Kitchen Decluttering, Phase 1

When someone decides to become a minimalist or wants to begin decluttering their home, perhaps the most-asked question is:

“Where do I start?”

It’s a valid question. People who start on this journey are tired of looking around and seeing the piles and piles of stuff. They know they need to get rid of it—or at least, most of it—but they usually get stuck on that one question.

“Where do I start?”

I’ve read a few books on decluttering and minimalism, and while the paths may vary, they usually start at the same place. On various websites and Facebook groups I belong to, commenters tend to give the same where-to-start advice.

Start with your closet/clothes.

It’s sound advice. Clothes are something you look at every day. We contemplate our closets, dwell on our dresser drawers, ponder over piles of pants, stacks of slacks, and jumbles of jumpers. There are everyday clothes, special occasion clothes, workout clothes, yard work clothes, lazy day clothes, and the rest of the clothes. Because they have such an impact on our lives, it makes sense to start there.

And knowing you, you decided to start somewhere else, right?

Yep.

Pfft. Figures.

Shortly after Mom passed, the first room I tackled was the kitchen. It’s a small room, about 10′ x 10′, with five cabinets for storage, and one of those is the under-sink cabinet. That’s it. The house was built in the 1950’s, a time when people didn’t demand gourmet kitchens with space for every cooking gadget and appliance known to man. And it served Mom and me very well, but standing in that kitchen on that Saturday afternoon in late February, I knew I was going to get rid of at least half of its contents, if not more. I had six large plastic storage bins, a roll of trash bags, and a lot of determination to get the job done.

Starting with the upper cabinets, I emptied everything out except one shelf. That shelf held all the dishes and bowls which, for now, I was going to keep. I then stepped back and looked. And I marveled. How could so much stuff fit into two cabinets? Five shelves, 30 inches wide, 10 inches deep. And everything in them covered the surface of both the countertop and the stove.

What was I getting myself into?

I was getting myself into something that needed to be done. Decluttering. I rolled up my sleeves—

You were wearing a t-shirt.

Metaphorically, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. The first thing I grabbed was two stacks of disposable Christmas cups and chucked them straight into the trash. Do you have something in your cabinet that is of absolutely no use, you have never used it, and you know you will never use? That something, in my cabinets, was those cups. They’d been up there for probably seven years and I wasn’t interested in celebrating their eighth anniversary. Swisssh! Bye bye, straight into the trash. I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to finally throw those things away. It almost felt like an act of defiance because Mom never wanted me to throw them away. They’re gone now.

On to the rest. I moved quickly through the remaining items. The mismatched mixing bowls would stay for the time being, but the plastic bowls with no lids and plastic lids with no bowls would go into the recycling. I sorted the soup mugs, dipping bowls, the twenty-or-so coffee cups and mugs—side note: Mom drank one cup of coffee a day and I don’t drink it at all…why did we need so many coffee cups and mugs?—another twenty-or-so different sized drinking glasses—again, two people…why did we need so many?—insulated drinking cups, a glass pumpkin candy dish, plastic bowls with lids(!), glass bowls with lids, a set of kitchen tools still in their box, three pitchers–

Stop the madness already!

Okay, okay. You get the point. There was a lot of stuff in those two upper cabinets. I started filling the plastic bins with items to donate and putting the rest back into the cabinets. When I was done, I stepped back and looked at the two cabinets. They looked so much better, yet at the same time, I felt like I could have gotten rid of so much more. I had to remind myself that this was just the first round of decluttering. Yes, more would need to go, but “more” could wait until a future date. This first round was simply to get rid of the truly unnecessary stuff.

Drawers next. Unlike the majority of people out there, I don’t have a true “junk” drawer. Yes, one of the drawers kept miscellaneous items, but all I found in there was a stack of pot holders, an old vacuum food storage bag device still in its original box, a Brita filter (no clue where the Brita pitcher was), a knife sharpener, some pens, and a few coins. I kept the pot holders and knife sharpener and trashed the rest. Okay, yes, the coins went in my pocket. Thirty-two cents. Every penny counts, after all. Who knows how much money I’ll find during the decluttering process.

