7 Life-Saving Kitchen Items That Are Always Worth The Space

Plus four items you think you need but definitely don't.

February 6, 2018
woman in small kitchen
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If there’s one thing that living in 275 square feet has taught me, it’s that kitchen storage is sacred space. Only the best, most useful items deserve a spot in in the most used room of your house. No matter how big your kitchen or storage space, these are the most hard-working items that are worth squeezing in—and the ones you should get rid of right now.

mason jars
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Essential: Glass jars

I know, you can’t stand to hear one more person sing the praises of the glass jars your grandmother swore by, but hear me out. From hardy canning jars to miscellaneous rescues from the recycling bin, glass jars are the Swiss army knife of the kitchen. We use ours on a daily basis for drinking, freezing leftovers, buying bulk foods, packing lunches, and storing pantry staples without letting in air or bugs.

Mason jars are easy to store and, with the correct tops, they can be transformed into just about everything including a:

Juicer
Cocktail shaker
To-go mug
Soap dispenser
Straw cup
Bento box
Cold brew maker
Nut milk maker
Grater
Easy pour oil bottle
Baby bottle
Sippy cup

chef's knife
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Essential: A chef's knife and sharpener

There seems to be an endless debate on what knives you really need, but if you made me pick only one to use for all eternity it would be a chef’s knife. It’s big enough to handle chopping everything for a four course meal while still being plenty nimble to slice fruit or do smaller tasks if needed. A sharp chef’s knife is the one thing I miss the most when on vacation—even more than my own pillow. Before you go out and invest serious money in a knife, try sharpening the one you already have with a small sharpener like this one or taking it to a professional. 

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sheet pans
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Essential: Half sheet pans

Forget baking sheets with open sides! Half sheet pans are the size of a typical baking sheet, but more versatile. Modeled after bakers’ large sheet pans, the half size can fit in standard ovens and do way more than hold confections. Use them to roast vegetables, bake sheet cakes, or whip up dinner all in one go (try these easy weeknight sheet pan meals).

Worried about storage? Simply stand them up on their side inside your cabinet. They take up about as much space as a wooden cutting board this way.

Try this idea for making a week’s worth of lunches all on one sheet pan:

kitchen scale
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4
Essential: Baking scale

While baking by weight is not as common in the US as it is elsewhere, once you start you’ll never want to go back to fussy measuring cups and spoons. A baking scale can save you time and ensure that your recipe turns out just like the recipe every time. They’re also great for making your own DIY cleaning products and natural beauty recipes

Cast iron pans are one kitchen item you should always buy at the thrift store.
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Essential: Cast-iron skillet

Almost everything tastes better when cooked in cast iron. In addition to evenly cooking food and adding that perfect caramelization, these skillets also add a little extra iron to your food. You don’t have to worry about not using them enough because they work just as well on the stovetop as they do in the oven or over a campfire.

Don’t worry, they’re not that difficult to work with—seasoning and cleaning cast iron isn’t as much of a chore as you may have been led to believe. Look for quality vintage pans at the flea market or invest in a new heirloom like this one.

Related: 6 Cast-Iron Cookware Sets That Will Last You A Lifetime

 
 
nesting mixing bowls
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Essential: Nesting mixing bowls

My nesting bowls are one of my most prized possessions. We only have four regular bowls in our house, which means they’re often off-limits for cooking or baking. Our set works hard in the kitchen, but I also like to eat out of them and wrangle counter clutter with them.

Mixing bowls are a lifesaver for food prep and baking, but they are also great for storing leftovers or taking a dish to a party (especially if your set has lids!). I chose colored bowls that could be used for serving or stored on an open shelf, but you can’t beat the classic glass or metal sets.

Related: 10 Best Foods To Prep On Sunday So Your Meals Are A Breeze All Week

food processor
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Essential: Food processor or high-powered blender

Beyond whipping up pesto or hummus, a powerful blender or food processor is ideal for making everyday staples like nut milk, baby food, and snacks. While I miss my mom’s large food processor, we’ve been able to make a small NutriBullet work for everything from making our own flours to blending smoothies. If you already have a blender or want to do more food prep, a mini or full-sized food processor are the way to go. They give you significantly more control over the blade and let you coarsely chop. You can also add on disks to thinly slice, shred, grate, and make veggie noodles.

Related: This Affordable Tool Will Help You Prep And Eat Way More Veggies

sandwhich press
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Not worth the space: One trick ponies

Say goodbye to the single-use gadgets that clutter your drawers. You don’t need food-specific slicers (be it bananas, avocados, herbs, or watermelons). A good, sharp knife will do. Same goes for the egg cooker, popcorn maker, and breakfast sandwich grill. A pot or pan will work just as well, if not better. Yes, even that fondue set can go! A pot or a double-boiler on a trivet will do just fine the next time you crave cheesy goodness. If it’s only meant to be used for one food or task, it’s time to send it packing. Chances are high the tool you really need to get the job done is already in your kitchen.

Related: 9 Genius Ways To Freeze Food Without Plastic

 
 
bread maker
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Not worth the space: Appliances you use (maybe) once a year

Be honest with yourself, when was the last time you used the ice cream maker, bread maker, pasta machine, or panini press? A little bit of harsh reality will help you free up cabinet and counter space. It’s okay to let go of the idea of eating fresh ice cream all summer or making all of your own bread. Chances are you will enjoy the breathing room even more.

sandwich bag
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Not worth the space: Disposables

You can regain an entire drawer by using reusables instead of single-use, disposable products. Replace the unwieldy roll of plastic wrap with reusable bees wrap to cover leftovers, wrap sandwiches, and store cheese or bread. Use fabric bowl covers (or a towel and a rubber band) to keep out bugs or chill food for a few hours. Pack lunches with sturdy stainless steel containers, old nut butter or jam jars, and washable silicone sandwich bags instead of plastic baggies. Ban paper plates and disposable silverware and commit to using the real ones instead. Use dish rags or tea towels in place of paper towels, and pull out the cloth napkins for daily use. (It’s not as hard as you might think—here’s one woman’s story about giving up paper towels for good.)

Related: 7 Plastic-Free Ways To Pack Your Meal-Prepped Lunches

holiday tableware
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Not worth the space: Special occasion holdouts

It’s amazing how much real estate holiday-themed baking and serving dishes can take up, let alone the linens and table decorations. Same goes for the fine china and real silver silverware that never gets used. If you don’t use it on a daily basis, is it really worth keeping around? Holidays and occasions can be just as magical and memorable with your everyday basics. You may even enjoy them more if you don’t have to worry about finding, polishing, or breaking the ‘good stuff.’