When it comes to organization, the room people complain most about is the kitchen. There never seems to be enough storage space to accommodate all the dishes, pots, pans, utensils, small appliances, spices, and food. With retailers like Williams-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Pampered Chef, and Christmas Tree Shops, there are gadgets for everything! So, how do you make sense of it and create an organized, functional space? Below, we share some of the strategies we use in client homes to provide easily maintained, efficient kitchens the whole family can enjoy.
1. Start by taking out all the dishes. That’s right, all of them! Now, consider the maximum number of people you have eating at your house on a given day, excluding the occasional huge party. Put aside that many full place settings. If you use a dishwasher, you can add the number of meals. For example, let’s say you have a family of four but often have your in-laws over for dinner. 4 breakfast, 4 lunch, 6 dinner= 14 place settings. If you hand wash the dishes, you should do them immediately after they are used, and therefore, can store even less. For large parties, use high quality disposables (they can be recycled!), or keep your larger set of dishes in storage outside the kitchen for use only on those special occasions. Likewise, although they are “cute,” “decorative,” and “pretty,” having multiple dish sets for every occasion is not practical when you do not have the space. Keep one solid colored dish set and look online for ways to add decorative touches for each holiday. Placemats, napkins and napkin rings, centerpieces, and table clothes take up much less space, or can be disposable and just as festive.
2. How many mugs, cups, and glasses can one family really use? Like the example above, take into consideration the needs of your household when evaluating the drink-ware in your cabinets. If you have a favorite mug or two that you use every day, why keep the other 75 that take up two shelves? If the kids use cups, why do you have a set of 40 glasses? Keep a few for the occasional guests, and drop off the rest at your local thrift store. When hosting a large party, again, get the disposables. Who wants to clean 100 glasses anyway? Also, teach your family to rinse and reuse cups and glasses throughout the day. If they are a thirsty crew who pop in and out of the kitchen for drinks every hour or so, there is no reason to get a new cup every time. In homes with a few young children, we reduce the cups to the number of children and assign a color to each for use throughout the day. The child is then responsible to wash and reuse the cup. Extra cups in another color are stored on a higher shelf for visiting friends.
3. I don’t think I have ever been in a kitchen that did not have way too many kitchen utensils. Empty out those drawers, pull them off the hooks, and dump them out of the canisters that stuffed to the breaking point! Next, sort them by type and/or function. Spatulas with spatulas, ladles with ladles, whisks with whisks. Bet you didn’t realize you had THAT many, huh? Now, start to purge. Begin with the categories you use the most and go back to the “what is the maximum number of these I will use in a day?” question, and keep those that are in the best condition. How many bottle openers do you need? Sets of measuring spoons? Once you get through the things you use, it is time to be honest with yourself. Just because you have a gadget, doesn’t mean you need a gadget. Keep in mind that you are trying to save space. Consider how often, if ever, you have actually used the item and whether you already own something that can do the same thing. For example, do you need to keep that banana slicer or will a knife slice a banana just as well? This can be tough because you may feel guilty for having spent $20.00 on that fancy egg slicer that you never took out of the package, but trust me- you will survive. When the utensils are sorted, separate them in to two categories- one for cooking and one for baking, and put them away in two drawers. Place a label at the bottom of the drawer and cover it with shipping tape to protect it. If you have a small drawer, put you can opener, bottle opener, and your best “few” pot holders in that drawer. In addition, keep one good knife set and store it in a block if you have one.
4. For some reason, even when people get new pans, they don’t get rid of the old ones. Why is that? The same steps apply here. Take out all the pots, pans, baking pans, cooking racks, broiler pans, and even your glass baking dishes. Sort them by use. Evaluate the maximum you would use on a given day to cook and keep the best. If you would only make two dozen muffins at a time, you do not need 12 muffin pans. Unfortunately, this is another category where we often find novelty items, like heart and teddy bear shaped bakeware that was used once or never. Like the holiday dishes, get rid of them. Use frostings, candy, and other decorations to personalize baked goods for special occasions. If you tend to use glass baking dishes, you don’t need all the metal or vice versa. Like silicone? Get rid of the glass and metal. What do I really use? How many do I need? Do I have something else that I can use the same way? How often do I use this? If I find that I need this on a rare occasion, sometime in the future, can I borrow one from a friend or relative? Think with rationality and practicality, not emotion. If you use your microwave more than your stovetop, how many little pans do you need to keep? If you have only four burners, you cannot use more than four at a time! One big stock pot, a medium pot, two smaller pots, a large and small skillet or frying pan… what else do you need? Try to think of ways to get more than one use out of items you keep. Can you use a non-stick pot to sauté onions?
