Decluttering the kitchen is one of those projects that’s always on the “someday” list—as in, “We’ll tackle it before the robot apocalypse …” But we just say no to any more excuses: Take an hour, get rid of the biggest offenders and learn what you can do to keep things from ever getting out of hand again.
1. Your Insane Plastic Container Collection
This may just be the single biggest cause of cabinet avalanches. Limit yourself to just two sizes of reusable containers, says Nonnahs Driskill, the declutter guru behind Get Organized Already. Instead, try to stick to 5 to 6 pieces in each size. That way you’re not fighting to find the right lid for each bowl.”
2. Reusable Shopping Bags
We know this sounds like crazy talk, getting rid of something that’s designed to be eco-friendly, but hear us out: Through conferences, work, and free-tote-with-purchase deals, most people own way more bags than they need. Hold on to a maximum of 10 and donate the rest. Then move the ones you keep to the trunk of your car, where you’re more likely to use them, Driskill says. We can’t be the only ones who get to the grocery store and realize our canvas bags are tucked away in a cabinet at home.
3. Real Estate Agent and Pizza Delivery Magnets
Ask yourself: Does that freebie magnet you got in the mail bring you joy? If not, why are you letting it clutter up your fridge? If you need a magnet, consider printing out a family photo on sticker paper and covering the magnet with it.
4. Unused, Weirdly Sentimental Mugs
Mugs are the cucumber-melon body lotion of the cooking world: They’re the go-to gift when you have no idea what to get someone, and they naturally start to pile up. Harden your heart and assume that horrible “Let’s Java Good Time” mug your friend’s mother-in-law gave you was a regift—and toss it. Most people don’t need more than six, Driskill says.
5. Anything That Came for Free with Your Dinner
Spare chopsticks, soy sauce packets, kid’s meal toys—you’re always going to get more the next time you order, so there’s no point in stockpiling them, Driskill says.
6. Your Sponge
While the USDA’s research group found that microwaving a damp sponge eliminates 99.9998 percent of germs, if your sponge smells, you should throw it out.
7. Plastic Grocery Bags
If you have more than 10 balled up in a cabinet somewhere, move the rest to your car and take them to your nearest Walmart, Target or grocery store that recycles plastic bags.
8. The Hand Towel You Use for Everything
Hand towels are most commonly contaminated surface in the kitchen, according to a March 2015 study from Kansas State University. What’s worse, salmonella can continue to grow on cloths overnight, even after they were washed and rinsed in the sink. Researchers recommend designating one hand towel for washing, one for drying, and sending both through the washing machine daily (especially if you’ve been cooking meat). If you’ve been using one towel to do everything, toss it and start fresh.
9. One-Off Appliances You Swore You’d Use
Margarita machines, garlic presses, pasta makers, hot chocolate frothers—specialty cooking stores are loaded with droolworthy gadgets that only serve one purpose. If it’s taking up precious counterspace and you use it less than four times a year, it’s probably worth tossing—especially if there’s an everyday object that can get the job done just as well. You might be surprised what your gadgets are worth: A Cuisinart Soft Serve Maker, for example, could bring in $95 on eBay.
10. Spare Kitchen Knives
Most professional chefs get by with just 3 to 5 knives, Driskill says, and she recommends that people stick to the same number. Chances are, you rarely use more than a paring knife, serrated knife, and chef’s knife, and the rest could bring in anywhere from $4 to $99 if sold online.
11. Canned Food That Looks Questionable
It goes without saying that anything that’s expired should be tossed, but the USDA recommends that you should also throw out any canned foods that are rusted—and you can’t easily rub off the rust with a paper towel—or have dents big enough that you could stick your finger in them.
12. Barely Used Cookbooks
If you’ve owned it for over a year and haven’t made a single thing, it’s probably time to consider selling —unless it’s a family heirloom or other treasured item, in which case, move it to your living room bookshelves or repurpose as a coffee table book. Amazon will buy most titles in exchange for a gift card, if you don’t want to deal with online auctions or yard sales.
13. Front-of-Fridge Clutter
Treat the front of your fridge like a command center, Driskill recommends. Place anything you need a daily reminder of there, like to-do lists, torn-out recipes and forms that need to be signed or addressed, and as you cross each one off your to-do list, remove it from the fridge. Better yet: Take everything off the fridge and move your “command center” to the inside of a cabinet door. When the cabinets are closed, those papers are out of view.
14. Recipes You’re Saving for “Someday”
If you tore it out of a magazine more than a month ago and you haven’t made it yet, you’re not going to make it. And that’s okay.
15. Water Bottles
You only need one per person, and maybe 1 to 2 extra, Driskill says. For the rest: Clean them out and donate or recycle them.
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