Cut Clutter in the Kitchen

cut clutter in the kitchen

Open the kitchen cabinets ... and you can tell it's time for a kitchen declutter!

Pudding mixes perch on top of the cereal, showering down onto the head of a sleepy, squawking teen each morning.

To reach the oatmeal pan, you must shove aside a stack of pizza coupons, the bread machine pan and a glass jar of pickles.

The top of the refrigerator is a greasy, dusty jumble of unfinished crafts projects, the dog's leash, empty prescription bottles, broken toys and fast-food drink cups.

Time to declutter the kitchen! Here are our best tips for streamlining and sorting kitchen clutter.

Adjust Your Attitude

Before you open a drawer, clear a counter or tackle a shelf, give yourself an attitude adjustment. To successfully declutter the kitchen, harden your heart before you begin.

An efficient, convenient kitchen must be pared to the bone. During the declutter process, resolve to dump delusions, sentiment, and indecision along with the expired coupons and never-used cookbooks.

Repeat after me: "To create a clean and organized kitchen, I will dare to dump it!"

Gear Up For Decluttering

Decluttering is an activity that takes time, thought and energy. You'll need every scrap of space and all your mental marbles for this activity, so begin with a clear deck and the tools you'll use to do the job.

Clear the counters, empty the dishwasher and bring your kitchen to an ordinary state of clean before you begin. Fill a dishpan or sink with hot soapy water for quick clean-up and replacement of dusty items.

Together with clear counters, you'll need a minimum of four boxes and a good assortment of garbage bags to begin. Sturdy black plastic garbage bags not only hold lots of broken and discarded items, they also prevent Declutterer's Remorse--the condition in which you second-guess your own decision to discard by retrieving items from the trash. Out of sight is out of mind, so declutter right into opaque trash bags for best results.

Label boxes as follows: Put Away (Kitchen), Put Away (Elsewhere), Give Away/Sell and Storage. You'll use one box for items that belong in another location in the kitchen, a second box for strays from other areas of the house.

Items for Goodwill or a yard sale find a home in the Give Away/Sell box, while household possessions that need to be stored are entrusted to the Storage box. Trash belongs in trash bags, and quickly, too!

Take It Step-By-Step

Once you get started, it's hard to avoid decluttering all sides at once. For example, you find a lone Christmas plate in the junk drawer, so you go to the high cabinet that holds the Christmas dishes, only to see a sack of whole oats that belongs in the cupboard where sits the bottle of window cleaner you forgot you stashed there while looking for the mop a few days ago ... stop!

Declutter a single shelf, drawer or cupboard at a time, no exceptions.

Use one of the boxes to hold items to be put away in another location in the kitchen, and assign a second box for rest-of-the-house put-aways.

Donations or items for storage go to their respective boxes. Stick with your shelf until you're done, then put away the items from the put-away boxes before moving on. You'll stay focused when you declutter one step at a time!

Decluttering step-by-step also provides a natural opportunity to break down a big job. If you're distracted by caring for small children, declutter one drawer or shelf per nap, deep-cleaning as you go.

Slow and steady will win the race, but a premature end to an over-ambitious kitchen declutter will spell all-out kitchen disaster for a very, very long time.

Decide Whether To Delegate

Should a would-be kitchen declutterer assist the aid of family or friends to haul out the mess?

There's no one right answer!

This writer will express a rare preference against involving family members in this task.

One of the hardest aspects of a kitchen declutter is confronting the reality that no, you are not going to become an artisan baker in the foreseeable future (not being at home long enough at any one time to proof a single batch of bread dough, this being soccer season).

Working alone, you can pitch the dead sourdough starter, crusty crock and all, and spare yourself the discussion with a spouse that starts with the line, "But I thought you bought the bread machine so that you could bake bread every day?"

Think again, though, about enlisting an unrelated clutter buddy for this job. A trusted friend brings sufficient detachment to be a valid ally in the fight against the electric meat injector and the creme brulee caramelizer.

Choose a clutter buddy who is strong enough to point out that nobody, but nobody, needs a four-year collection of cracked margarine tubs. His or her favorite word should be "Out!" The help of such a friend, is help indeed.

Review the rules

Each item you encounter as you declutter requires a decision. Many decisions are easy to make: dishes, pots, and utensils in daily use stay right where they are until you're ready to re-organize kitchen centers.

Other items are easy, too. Either they're strays that belong elsewhere in the house (drop them in the Put Away Elsewhere box) or they're plain-and-simple trash, like expired coupons, that can be dumped straight into a black plastic garbage bags.

But, oh, that middle ground!

Electric french-fry fryers (complete with a filling of hardened two-year-old grease). Give-away gelatin molds in the shape of a map of the United States.Water bottles from sixteen worthy walk-a-thon fundraisers.

Pans you don't use, dishes you don't like, and specialty cooking tools that are more trouble to clean than to use--so you don't use them.

Bust the decision dam by holding each item in your hand and asking yourself a simple question: "When have I last used this item?" The answers will guide your declutter decisions:

  • "Never!" Out it goes, to the trash or for donation or a yard sale. I don't care if your mother-in-law did give you that complete cake decorating set (despite, or perhaps because of, your new stint at Weight Watchers). If you don't use it, it has no place in a lean, mean kitchen. Donate it to your favorite charity thrift shop and allow some other family the consumer thrill of possessing a genuine advertised-on-TV potato peeler machine.
  • "Within the last year." Out it goes, with one exception. Holiday cooking tools used only once a year, like cookie presses or springerle molds, may be give house room if, and only if, they are removed from active kitchen storage. You haven't space in a working kitchen for holiday one-timers, so store them with the holiday decorations in a box marked Holiday Cooking Tools. All others? If you've only used it once a year, why do you have it at all? Out!
  • "Within the last month." Candidate for a keeper. Deciding where the item should live will come during another phase of the kitchen clean-up.
  • "Yesterday!" Watch for these items; they're the backbone of a organized kitchen. Keep. Clean them if necessary and put away where you found them. They will be the star performers of your new improved kitchen environment.

