June 18, 2015

Clearing the Kitchen Clutter Conundrum

Last week I gave you a few tools to help you organize your own home. I received great feedback from readers who immediately went to work and put those tools to use. There were also a few questions on how to tackle specific spots in the home, which were to be expected. After all, I gave you a bag of tools but didn't tell you how to use them. It's kind of like handing you a saw, a hammer, and a screwdriver and merely telling you they cut, pound, and screw things in.

Over the next few weeks, we're going to go into detail on how to organize spaces in your home starting with the most important room in the house - the kitchen.

You know, the place where the magic of bacon and brownies happens.

Not necessarily at the same time.

Although I wouldn't complain.

Mmmm...bacon...brownies...so good...

Pardon me while I shake myself from my self-induced cravings stupor.

Kitchens, whether big or small, are intimidating. All those cupboards and drawers. Not to mention the fridge! So many places to store things, so many things to have to consider. It's no wonder there's always that cupboard that everyone shuts quickly so nothing falls out only to have its contents avalanche on the next unsuspecting victim.

Not that I've ever done that. No, not ever.

The first organizing tool I gave you last week was decluttering. As important as that tool is, it's fairly self-explanatory, so we're going to start with the second tool in our toolbag - designating zones.

If you've ever seen one of those cooking shows starring a successful chef with a British accent teaching other chefs how to run a kitchen, you may have noticed the novice chefs get assigned to stations during the food service. Prep station, appetizer station, dessert station, and so on. Each station is equipped with the right tools to get that specific job done.

Your kitchen should be no different.

Each cupboard and drawer should serve a purpose containing tools for a specific purpose. In my kitchen, I have six main zones - dishes and cleanup, stove top and cooking, baking, prep, food storage, and the rest.

Zone 1: Dishes and Cleanup


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This zone is always located near the sink and dishwasher. All dishes go in the cupboard, silverware and dishcloths in the drawers. Always. It makes cleanup fast and easy to have everything close together.

My cupboard isn't big enough to accommodate all my dishes without stacking them on top of each other. It's highly annoying when I need a dinner plate but I have to slip it out from underneath the smaller plates. Not only that, but we're not the most graceful around here (ask my teenage son who manages to fall up the stairs on a daily basis). I'm afraid my lovely dishes will crash to the ground and smash into a million pieces.

And hurt someone. That's important, too, I guess. Maybe.

When you don't have enough space to spread everything out, start thinking vertical. I love these wire shelves for my dishes. 

Clearing the Kitchen Clutter Conundrum - www.lysandrajames.com

Everything is stacked in an orderly fashion and easy to access. Other vertical storage options include using hooks for mugs or those baskets that slide onto an existing shelf to hold things like children's plates or plastic lids.

Zone 2: Stove Top and Cooking


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My husband and I love to cook and we're pretty darn good at it, although my husband is more creative than I am. Because of our love of food, this zone is heavily stocked. Pots, pans, pancake turners, wooden spoons, tongs, pot holders, and more. We have an entire cupboard dedicated to spices. Oils and vinegars are kept in the small cupboard above the microwave. Anything we use at the stove (or oven) has a home in the cupboards and drawers immediately surrounding it. 

Clearing the Kitchen Clutter Conundrum - www.lysandrajames.com


If you have a smaller kitchen, storage space is at a premium. In one of our homes, I kept often-used utensils in a decorative container on the counter top to save drawer space for less versatile items. Colorful jars, ceramic pitchers, vases, tall boxes all work beautifully and can be found at thrift stores, yard sales, or even one of those boxes of wedding gifts you couldn't return and never found a use for.
Clearing the Kitchen Clutter Conundrum - www.lysandrajames.com

Spices fit beautifully in a spice carousel, many of which stack to save even more room. Mine even dispenses the spices in 1/4 teaspoon increments. Seasoning packets can be kept in a basket to keep them from wandering. Oils and spices used more frequently can even sit on the counter on a decorative plate.

Clearing the Kitchen Clutter Conundrum - www.lysandrajames.com

Zone 3: Baking


Clearing the Kitchen Clutter Conundrum - www.lysandrajames.com

If space permits, I locate this zone close to the oven since cooking and baking often utilize the same ingredients and even some of the same tools. Sometimes I divide this zone into two stations - items used in baking prep (measuring cups and spoons, rolling pin, spatulas, cookie scoops, pastry cutter, and mixing bowls) and anything that goes into the oven (baking sheets, casserole dishes, muffin tins). In my current kitchen, baking prep is stored in my island while the baking pans and dishes are in the lower cupboards next to the oven.

Clearing the Kitchen Clutter Conundrum - www.lysandrajames.com

As with my dishes, I abhor having to pull baking sheets out from under the muffin tins only to have the entire stack fall out on my toes. Ouch. Instead of storing them horizontally, I stand them up in a pot lid holder. The shelf in my cupboard had to be raised to accommodate the new storage system, but by doing so, it provided a perfect place to store the larger baking sheets.

Zone 4: Prep


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The prep zone is merely a place to prep your food. It can be a small section of counter space, a tv tray, or an entire kitchen island. Most of the time, I try to keep my knife block and cutting boards nearby, but that's not always possible. I've kept my cutting boards with my baking sheets in the past and my mother-in-law keeps hers behind her kitchen faucet.

Zone 5: Food storage


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When we were first married, we lived in an apartment with no pantry. We utilized some of our precious cupboard space for things like cereal and canned goods. Being completely spoiled, I now have a corner pantry with plenty of space to hold all my pasta, oatmeal, chicken noodle soup, and more. Whether your kitchen is barely big enough to turn around in or spacious enough to host a party, you have to designate a place to store food or it will take over the rest of your space. This is where the rest of the organizing basics come into play.

