You’ve probably heard of that William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I’ve quoted it here on the blog as I’ve been training myself to declutter the house. I never thought it could be used for my spice cabinet, but decluttering my spices reminded me of 5 pivotal lessons about decluttering.
I was baking an elaborate breakfast for my son’s birthday and I was seized by the need to do something about our narrow spice and baking cabinet. It is hard to find what you need if it’s not at the very front of the cabinet.
As I recommend in my decluttering process, I took a before photo:
Then I emptied all the spices and baking supplies on to the counter. I made 3 groups:
- things we used all the time,
- things we used less frequently,
- and things we used once or twice but hadn’t used in a long time…like years.
Sentimental about Spices…really?
Our cabinet space is a precious commodity because we have so little of it. I knew that I would have to be tough with myself while editing the contents. I didn’t think it would be difficult because…they’re spices…on the scale of sentimentality, I was pretty sure it would be on the low end.
Here are things I noticed when I emptied all the contents on to our counters:
- We had doubles of a lot of things: 2 sets of Christmas sprinkles, 2 basils, 2 cinnamons, 2 nutmegs, and 2 oreganos.
- We had 2 bottles of extract that I haven’t used in years: lemon and anise.
- We had a box of leftover food coloring.
- We had a large number of “rarely used” spices (at least in our home) mailed to us by a relative who was moving and didn’t want to throw them out. I, of course, volunteered to take them because they were expensive and I thought I would use them.
Here are the simple solutions I did right away:
- Combined the doubles into one container when I could.
- Separated the spices into rarely used and another group of never used and could easily be thrown away (like the homemade packet of 3 spices for a roast that I never made).
You would think that a simple solution to the extracts and the rarely used spices would be to throw them out immediately. That would make sense, but my brain kicked into rationalizations why I should save them. Oh my. You would think after months of decluttering, my “muscle” would be strong enough to just let it go, but it wasn’t.
While I mulled this over, I wiped down the shelves.
Here are the 5 pivotal lessons I remembered:
- When spaces are cluttered, it is easy to ignore things. How many times had my husband and I seen the piles of rarely used spices and just skimmed over them, assuming they had a right to the space in the cabinet. After three years, I’m finally questioning if they should actually be in our kitchen!
- “I might need that some day” is not a reason to keep something. I found myself saying this about the extracts and the garam masala. I had to ask myself the questions in step 8 of my decluttering process in order to finally feel okay about letting them go. All the answers were “no” and when I went through it rationally and not emotionally, I could see that the best thing was to let it go. Full disclosure – I did put about 1/8 of a cup of the garam masala in a small container with plans to look up recipes to use it in the next month.
- Make it a default answer to say “no” when people are moving and they ask you if you want something. Of course there are exceptions to this – but if you’re anything like me, I tend to always agree to take something from people who are moving. They are furiously editing their belongings and love to pass them on to loved ones. I’ve taken so many items from people as a sentimental token to “remember them by” but I really didn’t have a need for most of it. Friends, remember that the memories are not in the item itself, but already stored in our hearts. Just say “no.”
- Clutter is costly. We had 5 duplicates in our cabinet because it was cluttered and we didn’t exactly know what we already had. Yes, spices aren’t that expensive, but this applies to other areas of our lives. If our homes are cluttered and we can’t easily see what we own, we spend money buying things we don’t need. These small (and large) expenses add up.
- Accept who you are today and don’t live in the past or the future. I’ve kept those spices and extracts because I have aspirations of cooking more Indian food that requires garam masala, or baking with extracts other than vanilla. But, that’s not in my simple meal plan and with the life stage that we’re in, it probably won’t be for awhile.
I do cook with curry though, so I looked up a simple curry powder using ground coriander and made a homemade batch that morning. And the food coloring? That was mainly in our house when we made homemade play dough or slime with our kids and made them different colors. We haven’t done that in a long time, but spring break is coming up and I’m planning on using that food coloring during that week.
After mulling all of this over and editing our cabinet, here’s the after photo:
There is a lot more space and it’s much easier to look in and find what we need. The most frequently used items are on the bottom shelf, the more infrequently used items are in the middle, and the baking items are on the top shelf.
I tried putting an egg carton in the bottom shelf in order to make it easier to see the back row. It works for now, but I’m planning to buy this spice rack shelf organizer or this versatile turntable.
What about you? What lessons are you learning (or have learned) while decluttering?
