15 Clever Ways to Zero-Out Clutter in Your Kitchen

Taking an entire day or most of a weekend to completely clean and declutter your kitchen will leave you with a space that feels larger, brighter, and super-efficient.  But many of us don't have the time or energy to do such a big job all at once, and we need simpler strategies to get the lovely kitchens we deserve.

There are ways to declutter under the radar, so to speak – ways that don't feel like drudgery.  Let's get clever and streamline this daily work space with just a bit of effort and a few minutes here and there.

uncluttered kitchen

Strategies to cut kitchen clutter

1.  Clear off the refrigerator.

Appointment reminders (put them on your calendar), children's drawings (display them in their rooms, and narrow down the "keepers" once a year), and magnets from your insurance agent and local pizzeria make your entire kitchen look cluttered.  And what about what lives on top of your fridge?  Trays you never use?  Cereal boxes the pantry has no room for?  A neglected appliance?

Researchers at UCLA found a direct correlation between the number of items on a person's fridge and the level of clutter in the rest of their home.  They also noted that more clutter equals more stress and more dissatisfaction with life in general and home in particular.

Start with the fridge, and immediately calm your kitchen.

2.  Declutter one drawer at a time.

By tackling one drawer at a time – the eating utensil drawer, the cooking tool drawer, or even the dreaded junk drawer – you can make steady progress in manageable increments.  Start at one end of the room and gradually work through everything.

  • Remove duplicates.
  • Beware tools that only do one task.
  • Relocate errant items.
  • Only keep what you actually use.

3.  Next, declutter one pantry shelf at a time.

Sure, a totally restyled pantry is satisfying, but a shelf that took just 10 minutes to straighten is still something to celebrate.  Remove expired foods, donate foods you bought but never used, and toss the half-empty packages lurking in the corners.  Then group like items together for ease of use and so you can see what you're short on and what you already have.  (Anything that streamlines grocery shopping is a win, don't you think?)

4.  Then declutter one refrigerator shelf at a time.

You know the drill by now.  Many people's refrigerators are packed with extraneous condiments and lots of leftovers.  That old box of baking soda probably isn't keeping up with the bad odor, either.

Remove the rubbish, clean the area, and organize what's left.  The refrigerator door will be a separate job, as will the freezer.  You're going to love the final result.

5.  Buy less.

As you clear out the pantry and refrigerator, you'll toss some food.  If that upsets you, use those feelings to keep you from buying things that are only going to go to waste.

It's not impressive to have pretty bins of fresh vegetables that will wind up in the garbage.  Buy in smaller quantities so you'll use things up before they go bad, and be honest about what you actually eat.  This isn't an Instagram post – it's real life.

6.  Toss everything related to takeout.

Collect the freebie chopsticks, packets of ketchup, and tiny pouches of salt and pepper.  You have your own condiments in the fridge.  You have your own silverware.  If you have a bunch of paper napkins, use them up, but next time, don't take these wasteful items.

7.  Use Lazy Susans, shelf risers, and silverware caddies.

Lazy Susans* are rotating wonders that let you store more without having small bottles or jars get lost at the back of a cupboard.  Shelf risers let you use the full height of the shelf for things like canned foods or different-sized plates and glasses.  Silverware caddies don't just sort and store your eating utensils.  They're also great for knives (so you don't have to keep that big block on the counter), can openers, measuring spoons, and other small kitchen tools.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

8.  Reduce the mug collection.

Take them all out – the sports team mugs, the cute kitty mugs, the "Greatest Employee" mugs.  Decide on a number.  How many mugs does your family actually use in a day?  Add an extra 3 or 4 in case you have friends over for coffee.  Now choose your favorites until you reach the limit you set, and STOP.  Donate the rest.

9.  Reconsider the third set of dishes.

Your most important kitchen items are the things you use to prepare and eat meals every day.  Unless you're a remarkable host, there probably aren't more than three or four days a year that you use the special tableware.  Most other situations can be made memorable with a creative centerpiece and maybe a tablecloth or runner.

If you feel you must have dishware for certain holidays, consider keeping just the dessert/salad plates (which look great with plain white dinner plates).  If you use them, keep the turkey platter and the gravy boat.  Turn to versatile clear glass storage/mixing bowls for serving side dishes.  Keep the Santa mugs if you'll use them every day in December.

