Kitchen Decluttering, the Abyss

Growing up, we always keep cleaning products under the sink, in both the kitchen and bathroom. Dishwashing soap, SOS pads, Formula 409, Windex, Pledge, maybe spare sponges, rags, and rubber gloves were kept under the kitchen sink, and Comet cleanser, spare bars of soap, extra shampoo and conditioner, and –ahem– “feminine” and “masculine” products were in the bathroom. Parents then weren’t overly concerned about their children ingesting these household poisons. They simply taught us not to do it, and we didn’t. (Though I’m sure a lot of homes kept the Poison Control Center’s number handy.)

Because this is where we stored these products when I was growing up, it’s where I kept them when I lived on my own, and it’s where Mom continued to keep her products in the years since. So when it came time to clean out and minimize under the sink, I knew I was taking on a task of potentially monumental proportions.

The under sink cabinet is the uncharted abyss where things that should be in the kitchen end up because there really isn’t any other suitable storage location. Traditionally, the items used the most sit in the very front of the cabinet, like dishwashing soap and sponges, and maybe a pair of rubber gloves and a scrub brush. Everything else gets shoved into the back. The only time it ever really gets emptied out is when plumbing work needs to be done. And when someone attempts to minimize.

Without mercy, I pulled everything out, arranging it all on the floor. And I looked at it all. I marveled at how one household could amass so many cleaning products in one small place. Really, it was a wonder to behold. And, boy, did I behold. Then I got over my wonderment and got to work.

There were three bottles of Windex, each partially used. Two bottles of bleach, again each partially used. One can of ant spray, virtually empty, another about three quarters full. Three bags of mini scrubbing sponges, five bottles of grease remover, two bottles of burner and ring cleaner, several more bottles of stain remover, Goof off, Tarn-X, two different brands of furniture polish, two full cans of oven cleaner, drain cleaner, floor cleaner—again, two different brands…really, I could go on, but what’s the point?

Step One, I decided, was to consolidate identical items. Those three bottles of Windex became one and a half, and the two of bleach became one. The empties went into the recycling bin. Everything else was almost full, unused, or in cans, so Step One was complete.

Step Two, throw out anything that’s almost empty and can’t be consolidated. The almost empty can of ant spray went into the trash. Same with the almost empty can of furniture polish. Step Two complete.

Step Three, get rid of what I don’t want, need, or use.

Here’s where I hesitated.

A lot of the cleaners Mom bought could surely be of use to someone, but that someone wasn’t necessarily me. And I couldn’t help wondering if any of them were truly necessary. We didn’t have multiple cleanser options growing up. If it couldn’t come clean with soap and water, Formula 409, Windex, Comet Cleanser (the powdered kind), or an SOS pad, then it couldn’t be cleaned and you just dealt with it or replaced it. Today, those old favorites are still around, but they’re almost lost amid all the newer, fresher scented, earth-friendly, and anti-bacterial options. One good look at the cleanser aisle at Target is enough to make you wish for the good old days of vinegar and bleach!

But longing for the good old days wouldn’t help me decide what to do with all these chemicals under my sink. So I did what every good minimalist shouldn’t do. I put them all back.

Oh, hey, Betsy. I was wondering where you were. Nice outfit.

Yes, I broke the minimalist credo by putting unused and unneeded items back. I don’t want to keep them, but I couldn’t quite justify throwing it all out and I hadn’t yet confirmed if the items could be donated. So they returned to their home under the sink until I could figure out what to do with them.

The stuff I wanted to keep, like the sponges, dishwasher pods, Windex, Fantastic, Swiffer wet cloths, and the garbage bags, all went to the very front of the cabinet where they would be within easy reach. Like the other cabinets, I would revisit in six months. Step Three complete.


For an abyss, it was relatively easy to clean and organize. It saddens me to think of all the money Mom spent on those products that never got used and would likely never be used by me. This is an unfortunate situation all minimalists face. We look at stuff we’ve bought and will never use and all we can see is the money that we wasted. We know we can’t get that money back but we think if we hold on to the item, at least we still have some value to the money we spent. So we hold on to the items, even though we know we should let them go.

What to do, what to do.

When you’re faced with this dilemma, try not to think about the money you spent, because it’s already gone. Difficult, I know, but instead, try thinking about what holding on to those unnecessary items has cost you and will continue to cost you for as long as you hold on to them.

  • Physical space. When you own something, you have to take care of it. Taking care of it means putting it somewhere in your home. It could be out in the open—say on a shelf or hanging on the wall—or stored in a box in the basement or a closet. Wherever you store the item, it takes up physical space in your home, adding to the piles of physical clutter that already exist.
  • Mental space. Even if it’s physically stored in the basement, the item takes up space in your mind because you know it’s in your home and you know you need to do something about it. The more stuff you have to store and take care of, the more stress is added to your mind and body. Out of sight does not always equal out of mind.

It—your clutter—exists in your home and it exists in your mind. It’s yours. You own it.

Perhaps Tyler Durden said it best.

Are you going to own your stuff or let your stuff own you? Or are you going to get rid of it? Think about that for a while, then decide what you want to do next.


As I’m writing this, it’s been seven months since I did that initial kitchen purge. I wrote in my last post about making a second pass at the kitchen cabinets and drawers. So what did I do with the things I put back under the sink? Well, they say writing things down can help clear your thoughts, and writing this post has certainly helped me clear mine.

The unopened products will be donated. I finally got around to checking, and one of my donation locations will accept unopened cleaning products. I was glad to hear that, because I’m uneasy with the idea of adding more chemicals to the landfill — really, those places are toxic enough as they are. So Tuesday morning (Mondays are too hectic), I will be making another donation drop and get rid of the stuff from under my sink that I’ll never use.

I did throw out the two cans of oven cleaner. When I pulled the cans out, I noticed some soapy-type residue along the top and bottom seams, as well as signs of rust.

These are indications that there is the minutest of leaks in the cans. I could probably still use them, but knowing what I do about exploding aerosol cans, I decided it was best to bypass the donation box and throw them out.

I wish I had a before picture to share with you, but like with the other kitchen cabinets, I didn’t think I would be blogging about my minimalism journey at the time I performed the initial clean out.

So here’s the final “after” picture.


Next up, the closets and all those clothes.

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