Know When to Let Go: The 15 Minute Sweep To Clear Kitchen Clutter

Know When to Let Go: The 15 Minute Sweep To Clear Kitchen Clutter

10 minute read

There are a lot of ways to approach this uncomfortable topic. We all like the idea of decluttering, but very few of us enjoy the gut-grinding decision-making process that minimizing requires, especially in the kitchen.

Why is it hard to get rid of stuff? It’s simple––attachment. For many of us, purging appliances is akin to the psychological torment of losing a limb. It’s not because we have an intimate and historical relationship with our deep fryer, it’s because we have a codependent one.

It’s what the deep fryer represents––the money we spent on it, its potential usefulness at some undetermined point in the future, the anticipation of regret should we suddenly want to use it two weeks after we’ve tossed it.

We’re Hard-Wired To Hold Onto Stuff


Letting go of anything can have a very powerful impact on our sense of overall capability. The mere thought of it can also frighten us to no end. Our inclination to own things and acquire more is natural human instinct––we’re hard-wired to avoid or prevent loss. But as you might have noticed, loss is something over which we have very little control. So when it comes to kitchen gadgets––those things we can control––it’s only natural to accumulate, and in some cases acquire en mass. 

A classic example is the recent toilet paper crisis that transpired the moment we sensed a threat to our security. I’m sure any of us could list 10 other items we’d have scrambled for that would be 10x more useful in an emergency situation, but that’s another conversation. 

The point is that it doesn’t really matter what we’re holding onto, it’s the holding on itself that gives us peace of mind albeit a false sense of security. 

Why make the kitchen the culprit of our fear-driven compulsions? Simple, it’s an easy and undeserving target for materializing our insecurities. Not only do we use it every day, it’s where we store our food––our most basic survival requirement.

So, if your kitchen has become the scape-goat of your disquiet, don’t worry––it’s pretty common. It sounds worse than it is and far easier to tackle than trauma-release sessions with a psychiatrist (and less expensive too!).

Now that we know why we have a basic instinct to collect toasters and tortilla makers, it’s worth taking a quick peek at why decluttering feels so good and why it’s so critical for improving our lives. 

That’s right––decluttering can change your life. Keep reading to find out how easy it is.

Where Does the Urge to Purge Come From?

Most of us have the itch to ditch useless stuff in our homes and kitchens, but have you ever wondered why? Recent research reports three primary reasons why the urge to purge is one we should listen to:

People who have messy kitchens tend to eat more calories. Scientists in the US and Australia found that a messy environment exacerbates feelings of chaos (1). What do we do when we feel out of control? Consume. One solution is to this is the creation of a suggestive environment, an immediate space containing only those objects which serve to inspire and support your sense of purpose or chosen mindset. This naturally reduces clutter and reduces the instinct to stress-eat.

Compulsive shoppers are less satisfied with life. While this may appear to be a chicken-or-egg situation––indeed it is a vicious cycle––researchers discovered that the opposite is true for their non-compulsive buyer counterparts. Serial shopping negatively impacted work functioning, general quality of life, and psychological well-being (2).

Hoarding and compulsive buying behavior may be linked to emotional intolerance––the inability to manage an emotional response to stress-inducing events. One controlled study found a positive association between interpersonal stress and hoarding and clutter (3). This finding implies that clearing away some of the unnecessary external stuff may contribute to internal calm.

Less Is More

Hey––there’s insight behind every cliche. Sometimes it’s not about having too much stuff, but having too much stuff out.

You know those people who have a tendency to overshare? A messy kitchen is a bit like that. Hearing about someone’s marital troubles or digestive issues makes us feel a bit uncomfortable––we really don’t need to lay it all out in the open. It’s something to think about if you have gobs of stuff taking up precious real estate on your kitchen island. Less tends to make us feel so much better than more in the long-term, so keeping those surfaces tidy is a major first step.   

If you’re putting it all out there because you’re afraid you’ll forget about it, that probably means that you don’t use it often enough to really need it.

Start Here: What Areas Of Your Kitchen Need Decluttering?

  • Countertops (yes, all of them)

  • Island (in case you distinguish it from a countertop)

  • Cupboards

  • Pantry

  • Refrigerator / deep freezer

  • Drawers

  • Dubious spaces that don’t fit into any category (like the top of the toaster oven––how many times have you left some favored meltable object up there?)

