JANUARY CLEANING—Decluttering vs. Unnecessary Dumping

New Year's Resolutions, decluttering, and reorganizing happen to be three of my favorite things.  And there's no better time to get motivated to clean out your house and get a start on the "new you" than January. This year, I'm personally using the new year to check-in and rededicated myself to clean eating. Despite being mostly a vegetarian, I go through periods of time when I struggle to get all my fruits and veggies in (December seems to be one of those times), so part of my January "cleaning" plan is to rotate in more fresh salads, green juices, and smoothies into my diet. I also like to take January to sort out old clothing and un-used items for donation, particularly if I need to find places for anything new I got during the holidays or my birthday (which is coming up!)

I'm not the only one who uses January as my fresh start for cleaning. My news and social feeds are full of videos, tips and written tutorials for cleaning, organizing, and pretty much any other common resolution. I happened to read one particular article this week, though, that really stuck with me. Epicurious just posted their list of "The 7 Kitchen Tools You Need to Replace Every Year" and I was instantly curious. I've been making a personal switch away from indulging in any "throwaway" cultural tendencies towards a less wasteful and a more minimalist lifestyle (I went an entire month without generating any trash in September and I've also been working on reducing my closet to a smaller capsule style). My goal is to own less, but own better quality—aiming for items that can last me a lifetime. This goal extends to my kitchen tools as well.  After reading the Epicurious headline I tried to guess what these seven must-replace kitchen tools could be. Sponges? Surely that's too obvious and does it technically count as a tool? It's more of a house cleaning supply.

I couldn't think of anything in my collection of kitchen tools that needed replacing every year.

And honestly after reading the article, I don't think Epicurious did either.

I found most of the items on their list utterly shocking and the reasoning behind them sometimes appalling. Let's take a look at some of these items: Pairing knife, vegetable peeler, and microplane. All three they say must be replaced yearly because they "don't stay sharp forever." I've had my pairing knife, my vegetable peeler, and my microplane for almost 10 years (all these items were acquired while I was in college) and I still stand by all three of them as perfectly usable tools. They still grate, peel, and cut beautifully. A pairing knife in particular will last you many years if you take care of it (also, has the editorial team at Epicurious never heard of knife sharpening?) Other items on the list include kitchen towels and cutting boards because "bacteria can live on them." This one surprised me because there is no logically reason why these items should be "dangerous" to your health if they are cleaned properly and regularly. I launder my kitchen towels frequently and swap out dirty towels for clean ones often. But the inclusion of these items did make me curious. Could I be wrong? Do kitchen towels have a shorter life-span than I thought? So I did a little reading up on the topic. Researchers found that as long as you launder your kitchen towels regularly (they recommend weekly) or dip it in a bleach solution between uses, kitchen towels can last you years. The same goes with cutting boards that are cleaned and well maintained. (I use wood cutting boards for breads and veggies and plastic cutting boards for raw meats like chicken. I spritz my plastic cutting boards with a bleach solution or toss them in the dishwasher after every use. When these eventually wear out, I plan on replacing the plastic boards with meat-designated bamboo boards because wood cutting boards are better for your knifes.)

The only item on the list I did agree with was the kitchen sponge.  Sponges get gross. (I'd personally recommend replacing your sponge multiple times a year, even if you do regularly toss it in the dishwasher or zap it in the microwave.) I probably go through a minimum of 2-4 sponges a year with the amount of use they get. I like to use bamboo-based sponges because they last me a little longer and breakdown better than other sponges when you do toss them. For anyone counting, the last item on the list was plastic containers. I don't agree with tossing and replacing these yearly, but I do agree with never heating leftovers in plastic and gradually replacing plastic containers with glass as they wear out. Old plastic containers no-longer suitable for food storage can also be reused for storing and organizing odds and ends (collection of random nails or buttons or rubber bands, etc.) So there's really no reason to be throwing your plastic containers away every year.

Which brings me to the reason I find articles like this so frustrating—The encouragement of throwaway culture.  Now that we're living in a reality with a giant plastic trash island floating in the sea, overfilled landfills, and the effects of global warming becoming more and more evident with every year, shouldn't we be doing the opposite of encouraging people to buy cheap plastic home goods and tossing them in the garbage yearly instead of buying quality and taking the time to keep them clean? Would it not be better for our planet to make a collective decision as a culture to favor quality products that last us years instead of this idea of "buy it cheap and toss it"? I think it's time we learned from the mistakes of the selfish, me-centric humans of the world (say, a generation of business men who care more about making a cheap buck than making sure the planet is still inhabitable for their children). Instead of spending our time being wasteful and overly germ paranoid (gross sponges be the exception), lets use January cleaning as a fresh start to rededicate ourselves to the type of lifestyle that will move us into a better looking future, for us and the generations that come after.