If you’re like most people, you spend the majority of your time at home in the kitchen. The kitchen is the heart of the home, and it’s where everyone gathers to talk about the day, cook meals, do homework, share stories, and eat.
The kitchen acts as a center stage for our lives, which is why it’s often the most cluttered room in the house. And this clutter affects us in many different ways. It can cause us to overeat, make impulse purchases, and experience feelings of stress and anxiety.
What can you do about it? A lot. Let’s look at how clutter hurts you, why it’s worth your time to simplify, and how to declutter your kitchen in five easy steps.
How Clutter Affects Us
If the kitchen is one of the messiest rooms in your house, that clutter could be causing you to snack more.
A study published in the journal Environment and Behavior found that people in cluttered, chaotic kitchens consumed twice as many calories as those in neat, tidy kitchens. While the mess is partly to blame, mindset also plays a role. People who feel chaotic and out of control — which a messy environment can exacerbate — have the tendency to eat more food, especially junk food, than those who feel in control.
A study published in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry found that people with high acquisitive behaviors — in other words, people who like to shop or get things for free — experience lower quality of life, and lower work functioning, than those who don’t exhibit such behaviors. As you might imagine, people who exhibit these behaviors have more cluttered homes than those who don’t.
Another study, published in the International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, found a strong correlation between hoarding and acquisitive behavior and stress. Generally, the more objects in your home, the greater the levels of stress you experience.
How Decluttering Can Save You Money
A clean, organized kitchen can save you money in several ways.
First, you might find that you snack less on junk food and make healthier choices in a tidy kitchen. The healthier you eat, the fewer medical expenses you’re likely to have, which can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year. You’ll also find that you have more energy, and might even have a more positive outlook, when you eat healthy on a consistent basis.
A cluttered kitchen can also cause you to waste money on unnecessary purchases. If you can’t find a particular kitchen tool or appliance, you might end up buying one to replace it when, in truth, the original is buried somewhere in the mess.
Once you declutter and organize your kitchen, you’ll want it to stay that way, which means you’ll probably steer clear of cluttering it up with new purchases from stores like Bed Bath & Beyond and TJ Maxx that sell an endless variety of single-purpose kitchen tools you don’t need.
Cleaning and organizing your kitchen could also be the impetus you need to cook more at home. There are plenty of ways to eat healthy on a budget, but cooking at home is one of the best. Cooking with kids is also a great way to build their confidence in the kitchen and get them started on the path to healthy eating.
Last, a simplified kitchen is a cleaner kitchen. When you have to move mountains of clutter to wipe off the countertops, you clean less often. As a result, the kitchen can become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria, increasing the likelihood that you and your family will get sick. A clean, organized kitchen might just keep you out of the doctor’s office.
How to Declutter & Simplify Your Kitchen
Take a look at your kitchen. It’s probably where you and your family dump mail, backpacks, and briefcases. The countertops may be crammed with appliances, fruit that still needs to be eaten, and electronics that need to be charged.
The kitchen gets crammed with stuff, and this can make decluttering and organizing the space feel like a huge task. But, I promise, it’s so worth the effort. So, put on your favorite music, and let’s get going.
Step 1: Set a Timer
Unless you’re really driven, decluttering your kitchen probably can’t happen in one afternoon. It’s best to work in half-hour increments. Breaking up the task over several days will help keep your energy up and prevent decision fatigue, which can quickly set in when you’re sorting through a large number of items.
Before you begin, gather several boxes to store items to donate, items to sell, and items to relocate. You’ll also need some garbage and recycling bags to sort the rest for disposal. Set your timer for 30 minutes and focus intently while the clock is ticking.
Can you go longer? Of course. But if you look at your kitchen and feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do, start with 30 minutes.
Step 2: Focus On One Area at a Time
It’s easy to start randomly opening cabinets and grabbing stuff, but this will quickly create even more chaos and clutter.
A better strategy is to start with one drawer or one cabinet. Go through each item in there and decide whether it should stay or go. If it will stay in the kitchen, is this the best place for it? Keep going until you’ve processed every single item in that drawer or cabinet.
Again, try to resist the urge to “graze” your way through the kitchen, decluttering at random. It’s easy to get discouraged fast if you do this.
Step 3: Question Each Item You Pick Up
As you go through the items in your kitchen, ask yourself the following questions.
- Do I use this? Not “Will I use this someday?”, but “Do I use this now?” We all have appliances we’d like to use, but often, our real life doesn’t match our dream life. Those tools and appliances you’re holding on to for “someday” are likely only taking up space and adding clutter to your kitchen. Let them go to someone else who will use them, and make more room for the life you’re living right now.
