Tidying up the kitchen might seem like a simple task at first, but until you’ve traveled to the outer reaches of your highest cabinets or the darkest depths of that one, long-ignored drawer, you don’t know the true meaning of cleaning. Because when it comes to decluttering the kitchen, it’s not just a matter of moving things around—it’s a matter of letting go.
To find out what exactly we should be tossing out—and how we should be displaying the things we keep—we took our most pressing organization questions to a few of our favorite interior designers, plus expert organizer and author of Keep This Toss That, Jamie Novak. Here’s what the pros had to say about freeing up space for what matters most.
Measuring cups and spoons
All you need is one set of dry measuring cups (preferably that nest together for storage), one liquid 2-cup measuring cup, and a set of stainless steel measuring spoons to keep your baking prowess on point.
The 3 “cook-anything” pots & pans
Every kitchen needs three essentials: a 10-quart stockpot with lid to boil water for pasta or steaming vegetables, a 3-quart sauté pan with lid for searing meats, and a 2-quart saucepan with lid for reheating food, making sauce, and cooking pasta. Anything else is simply extra.
“Style your stovetop with a single pretty pot such as Le Creuset,” designer Becki Owens tells Domino. “Then style minimally with natural wood cutting boards and white dinnerware if you have open shelving. Less is more.”
9” x 13” baking pan
This workhorse can roast a chicken or bake a cake, so always have a good one on hand.
Cut down your collection to the three knives that have slice-anything power: a 10-inch serrated, an 8-inch chef’s knife and a 3-inch paring knife for small jobs.
If you don’t use these every day, you probably don’t know how handy they are. They’re great for slicing pitas, mincing herbs, trimming pie crust, and snipping green beans. And they can tear apart that bag of potato chips that you just can’t seem to open.
Keep one dish set per seat you have at the kitchen or dining table, with just one set or two for overflow on nights when you’ve got a full house.
Pot holders & dishtowels
Every home chef needs a set of solid potholders (silicone are best) and a collection of seven dish towels. (According to Novak, seven is the magic number!) You use them every day, and dish towels can help cut down on paper towel waste.
These act as heat conductors and can be easily scratched, causing them to be unsanitary. Stick with silicone or rubber-tipped tongs instead.
Warped or scratched pots & pans
Still have that first set from your post-college apartment? Unsteady pots that heat unevenly can ruin a good meal. And if you have any with a non-stick coating that is scratched or peeling, they can be dangerous to cook with.
Dull or rusted knives
If it’s taking you two minutes to slice through a tomato, it’s time to invest in a new set.
Coffee mugs that are chipped or stained are beyond repair and are best laid out to rest.
The Lazy Susan
“Have a system for how things are stored in your cabinets. Get rid of the lazy-susan spice rack. A sleek tray to house nice bottles of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper mills, honey or whatever tickles your fancy daily; a bookstand for a favorite cookbook and vase for fresh flowers will inspire you to keep your kitchen clean and clutter free,” notes Tavia Forbes of the Atlanta-based firm, Forbes + Masters.
Deli container tubs
We all run our yogurt tubs and salad bar containers through the dishwasher, hoping they can be reused. In reality, these weren’t made for repeat use and are meant to be recycled.
Old spices and dried herbs
If spices have been open for more than six months (ground) or one year (whole) or if they’ve changed color or texture, they’re past their prime. “At least once a month, check the expiration labels on all of your spices and dry ingredients," says Kahi Lee, one of the designers on TLC’s Trading Spaces. "You’d be surprised how rarely people do this, and getting rid of old items will free up space on your shelves."
Packets of condiments
If you aren’t using the duck sauce and soy sauce packets with your takeout on night one, they’ll just take up precious space in the fridge.
You only need two: a Y-shape for large jobs and a swivel blade for smaller items. Any others can be donated as long as they’re still sharp.
Pots or pans that don’t fit your burners
Sometimes a good pot is like that pair of jeans you hope to fit into: You keep it around because you might use it someday. If it’s not jiving with your current range, give it to someone with a stovetop that can use it.
The small appliances you use once a year
Free up cabinet space and donate your waffle maker. Still haven’t churned out homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream? Give the ice cream maker to someone who will.
Mini specialty baking pans
Cake pops or tiny popovers are cute, but are you really going to make two dozen for a holiday party? Make a cake instead.
That collection of plastic cups from your alma mater is probably not going to make the table at your next meal—and neither is the Disney World mug from your aunt. Unless you’re into collecting kitsch, put them in the donate pile.
Travel coffee mugs
Every household only needs one per coffee drinker. Get rid of any that don’t fit in your car’s cup holder or that no longer keep that cup of joe warm.
Extra water bottles
Apply the same rule here. Donate any extras that go beyond one per person in the household. If there’s a smell to them that the dishwasher can’t remove, toss them instead.
Open shelving not only encourages thoughtful decorating (now you have a proper spot to show off your favorite dishes), but it will effectively encourage you to keep the kitchen clean. “Open shelving forces you to get rid of all of the junk and extraneous items that you've been collecting for years, but never use,” suggests Dee Murphy of Murphy Deesign.
“Keep your countertops clear,” adds blogger, designer, and fellow shelf proponent, Joanna Hawley. “Visual clutter drives me nuts, so I always try to keep the counters clear as much as possible.”
A chic, catch-all tray
It’s okay to keep the things you use every single day out and on the counter, but be mindful of how you corral and display your must-have goods.
“Use a marble tray to house your 'smalls,' such as the sugar bowl, hand towel, coffee canister, etc. Pulling them together makes it feel thoughtful and clears up space,” says Nashville-based designer Andria Fromm.
Out of sight, out of mind, but when you slide open a drawer for one staple or another, total chaos is probably the last thing you’re looking for. “Designate a place for everything,” suggests Utah-based blogger, Sarah Gibson. “I use drawer organizers, canisters, baskets, and storage bins to tuck things into their appropriate spot. I only keep the everyday necessities out on the countertop for easy access.”
Trendy bags and baskets
“My mantra is to make a home for every item,” explains award-winning design blogger, Anita Yokota. “Organizing all the miscellaneous kitchen gadgets and items in baskets helps save space. It also minimizes the risk of losing those pesky small items that we seem to buy over and over again! Place the baskets in the shelves and pull them out as you need them instead of losing them in junk drawers.”
For a homey, cohesive look, “add small canvases leaning against the back splash to make the room feel more collected,” like Natalie Myers, principal and owner at Veneer Designs.
The key to any organized kitchen? Transparency. Take the game out of guessing by “keeping dry goods (like nuts, pasta, cereal) in pretty glass canisters,” says author and creator of The Jungalow, Justina Blakeney. Designer Shea McGee is a big fan of OXO’s see-through storage vessels.
Want more kitchen inspiration?
Shop Chic Kitchen Tools
14 Ways to Organize a Tiny Kitchen
A Vintage Kitchen Makeover
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