.

First, anything you have duplicates of, one goes in the big box. You bought this one spatula in college, then maybe you upgraded when you turned 30 or got married or your live-in partner brought a better one to the mix. If you have two spatulas of the same size, pick your favorite and the other one goes in the box.

Second, anything broken or that doesn’t work well. That garlic crusher that always kind of falls apart mid-crush, the cherry pitter that just frustrates the hell out of you, the mushroom chopper than can’t chop one darn mushroom? Into the big box. If you only have one garlic crusher, and that garlic crusher takes a little bit of your soul every time you use it, then replace it.

Again, feel free to declutter even more, but these two steps will do a lot of the work for you.


Decorative clutter

Yep, it is possible to have too many decorations, even in the kitchen. If your kitchen decor is jamming up your countertops or tabletops, think about giving it a rest in the big box for a while. You can always take it out, but try living without it for a while and see how it feels.


How did you guys do? Is your kitchen feeling slightly more functional? Have you stopped getting a feeling of mild dread every time you open your pantry cabinets? Mmmmm…that’s the feeling of a functional kitchen.

2 Responses to “Decluttering Your Kitchen: About a Quarter of It Can Go”

  1. I’m going to try this this weekend. Thanks for the tips!


    12/6/2016 at 12:41 pm

  2. Good luck! Be ruthless!


    12/6/2016 at 2:07 pm