I’m no organizational expert…in fact, I only get really opinionated about organization if it’s something that I use. If you have serious organizational dilemmas, I highly recommend hiring an expert, like my friend Lindsey, to help you through the process. Ultimately you have to figure out what’s best for you and to find a system that you can maintain. I looked around my kitchen the other day and realized that I have at least ten organizational habits that help me stay sane in the kitchen. See if any of these overlap with what you do:
1. Keep tools close to where you use them.
When I’m in the middle of cooking, the last thing I want to do is to take a walk around the kitchen looking for a tool. That means that I group things together close to where I use them. I start with the dishwasher and figure out how to put the dishes, silverware, and glasses close by. That makes the unloading process go much faster. I also put the cutting boards near the knives, the hot pad near the stove (as in under the stove top), and the dishtowels under the sink.
2. Go for accessibility.
If it’s possible to store what you use so that it’s not hidden away, do it! I’m a big fan of the ol’ hanging pot rack because I gain cabinet space and everything I need is just above me. If you’ve got high ceilings (we do NOT), this is an especially stylish option, but it works even with 8′ ceilings. It also makes clean up faster.
3. Create homes for things
If your food and tools “live” someplace, everyone is clear on clean up and organization. For us, this means we have a snack cabinet that keeps all the little things we nosh on. We’ve created homes for water bottles, paper products, and metal spatulas. In the pantry the canned goods never move into the boxed goods neighborhood; the cereals would never live next door to the baking goods.
4. Decant most frequently used food.
As soon as I started grocery shopping for more than me, I realized that I didn’t have a handle on what we needed unless I inspected boxes. How often did I actually check before shopping? Pretty much never. That meant that I was left guessing what we needed which, inevitably led to over or under buying. The solution was easy enough: put things into containers where I could track consumption.
5. Make your freezer your friend.
For some reason this took me years to get right. The freezer is only as helpful as it is accessible. That means that you should know what’s in it, and if you’ve had something there for a long time, ditch it. I stock my freezer like I do my pantry - strategically. I freeze most frequently used breakfast foods, fish, veggies, nuts, and things that Billy can turn into dinner while I’m traveling. The only major adjustment I make during warm months is creating space for popsicles that the kids can reach.
6. “Birds of a feather (MUST) flock together!!”
This takes “creating homes” a step further. For me it’s not enough to have a utensil drawer; I have to divide it so that the rubber spatulas don’t mix with the wooden spoons. I use these tools for different things and I usually want them at a moment’s notice. I don’t want to dig, so I divide. Over the top? Perhaps. Don’t knock it until you give it a try!
7. If your system annoys you, rework it.
What bugs you most when you cook? Whatever your answer is, don’t live with the frustration; change the system if it bothers you. Is your recycling pile disorganized? Then re-do it! Do you feel like your pantry is in constant disarray? Then rework it! For instance, what if you can’t ever find the spices you need when you’re pulling together a dish? Maybe you should organize them differently. Does it make sense to put the most frequently used spices on one rack? Maybe you can find a stylish way to have them on the counter. Or perhaps you should alphabetize them? (Warning – if you decide to alphabetize them, don’t admit to this in public unless you’re ready to endure ridicule and exclamations like “How are we friends?” or “And you were STILL able to attract a husband??” Ahem…not that I’d know this first hand! )
8. No annoying smells!
I clean the fridge and the freezer regularly and
take send out the trash at a regular click, so the only smells I consistently fight are the annoying one that come from the sink. I find the classic “pour baking soda down the sink” doesn’t do the trick quite as well as running the garbage disposal with some citrus rinds and/or lighting a candle. Easy peasy.
9. Have a cooking system.
I love having a book stand for my recipes and for putting the iPad on when I’m cooking. I’ve heard of people using baking sheets and magnets for putting clippings up (which sounds ingenious to me) – do whatever it takes to get the information off the counter and in front of your face. It’s a simple fix that helps keep me on track.
10. Create a landing and “sweep” spot tool.
At some point, every piece of paper in our home goes through our kitchen. This bugs me no end, but I think it’s the nature of the beast of having a husband, kids, and sitters with a consistent amount of paperwork each brings to the system. I have put together a basket where everything lands at least temporarily. That way if I need the counter space for cooking (or if we’re having people over), I just sweep everything into the basket and whisk it away. It’s an easy, cathartic way to “declutter”‘ at a moment’s notice. Check out before:
And then after the “sweep.”
Presto! My sanity is much more stable with a little breathing room.
I hope this helps. I’d love to hear what keeps you sane in the kitchen!