Let the Decluttering Begin

I know it’s time. It’s been time for at least two years, possibly longer. I need to clean my kitchen. Now, before you send the Health Department to my address, let me explain. What I mean by “clean” is that I need to clean out and organize my kitchen pantry, cupboards and drawers.

Kitchen Clutter

Photo credit: misteraitch

If you walked into my kitchen, you’d see a tidy and sanitary place. But don’t walk into the pantry or open a cupboard too hastily. Something might hit you on the head. At this moment, a bottle of Advil has been tossed on top of cereal boxes, which are resting on pudding boxes that have long ago expired.

Cynthia Ewer, editor of OrganizedHome.com says the first thing I need to do is harden my heart. An efficient, convenient kitchen, she says, must be pared to the bone. I must dare to dump anything and everything that is not absolutely necessary and useful.

CLEAR THE DECKS. Ewer instructs me to prepare four boxes with these labels: Put Away (Kitchen), Put Away (Elsewhere), Give Away (or Sell) and Storage. Now I am to tackle one shelf, drawer and cupboard at a time, putting each item into its proper box.

KITCHEN KEEPERS. Once everything has found its box, send three of the boxes out of the kitchen. Now comes decision time. Ewer is ruthless in suggesting I need to just get rid of the electric french-fry fryer, that strange gelatin mold in the shape of Mount Rushmore and the odd collection of sports bottles from all those walk-a-thons. Ditto for pans I don’t use, dishes I don’t like and specialty cooking tools that I never use because they’re too much trouble to clean.

NO MORE STALLING. I’m going to follow the Organized Home kitchen decluttering plan starting at the top: The top shelves, which Ewer says resemble an unknown landscape at the back of the moon. (I keep wondering when she’s been sneaking into my kitchen because she seems to know this place quite well.)

Here’s the rule: If I’ve used it in the last month, it’s a candidate to stay. If I used it yesterday, that will be the backbone of my newly organized kitchen.

I am committed; I am determined. I will box and banish. I will not stop until every shelf, every cupboard, every nook and cranny of my kitchen is cleared, cleaned and organized.

I don’t think I’m alone in this need for kitchen organization, so I’m extending an invitation for you to join me. Let’s call it the EC Spring Clean Kitchen Challenge. All who dare are invited to join me in this marathon event. Actually, I could use the company. Somehow knowing others are participating in the same drudgery will keep me on track and moving forward.

The only requirement to join is a willingness to get your kitchen organized. And to post a comment below telling me how you are going to get started.

Stay tuned because next week I’m going to help you get motivated to declutter books, CDs, DVDs and electronics—and quite possibly get paid to do it!

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37 replies
  1. Kathy W says:

    Mary, I wish you would re-consider these large graphics inserted into your articles. I want to print some of your columns but do not want to waste costly ink on the photographs. Using a print-friendly website doesn’t work with your columns either.

  2. Randy Haylett says:

    I am finding it difficult to lift any type of weight with my arms due to debilitating OA. I am trying to decide what I really need in my kitchen as it’s difficult to reach anything in my upper cabinets. I’m trying to pare down to what is essential and give it the space in my lower cabinets. My sweet husband has turned all the lower shelves into drawers, but now I have to decide what I use all the time and where to put it that is most convenient for me. I’m hoping to glean some wisdom from you. You have helped us as we’ve purchased items for maintaining our home. Thanks for tackling this job!

  3. Shirley says:

    To say I need to declutter my kitchen is an understatement. I will do a shelf or drawer each day. It’s a small apt size kitchen with minimal storage and very overdue. I look forward to working along with you, Mary. Shirley near Seattle

  4. Kathy says:

    Just had the family room repainted and NOTHING goes back into the room before it’s inspected, cleaned and is necessary. Have 5 tubs of stuff for a garage sale and recycling bin is full. Next will be the kitchen cupboards. Panty is already done and have empty spots on some shelves in there! How freeing this process is! Hoping I can continue with help of a daughter and my husband in other rooms.

  5. PamS says:

    I’m confused about the difference between Put Away (Elsewhere) and Storage. I want to work on this but can’t take your challenge as I’ve had surgery on my foot.

  6. Lorraine Shockley Mich says:

    I bought three shelves to put in the office for all the utensils, dishes, pans, etc. that I use infrequently. I thought if they were out of the basement I’d use them more often……never happened! I’m going to go through it all and purge what I truly don’t use!