Beverageware is another category that can multiply.  Your home is not a bar, so you probably don't need every size and shape of glass that's available.  I've had stackable Duralex Picardie glass tumbers for seven or eight years, and they still look clear and elegant.  They're comfortable to hold, and are perfect for water, juice, milk, even wine or Irish coffee (they're heat-resistant too).  These glasses are used in bistros and bars all over Europe, so you can feel confident using them on any occasion.

10.  Give yourself permission to get rid of things you're "supposed" to have.

Maybe you have a cast iron skillet because everyone raves about how great they are, but you always reach for your much-loved ceramic skillet.  Maybe you have a bread machine or a pasta maker because you hope, someday, to be the type of person who bakes homemade loaves and serves fresh artisanal pasta.  It's only been seven years – that day might still come.

It's okay.  Really, it is.  Scan your counters and cupboards for items you never actually use, and pull them out to donate.

11.  Be ruthless about food storage.

Most of us accumulate way too many food storage containers.  They crowd the cupboard.  Not only are some of them warped or lidless, but having so many lets us waste food.

How do storage containers waste food?  Don't they save food?  What really happens (you know it's true) is that we keep adding containers to the fridge, pushing what's already in there further back.  With too many storage containers, we keep too many leftovers.  They turn into disgusting science experiments we throw away.

While you're at it, eliminate plastic and get a few leak-proof, airtight glass containers that can go in the refrigerator, freezer, microwave, and oven.

12.  Remove every piece of d├ęcor.

Stop cluttering your kitchen – especially the counter – unnecessarily.  Remove all the little tchotchkes that gather dust.  Keep one larger picture for the wall, if you like, and maybe a plant.  You might like the clear space more than the stuff.

13.  Rehome aliens.

Mail, keys, backpacks, and more can easily crowd your workspace.  These items don't belong in your kitchen!  Make sure each has a convenient home, and teach yourself and every family member to put things away.  Take a few minutes of effort with the mail each day, and you'll prevent the ugly pile that's such a headache to deal with.

14.  Clear your counters.

Now that you've reduced what's in drawers and cupboards, you have room to put away the much-used items that crowd your counter, such as food canisters, the toaster, and the blender.  Yes, you need them for a few minutes most days, but that doesn't mean they need to be in view 24/7/365.  Keep them accessible but out of sight, and you'll free up workspace and make the area easier to clean.

15.  Try a Packing Party.

Are you up for a challenge?  Pack everything in your kitchen as if you're moving.  Keep out just one place setting of dishes, cups, and silverware for each family member.  Then for the next month, unpack only the cookware, dishes, and appliances you need, as you need them.

It wouldn't surprise me to learn that you use the same few tools over and over to prepare and eat daily meals.

At the end of the month, donate or sell what you never unpacked.  Don't dig through the boxes before discarding the contents.  If you haven't needed something in a month, and you can't spontaneously remember a specific item that you plan to use soon (such as canning equipment at the end of summer, or your holiday cookie cutters), then chances are it's an item that was simply gathering dust before your Packing Party.

I hope you're enjoying your rejuvenated kitchen, and finding it more pleasant and easy to work in.  You deserve a room in which you spend so much time to serve you, rather than feeling like a drudge in an always-messy space.

Want more ideas and inspiration for a simpler life?  You'll love my new book, The Daily Minimalist. 

Minimalism isn't magic, but it can do amazing things.  With 31 chapters for 31 days, The Daily Minimalist is full of tips and encouragements to help you be a rebel who challenges the more-is-always-better beliefs and values of our society.  I know you'll find it a useful tool and a good guide to the art of simpler living.


  1. Hi Karen, Your article on decluttering the kitchen is fantastic! I appreciate the practical tips you’ve shared.

    I’d like to add one more strategy that has worked wonders for me: setting up a designated ‘meal prep zone.’ By keeping all the essential tools, cutting boards, and ingredients within arm’s reach, I’ve streamlined my cooking process and reduced kitchen chaos. It’s a game-changer!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Best regards,
    Maria Positiva

  2. We have one corner of one shelf where we collect all those sauce packets and silverware packages. When the local food drive happens we include those to be used to pack school lunches.
    Linda Sand

  3. And I thought I knew many of the tricks for decluttering but I was so wrong well it's actually a second go through let's put it that way and the junk drawer is actually not doing too bad.. but everything else I kept the last time it is all mandatory at the packing party that starts in about 10 minutes. Appreciate the simplicity of this to easily follow as well as the scary mind reading you had going on (thinking has this woman actually been in my kitchen before?!) just wanted to say thanks and can't be late for the soiree in the most utilized room in the house...


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