The evils of nonstick cookware are still up for debate, but mine are in pretty good shape; the rusty cast iron pan waits for a good sanding and seasoning. There are pots in the cupboard I haven’t used in years. My four standby pieces are within easy reach, pushing the seldom-used wok and roasting pan up and to the back. Why I delayed cleaning out the tall cupboard until this weekend, I don’t know, but it was a beautiful weekend to stay inside and get something accomplished.
I ended up with five stockpots, three small saucepans, two big skillets, two small skillets, one fry pan, one cast iron pan, and one wok. Too many for a small kitchen; it was time to take the plunge.
Step 1: Sort into piles.
My piles ended up as my four most-used pots and pans, a pile of a few “occasional” pans, and the junk pile. How do you know if you need to put a pot into the junk pile? If it has scratches like this:
Yes, I’ve been eating nonstick coating. I know that the links between ingesting Teflon and getting sick are tenuous, but the sources I’ve seen (like this Guide to Using Nonstick Pans) recommend tossing out the pots and pans that are losing their coating. Flaky Teflon is a good sign that your pots and pans are damaged by heat and the utensils you used, so even if you kept them, they wouldn’t be as effective. And I would hate to find out several years down the road that it’s not a big jump from eating Teflon to getting Alzheimer’s. I play it safe and junk the junky pots.
Pots also go into the junk pile if you don’t use them. I find myself upgrading to a nicer pot occasionally, without getting rid of the old one. Then it sits in the cupboard for months (or years). Take the time now to sort out what you don’t use, even if it’s an heirloom piece or something really nice. You can figure out what to do with it later.
Step 2: Rearrange your storage.
Now that you have a nice empty cupboard, put everything back in a way that makes sense. Stick the seldom-used pieces behind the other pots and pans, or in another room altogether. Keep the clumsy, heavy items like cast iron unobstructed for easy removal. Step back. Admire your work.
Step 3: Reuse, recycle, or trash.
I had some nice pots. They had no lids, so instead of donating them to my brother’s first kitchen or the local domestic violence shelter, I repurposed them to grow catnip and basil.
If I’d had beat up stainless steel or aluminum pots in the junk pile, I would’ve called my local transfer station to see if they accepted scrap metal. Earth911 gives a pretty good idea of what can be recycled in your area. (As far as I know, no one will take nonstick-coated pots and pans for recycling, but you could always try to resurface your old stuff.)
If you have your great-grandmother’s cast iron skillet that you don’t use, consider displaying it. Hang it on the wall (with reinforced nails and the like), or use it as a catch-all container by the front door.
Anything in between beautiful and junky get donated. Whether it goes to the neighbor’s children’s play kitchen set, or the Goodwill down the road, get it out of the kitchen (and preferably out of the house). You’ll feel a whole lot better if it’s out of your hands.
Step 4: Cook with gusto.
Every time you go for a pot or pan, remind yourself that it only took fifteen minutes to sort your stuff and clear it out. Smile. Add some more spice to whatever you’re making. Cook happy.