Lifehacker reader Lionel is a food nerd and less-is-more enthusiast. Inspired by this week’s Ultimate Clutter Cleanout, he shared his tips on wiping the slate clean in his kitchen and making it a better place to cook.
Photo by Rubbermaid Products.
Motivation: Sunday morning kitchen cleanspree. A trim, organised, kitchen makes it easier to get in, cook, clean, and get out.
First watch two or three hoarding shows on TLC and drink a Diet Coke. Get a few boxes and bags, and label them one of two things: Trash or Donate.
Before you start, and as you move through this whole thing, you have to ask yourself:
- What kind of food do I make regularly?
- What can I expect to make this year?
- Do I have the right tools for the job?
You probably have 95% of the tools you need, yet more than half of what you have is redundant/unused/old, or just plain unidentifiable. Purge these things. It is time.
Chucking busted food
Okay, you’re ready. Start by going through the fridge and chuck out all those three to six-month-old jars of fridge door detritus. If it’s not still fresh, or something you’re really going to use, chuck it. Take everything out of the freezer and only put back things you’ll actually eat in the next 2 weeks. Otherwise, chuck it. Photo by Greencolander.
Then hit the pantry and check all the sell-by/eat-by dates. Are you really going to make that blue corn tortilla soup you got in that going-away gift basket? But, wait, that soup mix is 13 years old!? Say goodbye to one-quarter of the fridge and pantry. Donate what you can, and chuck the rest.
Getting ruthless with drawers
Now go through the drawers one at a time. You don’t need 14 bottle openers. You need three, tops. Think Alton Brown—have as few unitaskers as possible. Keep one, at most two of the same kind of tool, as a backup or, in the case of peelers, an extra for anyone helping out. Otherwise, pare down on the utensils, put ’em all in a box, and give the goofy stuff to charity. Be ruthless.
That junk drawer? No excuses. Tip it out, and put the batteries where batteries go (hint: not in the kitchen). The bills and paperwork laid on the counters and tacked to the walls? It’s a kitchen, not an office. File it or, even better, pay or enveloped them right now and then chuck them. Keep two working flashlights in here (LED would be better), and that’s it. Photo by Judith Angharad.
Keep kitchen drawers for kitchen things, and do the same kind of tip-and-examine process for other drawers in your kitchen. When you start putting it all back, put like with like. One drawer for baking stuff, one for pan/cooktop cooking, and a good ceramic countertop utensil bucket for stir-flip-poke-tong-spoon stuff. It’s easy to have too many of these things and not realise it. Keep three or four wood/plastic spoons, some tongs with plastic ends (no pan scratching). The spatulas shaped like Daffy Duck’s beak go—you guessed it—into the trash.
Now to the sacred cows. But here’s some good news—even if you never use the KitchenAid mixer, you should keep it. It’s iconic, if only for design, and you probably do need to make cookies once a year, so don’t chuck it. The bread maker, well … Make bread in the oven, which creates another use for that KitchenAid. Blenders, big and small food processors, blade coffee grinders, slow cookers, a big mandolin, a toaster or toaster oven—all useful. But the rest? Questionable at best. If you didnt use it in a year, it may be time to go. Otherwise, it becomes a vessel for collecting silverfish and various under-counter debris.
The last bit, which could arguably be the first bit, involves the cookbooks. Most people who use cookbooks really only use about four or five regularly (Ed. note: So very, sadly true). The rest are kept around, knowingly or not, because they contain and explain some process or technique reference—how to roast a bird, how to brine, trussing, pickling, proper cooking temps—or hold one or two unique recipes, like the best deviled eggs you’ve had. I’d separate them into sections just like that. Keep the general reference ones, and consider spending a little time with a scanner and then donating all but the most beautiful reference books. Foodnetwork.com and other recipe search sites can replace nearly all of them. Photo by LollyKnit.