Designate a place for absolutely every grocery item that comes into your house. I have a shelf in my fridge reserved solely for eggs and tortillas. That's it. Leftovers go on the bottom shelf and milk in the door. At a glance, I can do a quick inventory before heading to the store.

Keeping like items together works well only if everyone is willing to stack the cans neatly in straight lines. *snort* Not in my house. So we contain whenever possible. 

Clearing the Kitchen Clutter Conundrum - www.lysandrajames.com

I got these baskets from the dollar store. Each basket holds a different kind of food - fruit, soups, anything with beans, canned meats, breakfast items, snacks, etc. I may get around to labeling them, but I'm still trying to decide on a label with staying power. My usual standby - address labels - keep falling off.

The baskets work well in the fridge as well. All our condiments are in a single basket. Anytime we have hot dogs, hamburgers, or any other meal requiring condiments, I pull out the basket and set it on the counter. Everyone can choose from our vast selection of jalepeno ketchup, spicy brown mustard, five different hot sauces, two steak sauces, three barbecue sauces, two jars of mayo or the usual standbys of ketchup and mustard. When the meal is over, all condiments are returned to the basket and shoved back into the fridge. Stray bottles of Tabasco sauce no longer go missing because everything is contained.

The other basket in our fridge holds yogurt, cottage cheese, and sour cream. No more losing an unopened container of sour cream behind the giant jar of pickles only to unearth it two months past the expiration date.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned my love affair with WinCo. I pass three grocery stores every week to go to my favorite store. The bulk bins alone make my heart skip a beat. We buy most of our pasta and spices there. But the fragile plastic bags they provide snag easily and slide around the pantry, even when contained in a basket. That's where these clear plastic storage containers come in handy. No need to label when you can easily see what's in there. And they line up so nicely on the shelf, even when they don't exactly match. You can use them for pasta, rice, cereal, or any other non-perishable items.

Clearing the Kitchen Clutter Conundrum - www.lysandrajames.com

If you're into baking or want to build up your food storage, investing in a few five-gallon buckets with screw-on lids is worth your while. I buy bread flour in fifty-pound bags because I bake a lot of bread - two twelve-inch loaves a week (recipe scheduled to be posted in August). Scooping flour out of an open bag that big while my three-year-old is hanging on my arm is not appealing. ("Look Mom, I can make it snow!") Instead, I divide that enormous bag into two buckets and store one in my pantry and the other in my cold storage room in my basement. It's much harder to tip one of those suckers and, as a bonus, they double as a convenient step stool in a pinch. Or when you're too lazy to fetch the stool from the upstairs bathroom. Which is only occasionally...

Okay, every day. Work smarter, not harder, right?

The rest

Not everything will fit into the above categories. Where you store them will depend entirely on the layout of your kitchen and the way you use them.

I have an entire drawer dedicated to things like storage baggies, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and waxed paper, but you can store those items in a basket above the fridge or in a cupboard somewhere. I've even seen things on Pinterest where people have used closet organizers hung on the inside of the pantry door.

Plastic storage containers for leftovers you throw into the fridge and forget until the food is unidentifiable and can't even qualify for science fair fodder can be stored in a large drawer or basket with the lids in a second basket to keep them semi contained. I personally hate reheating things in plastic (and had a tendency to throw plastic containers away when I didn't dare open them), so I invested in glass containers that do double duty - storing leftovers and baking. Bonus organizing tip: invest in items that are multi-purpose to save on space.

Appliances are ideally stored nearest to where they will be used. I keep my Bosch mixer and griddle are in my island just below the space I always use them. However my KitchenAid mixer and popcorn maker are too tall for any of my cupboards and have a home on a pantry shelf. 

Holiday, special occasion dishes, and rarely used appliances should be kept in a place that isn't as easily accessible, reserving the "best seats in the house" for those things you use on a daily basis.

Final words of advice

If you don't have the time to organize your kitchen in a single go, start small. Clean out one drawer and designate it for baking utensils. Or choose a cupboard and clear out everything but your dishes. Do one space every day or week or month.

Don't be afraid to change things up, either. If you get things organized and find the placement of things is awkward, fix it. Rearrange it so it feels more natural.

Just when you thought I could get through a post without mentioning the "s" word (not that one - get your mind out of the gutter, people)...SYSTEMS! Put systems in place to maintain or all your hard work will be for nothing. Rotate your food, using the stuff closing to expiring first. Schedule a meal to use up all the leftovers in your fridge. When one new kitchen plaything comes in, one goes out. Keep up on dishes. Put out-of-place items away correctly as soon as you notice them.

Another vital step - walk everyone through the new organizational system. If your kids don't know where the can opener and pizza cutters now go, they will put them wherever they fit, which is what led to the mess in the first place. You'll also be peppered with nonstop questions about where things are. After the fifth such inquiry while I'm in the middle of a project, Mean Mommy generally comes out, so to save everyone's sanity, I keep my family well informed.

And, as always, ditch the clutter. Recycle all those empty margarine tubs and glass jars you've been saving "just in case". Get rid of the state-of-the-art juicer you bought at the state fair three years ago but never used. Toss the cracked china your Aunt Rose gave you before she went senile. Everything in your home must earn its place. If it's just sitting around collecting dust, get rid of it. After all, that's one less thing to clean.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find the brownies my son made yesterday. All this talk of food is giving me the munchies and I desperately need a chocolate fix.

Or a bacon fix.

Mmmmm...bacon...

Come back next week where we'll tackle the most dreaded room in the house...the BATHROOM. Dun, dun, duuuuunnnnn....

*All (good) photos used in this post were provided by Christie Nakae from Country Girl Photography. If you loved the picture, she gets the credit because she's just that good.

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