This is the first in a new series on decluttering the home.
Every time my apartment gets cluttered, I imagine a Hogwartsian future: I wave a stick and my office desk dusts itself in a poof, my clothes fold themselves in neat piles, and my Tupperware lids find their other halves. Every time reality disappoints.
If only there was a magic wand for the kitchen. A kind of “lipo-organizer,” jokes Jill Pollack, organizational expert and former host of HGTV’s Consumed. Pollack has helped the dirtiest of homeowners sort their spaces out, and she knows where everyone goes wrong post-decluttering.
“Like with liposuction, they lipo your fat but you don’t learn how to eat healthier,” she says. Being organized is “the same thing as being fit. You can’t just do it once a year and call yourself fit.” Pollack is full of organizational analogies.
Treat your place like your eyebrows: “You gotta pluck your eyebrows. It gets nasty if you don’t.”
Think of your kitchen like a garden: it’s easier to pull a couple weeds now than to gut your entire backyard later.
“They say the kitchen is the stomach of the home,” she tells me. And so Pollack has offered tips to declutter my stomach, a large space with a dozen cabinets and drawers shared with two roommates. Will her expert advice turn my flabby kitchen stomach into washboard abs of organization?
On the outside, my kitchen is in shape already. True, the countertops aren’t shining — they’re covered in coffee grinds and bread crumbs. But that fit exterior is really just like a drawn-on six-pack.
Behind closed cabinets, my kitchen stomach is grumbling. Beginning my decluttering task, I open the drawers to unmatched Tupperware containers, four varieties of wine opener, dozens of chopsticks, stray napkins and plastic forks. I quickly slam the drawers shut again as if they let out a scream.
A drawer is like a bedroom closet, which Pollack has called a “black hole.” You can throw everything in them and forget what is pushed to the back. Where you find a lone sock in the back of your closet, I find a lone gingerbread man-shaped cookie cutter among the magnetized-but-separated measuring spoons scattered in my kitchen drawer.
As I begin my decluttering, more words from Pollack ring in my ears: “Own your stuff. Don’t let your stuff own you.”
Don’t ‘nest’ your Tupperware
It seems to be common misinformation that “nesting” your Tupperware containers (stacking them inside one another and separating the lids) is the best way to arrange this drawer. Pollack disagrees.
Instead, imagine this: all your Tupperware containers have their lids already on them when you open the drawer. No more fumbling around in the morning for that tiny lid that matches that tiny container. You might think this is crazy — how will I fit them all now? — but you can still put the lidded small ones inside the lidded large ones. Besides, you don’t need as many as you think you do. Time to downsize.
Do this, not that:
“You need a couple large ones, a couple mini ones,” says Pollack. “Be realistic.” Just because someone said “You want this cute Tupperware,” doesn’t mean you need it.
Don’t get emotional with your mugs
Be honest, you only own two or three good travel mugs. Get rid of the Bahamas-themed one you’ve been keeping in memory of warmer weather. Toss that free winter-themed one you got two years ago. Pollack suggests you follow a two-to-three travel mugs per person maximum.
Keep this, not that:
You might need a higher ratio for other mugs and drinking glasses, but don’t let your glassware cabinet get out of control. Keep the artful personalized mugs and toss out a few mason jars that take up too much space.
Contain your counter (and under-counter) clutter
Counter space is screaming to be cluttered. Pollack says you need to find a place for everything: “It can’t be ‘I don’t know where to put this,’” she says. “You have to pick up each item and say ‘What is this and where does this live?’”
Maybe this means starting a newspaper basket, or countertop container to fill with your favourite takeout menus.
These types of containers aren’t like the black holes Pollack warns of: “It’s not dangerous because a container is just for that,” she says. “You have to assign a space for something and that’s where it lives.”
Do this, not that:
What about the mayhem of the under-the-sink space? Don’t let your plastic bags own you. Do you really need that many? If you do, stuff the small ones into a bigger one, or buy a plastic bag dispenser.
Compost your expired food
People tend to be less emotional about kitchen items, according to Pollack.
“It’s not like ‘I met my first boyfriend when I bought this mustard.’ Nobody cares. It’s mustard. Buy more,” she says. “It’s obvious what’s expired.”
Be realistic about what you eat and use. Look at each item and say “Am I actually going to use it?” Answering that question honestly will open up space for more items you love. You don’t want to end up like one of Pollack’s former clients who kept cans of peas in the guest bathroom.
Keep this, not that:
Freeze your browning bananas for baking and toss the four boxes of nearly empty cereal long past its “best before” date.