How to Kondo your kitchen.
Watching Marie Kondo transform the lives of messy homeowners on her Netflix series, Tidying Up, sent tons of fans into their closets and then off to the Goodwill as they touched every garment in their wardrobe, purging many items and keeping just the perfect pieces that “sparked joy.”
I watched every episode, but I wasn’t inspired to dump my sock drawer or origami my sweaters into a pleasing color-coded row. The show did, however, get me thinking about my kitchen.
Kondo, a stylish Japanese waif who appears to get her precisely coiffed bangs trimmed approximately every 18 hours, obviously prioritizes what’s in the closet over everything else in life. In her system, clothing gets its own category at the top of her list while the kitchen falls into komono, her vast catchall class seemingly made up of all the things that interest her less.
Inexplicably, this single category also includes the office, garage, and bathroom–some of the most notoriously cluttered and difficult to organize places in American homes. Clearly, each of these areas is a decluttering project unto itself, and the kitchen trumps them all. Who cares about how to store your handbags without hurting their feelings when your cast iron is sad because it needs to be re-seasoned and you’re not sure which spoonulas still spark joy?
Though she didn’t spend much time in the kitchens of her TV clients, I still think we can bring that Kondo spirit to the project of spring cleaning the kitchen. If I were to invent a system for home organization, after all, the kitchen would replace clothing at the top of the priority list. I imagine all the joy I could spark in myself peering into a clean and organized refrigerator, a freezer free from ice-crusted leftovers circa 2015, and a pantry stocked with ingredients that are clearly labeled.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t be less Kondo-like in my approach to kitchen management. I’m not naturally tidy, I don’t clean as I go, and I hate throwing things away. So I knew I’d need a pep talk and advice from someone with expertise not only in organizing but also with food.
I turned to Jessica Fisher, blogger at Life as a Mom and Good Cheap Eats, for practical tips on how to tackle the daunting project. The cookbook author and California-based mom of six knows a thing or two about maintaining a streamlined, efficient kitchen.
“There really is something to that ‘spark joy’ thing,” says Fisher. She assures me that once the clutter is clear, I’ll know exactly what kind of things to spend my grocery budget on to maximize happiness while minimizing mess.
Here are her seven steps to tidying up the most important room in your home–the kitchen–just in time for spring (or whenever you need to).
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1. Take a Real Inventory
You probably think you know what you have, and you are almost certainly wrong. You really do have to empty the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, Kondo-style, to lay eyes on everything you have. You’ll be surprised what hides in the back corners. “Actually write it all down,” says Fisher. She uses a pen and paper, but a chalkboard, a dry erase board, or even a spreadsheet would work well. Photos are also a good idea. “I like to post my before and after on social media to show how far I’ve come.”
2. Thank and Toss
In Kondo’s method, you hold an item that doesn’t spark joy and thank it for its service before you throw it away. This might make you feel better about discarding a tube of Harissa you bought during the Obama administration. If so, express your gratitude and throw that stuff away. Fisher knows this can be hard for waste-averse home cooks like me. “If you’ve never faced the music, there are probably going to be things you find that are too old to keep,” she warns.
Just remember, don’t be a slave to the package dates. Fisher says use your senses—sight, smell, touch, and taste—to decide what to keep and what to toss. One bite of a cracker will tell you if it’s stale better than any best-by date. At the same time, you might encounter some moldy yogurt or off-smell milk that according to the package should be OK. Trust your eyes and nose.
3. Game-ify Your Cleanout
Tidying Up isn’t the only TV show that can inspire your kitchen clean out. “Think of yourself as a contestant on Chopped.” All those ingredients you wrote down in your inventory? That’s what you’ve got to work with.
At first glance, your items might not seem to add up to dinner. Now is the time to get creative. Let Chef Google help. “You will definitely learn how to make some new things. Certain recipes I’ve come up with this way have become runaway favorites,” says Fisher. It’s how she came up with the mediterranean grilled steak recipe her family now loves.
4. Make a Master Meal Plan
“When I clean out my kitchen, I’ll print out a calendar and plan a month’s worth of dinners based on my ingredients and recipe ideas,” says Fisher. This lets her save those pantry and freezer treasures like puff pastry and pizza dough for special occasions and use up perfectly good but less desirable eats like turkey chili for a busy weeknight when dinner isn’t the focus of the evening.
5. Fatten Up Your Freezer
Maybe you’ve got a stash of wheat berries or brown rice taking up valuable shelf space but not getting a lot of action week in and week out. When you’ve got a couple of hours, turn these into pilafs or casseroles and stash them in the freezer. “This kind of cooking saves time and money. It will save you from takeout and give you a feeling of accomplishment,” says Fisher. Even cooking bulk grains very simply and freezing them in single-serving portions can be a headstart on quick meals in the future.
6. Shop to Restock
Fisher recommends spending a month shopping from your own pantry, limiting new grocery purchases to fresh produce. It saves money and puts pressure on you to use everything up. Eventually, though, your shelves will be bare. Then the fun can begin, as you replenish your stock with a trip to the store. Nothing sparks joy like fresh, new spices for me.
Taking the time to cook down your pantry and freezer will save you money and give you the warm fuzzies that come from reducing food waste, but if you pay attention you’ll also learn about your personal cooking style. “Every time I do this, it has a ripple effect,” says Fisher. “I learn what my family really loves and find ingredients I had forgotten about that I can get a lot of mileage out of.” Decluttering not only helps you build a better pantry, it can reinvigorate your cooking.