Stupid-Simple Ways to Declutter Your Kitchen
The best part about having a kitchen --besides cooking great food for yourself -- is all the gear. You get to fill your drawers and cabinets with neat gadgets, and you get to shop at cute boutique stores where they challenge your lifelong pronunciation of the word "table."
The worst part about having a kitchen-besides plumbing mishaps and accidental fires-is all the damn gear. Your drawers turn into jumbled mine fields full of stuff you don’t remember how to use, and your cabinets start to overflow with novelty coffee mugs and shot glasses from a vacation you’d rather forget.
A decluttered kitchen is a much happier place, and you don't need to go full Kondo to achieve it. We consulted chefs, food writers, and multiple books by kitchen-efficiency experts for some stupid-simple ways to get your kitchen gear sorted, optimized, and ready to enrich your life instead of complicating it.
Clear out your knife supply
Here’s the problem with knives: Knife companies want you to spend money on their products, but know only professionals are likely to spend big on a single knife. So they sell you a big old set with a carving knife, paring knife, bread knife, fillet knife, a smaller carving knife, maybe a cleaver, some scissors, and a whole bunch of steak knives. But what kind of quality to you really expect from buying that many knives for $89.99 at the same place where you stock up on paper towels and canned goods? And how often do you use most of them?
The answer to both of those questions is “not much.”
Instead, what you really need is two nice knives. A chef's knife and a paring knife. And you want to spend between $150 and $200 total on them. Invest time in researching the style that you like, and going to a knife store and seeing which feel good in your hands.
Get rid of all the others. What, too much anxiety? Fine, you can hang onto a decent serrated bread knife for bagels and baguettes and the like (they also do a nice job on tomatoes). That's really all you need, though. Steak knives don’t count here, because they’re silverware! Not real knives. You’ll want six to eight.
Go-go gadgets... away!
Uni-tasking devices are the enemy of all kitchen order. They’re the devices that fill your cupboards and pantry, gathering dust because you had the following conversation with yourself.
YOU: Woah! A turnip starrer! I can make turnip stars all day!
ALSO YOU: Totally. Let’s buy that. I can’t wait to star the shit out of some turnips. We’ll have the starriest turnip stars that ever starred while being turnips.
YOU SIX MONTHS LATER: I haven’t starred a turnip in five and a half months. I should star some... wait, what’s this on Netflix?
YOU A YEAR LATER: What the hell is this star-shaped thing in my drawer?
99% of the time, you’re better off just learning to manually do what a kitchen gadget does, using the tools already at your disposal. You’ll save money and space while upping your kitchen game. YouTube exists for a reason. Hell, even your faithful garlic press can be replaced with the flat of your chef’s knife.
That said, our experts identified two species of kitchen gadget that are good to have around: general purpose workhorses and uni-taskers you will actually use.
General purpose workhorses are those machines that do lots of different tasks, and that you’ll use at least a couple times each month. Some good examples include a bar blender, immersion blender, food processor, mixer, and slow cooker/ pressure cooker. Like with your knives, invest in these. Buy high-quality after researching your needs so you don’t have to replace them. Then make a home for them in your cupboard where they’ll be well taken care of. You can make the space by disposing of the useless crap you got for your wedding, or the useless crap your brother foisted on you that he got for his wedding.
Uni-taskers you will actually use are exactly what they sound like. A rice cooker is the gold standard of these devices for many homes. If you eat rice at least once a week, they’ll save you time and hassle and are worth the investment of time and cash. Some other potential candidates include coffee machines, salad spinners, pasta machines, and juicers.
Again, though, before you run out and buy (or decide to keep) these, check your eating habits. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, “Keep what you use, and discard the rest.”
You don't need 15 ways to simply move food around
This one’s simple. You have far too many damn spatulas, spoons, tongs, pokers, prodders, and general nonsense in a drawer or shoved into an adorable little vase. You only use 1/4 of them, and another 1/4 you’re not even sure what they’re for. If those ones see any use it’s because you got lazy and hadn’t washed your go-to when you need it.
Instead of dealing with that nonsense, you instead need a very simple load-out. Opt for one to two each of cooking spatula, rubber spatula, solid wooden spoon, slotted cooking spoon, cooking tongs, and ladle. You know what you tend to use frequently, so double up on those lest you be caught without backup while one's awaiting a cleaning.
Your best source for the good stuff here is your local kitchen supply shop. They won’t have fancy handles or come in lots of weird shapes. They’ll just be what you need, when you need it, and built to last.
The same is true with things you move food around on and in. You need plates, cups, silverware, mixing bowls, pots, pans, cookie sheets, leftovers storage containers, and the like... but you almost certainly have more of these than you need. There’s a four-step plan for corralling and controlling these items:
Step one: Go through everything that’s supposed to have a lid or similar partner. If you’ve lost one half, rending the item useless, jettison the other half. It’s doing you absolutely no good, and adding to the chaos.
Step two: Put a post-it note on everything larger than your fist. Take the note off when you use it, and don’t put it back. At the end of the month, get rid of everything that still has a post-it note on it.
Step three: Use the extra space you got from steps one and two to organize your kitchen supplies as ergonomically and logically as you can. Separate out the objects that won’t fit neatly because of their size or shape.
Step four: Cull items from your collection until even the weird, big stuff fits.
Repurpose all your beloved fancy shit
Some things you keep because you’ll use ‘em every Christmas, or they belonged to your grandmother and you’ll never be rid of them unless you have a house fire. You might not even like them, but here we are. Every family has a cupboard crowded with them, and every cook hates on them silently at least once a week.
But what ya gonna do? Here’s what you’re gonna do. You have three options, not counting just keeping things as they are -- that option sucks.
Option one: Get rid of it. To quote Marie Kondo, if it doesn’t give you joy, get rid of them. One option here is to take photos of the treasures so you have a physical reminder of the person they connect you to, then send them out in the world to bring a different person happiness.
Option two: Turn them into decor. Use a hutch, or your bookshelf, or the tops of your cabinets to put these heirlooms on display. If you never use them, they’ll put your loved ones in your mind more often. If you use them once in a while, you’ll know where they are.
Option three: Store them. Take them out of the kitchen and put them in the same kind of tub you use for your holiday decorations, then store them in the same place. When fancy dinner time arrives, go get them.
Simple enough? Good. Before you know it, you'll know all the workers at the Goodwill donation center and finally know where everything in the kitchen is.
Jason Brick is a voracious reader, heroic drinker, and super-cool dad (not necessarily in that order of importance). When not testing the theoretical limits of coolness, he practices martial arts so he can beat people up for teasing him about how much he likes playing Dungeons & Dragons. Find out more at BrickCommaJason.com.