New Year, New Pantry: How to Clean Out, Reboot, and Sail Into 2022
Okay, I know we all talk about Spring Cleaning, but to be honest, I'm a fan of Winter Cleaning, especially when it comes to my kitchen and pantry. Winter is when I am the most likely to indulge in big cooking and baking projects, to get adventurous with new dishes. Once the holidays are over, we are hunkered down through March, so having my pantry organized and my equipment in order sets me up for a great season of deliciousness.
Here is my personal process—organized into clear sections and steps—for tackling what feels like a huge job in manageable doses. Use this easy-to-follow list to join the Winter Cleaning party and set up your new year for easier meals and a happier kitchen.
Phase 1: Pantry Purge
This is about really getting a handle on what you've tucked away, forgotten about, or need to update in all your pantry and food storage spaces. Even if you only do this step, you'll feel great about the state of your kitchen.
1. Go through your pantry and storage spaces and discard anything that is expired.
2. Remove any not-expired, unopened items that you're not likely to use and collect them in a box to donate. (Now is the ideal time to give to food banks and charities; the need has never been greater.)
3. Make a list of everything remaining that's within 3 months of expiration or best-by dates so you can plan to use them up quickly.
4. This is also the time to replace and replenish baking staples and spices to set you up for both holiday baking and winter projects. If you need to replace a lot of old musty spices, or top up your baking supplies you can often get great holiday deals and bundles, and often free shipping, at sites like Spicewalla, The Spice House, Nielsen Massey, Valrhona, and King Arthur.
5. As you purge your pantry, take the time to wipe down shelves, repackage any items that are in damaged or open containers, and make a list of items you need to replace.
Phase 2: Equipment Check and Update
It's remarkable how much stuff we accumulate in our kitchens and hang onto even if it's too old to do its job right or just isn't something we end up using. Use this plan to plow through those cabinets (and drawers!) to get a handle on your gear.
1. Inspect all your cooking gear, from appliances and pots and pans to cooking tools. If any piece is too old to do its job correctly (looking at you old scratched non-stick pan that now sticks), now's the time to throw it out and decide whether it needs replacing. If you own any gear that seemed like a good idea when you bought it, but you know you never use, set it aside to donate to a local shelter or any organization that could use it. Have multiples you really don't need (how many wine openers are there in your drawers at this point?), add those to the donation pile.
2. Get your knives professionally sharpened.
4. Assess your storage equipment: Stock up on plenty of freezer bags and deli-style containers. Now's the time to consider whether you want to invest in a vacuum sealer, which can make food storage so much easier.
Phase 3: Refrigerator and Freezer
Once the holidays are behind you, now is the time to get busy on setting up your cold storage for winter cooking.
1. Discard expired items, especially condiments, from your fridge.
2. Downsize half-used large bottles or jars of things into smaller containers where appropriate (this is a great habit for year-round—you'll be amazed at how much space you'll save).
3. Toss any freezer-burnt or unidentifiable foods from your freezer.
4. Commit to a couple weeks of eating up last winter's frozen soups, stews, and casseroles to make room for what you might want to be cooking in the months ahead.
5. Wipe down your refrigerator's shelves and drawers—you'll be amazed at how good this step alone will make you feel when you open the door!