Tag Archives: de-cluttering

More improvements to my small, organized kitchen

It’s been two years since I posted about how I organize my small kitchen. In the past week or so I’ve been working on the kitchen to make it even better and I’d love to show you! While I definitely have a good bit of leeway, I am a renter (and don’t live alone) soĀ  I’m not in a position to start ripping out cabinets and installing new fixtures. Still, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and want it to be as attractive and useful as possible.

Here’s the view from outside the kitchen. I made the tall shallow cabinet seen on the left of the kitchen entryway. It serves as a pantry. It’s shallow, about 9″ so it doesn’t take up much space and yet holds a lot.



This summer I added the “stone wall” paper, leftover from another project, to the half-wall. I loved how it made it look moreĀ substantial.Ā  This week I thought to add another piece to the wall holding the clock. Someone threw out that fabulous orangey-red chair and I added an orange cushion given to me by another person (she gave me two). It is super comfy and a very solid piece of furniture.


Here’s a different view from outside the kitchen.


Many years back I found the wood for the cabinet to the left of the stove, where else but, tossed out by the side of the road. It’s a peculiar manufactured wood that I hadn’t encountered before. The outside looks like the real thing, attractive finished lumber, but the inner core is hollow. Initially I made a long, low two-shelf that was in the living area. When I found something better I was able to eliminate my need for it there and sawed it down and made a higher, narrower unit. I was using it in its current space next to the stove but I had incorporated both an unmatched top board and shutter-type doors. Basically it was Frankenstein furniture, cobbled together with various pieces. It was also a tad too wide for the space. I got tired of looking at it and yesterday I completely took it apart and remade it into the 24″ wide cabinet you see here.


The bottom piece looks like a decorative flat front, one I covered with the same wall paper seen in above photos. However, it’s actually a door I added to hide 6 full size paint cans stored behind it on the floor. (I discovered the hard way that paint should be stored at room temperature.)


Here’s a long view. I guess you’d call this a galley kitchen? Not sure how narrow a space has to be to earn that title but as you see, it’s a relatively small space. Those are my pasta boxes over the window – I take my pasta seriously! (And there’s more stored elsewhere.) To the left of the window are open shelves I made for holding laundry products as the washing machine is right there.


There is little counter space so the washer has to do its part as it did one day last week when I made pancakes in “peg leg” skillet”. (Note the front right leg is actually a long screw as is one other leg.)


Previously I had introduced the color red into the kitchen and while I liked it, I ultimately decided I’d gone too far with it and should tone it down. A little red goes a long way – I see that now! I made the cup and spice racks a long time ago and painted them fire-engine red some years ago. Last week I put a coat of primer over them as well as the dowel for hanging kitchen tools. I am much happier with this white; it’s just more polished especially with the blue back splash I made from glass tiles I got from Freecycle. I had too many colors going on even for a cheerful, busy kitchen. While it’s stillĀ busy it’s cleaner-looking. (A side note: the stove is 20″ wide to give you an idea of size.)


I also put primer on the narrow strips at the top and bottom of all the white cabinets, which had previously been brown. The underside of the cabinets, which are made of some sort of manufactured wood, were also that brown shade. It’s not attractive and I realized, especially after I saw how even eliminating the red cup and spice racks made the space look brighter, that it was likely absorbing light. I put on a coat of primer and will likely either add another or a coat of regular white.

The cabinets initially had no door pulls and I added my own, red wood knobs. I took those off and finally used door pulls I found almost two years ago. They’re so pretty but I just hadn’t figured out the best way to use them before now. I only had the four so I’ve put white knobs on the other cabinets.

I made a place for a dish cloth by screwing in hooks and adding a plastic chopstick to the bottom of the spice rack. I made a similar towel rack on the cabinet door below the sink with hooks and a dowel. I did have a regular towel rack there but it had started to rust so I recycled it. This new version doesn’t stick out quite as far and I like that, especially given how much time I spend at that sink (um, A LOT).

In the fall I tackled the clutter that resides, as it does for many people, under the kitchen sink. I was tired of bending over and rooting around in the dark space trying to find a particular item. Using scrap wood I made narrow, shallow open shelves on the opposite wall (under the wall lamp) to hold the products used most often. This allowed me to tidy up what remains under the sink. I figure eventually I will remake the unit with nicer wood and maybe even add a door but for now, this has been very handy.


The very tall red-door cabinet next the small open shelves was one of the first things I ever added to the kitchen (what else but…ROADSIDE FIND!). It didn’t have a door so I added one (it too could stand to be replaced but it’s not pressing). The cabinet almost reaches the ceiling and holds a lot of stuff (such as more pasta!)


Beyond it, next to the window are high, open shelves I made for food stored in glass containers. The top row houses my glass Mr. Peanut Planters jars. Hoo boy, am I glad I hung onto them! Glass jars are a thing of the past for peanuts and they’re such a great size for storage.


