The Most Important Thing I Learned from (Finally) Decluttering My Kitchen Cabinets

published Jun 6, 2023
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Kitchen cabinet with mugs and glasses
Credit: Os Tartarouchos/Getty Images

I recently realized I have two of most things in my kitchen. There are the everyday plates, and the fancy plates; the weekday coffee, and the splurgy coffee beans my brother brought back from Hawai’i that I save for weekends. 

But what if this inclination toward special and everyday items is actually contributing to clutter? Do I really need two sets of plates? Aren’t weekdays important enough for the fancy stuff? 

I had to decide if my current system was making me happy (yay, weekend coffee!), or if it was making my home cluttered, which can not only be distracting and create inefficiencies, but can also ultimately detract from a greater sense of psychological well-being, according to a 2016 study. This all seemed worth digging into. 

Before I started posting half my kitchen on Buy Nothing, I wanted to figure out why I buy doubles in the first place, if clutter is supposedly distressing. One simple reason most shoppers can relate to is the dopamine rush — that buzzy little neurotransmitter that rewards me every time I click “Buy Now” (especially if it’s at a discount). Admittedly, when I find a cuter (or smarter) version of something I already own, I get excited to have a “special occasions” set of an item. Plus, I figure I can always give away or sell the one I already have. (Spoiler: I never do.)

Another is my personal propensity to buy back-ups of items at yard sales (hello, $20 food processor!). I consider myself to be a pretty frugal shopper, and sometimes I feel like I’m going to miss out on a good sale or an item I might one day need if I don’t get it when I see it (call it shopping FOMO), which, once I realized was cluttering up my limited kitchen storage space, was silly. From shopping highs to the fear of missing out, these explanations felt like even better reasons to embark on my doubles decluttering project, so I began my inventory.

I decided to start with my mother’s wedding china. Because she’s no longer married to my dad, and the dishes aren’t particularly sentimental to anyone, it felt like a safe place to begin. I tried drinking my morning coffee in a beautiful little teacup, and it was lovely — certainly worth hand-washing. I especially loved having a saucer. But the truth is, I prefer the heft of my Ember mug, with its heating element that keeps my coffee hot for an hour. I asked my husband if he thought the china was worth keeping for holidays, and he asked if I really wanted to hand-wash all the plates and bowls and cups used at Christmas. Decision made! Fancy plates were out. 

The next stop was another zone free of sentimentality: the pantry. I can’t afford the coffee my brother brought home as a present, but I realized that saving it for weekends was making each cup far less fresh than if I enjoyed it daily until it was gone. This decision not only made my Mondays feel indulgent, but it also freed up space in my pantry. 

What did I do with that $20 Cuisinart food processor? That was a tough one for my frugal soul, but I gave it away. Having a $20 replacement in the wings is theoretically a good idea, but what’s the cost of storing it? And I mean more than the monetary cost of the space, but also the time and emotional toll of having to dig through clutter to find what I need. And when my food processor finally chops its last batch of pesto, I bet I can find another one on Facebook Marketplace — no multi-year storage required. I nixed all back-ups, which was really quite freeing. 

However, there were a few things that felt worth having as duplicates. We kept our “special day plate” for birthdays. We still buy both affordable and fancy butter to save money. But now I spend my yard sale cash on things I can love and use right now, and my parents’ wedding china is taking up space in someone else’s kitchen. I like to think they’re drinking their morning coffee in it.