Spruce Up for Spring with a Kitchen Cleanse Suited to Any New Yorker

By Elizabeth Wolff on March 18, 2013 8:43am | Updated on March 18, 2013 8:47am

EAST VILLAGE — Kitchens in New York City rentals are never what you want them to be. Not enough surface area for cutting, too few shelves, no practical place for the pots and pans to go.

Because of the old adage about never adding value to a place you do not own, it's easy for the kitchen to turn into a dingy hoarders nook. Your kitchen becomes an extension of your disorganization, a physical representation for the mess that is your life. It bears the brunt of your resentment for New York, for not being able to afford more space.

My response: get a grip and get organized. I spent spring breaks in grade school rearranging my parents' Manhattan kitchens — always dysfunctional — so I’ve been saying this for as long as I can remember. 

Cleaning out the spice cabinet doesn’t mean it won’t get messy again, but that’s precisely the point: It’s good to keep ourselves in check. Once a year, devote an afternoon or evening to the one place in your apartment that has the highest concentration of stuff. It's as much psychological as physical. If you can get your kitchen in order, think what else you can do with your life? At the very least, get the crumbs out of the utensil drawer.

I visited a typical — if not generous — New York City kitchen the other day and took field notes for my Spring Cleaning Kitchen Cleanse.  

Downsize

No you don't get to have 30 dinner dishes and every kind of barware in New York City. Even if you entertain a lot, find a back-up shelf to store your extra party-time dishes.  And by god, get rid of the shot glasses and margarita stemware. 

You certainly don't get to have two of everything.  Two whisks, three peelers, four wine openers — stop doing this to yourself! You only use one — the one that works the best — so keep that and chuck the rest.

After a year-plus of acquiring tupperware, now’s the opportunity to see which tops you’ve lost or bottoms you’ve cracked and get rid of anything that doesn’t have it’s match. Those little containers you got with your Ikea tupperware set? You don’t need them all — two if you’re childless, four for every child who takes their lunch to school. 

Please part ways with your random mugs, water bottles and empty pickle jars. You will only acquire more over the summer. 

Drawers

In a Seamless Web world, burn those takeout menus. Throw out the extra chopsticks and sticky packets of soy — all of them. If you really love duck sauce that much, buy a bottle of it. Take some soap and water and clean out the crumbs in your drawers. If you say you don't have any, you're a liar.

Cooking spoons vs. Serving spoons: there's a difference so don’t mix them up together. If you’re lacking drawer space, use vases or extra wide ball jars to hold your spatulas. See my advice on what to do when you live in a drawer-less kitchen.

If you have two drawers and are using one for your ziplock bags and aluminum foil and shrink wrap, you’re wasting valuable real estate. Shrink wrap gets a drawer only after the utensils, servingware and miscellaneous measuring cups and can openers are spoken for. Until then, clean up the area beneath your sink and put them there. 

Compartmentalize

Put plates with plates, bowls with bowls, glasses and mugs with their own kind. 

I don’t know how much you cook but if you’re a regular chef, go through your spices, oils and grains and combine the multiples. You have three half-used bags of arborio rice? You know what to do. While we’re on the subject of food, do yourself a favor and go through your fridge and freezer. My guess is at least a quarter of what’s in there has gone bad.

If you have limited cabinets, prioritize the dry food and tupperware and display your plates and bowls in neat stacks on a shelf. 

Is your vermouth stashed above the cabinet but the gin in a lower cabinet and the wine is on the counter? Time for you to designate a specific bar cupboard (if you’re lucky) or get your booze out of your cramped kitchen and invest in a bar cart. 

Precisely because your kitchen is central to your life, chances are your Advil bottles, Echinacea, cold & flu and anti-anxiety prescriptions are all jammed in bowls above your microwave or in the glasses cabinet. 

Surface area

Counter space is precious. Use it wisely and keep it clean. This is where you cook after all. If you have three feet of counter space the last thing you should be doing is buying a toaster. Stop being so entitled and use your broiler. It works the same way. 

If you need to make use of the space on top of your cabinets, best to use this for your fancy serving bowls, dutch ovens, vases and pitchers. If there’s really swear-to-God no other place for your Cuisinart and ice cream maker, I forgive you. You can make popcorn with a pot on the stovetop though so throw your ugly popcorn maker out. Put the random extra paper towels somewhere more discreet and relieve yourself of the weird Christmas tins and extra plastic mixing bowls. 

Dead space

Install shallow shelf above the stove for everyday oils and vinegar and salt/pepper. You use them all the time but that doesn’t mean you can keep them on the counter.

Do you have wallspace? Buy a vintage medicine cabinet and put your spices there. It’s shallow and you’ll be able to see the spices all at once.

Install a pot rack so every time you open your pots and pans cabinet it doesn’t throw you into a rage.

Designate a shelf for cookbooks — and get them off your counter.

If there's food on your counter — you must find a spot for in the cupboard. You can’t do this after going through all your dried food, you’ve got to rethink your buying strategy. If you have more than two of each, you need a separate closet or armoire pantry to store the extra. You're in New York, goddammit — you can't buy in bulk.

Full disclosure: The kitchen cleansed in this article belongs to the DNAinfo.com publisher. The spice cupboard returned to its natural state within a week.

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