The devil's in the details

No more stalling; it's time to begin. Pick a starting point, and begin at the top. Top shelves of anything are apt to resemble an unknown landscape at the back of the moon, so climb up on a sturdy step-stool. to meet them face to face.

It is at this point that you understand the truth about best laid plans going oft astray. Perched at eye level with the top shelf of your mixing and spices cupboard, you find a dirty flour sifter, bags of stale Christmas candy intended for last year's (never-built) gingerbread house, a wadded and soiled T-shirt that apparently traveled there via an son's fascination with the process of "stuffing" a basketball hoop, and a motley jumble of lidless canning jars.

One item at a time, you begin the declutter process.

The flour sifter, a legitimate inhabitant of the shelf, is tucked into the empty dishwasher to be washed and returned.

The candy is discarded straight into a black plastic garbage bag. (No tasting. No saving for next year. No side trips to look up gingerbread houses on Pinterest or daydream about Christmas Future. Remember the mantra, and dare to dump it!)

The T-shirt belongs in the laundry (make a mental note to talk to the T-shirt owner about playing basketball in the house) so it is tossed into the Put Away Elsewhere box.

Only the canning jars require a considered decision. Have you made jelly, jam, preserves or canned tomatoes within the last year? Did you assemble gifts in a jar for Christmas gifts last year?

If you answered yes to either question, you may wash and replace the jars. Answer is no? Out they go! Calm any qualms by surveying the nice piece of shelf real estate they'll leave behind on their trip to the yard sale.

One by one, continue down the shelves, through the drawers, into the cupboards and around the room. Declutter with a vengeance, because the next stage of the kitchen clean-up, deep-cleaning, will move faster the fewer items you have to work around.

Top-Level Declutter Tips

Okay, the pep talk wasn't enough. You're experiencing pangs of distress at the thought of decluttering the electric pasta machine.

Even though you haven't used it in the four years you've had it, you can't bear to part with it--or with seventeen dozen other must-have, don't-use kitchen toys.

These back-up strategies can help would-be declutterers with more desire than willpower.

If "Dare to dump it!" falls short, try these secondary methods to boost yourself over the dump-it hump.

Box And Banish

You can't, just can't, part with that set of Twelve Days of Christmas cookie cutters. Despite the fact that you bought them the year your 15-year-old was born and have never used them since, you just know that someday you'll create an heirloom to be treasured by future generations using only salt dough, red ribbon, and these very cookie cutters.

You need to break the thrall of this particular fantasy before you can dispose of the cookie cutters. So, you'll box and banish--a painless method of breaking the ties that bind this and every other compelling kitchen daydream to your limited cabinet space.

Place the cookie cutters and every other pang-in-the-heart item that you don't quite use but can't really part with into a large box. At the end of the kitchen declutter session, seal the box with packing tape, label it "Kitchen Declutter" and date it. Take it to the attic, garage or storage area and leave it there.

Come back in six months to a year. Have you opened the box to retrieve any of these items? Missed them? Experienced even a brief tug of the brain-pan on their behalf? No? Without opening the box, take the entire thing to the thrift store drop-off and give yourself a pat on the back. If you have made a mistake, you've reclaimed it already, so go ahead and donate!

Box and banish provides a simple way to derail declutter distractions without undue anguish. By building in a breathing space between getting decluttered items out of the kitchen and getting them to the yard sale, you've broken the sentimental attachment to the ... to the ... gosh, I can't even remember!
That, m'dear, is the point.

Focus On Giving

For some, barriers to decluttering rise upon foundations of economics. Phrases similar to "But I paid $____ for that rotary meat slicer!" or "But this teakettle might be worth something someday!" interpose themselves between you and the decision to declutter.

Both concerns are grounded in notions of value, so trump them by reaching for a higher one: charity. That teakettle may--or may not--have an eventual economic value, but to a family living on the edge, it can provide immediate comfort in the form of hot tea on a cold night.

Calm money-related declutter jitters by finding more direct form of giving than a yard sale or thrift store. Call the local battered women's shelter or facility for the homeless and ask if they accept household goods.

Kitchen basics are desperately needed by families in transition, who often move into housing from the street, with little more than the clothing on their backs. Knowing that your surplus items will meet an immediate, true need can get you over the obsession with what they might be worth someday.

And you will help. Consider this: these families don't have the luxury of possessions to declutter!

A Final Solution

Finally, there's a never-fail, if drastic, solution to kitchen decluttering. Some have this thrust upon them through a remodel or repair job, while others embrace it as a fell-swoop method to get the job done.

It's simple. Go to your kitchen. Remove every blessed article from every drawer, cupboard and shelf. Place these items in lidded boxes, and move them to a nearby storage area.

Meal by meal, retrieve from the boxes only those items necessary for that meal and return them to the kitchen.

Making mashed potatoes? The peeler and the potato masher come out of the cold and into the kitchen for good.

It's a good way to sift out surpluses of multiple items: a family of four may find only six out of sixteen dinner plates are required in their new, lean kitchen.

After several weeks, this method absolutely separates the sheep from the goats. Items in active use are in the kitchen where they belong, and the "goats" are already boxed and ready to be moved out.

For would-be minimalists, this is the declutter method of choice. For others, it's like taking bad-tasting medicine: it's drastic, but it works!