Creating a calm kitchen environment can help people to cut back on stress triggers like overeating
Keep countertops clear and toss food that is past its prime
Professional organizer Marie Kondo has seemingly taken over the world — or at least the closet of someone you know — in the past year. Her bestselling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is 213 compelling pages about, you guessed it, the art of tidying.
In Kondo’s newest book, “Spark Joy,” she breaks down her process of eliminating items that don’t (you guessed it again) spark joy, and expertly organizing and storing ones that do. If “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” was “Tidying 101,” “Spark Joy” is the ultimate master class in how to perform a systematic room-by-room overhaul. But lest you think you don’t need a guide for cleaning your house, Kondo’s signature KonMari method might convince you otherwise — especially because heeding her organizational advice can potentially aid in helping you stay slim. It all starts with an orderly kitchen.
Science Says: Clean Kitchen, Clean Eats
Why get your neat freak on in the kitchen? When it comes to healthy habits, even science is on Kondo’s side. A recent study published in the Environment & Behavior Journal suggested that the more cluttered our environments, the more likely we are to overeat. With an organized kitchen, you might be less likely to go on a 20-cookie bender when you’re scrounging for a nighttime snack. “Having a clean kitchen or home makes you feel more in control and primes you to stay in control,” says Dr. Brian Wansink, Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and coauthor of the study. “It’s easier to simply clean your kitchen than to fight it by trying to talk yourself out of unhealthy decisions.”
Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, founder of Foodtrainers in NYC, agrees. “Having a tidy kitchen is stress-reducing, and having lower levels of stress hormones directly translates to more weight loss and less stress eating,” she says. “Plus, who wants to cook in a mess of a kitchen?” Kondo’s goal: Helping you create a kitchen that makes cooking fun. We enlisted Slayton to explain how seven of Kondo’s simple principles can help you find happiness in the kitchen and fewer pounds on the scale.
1. Focus on ease of cleaning, not ease of use.
After observing a restaurant kitchen, Kondo realized the kitchen was designed so the chefs could easily clean as they cooked, instead of creating a massive pileup of dirty dishes and counters. There was no time-consuming cleanup at the end of their shift — they just had to do one final wipe of the counters. “If you want a kitchen that you can enjoy cooking in, aim for one that’s easy to clean,” she writes.
Slayton points out that we’re more likely to want to be in a space when it’s orderly. “Piles and clutter send us the message that we’re not doing what we should be and, frankly, leave less physical space for working, cooking, and whatever else you want to do,” she says. “But cleanliness and tidiness are examples of self-care. It’s not just about cleaning up — it’s about the positive repercussions from doing so.” Think of organizing your kitchen as the equivalent of getting a massage. You’re more likely to feel taken care of and, as a result, more likely to treat your body better by fueling up with good-for-you eats.
2. Keep your counters as clean and clear as possible.
“Put nothing on the counters or around the sink and stove top,” Kondo writes. “You will be amazed at how easy your kitchen is to use if you design your storage with this aim in mind.” If you’re in a teeny-tiny kitchen where your counter space is a precious commodity, it’s OK to keep some things on the counter so long as they’re away from the oil or water splash zones.
Ever hear the old adage “out of sight, out of mind?” It applies here. If you can see food, you’re more likely to eat it. “If you want to eat less toast, don’t keep the toaster out where you can see it,” Slayton says. “On the flipside, if you’re motivated to make smoothies, keep the [blender] ready and visible on the counter.” She keeps a fruit bowl on her counter because it’s colorful and inviting and it makes her smile — and then she’s more likely to grab an easy-to-reach piece of fruit than a brownie that’s stashed in a cupboard. Be smart about storage, too. “I love my juicer, but I don’t use it much in the winter, so I keep it in the laundry room,” Slayton says. “Teeny spaces force your hand a bit more, but that’s good — use it or lose it.”
3. Cut down on your dish supply.
All those fancy dishes you’re saving to use “for guests,” but haven’t actually whipped out in years? It may be time to part with them. “Take a fresh look at every dish you own and see if it sparks joy,” Kondo writes. “Make the dishes you love the ones you use every day.”
Studies have shown that we eat less off of smaller plates and drink more out of larger glasses. So keep that in mind when you’re doing your cupboard purge. Having fun with your food by making it look nice will create more enjoyable mealtime, too. “I encourage clients to plate their food the way they’d like it presented at a restaurant,” Slayton says. “Bento boxes can make your lunch feel more appealing, and — while it may be the Instagram effect — mason jars and glass straws are great for smoothies.” The prettier our food looks, the more likely we are to want to savor every bite or sip.
4. Toss anything that’s past its prime.
Kondo says to discard food that’s past its expiration date, or to simply eliminate anything you wouldn’t actually want to consume. (Hint: It may be time to toss that specialty hot sauce lurking in the back of your fridge.)
Creating a system for tossing overdue items can help with that. “For ingredients like spices and baking items, date them with a Sharpie and discard them by their first anniversary,” says Slayton. “And try to use ingredients up. If you’re making pesto turkey burgers one night, have pesto pasta the next. It makes me crazy to use a tablespoon of something and then have it sit around. Waste sparks the opposite of joy in me.”
5. Keep your refrigerator 30 percent empty.
Not only will this strategy better help you see the actual contents of your fridge, it’ll also allow for extra room to store leftovers or unexpected gifts.
Keep what you want to eat at eye level in the fridge, says Slayton. She recommends working by category, and only keeping two to three items per category, like hot sauces, jams or vinegars, on hand at a time. “And keep things presented nicely within the fridge, like a tray for your eggs or a glass bottle to keep water cold,” she says.
6. It’s OK to have a lot of kitchen stuff.
The key is making sure you’re hanging onto items you actually use and love. If you’re a frequent spiralizer, smoothie-maker, or food processing whiz, by all means hang onto those bulky appliances even if they hog your shelf space. “What matters is the ability to see where everything is stored,” Kondo writes. Never underestimate the power of a label-maker, clear storage containers, or categorically organized pantry shelves.Pro tip: Be smart about what you choose to keep around. “I cook, and I like my kitchen to reflect that,” Slayton says. “But if you registered for a paella pan when you got married but haven’t made paella by your fifth wedding anniversary, you can probably get rid of the pan.” Regardless of aesthetics, you need to be able to find the cumin or grab a mixing bowl without major effort.
7. Make your eating space a happy place.
Yes, it seems like a lot of effort to roll out a placemat and whip out the napkin rings, but if you have them, use them to enrich your mealtime, Kondo says. Your dining area should be free from distractions (sorry, Jeopardy) and filled with your favorite things.
“I turn on music and light my favorite candle whenever I enter the kitchen,” says Slayton. It sets the mood for more enjoyable meals. “Remove the eyesores and obstacles and include the scents, sounds and ingredients that make you happy. If standing at the counter, eating out of the package is at one end of the spectrum — and that isn’t the positive side — sitting at the table, using utensils and a placemat is different. I would predict very few binge episodes happen in placemat situations.”