  7. Jaime Cole says:

    We must be on the same wavelength. I spontaneously decluttered my pans two days ago, and I’m committed to do the whole kitchen a section at a time and then my house. I couldn’t believe how many pans I had, even though I had many that were almost exactly the alike, and I use the same ones over and over. Now my pans neatly fit into two drawers, and I can see what I have.

  8. Cheryl L Petersen says:

    It’s so overwhelming, even depressing. I’ve been listening to podcasts about decluttering and minimizing, just to give me the energy to get started. So, I guess I’ll try your method of starting and see if I can follow thru. It would be a great accomplishment to have an organized kitchen. Maybe I would enjoy cooking more. (Wish me luck.)

  9. Emma Lu says:

    Sadly it’s not just my kitchen . This house has two kitchens and we have decided to rent to apartment so ..it’s down to the sub floor and up from there . Best of luck to you

  10. Pam says:

    First: send my husband on vacation because he wants to keep everything, especially if it came from his parents. Second: purge the big drawers and get rid of worn out dish linens

  11. Angela says:

    I am in… Again. I swear I just did this over the summer, but I am back to kitchen chaos. One shelf a day. Boxes in dining room as a daily reminder. Top shelf of pantry done. Anything still there from summer cleaning hit the garbage making room of about 1/4 of shelf and no stacks of left overs snacks. BOGO not always a good idea.

  12. Vicki R says:

    I was recently FORCED to get started. I overloaded the lazy susan shelves in a corner cabinet with heavy items – my cooking oils, vinegars, baking supplies, etc. The shelf failed! I removed all the contents, my husband repaired the shelf, and gave me strict instructions. “Only light-weight items!” So I purged, re-packaged, switched cupboard contents around, and threw out SO much expired stuff. The crackers and cereal now live on the light-items-only shelf. The baking supplies are hard to reach, which is a good thing. The less I bake, the less I eat baked goods 🙂 It felt so good to have un-cluttered current-use items, I’m inspired to overhaul the rest of the drawers and cupboards.

  13. JoWynne says:

    Looking forward to this adventure, which comes in the wake of my completing Marie Kondo’s book on decluttering and an online course called “A Year to Clear what is Holding you Back.” Can’t wait to hear what you have to add to the wealth of decluttering wisdom I am acquiring!

  14. Debbie says:

    I have enlisted the help of my daughter. She got on a kick about 2 weeks ago to clean and organize the panty. Last week I asked her to do a couple of disorderly cabinets. I did give away some unused items. Even contacted a friend about some pans. We have a few more to do. It is really nice not to have to worry about what might fall on my toes or the floor. DL from GA

  15. ecochick says:

    Perfect timing. Getting ready to start kitchen to ne prepared for heavy canning season. As an urbam homesteader it is crucial for me to ne able to get to and use my tools and space!

  16. Patti Kimzey-Bojorquez says:

    I seriously need to re-assess the small appliances in my pantry. Do I really need a large AND a small Foreman Grill (do I need one at all?). Do I need an IceTea Maker? or an electric apple peeler (really?) a Shake Maker? a large and a smaller crock pot? a hot-dip kind of crock pot? Or the 20+ shot glasses from God knows where? or the 40 wine glasses of every shape and size imaginable? I need some serious intervention in the kitchen.

  17. Debbie Long says:

    Thank you for the motivation. I started today with the drawer with the spilled crushed red pepper. I started eliminating any broken or duplicate pieces then sorted by when and how I use the utensils. I am now on drawer three!

  18. Mary Davis says:


    I’m soooo with you! But I have a rather significant advantage…in August of last year we had a pipe burst while we were visiting friends out of state. Bottom line, every room, every closet, every cupboard has been emptied and put into storage pods. The reconstruction is just recently completed so we can begin the process of moving back in. Having lived in this house for 29 years means we have stuffed every cubic inch with our “treasures “.

    I have sworn to myself as well as my hubby that I will be ruthless in de-cluttering. I started small, and it will take a considerable amount of time, but I’m determined. It won’t be easy. I love pretty things, useful things, creative things….. Nevertheless I’m determined. At least I have a blank Canvas to start.

    Wish me luck as I wish you.

