Disorganized kitchens are the bane of cooks everywhere.
They cause that looming, stressed out feeling you get when you open the junk drawer (I have three rolls of Scotch tape?) and can’t even see the bottom. The little sigh you utter when your pantry (you just put everything in its place last week!) is once again in a state of chaos. Or, the mega-frustration of looking for a critical ingredient (where’s that tomato paste?) and having to scramble.
And forget about hating your messy kitchen in the moment. Sitting down and thinking about actually getting it in order turns the proposition into an unconquerable task. Who has the time?
Thankfully, there’s help.
I had a chance to sit down with Liz Jenkins, a certified professional organizer and member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Jenkins has worked in kitchens of all sizes for all sorts of families.
Here’s what she suggests for tackling your kitchen fiasco:
1. Take Stock
“I go to work in people’s kitchens, and they don’t have a clue about all the stuff they have,” Jenkins says. It’s not surprising: Kitchens are notorious for hiding duplicate tools or appliances you never use.
When she starts with a client, Jenkins empties the kitchen completely. It all gets turned out and grouped together to really see what’s lurking in drawers and cabinets.
If that method isn’t practical, Jenkins recommends evaluating each (and every) item that you own in smaller batches. Even if you only do one drawer at a time, empty that drawer, and honestly look at the contents.
“What is the purpose for each of the items that’s in there?” she asks. “Did you really need an avocado pitter or a pineapple slicer? If you use them, great, but there are some things that people end up with in their kitchen that they only thought they’d use.”
Pro Tip: Seek multi-use tools instead of one-hit-wonders for a more efficient kitchen!
If you don’t use tools regularly, decide whether or not you really need to keep them, or set them aside to be placed elsewhere. Which leads us to the next step…
2. Zone It
Forget trying to mimic what your best friend’s pantry looks like or where your mom keeps the silverware in her kitchen. How do you cook?
“One of the things I try to work with all my clients on is looking at actually how they use the kitchen,” said Jenkins, who often spends time observing her clients in action. Instead of focusing on what fits in certain areas in your kitchen, place utensils and appliances that you use regularly in front-and-center locations or in logical groups.
Jenkins explains: “So, the more you use it, the closer it should be to your workstation. The less frequently you use it, the farther away it should be.” As an example, her French press, tea kettle, grinder, and coffee are all in reach of each other and near the stovetop because she makes coffee every morning. But her muffin tin is in a higher, less convenient cabinet because she hardly ever uses it. She calls this practice “zoning.”
If you really enjoy baking, have all your standard baking items in one cabinet – flour, sugar, baking powder, etc. Or, try keeping ingredients for your daily smoothie near each other in the fridge. You’ll know right where to go!
3. Bin and Label ‘Em
As quaint as labeling sounds, “corralling” and then notating your pantry items is where the magic happens. “I’ll gather up like items, group them all together, put them in a bin, and put a label on it,” Jenkins says, noting that this is “hugely helpful” for two reasons:
1. You’re likely not the only person who uses your kitchen. If somebody takes something out, now they know exactly where it goes back.
2. You can easily assess how much you have of certain ingredients. “It could actually save you a bunch of money if you can see everything you’ve got,” she says. “Then you don’t end up buying things you already own, and wasting a lot of stuff that goes stale or bad.”
4. Make the Time, Get a Pal
This is the big enchilada. We’re all so busy!
“You have to make time to get organized so you can save time later,” says Jenkins, who’s a mom and knows how busy things get. But imagine your perfect kitchen when you’re done!
Having help also saves time. If you can swing it, Jenkins recommends hiring a professional who has worked in kitchens and understands what systems work to help you out. But if motivation or resources are tight (I hear ya!) use the buddy system.
“Having an outside perspective is really helpful,” she says. “Somebody to say ‘Hey, do you really use that?’ Someone you feel comfortable with and that you trust – you can help each other.”
Jenkins reminds us to make it enjoyable, too. “Put on some fun music, get in there on a day when you don’t have kids running around […] and really tackle it in one, big, clean sweep.”
Parting Words of Wisdom
No matter your situation, we could probably all use a little bit more time and a little less stress. Decluttering and optimizing will help with that immensely.
Follow Jenkins’ lead and use the brilliance of mise en place when you tackle your own projects. “That’s kind of my whole philosophy when it comes to the kitchen: Each thing in it’s place according to usage.”
And remember, you can’t go wrong. “There is no ‘perfect.’ It’s about what works for you.” We couldn’t have said it better!
Did you try any of the steps above? Let us know how it worked in the comments!
[Top photo via Flickr / ginnerobot]