We kept a wooden knife block on the counter with a nice selection of knives and steak knives, but in those utensil drawers were a mismashed assortment of carving knives, serrated knives, serving forks, serving spoons, metal spatulas, plastic measuring cups and spoons, rubber spatulas, skewers, a pastry blender, corn on the cob ear holders and trays, nutcrackers, an egg slicer, melon baller, cookie cutters, and on and on and on. (Huh…I guess there really were junk drawers in my kitchen!)

I threw out the plastic measuring cups and spoons because they were old and, frankly, I hated them. I replaced them with stainless steel cups and spoons. These were the only items I threw out and replaced with something new. A lot of items went into the donation bins, but like with the cabinets, I found myself putting more things back than I knew I really needed. I reminded myself yet again that this was the first stage, and that I would be decluttering more stuff at a later time.

I finished the drawers, took a moment to savor the accomplishment, and moved on to the belly of the beast, the two lower cabinets.

These cabinets were bigger and deeper than the uppers, and as such, things had a tendency to get “lost” in there. Here’s some of the stuff that had been “lost” over time: two mandolin slicers, three rolling pins, a citrus juicer, a lettuce spinner, four muffin tins, a bundt cake pan, multiple sets of knives (yes, more knives! And still in their boxes!), a stick blender, assorted ramekins, and two deviled egg carriers. Mind you, that’s just the partial contents of one cabinet. In the other cabinet, there were multiple baking sheets, roasting pans, cake pans—both round and rectangular and both glass and metal—pie pans, two cookbooks, two box graters—

And a partridge in a pear tree.

Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if one was hidden in there.

Anyway, to make an already too long story short, I kept items that I knew would be of use to me, reduced the quantity of others (really, a single woman doesn’t need 10 frying pans and 12 baking sheets), and packed away the rest for donation. Again, keeping too much, but again, first round decluttering. It took me about two and a half hours, but I was thrilled with the results.

But I wasn’t done.

Mom was the type of person who always needed to have food in the house. Perhaps it came from growing up in the post-Depression/World War II era, but you could always find something to eat in our house. Problem was, some of the cans and boxes in the pantry had been around for years. It was time for a clean-out.

I’ll keep it simple by telling you that I threw away the expired food and boxed up the stuff I didn’t want to be donated to the local food bank. Again, the results were thrilling. It was great to see empty spaces in my cabinets and on the pantry shelves. I declared the first round of decluttering the kitchen “done.” I took out the trash, put the totes in the basement, and the food bank donation boxes into my car.

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So what did I learn in this process and what can I pass on to you?

When you’re ready to start decluttering but don’t know where to begin, choose the room or the category that you feel needs the most immediate attention. For a lot of people, it’s their clothes. For me, it was the kitchen. There was just too much stuff in there and it was the room I was most uncomfortable with. That’s why I chose it to be the first.

Why was there so much stuff in this tiny kitchen? Mom used to run a bed and breakfast and she did a lot of cooking. She cooked breakfast for her guests, but she also hosted a lot of functions, receptions, luncheons, etc. It made sense for her to have a lot of pots, pans, knives, baking sheets, and everything else she needed to be a successful caterer/hostess. When she closed the business, she packed up all her kitchen wares and took them with her when she moved. Now she’s gone, and it’s just me, and I’m not hostessing anything unless professional caterers are involved. I only want to keep what’s necessary for my life as I’m living it today.

So for me, that meant the kitchen had to come first. And if you want to start with your clothes, that’s fine. But eventually, you will get to your kitchen. So here are my rough guidelines for decluttering your kitchen.

