Early this year, Mr. Min and I moved into a two-floor condo in Brooklyn and now, we have more space than most of our friends. And according to the laws that dictate the universe, our friends shouldn’t have to deal with cramped living quarters when we are not. So, almost as a matter of course, their belongings have migrated quickly and eagerly into our wide open spaces.
Today, our basement holds a ton of stuff we don’t own. This includes a full set of drums (as well as our own), a guitar, two bikes and boxes upon boxes of vinyl that my brother-in-law intends to sell over the course of the next year or two. Or three.
It didn’t register as a problem until it rained one day, and I suddenly and desperately wanted my waterproof boots, which were in the far back of the large, walk-in closet. After pushing aside heavy boxes of vinyl and bending over to do the one-legged, tippy-toed Ballet of Chaos to reach my shoes, it occurred to me that my position was ridiculous in every possible way.
Somehow, I’ve ended up babysitting a small mountain of other people’s stuff. It’s different from normal clutter because I’ve never really made room for it. I have shoved it into the biggest available space, treating it like a temporary thing when it could be forever. But since it’s there, in front of my face, I think about it much more than the original owners ever will. I will stub my toe or bang my knee on it when it gets in my way. And when it rains, I’ll worry about Ken’s $2,000 guitar or Bert’s bike that may be rusting in the back patio.
For now, I’ve let it go. As long as the clutter doesn’t travel upstairs into my living space, I’m kind of okay with it. Plus, I know that I’m just as guilty. That’s right. For the past two years, I’ve let my mother-in-law (henceforth to be called “Mom”) give houseroom to a Wedgewood dinnerware set for six. It’s a gift from when I married her son. I never got around to collecting it because I hold barbecues, not dinner parties, and I think that my guests are much happier eating hot dogs and burgers off paper plates rather than fancy china that might chip and break.
But Mom has space and clutter issues of her own, and the guilt is getting to me. I think it’s time to take that china off her hands. I’ve set a goal of reorganizing my kitchen so that I can make room for those damned dishes. Now, watch me do it.
Step 1: Make better use of vertical space
I am very, very short. My non-driver’s ID says I’m 5’2” but that’s a slight exaggeration. I’m sure that my kitchen cabinets were designed for a much taller person. Because of this, I’ve moved the shelves down a peg or two so that I can reach things more easily. This leaves a wide, blank, smiling space on top, mocking me from above and reminding me that I’m not making the best use of my space. So, I’ve decided get more kitchen shelves. Since my cabinet manufacturer is refusing to answer my emails, I’m going the DIY route.
Here’s how to do it. Take out the existing shelves and measure them to the nearest 1/16th of an inch. Then, go to a place like Home Depot and get some birch plywood cut down to size ($8 each). Next, take a shelf to a paint store, match the color to a paint swatch and purchase a color sample ($2.94 for a half pint) and some shelf pegs ($1.53 for 8). Take them home, paint your new shelves and wait for them to dry. Then, push the pegs into the designated holes. If they don’t fit perfectly, use a narrow drill bit to widen the holes. Clean off the sawdust, slot in all of shelves and fill them with your stuff.
I’m finding that narrow shelves are great for things that are thin and awkward to store like cutting boards and place mats. As an added bonus, I’m able to clear off my kitchen counter by placing bottles of oil and vinegar on a top shelf. Instead of setting them upright (too hard to grab when I’m so short), I’ll lay them down on their sides so that I can pull them out by the bottle caps.
Step 2: Make better use of deep cabinet space.
I have a floor cabinet, and it’s wide and deep. I am using it as a pantry. While I feel lucky to have the extra space, it’s also a burden because there’s a good chance that some pantry items will get swallowed up into the darkness. Pull-out bins are a good solution, but I’ve opted for an organizational system that makes sense and doesn’t cost any money. I call it the grid system.
Here’s how to do it. Look at the floor of a deep cabinet and think of it in terms of a grid. Rows run left to right, and columns run from back to front. Then, imagine this scenario: if you were searching for an item and you knew exactly where it was on that grid, you wouldn’t have to move that many things to get to it, right?
Now, pull out all of your pantry items and spend some time grouping like items together. When you put them back in the cabinet, each group will get its own column. Infrequently used items go in first, ending up at the back. Order the rest in a sequence that makes sense to you. For example, I have a double column for sugar. In the front, I have jars of Nutella. Behind them, I have brown sugar, Stevia, white granulated sugar and powdered sugar. This means that every time I need sugar, I’ll be able to find it in my pantry without having to disturb or touch anything that doesn’t belong in that category. I’ve found this system to be so effective that I’ve used it to reorganize my spice rack as well as my dishes.
Step 3: Make better use of drawer space.
Like a lot of people, I have a utensil holder and a cutlery tray. This is an issue because the drawer for the cutlery tray is so deep that there’s wasted space in the back. At the same time, my utensil holder is overflowing because I have a lot of items that I don’t use on a daily basis, and they can’t all fit in the holder. To solve the problem, I’ve pulled out the tray and put my spoons, forks and knives in an upright cutlery holder. To take their place, I’ve stashed some of my underused utensils in the drawer. Since a lot of them have long handles, I know that I’m making better use of the deep drawer space.
In the next drawer down, I’ve pigeonholed some of my small kitchen items into red Solo cups and some underused mugs. A little bit of adhesive putty helps keep them from sliding around every time I open the drawer.
The bottom drawer is big and deep. I’m saving it for tall travel mugs, reusable water bottles and a Brita pitcher.
Step 4: While you’re at it, filter out the stuff you don’t need.
Now that I’ve burrowed into my kitchen cabinets, I see a lot of stuff that doesn’t need to be there. This includes my second stockpot and a rice cooker that leaks. These I’ll put on the curb, where they’ll be scavenged within minutes since I live in that kind of neighborhood.
It’s time for me to get back to those dishes. Now that I’ve moved stuff around and made better use of my space, the cabinet over the fridge, once filled with kitchen appliances, is now empty. It’s a good spot since I don’t intend to use my wedding china that often. There’s even some room left over, so I’m happy to stuff other wedding-y stuff in there such as a couple of tea sets, champagne flutes, and a cake server. So, there you go. Operation Wedding China is officially a success, and bam! Here’s photographic proof.
Min Lee apologizes for her long hiatus. She’s tweeting: @minjams.