    Mary D

  19. Kelly says:

    Currently in progress: just moved to a noticeably smaller kitchen. Have tossed at least one large tub of expired or unused foods, have half of a large box filled with duplicate (or triplicate!) items, and still trying to harden up on other things like excessive dishes from our wedding and holidays. Will store a few things, as we are building a home, but MUST CUT BACK!

  20. Barbaric Bird says:

    I had my “road to Jericho” moment last year helping my parents move. Honestly, it took three days to just declutter the kitchen. Drawers were so stuffed–jiggle and remove just took a day. My step-mother had 4-6 of everything because she would go out and by a utensil if she couldn’t find it. Then there was the arguments over getting rid of stuff at the garage sale we were getting ready for. When I went home, I decluttered my own kitchen. Even after a year, I know where everything is, and I haven’t bought anything new, but if I do, out goes something old. Best declutter read is Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” It is short and sweet. Do I follow everything in there? No, but the weight of housekeeping has been lifted, I worry less, and enjoy life more. I even get a kick out of a declutter project. (Marie says you should declutter all at one, but I take it a closet, drawer, box or magazine at a time)

  21. Mary Hunt says:

    I have an idea: Pictures … before and after, in process … anything that documents your progress. Send them to me and we’ll figure out a way to share them!

  22. Amanda says:

    Great minds! Last weekend I got sick and tired of searching for something in the utensil drawers, so I found a big rubbermaid container and dumped in everything from the 2 drawers! I told my husband that anything he pulled out and used could go back into one of the drawers, but we can put the lightly used things up and away and not have to deal with them daily. It’s been such a nice change! The week before, I cleared out the misc. cupboard: all the paper plates, cake pans, plastic utensils that have accumulated over the years. These are being donated to our community center and thrift stores.

  23. Judy Swanson says:

    We just downsized our living spaces from 2500 sq. ft. to 1800 sq. ft. No longer have a three car garage either which was a storage haven. It has been emotional and difficult but I am learning the “hard hearted” approach is necessary to get rid of years of having two or three of everything. We are taking this in stages and some stuff I just put in a temporary holding pattern until I see if I will have the need for it as much as I think I will. This is something we are having to do in every room of the house so your article is right on target. We have made others the recipients of many wonderful cast-offs so I soothe my anxiety of letting go of things with those thoughts. Find a great charity you want to support and give them your goods-you will be amazed how it is easier to tolerate the losses if you can picture your old things helping others! And the time you save with less to clean, put away and deal with daily is a huge plus. Thanks for all your inspiration and motivation to make life more simple and enjoyable.

  24. Vivian Wright Freppon says:

    I’m with you! I started with the shelves and windowsill and it makes me smile every time I go to the sink….however, I try not to look anywhere else or my smile disappears! :). The cabinets are definitely the next to go! Thanks for the push!

  25. Lee Ann says:

    I’m in! I soooo need to do this! But to keep from being overwhelmed, I plan to target one cupboard each day. No sweat. The pantry . . . one shelf per day. Can’t wait to live in my newly decluttered kitchen!!

  26. Holly says:

    Haven’t started the kitchen or pantry yet (though I reallyshould since we have a bunch of gluhwein mugs [currently assigned to Germany] on most of the upper shelves that we use at Christmas when hosting an open house) … but was working on the bathroom yesterday. COuld have sworn I purged the medicine box (an old sewing basket) just a couple of months ago… but somehow I managed to fill to overflowing a plastic shopping bag and then some with expired/unuseable meds and other items. Will drop the bag off at the pharmacy when running errands later this week.

  27. Miriam says:

    Since I am in the process of remodelling my kitchen I have been decluttering and purging for a while. We do the construction work ourselves so it’s taking a while but that gives me more time to purge. My purchase of an Instant Pot removed 3 slow cookers, a rice cooker, and a yogurt maker from my small appliance list. Although I love it my Chamption Juice may be next on the donation heap. It’s the utensil and ‘tool’ drawer that I haven’t yet tackled but need to.

  28. Nicole says:

    I will start with the bulky, not used in two years juicer I bought for a detox diet. I’ve been thinking about it lately and it’s got to go! Maybe I can go through a cupboard / shelf every day.

  29. LUCILLE says:

    I have enlisted the help of a family member who said she would help me with my pantry. We just need to set a date. You have motivated me to extend to my kitchen, which I have been wanting to do for a while.


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