The key to cleaning out your kitchen is to ask yourself: what do I actually use? You can rationalize keeping most items — even that can of tomato soup that's been hanging out in the back of your cabinet for the past few years. Yet, your past is the best predictor for future use. If you haven't eaten tomato soup for 3 years, you're probably not going to eat it in the next 3 years, so why keep it around?
It's a natural tendency to fill every bit of storage space in your kitchen. We keep food in our cabinets because it's instinctual to hoard for tough times. Also, there seems to be an endless supply of clever cooking gadgets and cleaning accessories. Your overflowing cabinets can become unmanageable, if you don't take time to organize and reduce the items in your kitchen. It's also wasteful to let food expire when you could donate the things you don't use to charity.
A good rule of thumb when deciding what should stay or what should go is to get rid of anything you haven't used in the last 3 months or probably won't use in the next 3 months. That means being honest with yourself about whether or not you really need to keep all your pots and pans and food prep devices.
Getting rid of food is more complicated. You might want to keep certain things even if there hasn't been recent use. It's important to understand the shelf life of your food so you don't hold onto items past their expiration date. There are tons of websites, like Still Tasty, where you can search for the expiration of specific types of food. Here are some general rules:
• Canned Goods - Goods with high acid levels, like tomato soup or pineapple, last for 18 months. Other canned goods with low acid, like beans and vegetables, last up to 5 years.
• Spices - Spices don't really spoil, but they do lose their potency over time. Use the smell test. If you can't smell it, then you probably won't be able to taste it.
• Flour - Unopened bags will stay fresh for up to a year. Opened bags will keep for 6 to 8 months.
• Sugar - Unopened granulated sugar has a shelf life of 2 years. Brown sugar only stays fresh for 6 months, regardless of whether the bag is opened or not.
• Oils - Olive oil and canola oil can last up to a year. Sesame or flaxseed oils should be refrigerated and should not be kept in your cabinet.
• Pasta & Rice - Unopened pasta and rice last about 2 years.
Be sure to throw away any canned good that is dented or leaking, otherwise you risk getting food poisoning!