Speaking of glass jars… I have previously admitted to being a bit of a glass jar hoarder. (I get nervous that food will eventually not be sold in glass at all.) It’s difficult for me to toss glass jars; they seem like they’ll be useful but I had more jars than I had room to keep them. I have made a new commitment to only save what I can fit into this plastic bin (which is stored on top of the main cabinets).


Below the glass jar shelves I made very rudimentary shelves to hold the microwave, a small toaster oven, the trash can and a container for recyclable cans, jars, plastic, etc. This isn’t very pretty but it’s serviceable and not in a highly visible area. Also- I’ve made a new commitment not to leave anyĀ  junk on the wood counter (as I previously committed to with the dining table), so any miscellaneous stuff I have hanging around because I intend to use it soon – recipes, jars that need refilling, etc – will go here.


I also removed the clutter from the top of the cabinets and found other places to store those items (string lights, plastic to go over windows in winter, holiday decorations). In their place I added a few decorative pieces. This is a panoramic shot which is why part of it looks scrunched together.


The lion has found a spot by the pots & pans to hold rubber bands.


I had a shelf holding two large cooking pots in the space over the kitchen “pass-through” and I have to admit I whacked my head on it by leaning too far into the space more than once. That wasn’t why I decided it should go but I found another spot for the pots (on the top of the cabinet above the washing machine) and eliminated the shelf. I really like how open it now looks. On the opposite side of the wood counter I have low shelves for dishes and simple curtains to cover the area and keep dust out.


Making all these little improvements has made my life better and I walk into the kitchen and look around with pleasure, ready to start cooking.

EDIT: After I posted this I got one more good idea. As there are no – no – closets, it can be tricky to find storage spaces. One end of the kitchen houses a large, squat water heater that isn’t very attractive. That’s where I store brooms, mops, buckets, and a vacuum cleaner. My idea was to put a curtain in front of it to hide the area, but still leave it easily accessible. Much better!

NOTE: Please forgive a delay in responding to comments. I love to hear them but am having internet issues and won’t see them right away.

(More) thoughts on clutter and “stuff”

Every time I go through my stuff I find more to get rid of. I wonder how that can (still) be. I am far from a hoarder and I’ve worked diligently to create a home that is organized, user-friendly, and attractive. I have shed so much. I give away A LOT of things so I am uncertain at times how there can still be more to purge! I look around and say “What is all this sh*t??” WHAT IS IT??

In the last several weeks I’ve given away several bagfuls of belongings and moved many others by the road with a “FREE” sign. It feels good. It always feels good. I am in no danger, however, of sitting around in four bare walls holding just a bowl and a spoon.

I do believe we as humans tend to take over whatever space is available to us. It’s only when we move to smaller quarters do a lot of people, willingly or otherwise, get rid of lot of junk. I don’t want to wait for that. I want to stay on top of it.

One thing I am trying to do – and it’s utterly new to me – is become comfortable with empty spaces. A shelf with nothing on it. A bin with nothing to put in it. Empty hangers. Unconsciously I believed for a very long time that wasn’t right – all spaces should be filled. Like it was a rule.

Having addressed the initial discomfort, I find that seeing empty space is luxurious. It makes my mind feel open too. It’s just freeing. As I’ve seriously de-cluttered and organized over roughly the last 8 or so years, it never occurred to me there might one day be empty spaces, or that they would somehow challenge me.

The more I get rid of the more I want to get rid of. I look around and say, “What else?” “What else can go?”

I find that some of what I’ve hung onto suited a younger me and that I must reconsider it in light of middle-aged me. Does it still suit me? Is it age-appropriate? Is it representative of who I want to be? Is there a place for it in my future?

So why does all this matter? Well, I’ve known lots of people who either lived surrounded by stuff and junk or even lived in squalor (it’s hard to keep a place clean when there is stuff everywhere and no bare floors) and they weren’t happy. I understand we can have a powerful relationship to our possessions – I do too – but I also see when there’s a point the stuff OWNS YOU. People keep (too much) stuff around because it makes them feel secure, or so they think but in reality the stuff is helping to keep them insecure. That’s what I think anyway.

Here are two rules of thumb of mine that I’ve been using when approaching my stuff:

1) If I saw it in a store today would I buy it?
2) If I was moving tomorrow would I take it with me?

(I’ve got a 3rd somewhat macabre one you cannot disregard if it seems too dark, “If I was dead would someone else want this?”)

TheseĀ questions Ā force my hand. They show me how much the item really does or does not mean to me. It has raised my standards too and that’s a good thing. What I’m willing to keep around is tied to how I think about myself. What I deserve. What I’m worth. How I want to live.

At times I believe our stuff gets shabby when we’re looking the other way. I mean a pair of socks, for instance, doesn’t get pilled or lose its elastic overnight. It happens gradually and that makes us less likely to notice. I need to look with fresh eyes and decide whether something is serving me, adding to my life. Whether it’s socks or more substantial things.

I am still a consumer. Still a shopper. But I am taking in less than I am moving out. And the quality of what I buy and/or bring home has gone up. Now I consider far more carefully before I decide I want something. Sometimes when I acquire an item I give myself a set amount of time to use it (same thing with things I’m thinking about getting rid of). If I don’t use it in that time frame it goes. No more one day, maybe in five years or whatever, I might need this. If I give it some thought I can usually figure out why I’m not using something and further, a self-imposed deadline gives me an incentive to use it and form an opinion one way or the other.

