This Month in Your Cellar: Decluttering Your Wine Cellar by Going Minimal This Spring

decluttering your wine cellar

Marie Kondo advocates for simple, clean spaces in which everything has its place, more so than messy spaces filled to the brim with items. Photo Credit: YouTube user Die Woord

In her hugely-popular self-help book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo gives readers tips on organizing every room in their homes. Yet this book goes beyond messy closets and stuffed kitchen cabinets. Did you know that you can apply many of Kondo’s principles when you organize your wine cellar this April? Kondo’s book not only helps you stay organized, it teaches you how to show respect for the things you love most, like your precious wine bottles. Unlike other self-help gurus, Kondo doesn’t advocate for a Spartan existence; instead, she asks you to consider which items matter most to you, and why you should give them the literal space that they need in your life. As spring wine releases arrive in the next two months, you need all of the extra space you can get.

Step 1: Personify Your Wines

It might seem counterintuitive, but Kondo suggests giving each item you own its own personality for a time, by visualizing the things you own as miniature human beings with thoughts, feelings, and needs. This technique is not meant to get you overly-attached to your items, but to help you see problems in how you store the things you own. Personification allows you to see that many of your bottles are shoved into a corner, or buried deep inside a dusty old box. As you walk through your cellar, ask yourself, “Would I be happy if I were one of my wine bottles right now?” Are each of your bottles resting neatly on a shelf, with plenty of space, or are they being lost and forgotten? Are some of your bottles being treated more “fairly” than others? Pinpoint which bottles aren’t being given the space they need, and decide whether you can change this right now. If it’s a matter of taking bottles out of boxes and placing them on proper shelves, do this right now.

However, if you can’t take your bottles out of their boxes because you have too many to fit on your shelves, you’ll either need to store your excess bottles with a third party facility like Vinfolio, build a bigger space, or purge some of your bottles. Kondo warns that people often like to fill every inch of space that they have with more items, so if you are thinking of expanding your cellar, realize that you likely will deal with the same problems all over again unless you take a minimalistic approach to your entire cellar philosophy. In this sense, the wine shelves you have right now serve two purposes: to keep your wine bottles safe, and to stop you from buying more wine than you need. If your shelves are full, decide which wines you are really going to drink (or would like to keep as investments), and be prepared to get rid of the rest.

Step 2: Gear Up for Your Biggest Purge of the Year

Kondo doesn’t only talk about treating your items with respect; she also advocates ridding yourself of the things that don’t serve you and your current needs. After you’ve analyzed the physical space you have to work with in your cellar, take a few days to mentally prepare for the biggest bottle purge of your collecting career. This step is the polar opposite of the personification step. It asks you to take in your collection as a whole, by categories, treating your collection as a group of inanimate objects whose sole purpose is to serve you. Kondo explains that if you take each item individually, deciding what it is worth to you on the spot, you will actually be less likely to give it up. One moment, you’re objectively deciding whether that 1991 bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is worth keeping, and the next, you’re daydreaming about that trip you took to Robert Mondavi’s estate two years ago. Memory colors the way we view the things we own. This is especially true for wines, since smell and taste are some of the strongest memories that people have.

To avoid this nostalgia pitfall, Kondo tells her readers to divide a space into categories. If you want to organize your closet, you don’t want to go through every item of clothing. Instead, you’ll want to find all of the t-shirts, then separate those shirts by color, then see which piles have significantly more shirts than the others. For wine cellars, this means dividing your bottles by region first, then by varietals within each region, then by producers. After you divide by region, you’ll likely see a lot of bottles in only a handful of piles; this is perfectly normal, since most serious collectors only invest heavily in a handful of regions.

The real purging happens at the varietal level. This is where you discover that you own 5,000 bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, when you know that you can only reasonably drink or sell about 3,000 of them. Robert Parker claims that you can have as many bottles as you can store of any varietal you want, and that as much as 200,000 bottles of Napa Valley Cab are perfectly reasonable for some collections. However, this is only true if a collector focuses on one wine varietal in particular, and if the collector has the space to house it all safely. When you divide up your bottles, if you find redundancies, or if you think you have too many bottles in any one category, cherry-pick the best vintages from the group, followed by the best producers. Immediately mark all of the other bottles for sale. Any wine from a fine vintage that is worth a great deal or that cellars well will be your top priority to keep. This is where an objective expert can help. Analyzing your bottles is a time-consuming and overwhelming process for collectors who own a large collection, so it is always helpful to have an educated, objective second set of eyes looking over your wine.

Step 3: Mindfully Fill That Big, Empty Space

If all goes according to plan during your purge, you will be left with at least some wiggle room in your home cellar. It’s tempting to look at this space and immediately buy more wines to fill it, but this is a mistake. Instead, follow Kondo’s lead, getting comfortable with minimalism in your cellar until your spring releases arrive. Maintaining the clean space you just created is just as important as the other two steps in this process. Kondo explains that mindfulness is the most essential part of organization. You should be constantly asking yourself whether each bottle you place on your shelves is something special, and worthy of its place on that shelf.

When you buy hundreds of bottles of wine every year, it’s easy to see wine as a commodity, rather than as a representation of your values and the qualities you respect. The things you own say more about you than you might realize, and if you don’t respect the things you own, you allow them to take up too much literal and figurative space in your life. In addition, you are taking bottles away from others who likely would enjoy them more than you do. Kondo’s principles remind wine collectors that the bottle of DRC sitting in their cellars right now is something special and worthy of more than a forgotten splurge purchase. After you get your cellar in order, go into your next wine purchase with minimalism and quality in mind, asking yourself, “Will I drink this bottle? Do I have respect for this bottle? Am I willing to make space in my life for this bottle?” In a way, Kondo’s advice runs full-circle, going back to step one in this process. Before you buy anything, look closely at the item as an individual being, and take the space it occupies in your life more seriously.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying,selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.

With over a decade of experience in the wine industry, Derek Cienfuegos serves as Director of Collector Services at Vinfolio. During his tenure at Vinfolio, he has had the good fortune to work with some of the most distinguished wine collections in the country. Trained in wine production, Derek spent many years making wines commercially for some of Sonoma’s top producers. In addition, he has designed, opened, and managed two wine bars in San Francisco.