Declutter Your Kitchen Cabinets


I’m here to guide you step-by-step on your quest to declutter your kitchen cabinets.  It’s actually one of my favorite organizational tasks!  It’s rather like putting a puzzle together – and I like puzzles.  The kitchen cabinet puzzle contains many varied pieces which, when put together properly, presents an attractive, functional room that everyone in the family can use with ease. 

Start with a Plan

The image that allows you to see what the puzzle should look like when it’s finished is a personalized plan for kitchen work zones

When planning your work zones, consider the following:

  • How often do you cook?
  • Which appliances do you use most?
  • Do you tend to use fresh ingredients, or are you more inclined to prepare pre-packaged food? 
  • Do you bake frequently? 
  • Is there more than one cook in your household?
  • Are multiple cooks likely to be working in the kitchen at the same time?
  • Is your counter space restricted due to overcrowding?
  • Do you have sufficient storage space?

These questions will help you determine which kitchen work zones you need and how best to arrange them within the space of your kitchen, be it limited or abundant.   The answers will empower you to make logical, functional choices about where to store items as you declutter your kitchen cabinets.


Sort & Purge 

As with any puzzle, you really can’t hope to put it together effectively until you’ve looked at all the pieces to determine what you have.  A wise approach to puzzle solving is to sort pieces according to similarities (edge pieces, sky pieces, pieces with words, etc.).  The same is true when it comes to the kitchen cabinet puzzle.

The first step to declutter your kitchen cabinets is to empty them.

That’s right.  We’re starting with a clean slate, so be sure you’ve got a 3-4 hour block of time available to tackle this task, preferably early in the day when you are fresh.  It might also be wise to enlist the help of a friend (or two). 

As you empty your kitchen cabinets, you will be sorting and purging simultaneously.

Ideally, you will want to have the kitchen counters cleared off so that you can use them as a staging area for the contents of the cupboards.  If that is not possible due to limited space or overcrowding, a nearby island or table will work as well.  If neither is available, you can always make piles on the floor.  The important thing is to have a system in mind for placing sorted items until you’re ready to return them to their rightful places. 

I recommend placing sticky notes on the counter top (or whatever surface you’ve set aside for staging your piles).  Write category headings on each note to identify what type of items will go in each pile.  Sample categories could include bakeware, dishes, storage containers, and so forth.  

In addition, set out three bags, boxes, or bins for collecting purged items.  Label one container for trash, one for items you wish to sell, and one for things you plan to donate.  Set these containers at the edge of your work space so you won’t keep tripping over them. 

Keep in mind that items you are keeping will get sorted into your countertop piles while items you no longer want or need will go into one of your three bins.  

As you pull each item from the cabinet, make an assessment.  You will need to consider the following:

Do you like it? 

If the answer is no, then why are you keeping it?

Do you need it? 

Maybe you prefer grid style to coil style potato mashers and yours is a coil style (i.e. you don’t really like it), but it’s the only potato masher you've got.  If so, you’ll want to hold onto it for now because a potato masher you don’t like is probably better than no potato masher at all. 

Tip: Write it Down

Another useful thing to have on hand as you declutter your kitchen cabinets is pen and paper.  Use them to make a note of items you need or would like to replace.  Record these things as you think of them so you don't forget. 

When assessing need, keep in mind that some multiples are necessary (such as multiple food storage containers), but most are not.  I recently worked on a kitchen in which there were four can openers, six vegetable peelers, three pizza cutters, and three ice cream scoops (and consequently no space).  An effective way to declutter your kitchen cabinets is to get rid of unnecessary multiples.

If you’ve got multiples you don’t need (and I’m betting you do), determine which you use most frequently and place the excess in one of your purge bins. 

Do you use it?

Most of us have items lurking in the back of our kitchen cabinets that we never use.  It could be a set of fun-shaped cake pans you purchased on a whim but have never gotten around to using (and probably never will).  Or it may be a gift from your great aunt – the purpose of which you've never actually discovered. 

A good guideline for determining an item’s usefulness is the test of time.  If you haven’t used something in the past twelve months, chances are you don’t need it.  There are a few exceptions to this rule, but in general it’s a good rule to follow.   

Take advantage of this effective method to declutter your kitchen cabinets and bid farewell to items you don’t use.

Does it work?

Obviously, if an item doesn't work you should get rid of it.  That said, many of us have a tendency to hang on to such things with the idea that one of these days we’ll get them fixed.  This is especially true if the item in question was expensive or highly valued. 

Take this opportunity to further declutter your kitchen cabinets by discarding any broken appliances, cracked plates, or containers with missing lids (or lids with missing containers). 

If an item meets any one of the above criteria, it’s a prime candidate for your purge bins.  If it meets more than one, there can be no doubt as to its proper location. 

The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to part with things you don’t like, need, or use.  Chances are there is someone out there who does need or would use your unneeded/unwanted stuff.  Knowing this can make it easier to part with such things.  This combined with the additional space you will create in your kitchen by purging should be all the motivation you need to fill up those purge bins.

Tip: Where to Donate Used Kitchen Items

Help others and the environment by donating reusable items in good condition to charitable organizations.  For suggestions on where to donate items visit Donate Your Stuff.

Sort & Purge Food

Purging the food cupboard can really help you to declutter your kitchen cabinets.  Use similar criteria for purging canned and dry foods as you used for purging other kitchen items with the added consideration of expiration dates.  

The best used by date refers to an unopened package.  Once the package is open, that date no longer applies.  So, if the crackers in your cupboard have a best used by date six months from now, but they’ve been open for two months already, you’ll want to do a taste test for freshness before you return them to your cupboard. 

Tip: Date It

As with refrigerated items, it’s a good idea to write the date on a package when you open it if you don’t expect to use it all immediately.  This will help you keep track of items which are beyond their prime. 

Dispose of anything that has expired or that tastes stale.  In addition, get rid of any cans which are dented, rusted, or have bulges. 

If you have multiple opened packages of the same item, combine them in order to save space (provided none of them has expired).  

As with non-food items, you will need to assess whether you or anyone in your household likes the item in question and is likely to use it.  If the answer is no, and the item is unopened and unexpired, place it in your donation bin.  Your local food shelter would be happy to take it off your hands.    

As you remove items from the cabinets, stack them in piles according to type: canned fruit and vegetables, soup, pasta, cereal, etc.  

Tip: Where to Donate Food

The following organizations accept donations of food, often to include surplus fresh garden produce:

Ample Harvest - http://www.ampleharvest.org/index.php

Feeding America - http://feedingamerica.org/

FoodPantries.org - http://www.foodpantries.org/

Once your cabinets are empty, you've purged any unneeded or unwanted items, and you've sorted the keepers into piles of like items, you’re ready to take the next step to declutter your kitchen cabinets.

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