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Conquer Your Kitchen Clutter Japanese-Style

A best-seller inspires the urge to declutter a kitchen. Credit: Copyright 2015 Joe Whittle Photography

A best-seller inspires the urge to declutter a kitchen. Credit: Copyright 2015 Joe Whittle Photography

Six small offset spatulas. A stainless steel falafel maker. A Tiffany bowl weighing as much as a bowling ball. A set of measuring cups with broken handles. This was just a random sampling of the miscellany populating my kitchen countertops on Day One of a decluttering extravaganza.

By the time I’d pulled out my every culinary possession from the shelves, cupboards and drawers, I was stunned by the flea market collection I’d amassed in the dozen years since a complete kitchen remodel.

If you recognize this decluttering spree as one inspired by the KonMari method sweeping the nation, you’d be right. The only caveat is that as a professional cook and cookbook author, clothing — the category the best-selling Japanese author Marie Kondo puts at the top of her “start here” list — was not exactly my biggest issue. Instead, I had shelves stuffed with cookbooks from past writing projects, scrappy old cookware and a motley collection of chopsticks in need of retirement, just to start.

As I contemplated the state of my kitchen, I realized that the American “cooking room” represents a culturally unique problem compared wirth the Japanese kitchen. Often the largest room in the house, the kitchen is as much a social gathering space as a functional space — not to mention a convenient storage space for culinary and everyday items alike. In short, our kitchens are a complete mess!

So, here’s how I adapted this international organizing expert’s advice and cleaned up my act.

Five categories for kitchens

One of the premises of Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” is that decluttering room by room is a common pitfall. Her foolproof strategy centers on bookcleaning according to a list of clutter-prone categories (clothing, books, papers, and so on.) But, as there was no category for my set of Perrier Jouët champagne glasses, warped cutting board or dusty soup tureen, I was forced to take some liberties — a lot of them, in fact.

Taking stock of all the items unique to kitchens, I constructed a top-five list — appliances, pots and pans, dishes and glassware, knives and utensils, and cookbooks — for a decluttering action plan.


Array everything you own with a plug on the counter and count them up. Does the number surprise you? Now, give away every single one that does not inspire you to whip up something in it you haven’t made in a while. (I consider this the culinary equivalent of Kondo’s decision-making question, “Does it bring you joy?”)

Pots and pans

It’s likely you cook most meals in the same two favorite pans. There are your keepers. Toss out the redundant and the worn out, unless it’s cast iron that just needs some TLC. Save your one good pasta/soup pot, preferably with a steamer insert, plus a saucepan. Commit to buying open stock cookware (never sets) of your most beloved brand forever more.

Dishes and glassware

Unless you’re hosting monthly pop-ups at your place you probably have more serving pieces, including plates, bowls, coffee mugs and juice glasses than your family needs. Keep your favorites. Consider, like I did, putting your wedding china to everyday use.

Knives and utensils

Whittle the amount of knives down to what is used most and fits best in your hand. Credit: Copyright 2015 Lynne Curry

Whittle the number of knives down to what is used most and fits best in your hand. Credit: Copyright 2015 Lynne Curry

Line up your knives and select the one you reach for without thinking, the one that also feels good in your hand. Ideally, this is a chef’s knife or utility knife. Add in the best paring knife you own, then get them both sharpened. (This is all you need unless you practice a bit of home butchery.) Similarly for cooking utensils — spatulas, spoons, whisks — we all own more than we need. Whittle down to the essential.


With Internet recipes at your fingertips, cookbooks now have a different role in our lives. I honed my collection from hundreds down to dozens, holding onto only those I wanted to read or browse in my hands. As for the host of recipe files and clippings, those belong in Kondo’s “sentimental” category, so save those for a rainy day.

The strategy

With a plan, a kitchen is transformed. Credit: Copyright 2015 Joe Whittle Photography

With a plan, a kitchen is transformed. Credit: Copyright 2015 Joe Whittle Photography

By following this list methodically, I quickly eliminated tired, outmoded, unloved and otherwise useless belongings while rediscovering the joy inherent in Le Creuset Dutch ovens, a few good knives and a solid cutting board readily on hand. All that newfound linear feet of shelving breathed with space and light. And so did I.

Due to the vast quantities of kitchen belongings covering every free counter, chair and floor space within minutes, I used liquor boxes, which are just the right size for gathering cluttered items in the same category and don’t get too heavy. They’re also easily moved, so you can clear space on the dining table to eat a meal. Still, I recommend blitzing through this project. And bank on ordering takeout.

Once I’d conquered these top five categories, I was inspired in subsequent days to winnow the spice cabinets, then the cooking oils and the host of forgotten dry goods. But these areas are for extra credit only.

There is just one obligatory final task before you sit back to enjoy a well-earned glass of wine in your favorite stemware: Throw out all of your oven mitts as well as the dish towels with stains, holes and burns and buy new ones immediately. No questions asked.

Main photo: A best-seller inspires the urge to declutter a kitchen. Credit: Copyright 2015 Joe Whittle Photography

Zester Daily contributor Lynne Curry is an independent writer based in the mountains of eastern Oregon and the author of "Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Beef with Recipes for Every Cut" (Running Press, 2012). She blogs at

  • Jessica Salllada 11·30·15

    Fabulous! Just like you. Happiest of holidays to you & yours my wonderful friend.

  • Annie 1·7·16

    Ooh, permission for new linens. I love it! Very inspiring…have recently started a whole house effort to declutter but like many Americans, we have so much stuff it’s overwhelming. This article was very helpful practical advice.

  • Lynne Curry 1·20·16

    Yes, new linens, Annie. You deserve it.

  • Ivy Manning 4·12·16

    Lovely story, but it makes me so sad that cookbooks are now looked at as clutter. I love my collection dearly and won’t let them go. Online recipes don’t have the curation, the heft, or the reliability of physical cookbooks. Wheel me into the old folks’ home now, I guess.