It’s hard to find the right words to convey – and I know I’ve tried before in this blog – but for me possessions and the way I live are directly tied into who I am. I have a vision. I have a vision of who I want to be and how I want to live. It’s tricky to totally articulate it as a wholesale philosophy since much of it is based in feeling. But I know this. I want things to be beautiful, pleasing to the eye and to the senses. I want to feel a sense of calm and comfort. I want to be at ease. I want to look around with pleasure. I want to feel secure and in control. I want to feel cared for. My “stuff” is part and parcel of that.

Clutter rules (no, Clutter RULES)

I’ve written before about de-cluttering and organizing, which, like any other practice or commitment, is ongoing. I have less clutter and am more organized than I’ve ever been in my life. My home is not high end but attractive and fairly stream-lined. I generally know where things are. I can look around with pleasure and a sense of accomplishment so I would not be embarrassed to show you around if you turned up unannounced (but don’t turn up unannounced, okay?!) Still, there is always more to get rid of and areas where things accumulate.

Several books helped me improve my thinking about possessions. I took many things to heart but one idea was that being surrounded by stuff and things could serve as a distraction, to keep someone from focusing on more important issues, specifically those they should be addressing. As is true of any other crutch, obsession, or addiction, once the coping element is removed, a person has to deal directly with whatever is really amiss. That is, when the tables are cleared, there is nothing between you and “the world,” you and your troubles – and that’s a good thing. That makes sense to me.

I was never a hoarder, never someone who had a serious issue with clutter. As a lifetime renter, hanging onto stuff (and moving it from place to place) was not an option. That alone was incentive to not own a whole lot. Having stayed in one place for some time now though, I’ve seen the temptation to collect.

My parents stayed in one place for decades and kept a lot of junk. Things were loosely organized. Yes, they had many children (and I absolutely understand when children are involved, there is going to be much more stuff), but even when those children were gone, the stuff stayed. My mother blamed my father for owning so much junk, but she kept a lot of stuff too, just different kinds. Regular de-cluttering was not part of the way I grew up. Hanging onto stuff, keeping it “in case” very much was. I took my parents’ attitudes into my adulthood but I didnā€™t see that for a long time. I had to examine what was in my head from childhood versus how things could be. Chances are most people repeat the patterns they knew early.

There are specific practices that help me. When I am looking through my things with an eye to getting rid of stuff, I ask myself questions like:

1) If I was moving, would I take this?
2) If I died tomorrow, would somebody else want this item (or would it be promptly thrown out? “Good god, why was she keeping this??!”)
3) Would Madonna have this in her house? (You may substitute anybody you like but although she and I have very different lifestyles and means, Madonna works for me because she seems like somebody who treats herself well and wouldn’t keep crap around.)
4) Would I be sorry if I got rid of this? Would my life be any different?
5) Am I keeping this for reasons other than it’s useful, meaningful, or makes me happy?
6) Are the reasons I was keeping this no longer true?
7) Why am I keeping this?

This isn’t original, but one de-cluttering idea is to place all the clothes that are on hangers backward in your closet. As you remove and wear them, the hanger is turned back around. (If there is something about the garment you don’t like after wearing it, good-bye to it.) After 6 months or a year, it’s obvious what isn’t getting worn. This idea can be applied to other objects as well. I am currently doing the same thing with my music collection to see if I am hanging onto music I no longer like or listen to.

If I try on a piece of clothing in my closet and there’s something not right with it, I stick a little note on it with the date and what was wrong, such as on a pair of pants “4/16 too tight at the waist but baggy in the butt”. That way if I revisit the clothing in 6 months and the issue is still the same, I know it’s time to get rid of it. Sometimes I just write “not flattering” and see later if I still think that. I do the same thing with other objects as “needs cord” or “missing a piece” or “needs repair”. (Nothing is allowed to sit around listlessly for 3 years with a “needs repair” note stuck on it.)

I date things. If uncertain about whether to get rid of an item I put it in a box or bag with a date on it and set it out of the way. When it isn’t missed for 6 months or a year, there’s a better sense of how important it is or isn’t. I will also write dates on things indicating when a decision needs to be made.

I put my hands on everything I own on a regular basis. Otherwise they “cease to exist”. I will never have a box I don’t open for five years because what is the point?

An easy way to organize is to have numbered containers and a corresponding list saying what’s in each one. Same idea with a drawer or closet. Instead of rummaging around hunting for something, it’s quicker to consult a simple list. Every now and again I look to make sure the lists are current and accurate. This isn’t fancy stuff; just handwritten notes. It is just too easy to forget what you own and where it is otherwise, especially if it’s in the back of a closet or hidden away in an attic or on a top shelf out of sight. I tell myself all the time “I’ll remember so-and-so” – where I stored something – but often enough I don’t, so I know not to trust myself.