7 Ways to Declutter: Your Kitchen (and Diet).

Every Thursday, I will post a guide with ways to declutter a certain area in your home or life. If you’re not ready to toss everything out, try these ways of reducing clutter, one area at a time. Like me, you may not think you have much, but you’d be surprised to find how much stuff you have that you really don’t need.

Tired of dishes piling up in the sink? Do you usually take a few minutes before you find the wok you need in the cupboard? Found expired food in the back of your pantry? Need to manage food better? Want to make your kitchen space more efficient and attractive? Great! Let’s get started.

1) Wash your dishes right away.

  • When you wash them right away, they are clean sooner and available for use again immediately.
  • The longer you leave dishes, the more food particles stick, and the harder it is to scrub off.
  • No one likes unfinished chores. Do them right away and you don’t have to worry about it later.
  • You will impress other people with your cleaning habits!


2) Avoid the dishwasher. When I lived on my own for a year and a half after college, I didn’t have a dishwasher. I washed pots and dishes by hand and left them in a rack to dry. There were times I didn’t wash them right away and they would accumulate, which left me frustrated because I didn’t have a dishwasher like everyone else. I thought it was a waste of my time to wash dishes. Then I moved to this apartment, used the dishwasher twice, and realized how much I disliked it. I would ‘hide’ dirty dishes in the dishwasher until it was full and I had no clean dishes left to use! The wash and dry cycle takes a couple hours and when the dishes were done, they still seemed dirty! Ever since, I have washed the pots and dishes by hand. It takes no more than ten minutes to wash a meal’s worth of dishes, they’re clean right away, and I don’t need to use as many! I encourage you to wash your dishes by hand for a week. See how it affects your eating and cooking habits.

3) Use things that serve multiple purposes. Obviously, if you’re a chef or an avid baker, you’re going to use more items in the kitchen than someone who just wants to cook quick, simple meals on regular basis – but you can still cook amazing meals with a few tools. I prepare a majority of my food using only a cutting board, mixing bowl, skillet, two pots, and a few hand tools. A third, larger pot for boiling pasta is around in case I am cooking dinner for the both of us – which isn’t that often. I love my skillet and can use it to cook a day’s worth of meals (although lunch is usually a vegetable wrap and fruit). Since I wash the dishes by hand after each meal, I don’t need more than a few basic pieces of cookware. Consider the items in your kitchen and whether or not you can use the items for more than one purpose. If the item serves only one purpose and it isn’t that often, toss it. If you have a vegetable peeler that only peels vegetables but you eat them daily, keep it. You can judge for yourself. Apply the same mindset to your plates, bowls, and cups, too. I used to have seven mugs and got rid of five of the because I never used them!

4) Keep surfaces clear! You probably have a few small appliances that litter your kitchen counters and you use most of them once a month (if at all) while the coffee-maker gets a daily use. Keep the coffee-maker, and get rid of everything else. Got a ‘just-in-case’ slow cooker that you’ve never used? Get rid of it – if you haven’t used it yet, you won’t need it in the future. All I have left is a toaster oven that will be donated when we move because I never use it anymore. (We have a microwave but it is part of the kitchen unit.) Keep only the essentials. Also, no random knickknacks. You don’t need an assortment of cute cow figurines. You shouldn’t have any papers strewn about the kitchen too, if you followed some tips in last week’s post.

5) Only eat food that you prepare. Not only is this a good way to keep your kitchen simple, but it is very beneficial for your health. This point probably requires its’ own blog post, but I’m just going to throw a few things at you right now:

  • eat only food that will go bad (fruits, veggies, dairy, meats, bread)
  • avoid frozen foods
  • don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients in the label – especially if you can’t pronounce it
  • don’t consume processed foods
  • shop within the perimeter of the grocery store
  • prepare simple meals (five ingredients or so – StoneSoup is a great place to start!)
  • keep some staples that can be prepared in a variety of ways (rice, pasta).

