Cooks are notoriously attached to their tools: Bakers are devoted to the 9x13 pan, bartenders love their citrus juicers, and most chefs will gladly wax poetic when asked about their favorite knife. That's why we've saved the task of clearing out your kitchen tools for late in The Kitchn's Spring Refresh. By this point, I hope you've already experienced the new energy that comes with letting go.
Don't worry, I'm not asking you to get rid of anything you deeply love. Clutter comes from the stuff that no longer serves a purpose in your life. Keeping that tortilla press you haven't used since the Cinco De Mayo party you had three years ago takes up valuable (present) brain space with (past) attachment.
What if you let go of the tortilla press (and the buyer's remorse that went with it) to make room for something you really want?
For this project, remove all your dishes and tools from your cabinets and drawers and take a hard look at each one, asking yourself if it's a pick-me-up or a let-me-down. Pick-me-ups are energizers (things you love and use all the time) and let-me-downs are drains (things that need to be fixed; stuff you don't use, but feel guilty getting rid of; or extras or multiples you don't really need).
1. Gather your equipment.
You'll need a few things to make this job a little easier: a box or bin, a timer, and an attitude of openness (as much as you can muster — there's no expectation for you to be the Dalai Lama of kitchen organization here). Set the timer to one hour, or however long you feel you can devote to this job. The timer compels you to find a faster rhythm, so you don't overthink things too much.
2. Sort the pick-me-ups from the let-me-downs.
Try to be as non-judgmental as you can. Just let yourself sit with each object and see how it feels. If you've done Marie Kondo's method of keeping only those things that spark joy, this process is similar. However, the best kitchens are practical as well as pleasurable, so you might come across things — like sheet pans — that don't exactly spark joy, but you still need for cooking.
Common Downs (Energy Drains)
- Things that need to be fixed
- Extras or multiples you don't really need
- Gifts you don't like but feel guilty getting rid of
- Stuff you're just tired of seeing
- Stuff you've been hiding from yourself because you hate seeing it
Common Ups (Energizers)
- Stuff you use almost every day because you love it so much
- Stuff you use all the time because you really do need it
- Super-special stuff that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy
3. Stop when the timer ends, and sort.
Toss or recycle any broken objects, put your usable-but-unwanted items in the donation box, and put everything else back in its place.
4. Examine what's essential to you.
There are plenty of lists prescribing what you really need to outfit a kitchen, but the truth is that everyone's is a little different. Yes, there are items that show up almost every time (like a chef's knife or a wooden spoon), but there are also intimate, personal pieces (like your grandma's tea kettle) that make it on your list because they're unique to you.
Look at what's left once you've decluttered, and take a moment to think about what your stuff says about you. This process might also help you let go of a few things you kept, but in the end realize aren't really "you."
A Note on Personal and Practical Essentials
When I went through this process and made a list, I started to see patterns. My essential kitchen toolkit worked out to about two-thirds practical and one-third personal. In case it helps, here's where I landed.
Practical: Tools and Dishes We Use All the Time
Bread knife, can opener, cast iron frying pan, chef's knife, corkscrew, cutting board, Dutch oven, high-sided sauce pan, ladle, meat thermometer, metal spatula, rubber spatula, multi-purpose drinking glasses, nesting measuring cups, nesting mixing bowls, one set of measuring spoons, paring knife, sauté pan, sheet pan, baking pan, stackable bowls and plates, strainer, tea kettle, tongs, whisk, wooden spoon, zester, and grater.
Personal: Extras and Little Luxuries We Love and Use
Burr grinder, Hario drip kettle and Chemex (for my husband's morning coffee-making ritual), ceramic baking dish from Oaxaca (a 10-year-old gift from an old employer), citrus juicer (has made my life just a little easier), food processor (doubles as a hand-blender), garlic press (so much easier than mincing), Martha Stewart nesting colanders (I love how they look), platters and serving dishes from our wedding, potato masher (not necessary, but we use it a lot), round cake pans (the 4-egg yellow cake from The Joy of Cooking was the first thing I ever learned to bake), toaster oven (doubles as a toaster and a mini oven when we're making small meals), and vegetable peeler (easier than a paring knife for peeling).
Not Necessary: Things We're Letting Go Of
Bottles and dishes my son's outgrown, cocktail stirrers (so not necessary), extra measuring spoons and measuring cups, glass jars without lids, pizza cutter (we haven't used this in a year), and ice cream scoop (the bowl is a funny shape that makes scooping harder than it should be).
The Holdouts: One Last Note on Compromise
I have a small kitchen without a lot of space, and I tend to appreciate dishes more than equipment. My husband, on the other hand, loves to collect the occasional new gadget, so we purge about once a year. There are two things I've yet to convince him to get rid of: a rice cooker he's used once and a wok he's used twice. (When I bought him the Pok Pok cookbook, I had no idea it would inspire him to reimagine our kitchen as a Thai restaurant.) Truthfully, although he rarely uses those pieces, he loves them and continues to believe in the dream of weekly Thai meals one day. So I found a spot where they look nice and don't get in the way, and that's that. Sometimes saving yourself from an argument is worth more than saving space.