5. Casserole dishes, mixing bowls, serving dishes, and all the other stuff cluttering up the cabinets take some serious consideration. We’ve all had those cute little condiment cups or individual butter warmers with tea candle holders or individual casserole dishes, but really? Who are we kidding? With today’s busy schedules, our kids squirt the ketchup on the edge of the plate, we melt the butter in a glass-measuring cup, and cook the casserole in one huge dish. Put the wishful thinking aside and pass those things off to aspiring Martha Stewarts with giant kitchens and no kids. Keep the dishes you use in the quantity you will use on your busiest cooking day, and don’t forget about the trusty disposables for serving at parties! The Dollar Tree stores and others like it have sufficiently decent pieces for entertaining that are cheap enough to toss (or recycle) after the guests have gone.
6. Put everything away near where you use it. I find it best to store the dishes above the dishwasher. It makes putting them away all that much easier and quicker, encouraging family members to do it. Pots and pans work well near the stove, with mixing bowls and such near your prep area. I take it a step further by printing and taping maps , protected by sheet protectors, to the inside of cabinet doors to let the entire family know where everything goes. This helps to put away dishes efficiently and saves us from searching the kitchen when we want to use something. It is simple enough to draw one or prepare on a computer. See a sample here.
7. Small appliances are another toughie! Americans love their small appliances! The houses I work in average 17 small kitchen appliances ranging from juicers to mixers to novelty toasters and waffle makers. It isn’t unusual for someone to have bought a Keurig and to have kept the drip coffee maker in the 12-cup size, individual cup size, French press, and the percolator. With the advent of microwave popcorn, the air popper is now collecting dust in kitchens throughout the country, while we shelve fad purchases like donut, cupcake, quesadilla, and sandwich makers after the fun wears off. Alas, these items tend to take up the most wasted space in our kitchens. If you find it hard to purge them, give them one last test-drive for old time’s sake and then… out they go. Again, keep only those you use regularly like your mixer, and use a frying pan to make your grilled cheese. With all the space you saved purging in the above steps, you should be able to store your small appliances in the cabinets now! (I hope.)
8. Spices can be expensive. If you have ever been to a Tastefully Simple party, you have probably spent way too much on some concoction that you will never use but keep in your pantry anyway because you feel guilt-ridden, again. We all get caught up in Food Network shows that tempt us with divine recipes featuring exotic seasonings and when we see them on the shelves, we impulsively buy them. Sometimes, we may even try the recipe only to hear protests from our family members who prefer the traditional fare we usually prepare. Take it all out. (See a theme here!) First, check the dates and get rid of everything expired. That is the easy part. Next, if you do not cook with it at least once per month, toss it. If you happen to come across a recipe that calls for a spice you do not have, see if you can borrow a bit from a friend, or check out the spice section at the grocery, as many now offer tiny bubble packets of individual spices. Better yet, see if you can find it in the produce section and buy only what you need fresh! If you take this approach to your spices, you should only have a spice rack’s worth of seasonings or one little section of a cabinet. The other part of the shelf can keep your bottled seasonings like vinegar, Worcestershire, or Soy Sauce. Again, if it is expired or you don’t particularly use or like it, get rid of it!!!
9. The rest of the food in your kitchen should get the same once over. Expiration dates, probability of you using it, and then you can begin the organizing of what is remaining. Think of your home as a grocery store. Arrange items by category. Baking, Sides, Canned Goods, Prepared foods, etc. Organize like products together- canned goods front to back in order of expiration date, boxed goods side-by-side in order of expiration, left to right. If you have a Lazy Susan you can still apply this method. Just place a post-it note stating, “use first” on the top of the most recently expiring and move it to the next product when you take the first one out. If you organize your household staples this way, you can quickly make a shopping list and avoid over shopping for things of which you already have abundance. It is important to keep in mind that sales go in cycles. No household needs 30 cans of Spaghettios! Coupons always come back again, too, despite what those silly women on those reality TV shows try to teach you. There is no reason you cannot shop sales and coupons, but there is also no reason to buy enough product to supply your entire town. If you can’t fit it in your pantry, then you have too much. Wait until things run out, and go back to the store again. Is that so hard? The map is a great tool in the food cabinets too. That way, everyone puts everything back where it belongs!
10. Now that you have everything purged and put away, it is important to keep it that way. Create a plan of maintenance and be firm and consistent until it becomes habit. Make the entire family get involved.
- Clean dishes immediately after use. Make it a rule that no one can leave anything in the kitchen sink- ever!
- Start the dishwasher at night, empty in the morning, and fill it throughout the day.
- Keep a roll of paper towels and disinfectant spray handy. Encourage everyone to clean up after snacks, meals, and spills.
- If they take it out, they put it back, exactly where it belongs. This includes small appliances. Wipe them down and put them away after every use.
- If you allow snacking outside the kitchen, ensure that everyone returns all food and dishes upon completion and the same rules are applied.
Having trouble making decisions? Too much stuff to apply the techniques by yourself? Give us a call, email, visit our website, or post a message here or on Facebook! We’d love to help!