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Credit: Photo: Katie Currid, Design: Kitchn
January Jumpstart

Join Our January Jumpstart: 4 Weeks, 4 Easy Steps To a Better, More Organized Kitchen

updated Jan 8, 2021
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Welcome to January Jumpstart, a four-part mini series that’ll help you get your kitchen ready for 2021. It’s the lightest lift you can possibly make while still getting a leaner, more organized kitchen that’s ready to work. We’ll run one story every Friday (with your small assignment for the weekend), and you can see them all here at the end of the month.

If ever there were a time to hit the restart button, January 2021 has got to be it — and what better place to begin than the kitchen? While standing in as a makeshift workspace (or virtual school), becoming a virtual happy hour meetup space, and churning out meal after meal, our hardworking kitchens have had to take on a lot in the past year. They can all likely use a little refresh.

But you know how it’s possible to overdo it when starting an intense exercise program? Attempting to deep clean and declutter your kitchen in one go can also backfire. (Take everything out and you could definitely lose steam before you’ve even put the forks back in the drawer.) On the other hand, tiptoeing into the new year won’t give you that fresh-start feeling of a big cleaning and decluttering spree.

The solution? Separating the emotional labor from the physical work. Think about it: The hardest part of getting your kitchen (or any space, for that matter) organized is really the decision-making. If you knew exactly what you wanted to get rid of, and the perfect spot for everything that remained, you could just move your stuff around and be done with it. And so, our very first step for 2021’s January Jumpstart is to simply identify the problem(s). You don’t have to actually clean or declutter anything; just spend some in your kitchen. Here’s what to do while you’re in there.

Week 1: Identify the problem.

Credit: Kitchn

1. Spend 30 minutes doing nothing in your kitchen.

This week’s task is to simply look at everything (and I mean everything!) in your kitchen, without excuses or judgement. By examining all of your accumulated stuff, you’ll be giving a signal to your brain that it’s time to start thinking about how your kitchen is working (or not working) and what to do about it.

2. Ask yourself how you want your kitchen to feel.

Come up with two or three words to describe how you want your kitchen to feel. If you’re having trouble with this, close your eyes and imagine walking into the kitchen of a positively dreamy vacation home: What are the first words that pop into your mind? For example, we would love for our kitchen to feel cheerful, warm, and cozy. As you move into the next parts of this task, keep your words in mind.

3. Identify your most-used zones.

Take a moment to identify the drawers, cabinets, and shelves nearest to your stove, sink/dishwasher, and main countertop. These are your kitchen’s most frequently used zones and they should only contain items you consider daily essentials. Take a look, but resist the urge to start pulling out tools and gadgets. That’s for another day.

4. Open every cabinet and drawer.

Working through your kitchen from top to bottom and left to right, look through every cupboard, drawer, and shelf and see what’s there. You might want to snap a few photos with your phone for reference — looking at them later over a cup of coffee can help create some distance between you and your stuff so you can make clearer decisions about what to keep and what to toss. Pay special attention to those most-used zones: Are there rarely used items (like cookie cutters) taking up space in your cutlery drawer? Again, don’t take anything out. You’re just looking and thinking right now.

5. Make a list of everything you’ve used in the last three months.

The knives you always reach for, that go-to cast iron skillet, your favorite coffee mugs — the things you’ve actually used (and used often) within the past few month make up your personal essentials. If you’ve only used something once or twice over the span of several months (hello, stand mixer, we’re looking at you!), it deserves a spot in your kitchen, too — just not in your most-used zones. For example, after realizing you only need your extra glassware once or twice a year (and exactly zero times in 2020), you might opt to box it up and store it in an out-of-the-way closet between uses, freeing up much-needed space in a small kitchen.

When you come across an item you can’t remember ever using, ask yourself why you’re still holding onto it: Was it a gift you from a relative you love? Or something you bought in the hopes of learning a new skill (like making pasta or ice cream)? It’s your call whether or not to keep these sorts of things — the important thing is to be honest with yourself about why you’ve held onto it this long, and then make an intentional decision one way or the other. 

6. Mentally flag items to relocate or give away.

Remember, you’re not getting rid of anything yet! Just make some mental notes (or in a notes app or journal, if you prefer) about which items you’re not using. You could even use colorful sticky notes to flag items you want to relocate or give away. Making these decisions without the added pressure of actually moving anything can be freeing — aim to be as honest with yourself as possible at this stage, and flag anything you don’t use or like without worrying about where it will go.     

Next Steps

Taking this time to really notice what’s in your kitchen — and make decisions about what stays and what goes — will make the process of decluttering and organizing your kitchen much easier. Next up, we’ll guide you through five steps to move out the junk and reconfigure your keepers to get your kitchen in its best possible shape. If you have the urge to get started before then, use your sticky notes or jot down what you want to move in your journal instead. We’ll keep going next week!