Decluttering and Simplifying the Kitchen

When my husband recently underwent open-heart surgery at the age of 55, it became clear that we were going to have to make some changes. If we want to avoid a repeat incident (and we do!), we will need to stop eating like teenagers, get more exercise, and reduce the stress in our lives. The need to rethink our diet was obvious, but to me, so was the need to reduce the clutter in our home. Not only does the clutter cause more work and time to manage, but it causes feelings of stress and discontent.

Keep life simple
Photo by Brett Jordan on

With the two main objectives in mind (live healthier and reduce stress), I decided to start decluttering in the kitchen.

I began by going through the cupboards and tossing any garbage: expired food, food we don’t like, and food that would no longer be on the menu for health reasons. Then I organized them with like things together.

As I bring in new items, I try to buy mostly ingredients as opposed to prepared foods. I avoid buying seasoning mixes or dressings or anything else that I can make with ingredients I have on hand. Thanks to the Internet, the recipes and hacks are easy to find.

Photo by Matheus Cenali on

Which brings me to cookbooks. I had a huge collection of cookbooks: church cookbooks, bank cookbooks, memorial cookbooks, vegan, vegetarian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Scottish and on and on. Not to mention the stacks of recipes printed out from the Internet. I got a notebook and started writing down my favorites, then I tossed most of the cookbooks and all of the printouts. I even tossed the battered cookbook my mother gave us for a wedding gift. That was hard, since she passed away five years after we got married. But it was kind of dirty and greasy and splotched, and I think Mom would understand. She would want me to have a nice kitchen, and she would have LOVED being able to search for recipes on the Internet. (Miss you, Mom. <3)

Together, my husband and I tackled the utensil drawers. We donated two of the three roast forks, the french fry maker, the extra potato masher, and many other items. We tossed half of the bag clips (no more chips in this house!), extra measuring spoons and cups, and I know not what else. It felt great! Those drawers could probably stand another round of purging, but they look so much better, and I can actually find what I’m looking for.

I also got rid of some of our storage containers, including anything that didn’t have both a lid and a bottom. And I tossed the deep fryer. We didn’t use it often, and we shouldn’t use it ever again. Bye-bye!

I said I buy mostly ingredients now, but there is one exception: chopped salads. Bagged chopped salads are so delicious and easy and we are 1000x more likely to eat salad if it’s already ready already. So, I buy the salad kits and add ham or turkey or leftover chicken breast. The goal is simpler, after all.

A Vision For (My) Life

About two months ago, my husband had unplanned open heart surgery. He woke up one Monday morning believing he was strong and reasonably healthy, and went to sleep that night in a hospital bed, awaiting a heart catheterization procedure scheduled the next morning. On Wednesday, he underwent a quadruple bypass.

In the movies, the loving spouse would hover nearby, sleeping in uncomfortable hospital chairs, declining food and surviving on bad coffee and stale chewing gum or linty cough drops from the bottom of her purse. The patient would rest calmly, preparing himself for the ordeal to come.

That isn’t our life. I was 100 miles away at home, caring for the chickens and the dogs and trying to get the house ready for Paul’s homecoming. I had to do some cleaning and organizing and rearranging. I had to rid the pantry of junk food and plan heart-healthy meals. I had to try to figure out how I would manage it all if he didn’t come home.

Paul was sitting in his hospital bed worrying about all the things he needed us to know about caring for the house: the woodstove, the water softener, the reverse osmosis system, and all of the other things he does and never really talks about.

Because here’s the thing; our house. If our retirement account suddenly hit our magic number tomorrow, we would still have to deal with this house. It’s large, over 5000 square feet of living space and sits on 12 acres. We have lived in and added to this home for more than 25 years. We’ve raised kids here and have housed other family members anywhere from a few months to many years. People have moved in, moved out and left stuff, died and left stuff, or just visited and left stuff. We buy stuff, people give us stuff, I had a shop and when I closed it, there was leftover stuff. Our house is… stuffed!

I’ve known for years that I needed to declutter, but it all seems more urgent, more important, and more imminent that it did two months ago, and it’s time to quit dreaming and get serious. I’ve long been a fan of The Clutterbug Podcast with Cas Aarssen, and I recently discovered someone with whom she collaborates, Dana K. White of A Slob Comes Clean. I love Cas’s energy and enthusiasm, and I love Dana’s non-emotional, no-nonsense approach to clutter removal. If you want a simpler (but not necessarily minimalist) life, I highly recommend these two ladies for wisdom and motivation.

I started getting serious about mucking out about two weeks ago and have already tossed or donated so many bags of clutter. I did this without saying a word to anyone in my family because, if I’m honest, I’m the biggest offender. But when my husband started to see the results of my work, he was inspired to join in. We are both learning to let go of things that aren’t serving the life we live right now, regardless of value or usefulness, and our lives are already simpler and better.