Become a lean, clean, cooking machine.
Credit: Thomas Northcut/Getty Images

No two cooks are the same, and neither are their kitchens. In the same way that every home cook has different tastes, preferences, and culinary pursuits, we all arrive at our final product in a different fashion. Some of us start with filth, add on to that filth throughout the cooking process, and then blast the kitchen at the end with one final, all-encompassing clean swoop. On the other hand, some of us are meticulous from the moment we step into the kitchen to the moment we sit down to eat—a “clean-as-you-go” approach, if you will. Sure, the latter approach that maintains tidiness throughout seems like the safest, most desirable option, but is it actually attainable?

Look, I’ll be honest that I am not the posterchild for cleanliness. That said, there are certain simple habits to keep in mind that will promote a pleasurable and cleanly cooking experience. Taming the mess does not have to be a losing battle. When you’re done making whatever glorious concoction it is that you’ve so diligently worked on, you can sit down to enjoy your meal in the company of a clear, organized kitchen.

Start With a Tidy Space

I cannot stress this enough, but it’s probably the best advice for maintaining a clean workspace (and advice that I, myself, should definitely be more serious about taking). If you start with an empty dishwasher, a clean sink, and cleared countertops, you’ll feel more inclined to keep things as close to their starting points throughout cooking. Plus, when dirty dishes and clutter starts to occur, there will actually be a physical space within the kitchen for you to manage these things, you feel me?

Use Fewer Dishes and Utensils

If you don’t make a mess, then there’s not one to clean up, right? There are certain instances where you need to use multiple kitchen tools. For example, you must use a different cutting board for produce and raw meat. However, for measuring spoons and cups, try to get away with using the same one or two for all the measuring. Plus, you don’t need 3 spatulas and 5 wooden spoons strewn throughout the kitchen. Keep track of what you’re using, and if it won’t cause harmful or unpleasant contamination, then use the same utensil.

Keep a Trash Bin Nearby

Whether it’s a compost bin and/or your trash can, it’s important (and super easy) to make it a point to clear away all garbage as you go. Not only will your workflow be a cleaner one, but a tidy space is much easier on the eyes. If your trash can is on the other side of the kitchen, not only will you feel less inclined to walk over and do the deed, you’ll likely drop garlic peels and empty wrappers on the stroll over. If you don’t want to move the entire can, simply pull out a large mixing bowl to stash trash in as you go. Keeping a dump bucket within arm’s length will make your life easier.

Don’t Neglect Your Floor

Speaking of dropping sh*t on your floor, it’s important that you acknowledge that this is inevitable, and when it does happen, you should bend over and pick it up. While you might talk yourself out it because you’re planning on sweeping at the end anyway, don’t. You’re probably going to step on those carrot tops or citrus peels, or that random blueberry might find it’s way under your fridge or cabinets, where it may never return to daylight again (ew). So, make a point to pick something up when you drop it, okay?

If You’ve Got Time to Lean, You’ve Got Time to…

Okay, I won’t finish that sentence because I used to have a boss that said this pithy phrase and I am still triggered when I hear it in full, but you probably have an idea where it’s going. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s good advice. When you’re waiting for your chicken skin to brown or killing time while your pot of water comes to a boil, take that downtime as an opportunity to wash any dirty dishes that have made their way into the sink, put away ingredients that you’re no longer using, or clear your cutting board for the next step of your recipe. On extra long bouts of inactivity, I might even go ahead and clean out/tidy up my fridge, wipe down some cabinets, or perhaps even pack my lunch for the next day. Efficiency is key, people! You can wait to check Instagram—let’s focus on your kitchen for the time being.

Have a Buddy

Two is better than one, my friends! Having an extra set of hands makes the time go by quicker, makes the process way easier on you, and let’s be real—recipes for one are few and far between. This way, you can divvy up responsibilities, so while one person is knee-deep in blending up a creamy tomato soup, the other is washing down mixing bowls, measuring cups, and utensils. Bing, bang, boom, and dinner is on the table, and you’ve got a friend to share your creation with. The bottom line is, it’s a learning process, and something you can improve on each time you step into the kitchen. Now get cooking (and cleaning)!

By Sara Tane and Sara Tane