Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Create a Professional Kitchen (even if you're an amateur)

Once upon a time, I organized our kitchen. I threw out things we never used and sorted the useful items into the prime drawers. I gathered all the spices, donated the duplicates, and lined up the jars with the labels facing outwards. I matched up all the plastic containers and tossed anything without a matching lid. I cleared the counters of erroneous items that had come to reside there by default. I even took down every piece of children’s art on the fridge. The entire kitchen looked ready for show. Because it was. The house was for sale. Why is it we never really clean out clutter or make our spaces truly tidy until we’re either expecting the Queen or putting the house up for sale? Don’t we deserve to live in such pristine places, too?

This week the topic for my evening class was “Clearing Clutter and Cleaning” and in honor of that I began emptying drawers and scouring my kitchen for wasted stuff and wasted space. This is not a job done in one morning. This is a job that takes determination, a large trash can, and several extra boxes for donations and indecision. Let me share my 10-step Kitchen plan with you!

1.  Subject everything to the Four question Test. I found this test years ago in a great
book called, Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck. As you sort out drawers and cabinets, consider every item and ask yourself -

            Do I really need this? This can be a hard question, but if you’ve only ever used the item once or you’ve never used it at all, then you probably don’t need it. And if you only ever use it on Thanksgiving or Christmas or when your mother-in-law visits, then it certainly doesn’t need a place of prominence in your kitchen.

            What would happen if I threw it away? I would recommend giving it away, not throwing it away, but it’s still a question to consider. Would I miss it? Could I get another one easily? Is there someone who could make better use of it than me? Would it rock my world if this item disappeared tomorrow?

            Do I need so many? This is the question that gets me. I don’t need six rubber spatulas. Sure, at times when my daughter is baking two or three sugar-laden projects at once, she needs them because otherwise she’d be forced to wash a few, but I don’t need six. I only need three. Consider how many of any tool, dish, utensil, glass or pot you need. It’s quite definitely time to cull our coffee cup herd.

            Will I care for this person any less if I give this away? This is a powerful question. We hold on to many objects simply because someone important in our lives gave them to us. They thought we needed it, but do we actually need/want/use it? And if we give it away does that mean we love this person any less? I vote no. Be gone. (This is probably a critical question to ask yourself when you sort out your closet or knick-knack collection, also.)

2. Save the prime real estate for the most used items. We have a little drawer between the fridge and the sink across from the stove which is undoubtedly the equivalent of Boardwalk on the monopoly board. It’s prime real estate in our kitchen. And what do we keep in there? A few beer cozies, the wrench shaped bottle opener that Nick got at a trade show twenty years ago, six tiny corn spikes the kids used to hold their corn on the cob when they were preschoolers, and the instruction manual for my standing mixer that I wished I’d had when I was trying to sort out what model it was last Christmas for replacement parts. There are also some wineglass markers and more than a few old corks floating around the drawer, plus some random flotsam that was unrecognizable to me. I shook my head when I spied the crab crackers which we failed to locate the last time we had steamed crabs so we used the back of our knives.

I dumped this drawer immediately and only returned the bottle opener because it was the one item that sees regular use in our house. Now this primely located drawer holds ladles and spatulas within reach of the stove where they are normally used.
Think about what is in the drawers and cabinets that are easiest to access. Place the tools you use most in these places.

3. Remove or relocate infrequently used items. If you only use an item like a muffin pan, melon baller, or a double boiler on occasion, it doesn’t need to be handy in your kitchen. Relocate it to an out of reach cabinet, a closet, or the basement. This frees up space so your cabinets and drawers are not jammed.

4. Make use of drawer dividers. When we designed our kitchen, I added lots of spacious drawers. The problem with spacious drawers is that everything in them becomes a jumble. You don’t have to go out and buy drawer dividers (but if you do, I recommend the wire mesh kind so they don’t fill up with dust and those little bits of gunk that have no clear origin and give your visiting relatives the impression that you never clean your drawer dividers because you probably don’t.), you can use empty boxes with the lids cut off or Tupperware containers.

5. Prioritize your pantry. If your pantry looks like mine, there are boxes and bottles stacked and tumbled clear to the very back. I keep buying coconut milk, because I can’t seem to remember if we have any or not, but when I dug through the pantry this week I found an expired can in the very back. For shame. Clean out the pantry and organize the contents. Just like the drawers and cabinets, put the foods you eat frequently near the front.

5a. Turn all the labels so they face outward. I did this when the house was for sale on the advice of a house-prepping guide, and wow- what a difference. It instantly makes your pantry look organized, but it has the added bonus of helping you keep track of what you have in there.

6. Group the items you use together – together. I created a baking center in one area

of my kitchen and put everything I use to bake – spices, extracts, baking powder/soda, molasses, and other ingredients in the same cabinet with the tools I use to bake – sifter, chopper, nut grinder, food processor, hand mixer, etc. The measuring cups and spoons and the tools like whisks, rubber spatulas, eggs separator, and citrus press are in the drawer below. Now when I bake, I stand in one place and can reach nearly everything I need.

7. Look for underutilized storage space. The space between your counter and your
cabinet can hold a skinny shelf. We put one there to store all my fancy vinegars and another to hold bottles of spices. They are off the counter, but easily accessible. How about under the sink? The bulk head? You could put a tasteful basket on top of your fridge and hide all manner of things.

8. Clear the counters. If your counters are clutter-free, it’s much more inviting to cook. Move anything you don’t use daily off the counters. We moved our coffee maker off the counter, because it’s only used on the weekends and that opened up all kinds of space. Sugar and flour canisters can be put in cabinets to free up space. The only thing sitting on my counter (besides the chicken bucket), is the standing mixer (because it’s too heavy), the paper towel holder (because we haven’t found a creative place for it yet), and a pretty pottery jug full of wooden utensils. Now, when I’m ready to cook – I’ve got room to work.

9. Clear the front of your fridge. I know this one is hard. I have a habit of letting mine fill up periodically, but when I clean off the fridge it makes the entire kitchen seem cleaner and less cluttered.

10. Last tip – comes from my brother-in-law, the chef – “Clean as you go, sign of a pro.” We were cooking together years ago and he recited this mantra a few times with a chuckle. It stuck in my head, although I saw no evidence of him putting it in practice. In fact, whenever he cooked, we ate delightfully, but nearly every dish I owned was utilized and then left dirty on the counter. I suppose if you can cook like James, that’s okay, but I can’t, so I clean as I go so that someday I’ll be a pro. It does make the difference if you take just an extra minute to wipe out a pot or rinse off your knives. If you clean up the drop of tomato sauce that splattered on your backsplash a few moments after it happens, it’s easy. If you wait until next week when you’re cleaning for company – it’s a bear and might even have stained your wall. If you take the time to put away the wine opener or corn meal or the buttermilk immediately after you’ve used it, the clutter is kept to a minimum. If you clean as you go, no one becomes overwhelmed by the task of cleaning it up later. Say it with me– “Clean as you go, sign of a pro!”

Like this post? Want to read more like  it? Check out my book!

1 comment: