My Latest Resolution: Clean While I Cook.

I’ve cribbed some of my favorite resolutions from other people, and when a thoughtful reader posted that one of her resolutions is to “Clean while I cook,” I immediately decided to adopt that for my own.

“Clean while I cook” isn’t just about cooking, of course. It’s about cleaning up after myself along the way, instead of letting clutter and chores build up around me. I’ve always tried to push myself to behave this way, but for some reason, this formulation has really stuck in my mind.

For instance, I’m trying to follow “Clean while I cook” by also following the resolution to “Hang up clothes while I change clothes.” I tend to throw clothes all over the bedroom as I change from one outfit to another, and to leave them there for a few days, and it looks very messy. I’m trying to do a better job of putting clothes away as soon as I take them off. My husband sets a good example here: he always puts his clothes away. (Except his socks. He leaves his dirty socks on the floor, but because I get a strange sense of satisfaction from putting clothes in the hamper, this doesn’t bother me.)

One advantage of the “Clean while I cook” approach is that instead of tackling one large task, I handle many small tasks, as they arise. It’s all too easy to procrastinate with big tasks, and it feels much more manageable to cultivate the habit of doing smaller chores. As Anthony Trollope observed, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”

It’s helpful, too, to think about the resolution to “Clean while I cook” in relationship to the cooking term mis-en-place.

Mis-en-place describes the preparation done before starting the actual cooking: gathering ingredients and implements, chopping, measuring, and all the rest. Mis-en-place is preparation, but it’s also a state of mind; mis-en-place means you have everything at the ready, with no need to run out to the store or begin a frantic search for a sifter. You’re truly ready to begin to work.

I find that when I make the effort to prepare properly, and then to clean up after myself as I go, tasks proceed much more smoothly. And almost nothing is more satisfying than working easily and well.

How about you? Do you push yourself to clean while you cook—literally or metaphorically? Does it make a difference?

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  • This was how my parents cooked, and it stayed with me. Before starting, all ingredients would be laid out and prepared in order, and while one thing was baking or simmering or whatever, we’d wash the dishes created up until that point. It makes life easier, by far.

    I can’t do it now in Japan because my kitchen has no counters, but I’ll get back to it when I have a bigger place.

  • Mis-en-place is the ultimate in cooking!  Love it, love it.  I also clean while I cook because I love to cook, but hate the mess.  I like eating what I cook, too, so if I clean while I cook, I can enjoy eating what I’ve made, and even better if I have guests.   It makes the entire process seamless. 
    I think the reason why so many folks don’t actually cook more is because they are afraid of knife technique, and don’t keep good knives.  Great (typically expensive) knives are some of the most indispensable items in a kitchen and make short, effortless work of cooking, and mis-en-place, in particular. 

  • Christine

    I learned to clean while I cook mostly because I have a very small kitchen and no dishwasher. Yes, I said “no dishwasher.” Cooking a meal especially holiday meals can be daunting to clean up when you let all the dishes pile up. I have it down to a science. Sitting down to a delicious meal in a clean, uncluttered kitchen is very gratifying; I think it even makes the food taste better.  : D

  • charlene

    I took Home Economics in high school (I am telling my age) and the teacher, Miss Evadne Ferdinand aka Ferdie, had a mantra “Clean up as you go along!” I have struggled with it because at home my mother had the mantra, “Let it pile up, and then do it all at once.” Now I try to remember Ferdie’s mantra, but it’s still a struggle.

  • Mary Ellen

    My husband _loves_ to clean up as you go. He cleans up things I’m still using! But I love him and appreciate that he tidies up everything so that home feels comfortable.

    One year for his birthday I cross-stitched his favorite saying: “Cleaning up as you go along is half the fun.” We have it hanging in pride of place in the kitchen.

    This is a quote from How to Do Things Right: Revelations of a Fussy Man, by L.R. Hills.

  • Meenaxi

    I am a ‘clean while you cook’ person to the point of slight obsession. I hate keeping dishes in the sink, in fact cleaning up the kitchen is the 10 minute busy activity that I before turning in. Nice to know there are more cleaning cooks like me!