How I Reset Myself (and My Kitchen) in January

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, although I understand the impulse. The year is young and fresh, the feasting season is past, and in the quiet of early January there is more space to take a deep breath and have a look around — both internally and externally — and ask what is going well and what could use a little work?

But resolutions are often about setting up lofty goals and unrealistic expectations, so instead I like to engage in a few small tasks and rituals to set me in a direction that feels wholesome and supportive. I begin this process in the kitchen, the heart of my home and the center of most of my activity.

I know it sounds predictable, but I like to start my new year with a decent kitchen clean-up. Not a 20-Day Cure, of course, but something I can accomplish in an afternoon. I focus on clearing out my refrigerator of any lingering holiday leftovers and ingredients. To do this, I must be firm and even a little ruthless, but also creative: throwing together a soup with the savory stuff, making crème fraîche with the leftover cream, stirring the extra cranberry sauce into yogurt for a snack.

I also give the countertops and cupboards a quick once-over, returning holiday-related items to their storage place or to the back of the cupboard, and giving everything a nice wipe-down. (There’s always something gooey stuck to the underside of my KitchenAid mixer after the holidays.)

As a final flourish, I look for a new centerpiece to replace the evergreen and pinecones left over from December. A simple bowl of clementines, maybe, or a jar stuffed with winter herbs. This year it’s a vase full of myrtle, a fragrant shrub whose leaves and berries are akin to bay, rosemary, and juniper.

The second step is a lot of fun: finding room for the holiday gifts I’ve just received. My friends and family know I’m a devoted cook, so I get a lot of kitchen-related items around the holidays. Instead of just shoving them into the cupboards, I like to take my time to be sure there is a place for each special thing — be it a bottle of fancy vinegar or a stack of beautiful homemade linen napkins. This usually involves getting rid of something in order to make space for something new — a very important practice that’s both practical and metaphoric.

Finally, instead of making a casual, offhand resolution that I’ll forget before the week is over, I instead like to come up with an intention for the coming year. I prefer the concept of intention over resolution because to my mind, intention has a broader scope and more fluidity. For me, it’s less about dos and don’ts, and more about setting a tone, or orientating myself toward something. Intentions allow for the unpredictable energies of life to come in and shake things up a little. Resolutions can be broken, but intentions are more flexible and adaptable. Often my intention is one word, such as slower or explore or persistence.

Once I have my intention, I like to sit quietly with it for a while. I light a candle, pour out a special cup of tea or maybe a small glass of Sauternes leftover from a holiday dinner, and take a seat at my kitchen table. The holiday kitchen is often a busy, action-packed place for me, so it’s a pleasure just to sit quietly and reflect. I find that sitting with my intention allows it to settle, becoming less of an idea and more of a part of who I am. After a while, once my drink is done and the candle has burned down, I rise up, wash my cup, and head back into the hustle-bustle of life, feeling refreshed and inspired.

Whether you set an intention, make a resolution, or just give the ol’ KitchenAid a good polish, it’s good to mark the new year in some way, to take advantage of the automatic reset button that is January 1 and to discover and cultivate what’s most important.

How do you reset your kitchen for the new year? Do you have any kitchen rituals? What’s your intention for 2016?