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Credit: Photo: Nancy Mitchell, Graphic: Kitchn
January Jumpstart

7 Little Ways to Find Happiness in the Kitchen in 2021

updated Jan 22, 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.

If you’ve been following along with our January Jumpstart program, congrats! You did it! It wasn’t so hard, was it? It’s just been three small parts so far. And this very last installment is super fun … because it’s all about treating yourself or your kitchen (which, in turn, is a treat for you)! Consider these steps little rewards for having completed the series. They’re little gifts to you that also help you create joy, warmth, and optimism in your newly refreshed space.

Credit: Kitchn

1. Replace one thing that’s bumming you out.

Have a stack of grungy old dish towels you’ve been meaning to replace for ages? A pot holder that burns your hand in one spot every time you pull something out of the oven? Stop putting up with the minor annoyance and replace one thing that’s bumming you out — replace being the key word here. As soon as you bring home or unbox the new item, make sure you actually get rid of the old one. It’s failing to let little things like this go that can create a backslide into chaos and clutter. It’s a new year. You’re better than that.

2. Replace one more thing.

Doesn’t that feel great? Now, do it again! Replace one more thing. Or a group of things. Where to start? Here are a few ideas.

  • Grungy dish towels
  • Expired spices (only replace with spices you’ll actually use!)
  • Stained plastic storage containers
  • Containers without matching lids or lids without bottoms
  • Chipped mugs and glassware
  • A small appliance that doesn’t work as well as it used to
  • A scratched nonstick pan

3. Give hard-working tools some TLC.

Show your kitchen some love by taking the time to maintain your hardest-working tools. You might want to sharpen your knives, make a batch of spoon butter to treat your wooden cutting boards and spoons, run a cleaning tab in your dishwasher, or refresh your garbage disposal.

4. Download one new-to-you podcast.

Kitchen time can be a sneaky way to squeeze in some me-time, if you use it to your advantage. Download a new podcast or audiobook now so that it’s ready to go the next time you have a mountain of veggies to chop or pots and pans to scrub. Test out a few different methods to see what you enjoy best in terms of content (foodie podcast or murder mystery?) and delivery system — wireless earbuds or a bluetooth speaker are both great options to keep on hand.

5. Add a little mood lighting.

It’s amazing the difference that softer, warmer lighting can make — especially in the kitchen, where we rely on bright overhead lights to illuminate the work area. To supplement (and soften) harsh task lighting, try lighting a candle while you wash dishes or chop veggies, or bring in a strand of tiny twinkle lights to coil up in a glass jar or drape over a windowsill. We’re even big fans of table lamps on the counter, to add ambiance when you’re in there (but not, say, when wielding a knife!). You could even hang up a rainbow maker (like this one) to fill your kitchen with magical rainbow light during the day!

6. Sneak in one joyful surprise.

As designer and author Ingrid Fetell Lee shares in her book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, “Bright color operates like a stimulant, a shot of caffeine for the eyes. It stirs us out of complacency.” Why not give yourself an extra jolt in your coffee or tea cupboard by painting the inside a bright, cheery hue? Of course color isn’t the only option for embracing the aesthetics of joy — scan over this list and pick one that sounds fun to try.

  • Hang a large framed photograph of a wild, open space (Unsplash is a great source for free photos).
  • Commit to keeping a small vase filled with fresh flowers on your counter.
  • Line your utensil drawer with removable wallpaper in a fun print.
  • Add a kitchen-friendly houseplant to a high shelf.
  • Hang a bird feeder outside somewhere you can see it when you wash dishes.
  • Paint a beloved family recipe on the interior of a cabinet door, like Jenny Rosenstrach did.

7. Practice 10 minutes of mindfulness.

Whether your version of 2020 comfort cooking included starting your own sourdough, baking trays of cookies, or stirring a slowly simmering soup pot, you’re not alone if you found the kitchen a source of solace this past year. And while the tasty results are certainly part of it, many of us also gravitated to the kitchen because it naturally encourages mindfulness — the practice of bringing your awareness to the present moment, calmly and without judgment.

To practice mindfulness in the kitchen, choose one activity and engage all of your senses: When washing dishes, breathe in the fragrance of the dish soap, feel the bubbles foaming, notice the heat and sound of the water. When stirring the soup pot, observe the steam rising, notice the texture of the wooden spoon in your hand, breathe in the scent of the soup. When your mind starts to wander, gently bring your awareness back to your senses. Yes, we know we suggested a podcast or an audio book — just turn off your speaker for 10 minutes and enjoy.

What is one little thing in your kitchen that’s bringing you joy?