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Putting your kitchen on a diet can lead to a slimmer waistline.

Jennifer Kushnier
March 30, 2018

My kitchen has 41 square feet of usable surface area. Of that, I routinely work on about 2 1/2 square feet...because I have a serious clutter problem.

Three years ago I “tidied” my kitchen using the KonMari Method of sorting and storing, which promised lasting results and a transformed life. In her 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing expert, suggests that people either can’t throw things away or they can’t put them back where they belong—or both, which happens to be my dilemma.

It took me an entire weekend, but I ended up donating two Honda Civic’s worth of stuff. It felt great, and I’ve managed to fight off clutter since. Well, mostly. As with many diets, the clutter slowly crept back in, and now I find myself needing to purge once again. And, it turns out that may be a good choice for my sanity—and my waistline. A 2008 study in the journal Psychiatry Research showed that people with extremely cluttered homes were more likely to be overweight or obese.  

Practical—and personal—experience proves this study is true: When my counters are covered with bills or schoolwork papers, I find it much easier to “make” dinner by throwing a pizza in the oven or by ordering takeout. Or I’ll skip healthful additions, like lemon zest, because I can’t be bothered to search for my rasp, instead relying on salt or butter to flavor a dish.

A cluttered kitchen creeps into my grocery shopping, too, as I find myself buying convenience items like bottled salad dressing or boxes of pre-seasoned rice. These are two of the easiest items to make at home—and the pre-made versions are some of the biggest sodium and sugar bombs—and yet I can’t be bothered when it means working in a cluttered kitchen.

Cooking at home has been shown to encourage healthier food choices and lead to a lower BMI. A 2017 study in Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found a lower risk of obesity among adults who ate all their meals at home. That's because, according to the study, home cooks eat fewer calories, fat, and sugar each day. Tthey also eat more produce and whole grains. 

Researchers estimate that eating just one restaurant or takeout meal each week could result in an annual weight gain of 2 pounds. After reading this stat (and mentally calculating all the takeout we’d recently ordered), I decided to take action.

Thus, I found myself—and my 10 extra pounds—at it again. Spring cleaning my kitchen was more difficult this time around, since I thought I’d already gotten rid of the old and useless items in my kitchen. While it doesn’t matter which method you follow to cut the clutter, I decided to stick with KonMari.

According to the KonMari method, tidying is as simple as touching every single item, thinking about it, and deciding whether it “sparks joy.” If it doesn’t, it's either donated or thrown away. When we choose to surround ourselves with items we love, then we have everything we need and will, as a result, be content. 

I started to clear away the clutter, and as I saw more cupboard and counter space emerge, I started to feel lighter. When I turned to the unsightly, growing pile of castaways on my kitchen table, I better understood Kondo’s method: I didn’t want to put any of that back into my cabinets. 

Five hours in, I found it really hard to find “joy” in any of the items I thought I wanted to keep. By hour 6, I was stuck. I just wanted to get on with my life (and make dinner).

Yet, I easily saw that keeping 10 baking pans and nine cutting boards in my cabinets prevented me from storing more useful things—and prevented me from putting things away properly. Case in point: When the spice grinder gets stashed behind a teetering tower of pie plates and random bowls, I don’t want to bother putting it away...so it sits on my countertop, getting in the way.

You don’t need an organizing expert to tell you that once everything has a place of its own, all of it becomes more accessible and easier to put away. Some of it is a judgment call, and this is where I allowed myself to diverge from Kondo’s plan. Does the meat grinder attachment to my stand mixer bring me joy? Not really. But can it go in the back of the cupboard, behind the more useful box grater and flour sifter? You bet.

It’s too early to tell whether this kitchen tidying has had any effect on those 10 pounds. But in the immediate aftermath, I made eggplant ragout over polenta, tacos with beans and rice, chicken marsala with roasted vegetables, bread, and even pizza from scratch—all because I could easily access my equipment and had a lot of free counter space. Perhaps my meal choices could be a little smarter, but at least I’m cooking at home again—and enjoying it.