A happy kitchen makes for a happy household. I say that because so much of our lives revolve around our kitchens. Think about it. It’s not just where we make food, for many of us it’s where we eat it too. It’s where we gather for meals and conversation, it’s where we entertain, it’s where we make memories.
But when it becomes cluttered and disorganized the enjoyment we get from this room of happiness begins to wane. Whether we notice it or not, our anxiety experiences a little uptick when we have spoiled food, an overflowing junk drawer, and an unidentified film on our countertops. It’s not good for our mental space or the planet for that matter.
To help maintain that special spark, try out these eco-friendly kitchen cleaning and organizing tips that will make your kitchen a place of joy for your family and the planet.
7 Kitchen Cleaning and Organizing Tips
1. Organize your pantry
Pantries are where we keep the snacks we reach for daily, the dry goods we rely on for whipping up delicious meals, and the wine we deserve at 4:00 PM on a Thursday.
It’s important that these things are easily accessible. So to make sure your pantry doesn’t leave you panting with anxiety, use these quick tips to keep things organized.
1) Discard: Starting from the back of your pantry, get rid of anything that is well past its expiration date or appears to no longer be edible. I’m talking about those crackers that were kind of stale the last time you ate them. They’re definitely stale this time. Pitch ’em. And if you can, compost as much as possible to help limit your environmental footprint.
2) Consolidate: Is your pantry littered with half-empty boxes? A few containers of granola bars? A couple partially-used boxes of pasta? Aim to consolidate similar items into one box or one area of your pantry. If needed transfer them to transparent labeled containers. These BPA free and dishwasher safe ones are perfect, but you can also easily upcycle old glass jars to create a similar system. Not only will you be able to select containers more conducive to your pantry space, but the transparent canisters will allow you to determine what’s running low with just a quick glance.
3) Keep everything in sight: Once you’ve rid your pantry of clutter, it’s time to reorganize. The key here is to keep everything as visible as possible. This will help ensure you actually use up what you have and don’t accidentally make unnecessary purchases. Keep larger, longer lasting items (like flour or pasta) in the back and keep smaller more perishable items (like chips, granola bars, and nut butters) toward the front. If you have several items of the same size try using a tiered shelf—you can buy one new, or even make your own.
2. Optimize your refrigerator
An organized fridge is imperative to limiting food waste. If you don’t have a system, items can easily end up forgotten and spoiled. The keys to an efficient system:
1) Make Space: Jamming fresh groceries into the fridge is not only a huge pain, but actually accelerates food spoilage because overpacking can create warm air pockets. Allot enough room by discarding any expired items before you head to the store (keep reading to determine what really constitutes “expired”).
2) Mind the expiration: When it’s time to pack in the new groceries, organize everything based on what will spoil quickest. The sooner the expiration, the more visible the food should be (so you don’t find its unidentifiable remains two months later). It’s important to note though that “use by”, “sell by”, and “best if used by” dates don’t indicate hard cut offs.
Many foods can actually be consumed past these dates according to the USDA. We simply need to look for signs of spoilage before consuming. Does the food give off an odor? Is the texture or flavor odd? Is there mold? If the answer is yes, discard it (compost if you can). But if not, that “expired” food is probably okay to eat today. And tomorrow. And maybe even the next day. 20 percent of consumer food waste can be chalked up to confusing expiration dates. So when evaluating whether something is okay to eat rely on your five senses, plus of course, common sense.
3. Store food correctly
You can drastically extend the life of your food by simply storing it properly. For example, while both fruits and vegetables are key components of a plant-based diet, they don’t always cohabitate well. Storing these nutritious munchies together can actually increase spoiling rate in some instances. By simply brushing up on your food storage knowledge you can prevent quite a bit of waste, save yourself some money, and avoid the highly sought after job of having to rid your fridge of spoiled produce.
4. Don’t forget about under the kitchen sink
I’m guessing this is where you keep most of your cleaning supplies. And ironically, at least in my home, it’s one of the areas that is the most messy. Start by pulling everything out and evaluating what you have. Do you need a multi-purpose cleaner and a wood cleaner? Maybe not. Identify what you use the most and get rid of anything superfluous. If you find yourself with a pile of not necessary, but perfectly good products, pass them on to new owners through a Buy Nothing Group.
5. Use eco-friendly kitchen cleaning products
Now that you’ve got a hold on your cleaning product storage situation, let’s get a hold on your cleaning products themselves. First and foremost, use up everything you have. Throwing something away just to swap in something “more sustainable” is actually very unsustainable. So use it all! And then select planet-friendly products in the future. I highly recommend Blueland’s selection of eco-friendly cleaners. They offer low waste dishwasher tablets as well as dish soap powder (yes you read that right, dish soap powder). And for countertops I love the multi-purpose spray. You can use one of their BPA-free bottles or upcycle an old bottle you have at home. Just fill it up with water, drop in the toxin-free tablet and watch your green cleaner form in front of you.
6. Ditch the sponge
I’d like to declare the era of the sponge, over. They’re made from plastic and are often a breeding ground for bacteria. When it comes to cleaning dishes or kitchen surfaces there are plenty of more eco-friendly options. My personal favorite is a bamboo scrubber. I cannot speak more highly of this one from Zefiro. The long handle keeps your hands dry during dish washing and the head is compostable. Simply disinfect it with a mixture of vinegar and dish soap every couple of weeks and once the head is unsightly, remove it from the handle, compost, and then replace it.
7. Reduce your reliance on paper towels
Paper towels are a staple in many kitchens. They’re perfect for soaking up spills as well as routinely cleaning countertops, but they’re also single-use items. And frequently, we use them for messes that don’t require a single-use solution. They next time you go to wipe down your stove with a paper towel try reaching for a reusable rag or a Swedish dish cloth instead. Swedish dish cloths are incredibly absorbent and function much like a paper towel, however they can be washed in the dishwasher or washing machine and used again. I personally use and highly recommend the ones from Who Gives a Crap.
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