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How to Keep Kitchen Clutter Under Control

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Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Enough with the clutter! Take a love stance towards overflowing drawers and shelves and get excited to keep your kitchen spic and span.

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You will be shocked to discover how much more energy and motivation for cooking and baking you may have after even a modest bout of de-cluttering. Whole books are written on the subject. You can make it a major project or a series of small ones. I vote for the latter.

The goal is to clear counters and un-stuff drawers, cabinets, and crocks so that you can work with pleasure and serenity. The process is painless and incrementally rewarding if you do it in small bites, an hour at a time, over several weeks. 

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First consider the hierarchy of your space:

  • Prime real estate: kitchen counters, drawers, crocks, and easy-to-reach cabinets
  • Suburbs: convenient pantries or closets, in or close to the kitchen
  • Outlands: basements, garages, and upper kitchen and pantry shelves that require a stepladder to access

To see immediate results, start with prime real estate and attack the low-hanging fruit: Pick one drawer or cupboard or one type of item and just dig in. (I started with an enormous collection of jars, containers, and lids and moved on to my collection of salts.) One thing will lead to another. 

Big hint: Save any hard or traumatic decisions for later -- they will get progressively easier the more you clean.

  

Toss out the obvious, then shift items from prime real estate to the suburbs (or beyond) based on frequency of use and ease of moving things back to the counter when needed. For example, if you move a heavy appliance to the suburbs or outlands, put it on an accessible shelf at waist level for easy lifting. Otherwise you will never want to use it again -- and when that happens, you might later consider getting rid of it altogether. As you progress, you’ll also find items in the suburbs that belong in outlands, etc. You’ll end up rearranging those areas and the decision to let go of things will become less traumatic. 

Start by tossing these things out:

  • Ancient food in bottles and cans and boxes. I’m not going to gives rule here -- you can read dates or just ask yourself if you would really eat or serve it.
  • Ground spices that smell faint or musty
  • Old oils (these are probably rancid)
  • Old specialty flours, nuts, and seeds (these are also probably rancid)
  • Opened cookies, crackers, cereal, or pretzels that are stale
  • Dried fruits that are rock-hard from age
  • Seasonings from your trip to New Orleans ten years ago 
  • Ugly souvenirs
  • At least half of that enormous supply of jars, containers, and lids for food storage 
  • Pot holders that are too thin, impossibly dirty, or torn

Now consider moving these things from prime real estate:

  • Infrequently used appliances that live on the counter
  • Never- or rarely-used or rusty utensils stuffed into drawers or crocks 
  • Extra cutlery and dishes used for hosting large parties
  • Special or seasonal baking tools, pans, cookie cutters, extra cookie sheets, and cake decorating supplies
  • Rarely used cookbooks
  • Ugly or torn dishtowels that should be in the ragbag 
  • Giant stock, crab, or lobster pots
  • Turkey roaster and rack
  • Miscellaneous, ugly, or cracked mugs, glassware, and dishes
  • Office supplies (isn’t there a better place?)
  • Barbecue utensils 
  • Craft supplies (after your kids are off to or even graduated from college)

Bigger Hint: To jump-start the de-cluttering process -- or to keep the momentum going -- it may be necessary to invite a friend in to play “bad cop” once in a while. It works. Be sure to return the favor.  

What are your best tips for keeping clutter under control? We want to hear them! 

Pick up a copy of Alice's new book Flavor Flours, which includes nearly 125 recipes -- from Double Oatmeal Cookies to Buckwheat Gingerbread -- made with wheat flour alternatives like rice flour, oat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, and teff (not only because they're gluten-free, but for an extra dimension of flavor, too). 

Photos by James Ransom


See more from the illustrated biographies of 16.5 global desserts

Tags: cleaning, spring cleaning, organization, clutter, kitchen