We’ve tricked ourselves into believing that wiping down the kitchen counter every once in a while is good enough. It’s not until you’ve traveled to the outer reaches of your highest cabinets or the darkest depths of that long-ignored drawer that you realize crumbs are the least of your worries. It’s all the junk—gifted mugs, one-off gadgets—taking up precious cupboard space that’s the real problem. You don’t even have to cook that much to accumulate it.
The key is deciphering the good clutter from the bad. No matter your skill level, every home chef should own a 9-by-13 baking pan, a sturdy set of knives, three cook-anything pots, shears (they’re great for slicing pita and mincing herbs), and one dish set per seat at the dining table. But the rest is up for debate. If you really want to whip your kitchen into shape, you’re going to have to let go of a few things. Read on for our running list of what to donate and what to straight-up toss.
A good general rule of thumb for giving away kitchen goods is that they should be gently used, not totally worn not. Habitat for Humanity Restores, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army will usually accept working appliances in good condition, as well as baking instruments, tableware, and larger kitchen utensils. Here are a few more things to send along to a new home:
- Duplicate measuring tools. All you need is one for liquids and a set of stainless steel spoons to keep your baking prowess on point.
- Specialty peelers you only use once a year. (Can you even recall the last time you spiralized a zucchini?)
- Waffle makers, margarita machines, pasta makers, and any other niche appliances you’ve lost the directions to.
- Miniature baking pans. Cake pops are cute, but are you really going to make two dozen for that holiday party?
- Souvenir cups from your alma mater or Disney World. (We all know they aren’t going to appear on the table at your next meal.)
- Travel mugs that don’t fit in your car’s holder.
- Barely used cookbooks that are gathering dust.
- Paper party supplies (unless you truly are the host with the most).
- Dull or rusted knives. (If it’s taking you two minutes to slice through a tomato, it’s time to invest in a new set.)
Anything that’s past its prime can hit the trash (or recycling!) bin. Approach these items with a clear mind-set—no “But what if I’ll need this one day” or “I’ve been meaning to use that” excuses.
- Metal tongs that always get way too hot when they’re left by the stovetop (rubber-tipped ones will keep cool—and won’t scratch your favorite pots).
- Subpar coffee cups that are chipped or stained.
- Warped deli tubs that have outstayed their welcome. (Recycle these.)
- Spices that have gone bad (yes, they have expiration dates!).
- Single-use condiment packets you’ve been stockpiling for the apocalypse.
- Takeout menus from those places that closed a year ago.
- Distressed dish towels marred by red wine spills.
- The ominous cloud of plastic bags under the sink—bring them to the proper recycling station and invest in a reusable tote instead.
- Permanently greasy pans from your first post-college apartment. (Definitely scrap them if the nonstick coating is peeling.)
- Charred or holey oven mitts that (almost) burn your fingers every time.
If you’re having a tough time kicking things to the curb, ask a friend for help and turn on some music to lighten the mood. We know an ’NSync song that’s got the right chorus.