Despite the occasional cold snap (by which I mean the kind of weather the rest of you would probably laugh at me for finding cold), it’s pretty much hitting on springtime in Orlando. And with the impending return of the sunshine and wonderfully blazing hot weather, there is the desire to get my house in order. Spring cleaning is commencing in a big, big way.
Our house is almost always in a state of flux as we move furniture around, find new pieces, and figure out better ways of arranging things. But with the addition of our table, all of those arrangements feel like they are starting to solidify, at least in the living room. And now we get to turn our attention to the kitchen.
If you google “kitchen organization hacks,” there are nearly a million results returned. That’s because the kitchen is a) an area of pretty heavy/steady workflow in the home and b) a pain in the ass to keep clean and organized.
So I started with those Google results, reading down the list. 31 Clever Ways to Organize and Clean Your Kitchen. Check. 30 Insanely Easy Ways to Improve Your Kitchen. Check. 60+ Innovative Kitchen Organization and Storage DIY Projects. Check check check and a check for all the links in between, too.
Most of these articles present the same information, over and over. Mason jars and magnets and magazine racks. I mean, sure, pegboard looks fantastic. But pegboard requires uninterrupted wall space and enough room between everything you put on the pegboard for stuff not to look messy anyway.
The truth about kitchen organization is that if you have more stuff than space, you are screwed regardless of how many clever hacks you utilize because all of the tricks have their limits. If you store your dry goods in Mason jars, you have to buy small bags of dry goods — or you have to store the rest somewhere. If you put your spices in magnetic containers on the fridge, you’re going to be sweeping spices off of your floor at some point and replacing whatever fell.
But a couple of the endless tips and tricks on the Internet really are golden for more than just aesthetic purposes. Here’s what worked for us in our shotgun-style kitchen, where there isn’t quite enough room for two people to really be working in there at the same time either, at least not if one of them wants to put stuff in the oven while someone else washes dishes.
If, like me, you have been hauling around the pots and pans you bought at Goodwill when you moved out for the first time as well as the stuff you have acquired since then, now is the time to release what you aren’t using back out into the wild. Whether you do this via the curb or Freecycle or just throw things away because that pan doesn’t have a handle on it anymore, the extra room in your cupboard is going to be worth it. We took it one section of the kitchen at a time and we got rid of stuff before we worried about organizing what was left.
For us, this was just as much about appliances as anything else. We have a blender; we don’t need the Magic Bullet blender anymore. We have a big crockpot; we don’t need the crappy one that’s hard to clean anymore.
This was the biggest and most effective "hack" for the kitchen. Having less stuff meant what we had leftover fit into our space. Simple but true (and hard to deal with sometimes).
The reason decluttering is sometimes hard is that I still have very strong “but what if I can’t replace a thing?” feelings leftover from making do with what I had on hand. Breaking out of that habit is a long process but the results — in this case more room to store the stuff we actually do want to hang on to — are their own reward.
We don’t have much cabinet space. And, I am a little embarrassed to admit, I can really only reach the bottom shelf of the upper ones; they’re set a little high and I’m a little short and, whatever, they aren’t super useful for storing all of our stuff. (I’m glad to have a kitchen! I don’t know if I could live in Jess’s 250-square-foot home without one.)
There’s a reason these industrial wire shelves are so ubiquitous in kitchens — they are super incredibly useful. Adding in a shelving unit more than doubled our storage space. I could have put pegboard on the wall, à la one of the kitchen hack articles, but you can’t store stacks of plates on pegboard.
Because the shelves are open, there’s a sort of aesthetic pressure going on, too. I definitely feel more motivated to keep our dishes and stuff organized, but I also want to use them because I can see them. Out of sight, out of mind is a thing, and this solves enough of that to help remind me that dinner is meant to be savored.
(You can add wire shelves to counters for the same kind of thing once you’ve got your counters cleared off, too.)
Holy hell, let me tell you about the nine years worth of junk in our junk drawer. Actually, I am going to skip telling you about it. Let’s just say no two people need that many soy sauce packets from takeout Chinese food.
Once we’d completely emptied the drawer out and wiped it clean, we both stared down into it, at a loss with the possibilities. Drawer inserts — and I don’t mean for utensils, I mean individual little inserts combined to customize the space to your needs — split up the area so everything fit neatly and didn’t rattle around. Also, we won’t try to force more into the drawer because each little compartment is full.
We used the same drawer insert strategy with our other two drawers and now that damn apple slicer has a home that doesn’t jam anything up. (I’d have donated the apple slicer during the decluttering, but we use it when we pack apples in our lunches!)
As frustrated as I was with most of the tips I found, let me tell you that people are not lying about Lazy Susans. Especially in the refrigerator.
We go through our veg at a pretty good clip, so it’s rare for something to slowly turn to mush in the crisper drawer. Far more likely is that a package of bologna gets shoved to the back and then forgotten until it’s well past its expiration date and we can’t quite figure out where our lunch meat went even though we have a vague recollection of it being there.
Sticking a Lazy Susan or two in your ‘fridge is going to take a little arrangement work. At first I thought we were losing too much space, trying to fit a round Susan in a square or rectangular space. But the convenience, especially on short shelves, makes up for that.
(I'm also going to try implementing some of the refrigerator-specific tips here.)
One reason it was so important to get rid of old appliances was so that we could clear off the crowded counters. It’s not that we don’t use the rice cooker all the time — it’s that if we leave it on the counter then the counter accumulates not only the rice cooker but other stuff around it.
By cleaning the rice cooker right away and putting it where it goes, the counter stays clear. Suddenly, we’ve got space to put grocery bags so we can put food away. We’ve got room for food prep. We’ve got a little more room if we want to be in the kitchen together, spending a few minutes working on something.
While I like some Baroque clutter in plenty of other home areas, it’s great that having the counters clear also contributes to a clean and open feeling in the kitchen. I get easily overwhelmed if I’m trying to figure out where everything is in the middle of everything else before I can even start cooking, so having a place for everything even means more cooking instead of eating out (or ordering in) for me. That’s an even better thing.
All of those articles about kitchen organization make it seem really easy. Just screw a magazine rack to a cabinet door! (Never mind that you’re likely to screw through the cabinets with too-long screws.) Just put a clear hanging shoe rack in your pantry to store small things! (What if you don’t have a pantry?) But none of them seem to acknowledge that you need a certain amount of space to make most of that stuff work.
Instead of feeling bad about how I am never going to use super cute labels to keep my dry goods presentable, I’m going to do what works for us in our kitchen. And now I want to know what works for you in yours. And do you find those articles as unhelpful as I do now?