The “One Shelf” Rule is the Best Way to Declutter Your Kitchen

published Jun 8, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

I have a shelf full of mugs, and each one has a story. I never purposely set out to collect mugs. If I did, I shudder to think how big my collection would be — and how terribly hard it would be to declutter it since each item would have the sentimental value of a memory attached to it.

But even with my apparent habit of casually picking up mugs, the shelf is overflowing. I have my San Francisco Starbucks mug that reminds me of home, a mug I bought for my (future) husband before we even got together, my Disney World mug that shows the Cinderella castle in daylight on one side and at night with fireworks on the other side, the thick diner-style mug from our favorite local coffee roaster that keeps my coffee hot longest, and the mug filled with pink rosebuds that I just loved the sight of when I was in line at TJ Maxx. And that’s not even all of them. Right now I can’t even enjoy all my mugs because so many are buried behind others. It’s time for a winnowing.

I recently came across a decluttering strategy that applies perfectly to my over-full mug shelf. I’m calling it the “one shelf” rule, and it’s an especially helpful place to start when you’re decluttering in the kitchen, where space is at a premium: Rather than examining the items you are considering thinning out, start with the space you want to keep them in.

Here’s how it might work:

  1. Empty everything out of whatever area you’re decluttering.
  2. You will also want to gather anything that is part of that category that is being stored somewhere else. (So I’ll clear off my mug shelf, but also pull the mugs that have invaded the places where I store water glasses and travel mugs — when your collection has outgrown your storage, things tend to migrate this way.)
  3. Look at the empty space you want to confine your items to and start putting the items back, starting with your favorites or the ones that are most important.
  4. When the shelf looks full — comfortably and spaciously full, not overflowingly full — stop.
  5. Finally, declutter everything that’s left off the shelf. You only get to keep what fits in that space and that space alone.

This freedom-through-restriction causes you to naturally choose your best and favorite items, the ones you like the most for whatever reason. It’s almost like a “burning house” method of decluttering: You save the most important items by instinct, without even having to think about what they are.

Applying this message not only in your kitchen but anywhere else in your house puts you, not your things, in the driver’s seat. Deciding the amount of space you’ll use for various categories of items and refusing to add to that space not only means that you’ll confine what you already own to a finite amount of storage real estate, but also that if you bring in any new items, you’ll have to let go of some old. Your limit is concrete and physical, and it just might be the way you finally break through a decluttering sticking point.