1. Cull Your Cookbooks
Many of us look for recipe inspiration online these days. If this is true for you, then you may be consulting your cookbooks less frequently. Perhaps you can let some go by donating them to your favorite charity.
I recommend hanging on to the classics you refer to for cooking techniques, food preparation tips and advice on ingredient selection. Personally, I often consult James Beard’s American Cookery and The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. I also occasionally use The Joy of Cooking for some old favorite recipes.
However, I confess that I never use several of my cookbooks. Some were gifts; others I purchased for school or charity fundraisers. Still others feature recipes that I find too labor-intensive or ingredients I find too uncommon. Cookbooks like these are the ones to donate.
If you use only one or two recipes from a particular cookbook, I suggest scanning those recipes and saving them on your computer. Alternatively, you could use the old-school method and handwrite recipes on index cards to store in a recipe box. This will open up space on your cookbook shelf for other things.
2. Declutter Your Baking Supplies
Many people rarely take stock of their baking supplies. Perhaps you purchased a special pan to make a certain dessert and have never used it since. Maybe you own multiple cupcake tins that you used only when your college-age children were in elementary school. Or you may have acquired items as gifts or hand-me-downs that have now sat unused in the back of a cabinet for years.
Consider donating these unused items taking up valuable cabinet space. Also take a look at frequently used items like cookie sheets or loaf pans that may have reached the end of their functional life. Perhaps you can use this time to shop online sales and replace them.
3. Sift Through Your Baking Ingredients
If you find that you are not baking as much this holiday season, consider using the extra time to review the expiration dates of baking products in your pantry.
I recommend that when you open a baking item, you write the date on the package so you can keep track of how long it has been open. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, Cornell University and the Food Industry Association (formerly the Food Marketing Institute) offer an online resource called FoodKeeper for guidelines on food freshness and quality. Here are their recommendations for the maximum amount of time you should keep a few common baking ingredients once they’ve been opened:
- Baking powder: Six months
- Baking soda: Six months
- White flour: In the pantry: six to eight months; in the fridge: one year
- Sugar (granulated, powdered, brown): Two years
- Solid shortening: 12 months
Old spices lose their flavor, so consider tossing any that have passed their expiration date. The McCormick website has guidelines for the shelf life of spices:
- Whole spices: Three to four years
- Ground spices: Two to four years
- Ground and whole leafy herbs: One to three years
4. Organize Guest Bedding and Bath Supplies
Some of my clients rarely host out-of-town visitors yet have an overabundance of guest sheets, towels, pillows and blankets. Take a look at what you realistically use given the quantity of guests you typically host, and let go of supplies that may never be used.
If your guest bedding and towels are overly worn, consider replacing them. A local animal shelter may be a good place to donate excess or worn-out supplies; call the shelter to find out.
Also take a look at the toiletries you may have saved for guests. Some of my clients keep hotel-size shampoo and bath products in quantities so large, it would take years to use them. If this is true for you, consider donating excess items to a homeless shelter.
I recommend that once you have sorted and decluttered these guest supplies, you store them separately from your main household bed and bath supplies. You might use a label maker to designate a shelf in the linen closet for guest bedding. You might store guest necessities in a designated basket or container. If you are fortunate enough to have a guest room, consider storing these items there.
5. Take Inventory of Party Decor and Supplies
Often clients store party supplies in their basement or garage in large plastic containers that they rarely open. Repeatedly, I see party boxes that are cluttered and disorganized. Now is a great time to review these supplies.
To get started, remove all party supplies from their various storage locations in your home and review your stash as a whole. Unpack each box and place everything on a large, flat surface, like a dining room table. (Be sure to first protect the table with a blanket or towels.) Then separate your party items by category. For example, place candles in one group and paper products in another. Toss anything that is stained or beyond repair.
Also consider removing from your party supplies any stray items such as a few leftover napkins from your daughter’s ladybug-theme party several years ago, or one or two paper plates from your sister’s baby shower. Store these items with your everyday plates and napkins so they can be used. Consider donating any tabletop decor, candleholders or other party decorations that you don’t plan to use again.
If you host theme parties, consider storing supplies for each theme together. If you do not plan to repeat the theme, you might donate your collection to a charity or a friend or post it on the website Nextdoor.
Once you’ve decided what party supplies to keep, create a box for each holiday. For example, Valentine’s Day party supplies can be stored in one bin. Label the outside of the container and store it in a garage or basement away from your everyday supplies. Generic party items such as candles and candleholders can be stored together in a generic party supplies box.
6. Winnow Your Drinkware
Many of my clients entertain often and have a fully stocked bar. They often also own cocktail glasses such as highball, old-fashioned, collins, martini and shot glasses as well as coupes and brandy snifters. They may have wineglasses in multiple shapes and sizes plus specialized drinkware for beer, Irish coffee and Moscow mules.
If you live in a large home with adequate storage and enjoy entertaining, it may be satisfying to own a large selection of glasses. However, many people do not have sufficient storage space in their homes, so all this glassware ends up crowded in cabinets or packed away in boxes.
Since you may not be entertaining as frequently this holiday season, now may be a good time to sort your collection. A good goal is to make space in your home for the contents of all your boxes and have better access to your supply. I recommend that you reflect on your entertainment style and frequency and consider which wines and cocktails you tend to serve.
Though variety-specific wineglasses are available, if you’re not a wine connoisseur, you might keep a small selection of universal glasses. For instance, a standard cabernet glass can work for all red wines, a chardonnay glass for white wines and a Champagne flute for sparkling wines. If you are unsure which type of glasses you own, do a bit of online research before you decide which to keep. Similarly, if you are not a cocktail aficionado yet have a collection of cocktail glasses, consider researching to learn more about your collection and what you truly need.
You also might want to let go of any chipped glasses or single pieces that are not part of a collection.
7. Edit Your Serving Platters and Bowls
Serving pieces can be large and bulky. This holiday season, take out all of your serving platters and bowls to see what you own. You may be able to donate those you don’t use.
Consider letting go of anything that is chipped, takes up too much space or serves only one purpose. For instance, a large pedestal cake stand is awkward to store and does not have multiple uses. Unless you use it frequently, you might want to donate it.
8. Pare Down Your Holiday Decorations
Many of us receive ornaments as gifts and leave older, less popular decor packed in storage containers year after year. When you are ready to decorate this season, open all your boxes and assess your stockpile as a whole. If you haven’t used an ornament or a tabletop decoration for several years, consider donating it. Let go of items that you don’t really like, and toss anything that’s broken or damaged.
Also take stock of your holiday lights. Replace burned-out bulbs and dispose of strands that don’t work properly. Consider donating wreaths, garlands and outdoor decor that you don’t use anymore.
Decluttering these items can actually help others who may be in need. If you donate your unwanted decor to a local charity before Thanksgiving, perhaps someone else can use it this season.