This post will be shared at these fun link up parties
Decluttering spices is strangely difficult, I agree. I definitely have aspirational spices that I am keeping because they are expensive (saffron) and I haven’t really learned how to use them yet and extracts that I haven’t used in a really long time. But one thing that has helped me when decluttering spices (especially when moving), is to remember that spices go bad. It’s not worth keeping a ground spice that you haven’t used in 2 years or a dried herb that you haven’t used in 1 year. Not that I clean out my spice cabinet that regularly, but when we moved, I only kept whole spices.
Also, for what it’s worth, I greatly prefer a turntable for my spices, since it’s so much easier to access everything than shelves. You seem to have containers of even sizes, but I have jars and plastic containers of various sizes, so the turntable works with every size container.
Hi Susannah! Those are really good facts to remember – I think when we think objectively it can help us get rid of things that are “expired” in our lives. I’ll have to see if there is a turntable that would work in that cabinet – that’s what hubby was envisioning!
Sentimental Spices, I understand. My beloved mother dated all her spices, God Bless her and I recently found a lonely spice in the back of my cabinet dated 2 months before my last daughter was born….22 years ago. I keep it for one reason, to make me smile every time I reach over it, (sigh). I am good at getting rid of all the rest, but I will probably keep leaping over that coriander for some time to come.
Hi Rose! What a sweet memory – thank you for sharing it. It sounds like that 22 year old spice is serving an important purpose and bringing joy to you. Enjoy it! Thanks for commenting – I appreciate you!
Emma Simmons says
I really enjoyed this post! I’ve been working on my spice cabinet and have made SOME progress but could still do more. You’ve inspired me, Angela, to go through it all again and be firmer with my decisions. I agree that the spice cabinet mirrors the rest of the house – much to my chagrin. I’ve been following your blog almost rom the beginning and it’s one of the very few I follow on a regular basis… really enjoy both the content and your personality.
Hi Emma! Thank you so much for your sweet comment. That really encourages me. I’m glad I’m not alone in decluttering the spice cabinet and the challenges that it presented. I hope you’re able to declutter the things that aren’t “spicing” up your life (bad pun…my husband would be proud). 😉
Great going, Angela!! It looks so spacious now!!
I felt really good, after I did mine. It was an easy win!!
You’re right Melinda – it can be an easy win if we remember the decluttering lessons! It seems that lots of people have been decluttering their spices! 🙂
I have an even narrower cabinet for my spices so I purchased clear food storage bins so I can just pull the box out and look through on the counter instead of trying to get at things in the back. AND I can stack the one! I put all the little shorty spice bottles/containers in that one so I could put another one on top.
That’s a great idea Elizabeth! I never thought about that. I’m hoping we can narrow down even further and not need too many organization tools. Thanks for commenting!
My families favorite thing to do with garam masala is mix it with sugar and roll snickerdoodle dough in it to bake. It has just this little bit of bite and it smells fantastic. 🙂 Hope you enjoy your clean cabinet!
That sounds nice Helene – thanks for the suggestion!
Gentle Joy Homemaker says
Good things to remember… and this is on my “to do” list also… I want to organize my spices… and herbs… and oils…. and…… ongoing, but also rewarding. 🙂
It does take time to go through everything doesn’t it! I’m in favor of #slowandsteadydecluttering!
Oh my goodness my spice cabinet is a wreck! Why am I sentimental about spices??? Put that way, I think it’s time to clean out! Great post. I needed to read this 🙂
I’m so glad Jen! Isn’t it strange how anything can become sentimental?
Angie ~ ambient wares says
You are so right! We’ve double and tripled up on various things before and it is just a ridiculous thing to do! Thanks for sharing at Funtastic Friday!
I know Angie! Decluttering saves money by saving us from buying duplicates of spices (and other objects!)
Jess Powell (Babi a Fi) says
Loved this! I feel like the entire kitchen needs a good declutter at the moment – I was looking through cupboards earlier and just wondering why I had ever bought some of the sauces and things we’re hanging on to! #FridayFrivolity
Happy decluttering Jess!
Abby @ WinsteadWandering says
I think I did a pretty good job of purging our spice cabinet when we moved a few years ago, but I’m sure it could use a look-through again. And I *definitely* need to invest in a turntable or tiered shelf.
Moving always helps with purging doesn’t it? *Sigh* I sometimes secretly wish we did have plans to move to put some fire under our decluttering muscles!