The Big Holiday Shake Out, Pt. 2
Updated: Jan 14
The holidays are over. Finally, we have tucked away all remnants of the festivities, but some reminders of a month or so spent shopping and hosting, buying and packing, unpacking and collecting, may still remain. We are now ready to get a little more involved with a post-holiday shake out. I live in a place where it generally always feels like Spring so I dropped the phrase "Spring cleaning". But if that helps you feel more connected to a mid-February cleaning, use it with reckless abandon. I like calling it a "shake out" because it feels more powerful. I'm doing the shaking. Others just need to stand back. Hopefully you were able to take a few of the simple steps outlined in my earlier post. Either way, in my book, the kitchen comes next.
I adore Marie Kondo and her tidy little habits for creating and sparking joy. Everything from her cute little voice to her cute little tights is just so - tidy. And I believe that her method of pulling everything out and doing things in a certain order is probably very effective. But I disagree with her. I don't think tidying should begin in my closet, because I can't show off the progress readily. And I don't think you should pull everything out because it perpetuates the feeling that you will never get done, or that tidying is somehow a one-time major event. Tidying, especially in the kitchen, is daily. And all of the steps that I have outlined below can be done in 10-minute increments or all morning. You get to decide. Just decide and then get to work.
1. Counters first. Anything that is not kitchen or food prep related needs another home. Reserve a single basket or bowl for the inevitable catch-all stuff that characterizes a happy kitchen, like car keys or mail, or daily medication. Just make sure that single basket does not collect friends and that it can be tucked away when not in use. We keep ours on top of the fridge. And when it overflows we clear it out. Counters are for food and food prep. If you can't use your counters for food, then what are you using them for, and why? There is no shortage of studies linking crowded counters and chaotic kitchens to poor eating habits. So make your counters a reflection of how you want to eat and feel, rather than your feelings of crazy and chaos showing up on your counter.
Kitchens are often the nerve center for the house. I understand that but we can't allow the desk aspect take over the kitchen, otherwise we would call it the office, not the kitchen. We have a desk, separate from the counters, that holds books and papers, etc. Everyday I take things that someone in my house placed on my counter (in error, of course) and put it on the desk instead. If it is not food, for food or about food - I'm ok with a few cookbooks - then it is not on the counter.
Appliances take up a lot of space and even the most prolific chefs do not use every appliance every day. Anything that doesn't get used daily should find a home in the cabinet. Otherwise it just collects dust. Our pretty Cuisinart mixer stays out - I like the color. And if I were a coffee drinker who owned one of those gorgeous coffee-drink contraptions, then I would probably proudly display that, too. But the ugly old can opener never, ever sees friends. No room in the cabinet? Time for step 2.
2. Cabinets. I start down and work my way up. Even though I am tall, my upper cabinets are much lighter on stuff, and more likely to have valuable real estate that I'll need as I dig through the bottom areas. Each cabinet gets emptied. Each item is evaluated for usefulness and nothing that isn't in working condition, complete with all parts, or used within the last year goes back in. Very special hosting or baking items can stay, but only if I can reasonably imagine ever using them. I laugh every time I cook in my mother-in-law's kitchen. She doesn't make fondue. Or eat fondue. Or host people who do. Or host at all. But she has 3 fondue sets. From her wedding. 40 years ago. That have never been used. I ask "how was that fondue party this year?" and she laughs because she thinks I'm joking. I'm not. A kitchen-related item should not get an automatic free pass to be in your kitchen if it is unused. You need that space for other stuff. I guess if you have the room, shove it to the back but put a note on it with the date when it was last used. Next February, maybe you will change your mind.
Tupperware is a black hole of nonsense, so you can basically chuck half of it and still have enough for leftovers. And I have never figured out how each year I end up with more lids than containers! I blame the kids. Speaking of kids, kiddie cups, plastic spoons and plastic plates should all stay together in a larger vessel, where kids can reach it. This is my year, with kids who are 7 and 10, to pitch all of this. Consider how long you want your children to still have special accommodations for meals and do what works for your family.
It seems obvious but I will just say it. Like items go with like items. Things you use all of the time should be easy to reach. And if you line things up like soldiers, you can smile every time you get a glass of water! Bonus.
3. Pantry. We do not have a separate, dedicated pantry. Several cabinets house our pantry items, which is not my preference but my reality. These need to be evaluated. Dig deep - there are packets, spices or cans that probably haven't seen the light of day and need to be used or thrown out for the benefit of your digestive system. The key to keeping a pantry clean is to know what is in there so you won't overbuy stuff you already have. I end up making a list of the unusual and underused things and keep it with my grocery list so that when I'm meal planning I can try to incorporate something forgotten. For me these special pantry items represent expensive additions to a grocery list. They get used once and then pushed aside but I hate to waste them. I'll say it again - the key to keeping a pantry clean is to know what is in there so you won't overbuy stuff you already have. When the food items are overflowing, I get creative and start using them with more regularity, even if I don't feel like sun-dried tomatoes for dinner.
4. The fridge and freezer need the same thoughtful approach, digging in and pulling out the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you can't identify it, it goes. If you can identify it but can't imagine using it ever again, it goes. Your refrigerator should make you want to eat something or cook something wonderful, not make you shriek and order pizza. I find that if my fridge is overstuffed I just don't want anything to do with it. Everything should have a home and everything should be ready to use and ready to enjoy. If your fridge is a place of horror, take daily steps to sort it out, clean it out and maintain it. For those lucky few who have a clear refrigerator, I think that is such a blessing. You MUST keep it tidy because everything can be seen when the doors are closed. Let's just pretend yours has glass doors. Yep - time to get to work.
Shake out the kitchen. Make it a space that you are proud to work in. Insist that all family members put their dishes and items away. Put your kitchen to bed after dinner, with clean counters and food put away. Wake up in the morning to a peaceful place that will help you start your day off right. Start here and show off your work when friends come over for fondue. No fondue set? I can probably find you one....stand by.