- How many do I have? We often accumulate “extras” of certain things, especially wooden spoons, mixing bowls, coffee cups, plastic food containers, and baking sheets. How many of these do you use on a regular basis? Keep your favorites and donate the rest.
- Would I buy this today? Our decorating styles, and cooking styles, change over time. Look at each item and ask yourself, “Would I buy this today?” If the answer is no, sell or donate it.
You might experience stress or anxiety about getting rid of some of the items in your kitchen. For example, what do you do with that expensive bread machine you bought last year? It cost hundreds of dollars, and truthfully, you’ve only used it a couple of times. Are you really going to kiss that money goodbye by getting rid of it?
The answer is yes. Yes, you are.
Often, we have good intentions when we purchase something. But if you’re not using a tool or appliance on a regular basis, it doesn’t need to be in the kitchen. It has no real value now; the money you spent is gone, and it’s not helping make your life easier. And you do have some options for recouping a portion of what you spent. You can sell items on eBay or Craigslist, organize a garage sale, or donate items for a tax deduction.
Step 4: Remove Things That Don’t Belong
There are probably plenty of things in your kitchen that don’t belong there at all. One quick glance at my own kitchen countertops revealed three Matchbox cars, two coloring books, one unread magazine, a stack of mail I still haven’t opened, one toothbrush, a can of tick repellent, and five rubber bands. In the spirit of full disclosure, there was more, but we’ll stop here.
The point is that clutter attracts clutter, and kitchen countertops are infamous for being the primary dumping ground for everyone in the house.
Put everything that doesn’t belong in the kitchen into a box to relocate after you’re done decluttering. Don’t waste time right now on relocation; that’s a task that’s easier done once the decluttering is finished. Better yet, delegate the relocation task to a spouse, partner, child, or organizing buddy.
Step 5: Set Yourself Up for Success
Even the most sparkling, simplified kitchen won’t stay that way without daily maintenance. That’s why it’s so important to have systems in place to catch clutter as it comes — and it will come.
Start by looking at what you and your family do in the kitchen. Yes, you cook and eat here. But what else? You might also use the kitchen to pay bills and look up recipes. Your kids might do homework there while you cook. Your systems need to accommodate the tasks you do in this room.
For example, if you pay bills in the kitchen, dedicate a bin, basket, or wall-mounted pocket to store mail until you can sort it yourself.
If your kids do homework or play in the kitchen while you cook, set up a dedicated space for them to do that. Keep pencils, pens, notebooks, and other related tools in a drawer or cabinet they can reach easily.
Do what you can to corral the items you need for various other activities in the kitchen.
More Organizing Tips for a Simplified Kitchen
- Make Use of Your Cabinets. Decluttering will give you more room in your kitchen cabinets. When possible, move items that are not used daily off the countertops and into cabinets. Clear, organized countertops will transform the way your kitchen looks and feels.
- Downsize Your Cleaning Products. You probably have more cleaners than you need. Sort through them all and only keep what you use most (which is likely only two or three products). The rest should be discarded or brought to your community’s hazardous waste drop-off site. Consider using natural cleaning products like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon to simplify even further.
- Hang Items Under the Sink. Use a spring-loaded curtain rod to hang up spray bottles under the kitchen sink. The handles fit perfectly over the rod. This will free up space under your sink for other items you want to keep on hand. You can also hang a large coffee cup from the rod to store extra sponges; just put the rod through the handle.
- Pare Down on Party Supplies. If you’re keeping a lot of extra plates and wine glasses for a “someday” party, pare down to what you actually use daily. If you do host a large dinner in the future, you can ask friends and neighbors if you can borrow some dishes or rely on a borrowing site like Peerby for whatever you don’t have.
- Hang Up Cooking Utensils. Use 3M adhesive hooks to hang up cooking utensils on the insides of cabinets. For example, measuring spoons and cups can be hung up by tying a piece of string to their handles; this frees up drawer space and makes it easier to find what you need.
- Hang Up Backpacks. Give your kids’ backpacks a home with hooks hung at their level. This will keep the bags off the floor and make it easy for your kids to access books and assignments when they do homework.
Like most families, my family spends the majority of our time in the kitchen. Although the rest of our house stays relatively uncluttered, the kitchen requires constant cleaning and upkeep, and I still don’t stay on top of it all the time. But every time I’m finished cleaning and organizing the kitchen, I feel better. And a tidy kitchen certainly makes meal prep easier.
What tips and tricks do you have for decluttering and organizing the kitchen? What are the things you struggle with most when it comes to keeping your kitchen organized?