Some years ago, I made a new friend. A wonderful woman: bubbly and bright, full of energy, a cheerful, high-touch mom to two young kids. I adored her.
Then I saw her kitchen.
It looked like a cyclone had spun it around and spit it out twice.
And despite her somewhat dubious distinction as the messiest person I may ever have met, she still remained one of my favorite people. Keeping an immaculate kitchen simply didn’t rise to the top of her priority list. And so what?
I have other friends whose kitchens are spotless: surfaces gleam and no visible signs of food-making or consumption exist anywhere. In these kitchens, the detritus vanishes as soon as it’s created. These folks are wizards, and I admire them, too. Their efficiency’s admirable.
And then there’s me. And maybe you. People who fall between the two extremes.
Take a breath. If your friends still visit, if you don’t have vermin, if you can move around safely without tripping over yesterday’s burrito, you’re doing it right.
Here’s how you know you’re A-Okay when it comes to cleaning your kitchen.
You have a ritual.
Maybe you spray down the counters, take out the trash, fill the kettle for tomorrow. It matters less what the ritual is than that you have one. Before bed, I line my kitchen counter with a fresh tea towel and set my favorite cutting board on top. That board’s the first thing I see when I enter the room at dawn. It’s a blank slate, a calming totem, a potent symbol of meals to come.
You get as much off the counter as possible.
Counters are your most valuable kitchen real estate. Even if you have one counter, or a half-counter, you try to maximize what you have. I go vertical when it comes to storing dry goods (tall jars instead of flat containers) and hide what I can in the pantry. The Kitchn has countless tips, tricks, and tools for how to create greater storage efficiencies, and many of these help keep your prep space clear.
You wash the dishes each night.
Pat yourself on the back. This one’s tough, but you do it whenever possible. There’s no worse way to start a fresh, new day than having to clean up yesterday’s mess. Gold star if you, your partner, or your roommate tackles the mess before you turn in. Your morning self thanks you.
You identify triggers that stress you out… hey, it’s personal.
Your trigger may be the stovetop, the spice drawer, those stains in your mugs. My trigger is crumbs on the kitchen floor. You can’t clean everything all the time, but you can target those spots that bug you the most. And that’s what’s important: not a spotless kitchen, but one that’s mostly clean. Aiming not for perfection, but for tidiness.
Look, kitchens get messy, and a few tasks — like sanitizing surfaces that touch raw protein — are non-negotiable. But if you approach cleaning with a simple plan, if you recognize that your home’s not a restaurant, if you still find joy in the cooking, the eating, the feeding of others… then, friends, when it comes to cleaning, you’ve been doing it right all along.
(Image credits: Cheryl Sternman Rule)