Kick-starting simplifying

I am not good at winter. Too much indoor confinement and lack of daylight and exercise fosters a predictable slide from self-reflection into angsty navel-gazing and then lethargy.

Now that we’ve passed the spring equinox, I’m more than ready to be done with lethargy, and the best way to do that is to just do it. If you’re also in need of a kick-start, here are two suggestions. (I actually started my anti-lethargy plan by scheduling some fun gatherings with friends. Priorities!)


Because of its daily use and tendency to serve as the heart of the home, decluttering and simplifying in your kitchen has big potential for impact. If your goal is to cook more, you’ll be more successful if your kitchen is a clean space where supplies and tools are easy to access and you can maximize work surfaces.

1. Start at the top. Consider removing things stored on top of your cupboards. Get rid of or find other homes for those dusty decorative items, and get rid of or look for cupboard space for functional items.

2. Aim to reduce your stored food. I grew up with a food pantry kept stocked at all times, but for most of us this is unnecessary and takes up space that could be better used. Go through each food cupboard and make a plan to eat or donate the food in the next two weeks. Discard expired or stale food and spices. I tossed colored sugar and candy decorations used to make my son’s preschool birthday cakes (with no anticipated future use) and discovered a lifetime supply of cream of tartar. Go through your freezer, too. The situation may be different if you have a high-quality freezer, but in my experience even commercially packaged frozen foods grow a coat of ice crystals and become dried out after a few months. Then address the refrigerator—condiments and pickles are long-lasting but not forever, so give a hard look at anything that may have been opened more than a year ago.

3. Look for ways to reduce inventory. If you’ve combined households, inherited items, or gone through an entertaining phase (now past), you may have more serving dishes, cookware, and gadgets than you want to continue storing. Start at one side of the kitchen and go through everything asking yourself if you have used it in the last year. If you haven’t used it or if it’s a duplicate or if you already know that it doesn’t belong in your kitchen anymore, put it in a box. If you need more time to make your decision about keeping or selling/giving away those items, set the box aside for 30 days and then re-review the contents (this great idea is from Be More with Less).

You may decide that a single set of dishes is enough and that you don’t need a set for everyday use plus a set or more for special occasions. You may come to accept that you don’t need that charlotte pan (Is it really about the memories?) and that you don’t need all those coffee mugs, even though you feel a fondness for and remember acquiring each one. Or you may decide that you have just the right kitchen tools to be making your own food, and that you have one less barrier than you thought to doing more cooking.

Don’t forget your cookbooks, recipe box, and loose clippings. Have you looked at that stuff in the past year? Are you looking at paper these days or cooking from recipes you find online? Last summer I culled about a dozen cookbooks and cooking magazines, and now I’m ready to give away another book with beautiful pictures and stories because, in almost six years, I have never sat down to look at it and I know I won’t be cooking from it.

Do you have a kitchen junk drawer? Make sure it’s the only junk drawer in your house, then be ruthless. Unless you regularly use rubber bands, twist ties, and matches, get rid of your stash. How many pens do you want to store? Business cards? Enter important information in your online contacts and then recycle the paper. Are you storing empty key rings and broken pieces of stuff and refrigerator magnets?

Speaking of the refrigerator, consider limiting its outside use to displaying one piece of artwork per child OR serving as family command center with only timely and important notes and bits of paper. Remove unused magnets.

Lastly, look at your supply of storage bags and wraps. Be intentional about using what you have before buying more, and consider ways you can store food without using disposable containers. If you want to get rid of unused aluminum foil, plastic storage bags, paper lunch bags, wax paper, plastic wrap, paper plates, and plastic cutlery, can you donate them to your workplace, or church kitchen, or your child’s school or summer camp for crafts?

4. Relocate? As you are going through each cupboard and drawer, consider whether your high-use items are easy to reach and near the places where you tend to use them.

5. Clean the insides. As you are going through cupboards and the refrigerator, take everything out and wipe down the insides.

6. Clear the countertops. As much as possible, keep your countertops free of appliances, decorations, mail, keys, school forms…a cordless drill (<– looking at my own kitchen counter). This takes daily vigilance and effort on the part of everyone in your household, but keeping the counters relatively clear creates an instant sense of order and means that when you walk in with a bag of groceries the space is ready for you to begin work.


If the kitchen seems overwhelming, start with this other high-use room.

1. Reduce inventory. Even though I am committed to not buying ahead, I do still buy one big package of toilet paper at a time (I have the storage space, know we’ll use it, and I’m saving a small amount of money). Everything else—tissue, shampoo, soap, floss, toothbrushes, shaving cream, sunscreen—I try to buy only as needed.

Look through your inventory to see what can be combined or tossed (empty bottles?), and make a plan to use up the rest before buying more. If you’ve got vitamins, over-the-counter or prescription medicine, and sunscreen, look at the expiration dates. Here are instructions on disposing of medications at home that will probably work where you live—because of water pollution, it is not advised to flush medications down the toilet.

Look too at your cleaning supplies and your collection of linens. I have been really pleased with how easy it is to make my own bathroom cleaning supplies, and how this is helping me eliminate potentially toxic chemicals from our home. As for linens, we are down to one bath towel each plus two hand towels, not counting a few towels designated for beach or gym use. We have one set of sheets plus a few wash cloths for my son, and our two sets of sheets for the master bedroom are a legacy and not necessary (it’s probably clear that we have our own washer and dryer). We do have a healthy set of large and small cloth rags, for which a recent plumbing issue made me grateful.

And makeup? If it’s old that means you’re not using it, so toss it. If it’s newer but you know you’re not going to use it, toss it.

2. Clear the countertop. If you’re lucky enough to have counter space in your bathroom, consider whether any of the things stored on surfaces can be removed completely or stored in a drawer or cupboard without sacrificing access to items you use daily.


The reality is that even if you’ve already been through each of the steps above, you can probably repeat them in six months or a year and find more ways to reduce stuff or otherwise improve your spaces.

If you have other ideas for the kitchen or bathroom, please share them!

3 thoughts on “Kick-starting simplifying

  1. Hi Ellen
    I too am trying to get rid of the ‘stuff’ in my life. I took two boxes of crockery and photo frames to the local charity shop and it feels so liberating.
    However, I am very particular about linen, I couldn’t possibly live with one bath towel each. I change my hand towels daily and bath towels twice a week. I don’t use a dryer at all. Although our weather is not as extreme as yours. (Sydney, Australia) I love good sheets and couldn’t put the same set on week after week. I think there are other ways to simplify. What do you so when guests come? Share a towel?

    • Hi Pauline – I think we probably agree that there is no rulebook for simplifying. Many of the simplifying blogs I’ve read talk about a capsule wardrobe (reducing your clothing and accessories to 33 per season), and all I can think is how limiting it sounds. My budget and preference to do things other than shop do a sufficient job keeping my closet in check.

      Before we sold our house we had a guest bedroom and a set of guest bed and bath linens. The room was used about once a year. Now we don’t really have space for overnight guests, although you reminded me that our extra set of sheets DID come in handy about a month ago when we wanted to save my father-in-law a long drive late at night. We also gave him a beach towel. 😉

  2. Pingback: Back to basics | Simplifying at Home

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