I Got That Thing How Many Years Ago?

Kitchens aren’t like wardrobes; we don’t wear a tool out after a few years and get a new one. Which is great for building a relationship with kitchenware that lasts, but also means we tend to accumulate a lot of...stuff. Stuff that we rarely use but never think to toss. And what we don’t toss, we don’t replace, which means a lot of kitchens are filled with kitchenware that we tolerate more than enjoy, or have forgotten about completely.

We’re not saying you have to KonMari your kitchen, but good kitchenware should be a joy to use. It should look beautiful and feel comfortable and do its job so well you don’t have to think about it. When we stumble on a tool that’s languished in a drawer for years, we ask ourselves:

• How did I first get this thing?
• When’s the last time I used it?
• Do I actually like using it, or have I just gotten used to it?

If you’re not happy with your answers, it may be time to toss (or donate) it and seek out something better. Here are some reasons to rethink using that half-melted rubber spatula.

You’re finally getting a kitchen of your own

We’ve all been there: Drifting from one roommate to the next, losing some kitchenware in moving vans and mysteriously acquiring others. But once you settle down, it’s time to ditch the plasticky stuff of your college days. Not only will quality kitchenware make you feel more adult, but it’ll also encourage you to use it for cooking beyond the microwave.

You’ve put a ring on it

Picking out gifts for your wedding registry? Well here’s the thing about getting kitchenware through major retailers—you’re usually locked into single pieces or giant sets stuffed with more than you actually need. Wherever you and your partner register, don’t get sucked into prefab kits that will just languish in your kitchen drawer, just because it’s all matchy-matchy.

You’re finally ready to up your game

Everyone finds their way to the kitchen at their own pace, and for some of us, the grown-up set we bought or registered for 10 years ago doesn’t reflect the way we actually cook today. Maybe your taste has matured, and you’ve moved past a steady stream of takeout and are ready to flex your newfound cooking muscles. Or you’ve accepted you’ll never use that pasta-maker but want to stir-fry in a wok twice a week now. Donate the stuff gathering dust in your cabinets and spring for the kitchenware that reflects the modern cook you are today.

You want to make the most of small spaces

If you’re downsizing to a smaller home, you only have space for the fundamentals. Bulky countertop appliances you plug in every other month: out. Multi-purpose tools you’ll use everyday: in. Seek out kitchenware that helps you master the basics in small spaces, and make every piece you purchase work for its space on your counter. That means kitchenware attractive enough to double as serving pieces, and single items that can replace a whole handful of other specialized gadgets.

And when you’re ready for a makeover…

Here are a few practical considerations to keep an eye out for.

If your wooden spoon has developed deep cracks, or the top of your silicone spatula keeps detaching, those deep fissures can harbor bacteria that your soap and sponge can’t reach, putting you at risk for foodborne illness, or at the very least nasty smells from oils that settle in and go rancid. The same is the case for pans with deep scratches in the cooking surface. That’s a frequent problem for cheap nonstick pans, which don’t fare well with metal utensils. But once they’ve developed those scars, they lose a lot of their nonstick power.

Kitchenware isn’t like clothing, but it is like quality denim. It should get broken in, not worn out after a season. So when you decide you’re ready for an upgrade, seek out materials that last.  Cast iron, stainless steel, and dense hardwoods are our favorites for withstanding decades of daily use. The nylon slotted spoon your ex left behind years ago, that’s droopy on one side from when you let it sit too close to the stove? Thank it for its service, and get yourself one that won’t melt.