What Should You Get Rid Of? (The 10 Most Useless Kitchen Items)

Before you begin, engage these two critical tips: 

Preparation Tip #1

Set a timer for 15 minutes (more or less depending on the size or scope of the task before you). Just purge, don’t organize. Be ruthless. Don’t think, overanalyze, reminisce, or allow guilt to cloud your judgement. This is an act of instinct, so allow your primal impetus to get the job done. 

Preparation Tip #2:

Create three spaces for receiving three types of items: those destined for the garbage bin, those that you plan to repurpose (plan is the operative word here), and recyclables. Which items end up where is up to you.

  1. Useless fridge magnets n’ things (you can’t have a minimalist kitchen while keeping an art gallery on your fridge)

  2. Flyers / take-out menus. Everything is online, don’t get caught in the paper trap.

  3. Non functional stuff like melted or broken plastic-wear and their lids. They’re not only unsafe, they’re likely unusable, except for some brilliant creative project which Google may direct you to.

  4. Appliances you haven’t used in over a year (we recommend a year owing to the seasonal nature of some items).

  5. Suspicious sauces. Never mind the expiration date. If you can’t remember when you bought it, whether you liked it, or the label is so saturated with oil as to render it illegible––toss it.

  6. Grotty dish towels. Forget that Auntie Jo gave it to you as a token of her trip to Rio. If it’s torn or gross looking it has no place being in your spanking-hot new kitchen (the decluttered one).

  7. Cookbooks. Find recipes online (link to blog). Unless you’re a collector, this is another paper trap. One quick online search will give you a plethora of recipe options. 

  8. Plastic cutlery, yogurt containers, and other single-use plastic detritus. This is some of the worst stuff for the natural environment. A resin identification code #6 means it’s recyclable, but just because they can be recycled, doesn’t mean they are recycled, ultimately. Check out this insightful and delightfully brief video from David Wolfe on what to do with your plastic cutlery

  9. Sauce packets––the offspring of your favorite fast food take-out. The ketchups, the hoisins, the srirachas, and more that you might need in the event of an emergency that renders all your current bottled sauces inedible.

  10. Spices. A broad and diverse spice collection inspires pride, doesn’t it? But getting through 500 grams of ground fennel seed before it expires is a feat. Most spices and dried herbs last about 6 to 12 months. While many don’t go bad, they lose flavor and medicinal value. 

Create A Junk Drawer

If this strikes you as counterintuitive, listen up, it’s not. A junk drawer is an absolute necessity in every home. But wait––isn’t the point to clear out all the crap? Mostly, yes. But then what becomes of all the stuff that has no place to go? Like rubber bands, twist ties, notepads, multipurpose miscellany that some day at some time (more frequently than we suspect) are actually useful.

The junk drawer is like having a vice. Unless you’re a monk, your mind, life, and behavior is neither completely clear or clean. And you know what? That’s okay! We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t overindulge in coffee or eat chocolate or judge other people. While striving to head in that clean-and-clear direction is admirable and serves its own purpose, a holier-than-thou attitude or kitchen arrangement can cause you to combust under the self-induced pressure. Allow a place for everything, understanding that the garbage bin or your local second hand shop might be the best place for it.

And like a vice, one is good enough, but 12 smacks of neurotic behavior. That means you have to keep close tabs on what qualifies as worthy for the junk drawer. Bits of string don’t count. 

Pause Before You Purchase

The benefits of decluttering are manifold. It clears the mind and cleanses the spirit. It creates cupboard and counter space. It also prompts us to buy with greater awareness and inquiry about the usefulness of a particular object and its impact on the environment.

Each time you reach to buy a food item in a grocery store, or mouse over the ‘buy now’ button, pause for a moment and ask yourself, what will happen to it or the container it comes in? This kind of thinking is, arguably, every consumer’s environmental responsibility. Eliminating all waste is a hefty goal, so start where you’re at and strive to notice what you didn’t before. 

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  1. Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments - Lenny R. Vartanian, Kristin M. Kernan, Brian Wansink, 2017

  2. Quality of life and psychiatric work impairment in compulsive buying: increased symptom severity as a function of acquisition behaviors

  3. General Life Stress and Hoarding: Examining the Role of Emotional Tolerance

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