Conquer your kitchen

Make your space bigger by organizing well

PHOTO PROVIDEDStash small appliances that you do not use daily out of sight, underneath the counter instead of in plain view.
PHOTO PROVIDED Create a coffee zone by storing mugs and coffee ingredients, accessories together. Let appliances that are used daily, like the coffee maker, win some of your precious counter space.
PHOTO PROVIDEDStash small appliances that you do not use daily out of sight, underneath the counter instead of in plain view.

It’s been said the kitchen is the heart of the home. This high traffic area gets a lot of action, often serving many functions at any given time (cooking, eating and socializing for starters). Even more so for families with babies and young kids, who come with a lot of extra stuff.

All these moving parts means this vital, bustling hub can become disorganized within the space of one meal. If left for months or years, righting the wrongs of a kitchen’s organization, or lack thereof, can be quite the chore. With all the indoor time the season’s cold temperatures will soon bring, get to work and make this space perform efficiently for the whole family by organizing like an expert.

When you make whatever space you have work right, your kitchen will feel — and function — like it’s much bigger.

The first step is to clear the clutter.

Many homeowners fall for attractive kitchen utensils and gadgets that are either unnecessary or simply never used, which jumble up drawers and cabinets with no real purpose; clear these. Rid the pantry of expired canned goods, mixes, sauces, etc. Go through dishes, serving pieces, glasses and stemware; anything chipped or cracked automatically gets the boot. Likewise, consider if promotional cups (every kitchen has at least one) and the like are worthy of the space they take up. Take inventory of all small appliances. If they haven’t been used within the last year, it’s doubtful they’ll be used again. Donate, upcycle or recycle everything possible, then toss the rest.

Next, analyze whether the current setup is really working.

If not, it’s time to make some changes. Emily Fitzgerald, certified professional organizer and owner of OLS Organizing, says she likes to use Post-It notes to help designate zones before filling or moving the contents of cabinets and drawers.

“For an existing kitchen, I list what’s working well and then take a hard look at the trouble areas. With my sticky notes and tape measure, I plan out how things will be moved before actually doing so. It saves a lot of time,” she said.

Fitzgerald is frequently tapped to help move relocating executives and their families into their new homes. Her number one request for these projects is to set up the kitchen, something she’s done many times without the homeowners present.

“First, I interview the homeowners to find out in which zones they spend the most time,” she said. “For instance, do they bake a lot or not at all? I then analyze the space, open drawers and cabinets and then use those handy sticky notes to build the layout before loading everything in. I then leave the notes up so when the homeowners move in, they have a built-in map of where everything is located.”

Design experts say “the kitchen triangle,” the path from fridge to sink to stove, can help inform homeowners about how to organize the areas surrounding these primary workstations. Pots, pans, kettles, potholders, etc. should be stored nearest the stove, and they take precedence over cookie sheets, bread and cake pans and muffin tins because of frequency of use. Dishtowels should be stored underneath or in a cabinet or drawer next to the sink.

This logic ensures everything is within easy reach when needed.

Then, consider each of the main areas of the kitchen where specific activities occur.

Store mixing bowls, cutting boards, knives and prep utensils near the cooktop, where food preparation and cooking takes place. Make unloading the dishwasher a breeze by locating dishes, cups and utensils close-by, and store coffee mugs and tea cups near the coffee maker.

For items that are still used but just not as much, place them in the upper cabinets so they’re still in reach but out of the way to make room for items used daily. Casual plates, bowls and glasses should be easiest to reach while speciality items such as serving platters, cake stands or expensive stemware can go up top or be moved to a decorative hutch or china cabinet.

On the flip side, if you want to use those special items more frequently, make them easier to grab, ensuring they’ll see more action because¬†they are well within reach. Fitzgerald says bulkier items that don’t get a lot of consistent, year-round play, such as roasting pans, picnic baskets, coolers and party supplies, can easily be stored in utility areas such as the laundry room, garage, basement or attic.