It is hard to remember all of these at once (and of course, there are more tips and methods in existence!), so pick one – say, no frozen foods, and go with it. Then add the others. Do your research. Oh, and ultimately, I always have pasta in the pantry, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, and assorted spices if I’ve run out of things to eat. I wouldn’t recommend eating that every day, but as long as you have those, you won’t be hungry. (Many posts about healthy eating habits are floating around right now. Ironically, I couldn’t find any to link to but will edit this post as needed when I find them again.)

6) Buy only what you need for the week – plan your meals. Keeping this in mind will also help you save money. You might be tempted to buy things in bulk from Costco but I would advise you against that. Bulk items tend to sit unnoticed on a pantry floor for months and it can be overwhelming to have 40 large cans of beans! Planning your meals for the week means you will think more about what you really want to eat, what tools you have to prepare the meals, and what you need (or don’t need) to create them. If you create a list of items for your meal and buy only those items when you shop, your wallet and shelves will thank you. If you buy less food, you eliminate the experience of opening your cupboard, staring at everything you have, and declaring, “I have nothing to eat.” If you buy less, you know what you have and it’s easier to select a meal to prepare. Additionally, you run a lower risk of keeping around too much food until it expires and you have to toss it out. If there’s anything I hate, it’s throwing out extra food.

7) Have a place for everything. Usually items are placed on a counter top because there is no where else for them to go – they just don’t belong. If they don’t belong, why do you have them!? If they do belong, then there will be a place for them – be it a drawer or cabinet or specialized spot on the counter for your only small appliance. Use drawers and cabinets to put items out of view – they’re there for a reason! But remember that you are simplifying – not just putting all your unused food and dishes out of sight. You need to be able to find cooking and eating items quickly to ensure a smooth meal preparation and simpler kitchen. Then remember to put them back exactly where they go.

What tips make sense and work for you? What doesn’t? Am I missing anything? Any feedback is greatly appreciated! I have to admit that my kitchen has always been pretty minimal, so I did not have a need for extensive decluttering. Because of this, I have probably overlooked a few issues that family-sized kitchens may have.

Other posts with more tips and strategies that will interest you:
Washing Dishes the Most Eco-Friendly Way
Why I Stopped Using a Dishwasher
Outfitting a Minimalist Kitchen
The Minimalist Kitchen: What You Need (and Don’t Need) to Set Up Your First Workable Home Kitchen
A Minimalist’s Kitchen and Cooking Utensils
Minimalist Kitchen
Living With An Uncluttered Kitchen
Also, check out Minimalist Packrat’s Kitchen Decluttering Series!

My Decluttering Progress and Our Upcoming Move

During the past couple months, I did a massive clean-up of our apartment. This is what I did:

  • Reduced my movie collection from 180+ DVDs & VHS to 40 movies. They sit on one shelf now instead of five. Movies were either given away or sold at Half-Price Books.
  • Cut down my book collection to 25 books (5 are reference books). Now they all fit on one shelf instead of three. Books were given to friends or sold at Half-Price Books.*

The books and movies were the hardest for me to do. I took pride in the large collection I had and often loaned out books & movies to other people. I realized that I never really watched most of them after buying them (I even had a few unopened ones!) because I just kept renting new movies from the library or Netflix instead of re-watching them. Same thing applied with my books – I loved my books but I would only read them once and get more from the library. There was no reason to keep them around. If I wished to watch a movie or read a book again, I will most likely be able to borrow it. It was a little bit sad leaving Half-Price books with only $98 in my hands for my massive collection. I grieved for a couple days. Now I’m over it and actually want to cut down my collection even more!