  • Start at the top and work your way down. Do your upper cabinets, then drawers, then lower cabinets. In the pantry, again, start at the top and work your way down.
  • After you’ve emptied a shelf, give it a quick clean. If you’re anything like me, those shelves haven’t had a proper cleaning in quite some time. A damp rag and/or a quick spritz with a spray cleaner should do.
  • Discard any dishes or glasses that are chipped, cracked, or broken. Those chipped/cracked areas can harbor bacteria, no matter how well they’re cleaned. Also, most people tend to skip over the chipped plate in favor of the unchipped one. Do yourself a favor and throw the chipped and broken pieces away.
  • Donate duplicate items. No one has enough arms that they need three rolling pins. There are four burners on a standard stove…do you really need 10 frying pans and 12 cooking pots? Choose the items that are in the best condition and donate the rest.
  • Donate small appliances/gadgets you don’t need. How often do you bypass your food processor and chop your onions by hand? When was the last time you used that wok? The stick blender? Do you even know how to use a lettuce spinner? Donate, donate, donate.
  • Plastic storage containers. Match lids to bottoms and recycle the remainder. Keep only as many as you’ll reasonably need. I find a dozen in various sizes is usually enough.
  • Seasonal items. Your Christmas-themed plates, Fourth of July drinkware, and glass Halloween pumpkin candy holder are only used once a year. Unless you have lots of available space for them in your kitchen cabinets, store them in the basement or attic.
  • Daily appliances (i.e., coffee maker, toaster): Finding cabinet space to store those items that you use on a daily basis may seem a little illogical. After all, if you use it every day, doesn’t it make sense to keep it where you can get to it? Some advocate putting daily appliances away every day to keep a clean, clutter-free counter top. Others leave them out for the convenience. My advice is to do what works for you. If you prefer cleared counters, then find a space to store your daily appliances and get into the habit of storing them when you’re done using them. If you prefer convenience, keep them where they’re out of the way, but accessible. Personally, I leave my toaster on the counter for the convenience. It’s also the only small appliance on my counter. (I don’t drink coffee, so no coffee maker.)
  • Occasional appliances (i.e., waffle maker, blender, food processor): Consider these items carefully. When was the last time you used it? Are you likely to use it ever again? If not, donate. If so, and you use them more than once a month, then find space in your kitchen cabinets to store it. If you only use it two or three times a year and you definitely know you want to keep it, find somewhere outside your kitchen to store it (basement, attic).
  • Refrigerator/Freezer/Pantry: Throw out any food item that has expired. Most every food item you purchase these days has an expiration date. If you can’t find one, then it’s really old and should be thrown out. Also throw out any unidentified food (like that aluminum foil brick in the freezer that no one ever remembers putting in there…don’t play games with food poisoning…throw it out). Unexpired (and unopened) food that you know won’t be eaten should be donated. Check with your local food bank to see if they have any restrictions. Also, clean off the front of your refrigerator—old take-out menus, magnets, children’s/grandchildren’s drawings, etc. You don’t want to spend all that time cleaning your kitchen just to have a messy-looking refrigerator.

As you make your first pass through your kitchen, you may find yourself holding on to some items that you don’t really have use of, or rarely have use of, or think you might possibly one day maybe use, but you can’t seem to separate yourself from them. That’s okay. Decluttering can be a difficult and emotional process. Whether the items has sentimental value or potential use value, if you can’t bring yourself to get rid of them in your first pass, then don’t. Put them back and make a promise to yourself. Revisit the drawer in six months. If you’ve used the item in that time period, then hold on to it. If you haven’t used it, reconsider keeping or tossing.

*~*~*~*~*

It’s been a little more than six months since I did this initial purge. In that time, I’ve gone through my other storage boxes in the basement and found a few items I wanted to integrate into the kitchen and I donated seven boxes of items that I no longer want. I’ve also earmarked several items for further purging. I plan to go through my kitchen again this weekend to see what else I can remove from the space.

Pictures or it didn’t happen!

I regret that I didn’t take before and after pictures, but when I did this initial decluttering, I hadn’t planned on starting this blog. Now that I am blogging about my journey, I will make the effort to take pictures as I go. I will be taking pictures of my work this weekend. Check back next week to see the results!

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