Depending on your design aesthetic, countertops can be viewed as a functional display/storage space or a sleek and minimalist, clutter-free surface. Utensils can be stored a few ways: out of sight in a drawer, on display in a utensil cup or hung on a wall-mounted rack. If opting for in-view storage, it will be more visually appealing if the utensils not only match but also correspond with the decor of the kitchen. A marble countertop utensil cup is a chic and stylish option that won’t bust the budget. Instead of the jumble of pots, pans and lids in a cabinet, install a hanging rack from the ceiling or mount an organizational system within a cabinet or two to ensure everything is where it should be. If space is an issue, countertops tend to fall into the former category of additional storage, but prioritize what needs to sit on the countertop by what’s used daily. The coffee maker gets priority while small to medium appliances such as mixers and toasters can be stored in cabinets or within the pantry. Fitzgerald says to consider appliances that can be mounted underneath the cabinets, saving valuable counter space while keeping the appliances within reach. Knife blocks can be eliminated in favor of magnetic strips mounted on a wall or inside a cabinet so frequently used oils, vinegars, salts and seasonings, stored in a corner on an attractive lazy Susan or tray, may win the valuable real estate. Instead of a bulky dish-drying rack, opt for a rubber mat which can be hung under the sink when not in use. Cookbooks are often stored on the countertop but unless referenced each week, stack them in a decorative bin that can sit on top of the fridge or install a special wall-mounted shelf for them.

Use the same techniques when tackling the pantry and even the fridge. Popular ingredients and items get pride of place. If baking is not a common occurrence, flour, cornstarch and sugar can take a backseat.

Regardless, says Fitzgerald, “pantry items such as sugar, flour, nuts, rice, dry beans and such are much more efficiently stored in clear, square, air-tight containers. These ingredients often come in unruly bags, making it nearly impossible to keep the pantry neat once the bags are opened. Decant the goods into these convenient and attractive containers and your pantry will be so organized and beautiful, you just might hear a choir of angels singing to you every time you open the doors!”

Clear open containers of all sizes, a wide variety of which can be found at The Container Store and Bed Bath & Beyond as well as big box discount stores and even grocery superstores, can be a well-organized kitchen’s best friend. Use them within the fridge to corral like items or smaller packages and containers which don’t stack well or tend to make a mess. Use these see-through containers to keep small packets and powders in order within the pantry. They’re also handy for separating utensils within drawers and keeping lids to storage containers organized and in one place.

Speaking of storage containers, Fitzgerald advises her clients to toss mismatched food storage containers in favor of Rubbermaid’s Easy Find Lid system. The lids snap together as well as to the bottoms of the containers they correspond to, ensuring everything stays together and takes up less space. As for spices, Fitzgerald is a fan of the Spicy Shelf stackable organizer, which can be placed side by side or stacked on top of each other, is easy to install and fits nearly any cabinet.

The cabinets under the sink deserve their own special organization. From dish soap, sponges and brushes to trash bags and cleaning solvents and supplies, stacking bins, again, best when clear, help to double the amount of storage space. Items used most frequently should be placed front and center while risers can help keep those in the back within view. Make the cabinet easy to clean each season by lining the bottom with rubberized drawer liners, cut to perfectly fit the space.

After all is said and done, it’s all about maintenance. Keep on top of the newfound organization by putting items back in their designated space as soon as they’re clean. Regularly clear mail and papers. Plan for a weekly sweep of the fridge and monthly edit of the freezer. Do a cleansing vinegar rinse of the dishwasher to reduce buildup, increasing the appliance’s efficiency. Clean the interior of the oven and microwave and give all major appliances a comprehensive cleansing detail treatment. Each season, reevaluate to ensure the kitchen is humming along and working for the entire family.

RESOURCES:

Emily Fitzgerald, OLS Organizing https://olsinfo.com/

Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids storage system http://www.rubbermaid.com/en-US/easy-find-lids

Spicy Shelf Patented Stackable Organizer https://www.amazon.com/Spicy-Shelf-Patented-Stackable-Organizer/dp/B00ZPWGHXC

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