  • Rummaged through my closet and dresser several times and donated bags & bags of clothing to Goodwill. I have closed up remaining clothing (only two duffel bags!) in preparation for the second round of Project 333. My dresser is empty and all clothes fit in my closet now. I anticipate donating one duffel bag after Project 333 is over.
  • Went through all my papers (from grad school, work, bills, random) and recycled at least half of the papers I had in this apartment. The other half are now neatly filed away in two accordion files.
  • Rummaged through the kitchen and donated everything to Goodwill that we didn’t use: a slow cooker (I didn’t know we had two), coffee maker (neither of us drink coffee), wine rack (all it did was tempt me to go out and buy wine just to fill it up), blender (was only used to make alcoholic drinks), a large collection of wine glasses (kept four), extra mugs (now only have one), some random bowls, etc. The toaster oven will be tossed out when we move. We have four bowl plates (from my grandmother), four plates, four bowls, and a few glasses.
  • Sold my Living Dead Dolls – yes, I was a little sad to see them go.
  • Recycled/donated magazines.
  • Tossed out old, half-used travel bottles of shampoo, toothpaste, etc. Discarded assorted bathroom items.
  • Kyle has also cut down on some of his clothing, DVDs, games, and random items, as well! Out of respect, I am not touching his things.

It may not seem a lot because we live in an apartment and I had minimized my possessions prior to moving in this apartment by taking only what I ‘needed’ from my previous residence. Turns out a lot of the things I ‘needed’ was indeed unnecessary. I’m a little bit hooked to this decluttering process and will be going through everything a couple more times to get it down to the bare essentials. I’ve made significant progress, but I’m not finished.

But this is what I’m excited about: we are moving again in a month.

I’m sad to leave this apartment for many reasons, but I’m really excited about the chance to start over. A clean slate. An empty apartment. A lot of the decluttering has also been done in preparation for the move because I don’t want to bring too much with us, and I don’t want to bring anything we absolutely don’t need. While Kyle isn’t quite ready to cut back on his DVDs or his model car collection, he’s on board with the idea of not bringing much with us when we move. My goal is to make this an easy move for us without the hassle of renting a truck to haul big furniture and extra boxes.

Big items we are not bringing with us (and will be given away on Freecycle) :

  • big comfy couch
  • big comfy loveseat
  • one television + one television stand
  • two bookshelves
  • my dresser + matching mirror (giving to my parents)
  • my nightstand (giving to my parents)
  • his dresser
  • assorted wall decor
  • bathroom shelf

What we are bringing with us:

  • Our dining table set (recently purchased for under $100, doubles as my desk, and can be dissembled)
  • a mattress (yes, the bed has always been on the floor)
  • coffee table (for board game nights – we sit around it on the floor)
  • a few lamps (no sense in tossing out all our light!)
  • Crosley turntable + antique wood stand
  • large free-standing fish/frog tank (I protested this and offered to move my two frogs back into their tiny home, but Kyle insisted on bringing it with us) EDIT 2/5/11: Lone, remaining frog has been moved back into a tiny home.
  • one 20″ television with built-in DVD player & VCR + stand. I agreed to keep one of the televisions (out of the bedroom) so Kyle could continue to enjoy his free ESPN (although I despise his television habits and never watch television) and for us to enjoy the occasional movie. EDIT: 2/5/11: Kyle acquired a 55″ television instead. I’m not happy about this.
  • clothes and such.

Undecided items:

  • two patio chairs and table

You may notice that we won’t have any seating in our living room area. That’s OK. We will place our butts on the floor until we feel it’s time to buy two Poang chairs. I resolved that we really don’t need two couches for two people. We will likely be spending our social time out of the apartment. The potential chairs are very comfortable and versatile, so we can arrange them however we want instead of just facing a television. Any overnight guests will be aware of our lack of extra bedding and be OK with the floor or bringing an air mattress (as they have already done at our current place).

So that’s what I’ve done so far, and that’s our plan for the next month: a little more decluttering to do (re-evaluate books & DVDs, etc.) and moving to a new place with as few things as possible.

Keep an eye out for tips soon on how you can declutter your space!

*I have many more books at my parents’ house in the attic and won’t be going through those any time soon. One of my goals in life was to have a ‘library’ of books once I had a house and it seems preposterous for me to just turn my back on that and get rid of all my books so quickly.