10 Steps to an Orderly Kitchen
The kitchen is an area of your home that gets used more often than most other areas. So it stands to reason that if your kitchen were more organized and simple to use, your life would feel easier. Professional organizer Monica Ricci has 10 easy steps to organize your kitchen, and make your family life flow more smoothly when it comes to meal preparation.
Tip #1: Empty Cabinets
Pull everything out of each cabinet and go through it. Discard or donate those things that are not frequently used, duplicate items, broken items or things you forgot you had. Do this with each cabinet and drawer, setting up separate areas on the floor for each group. Be ruthless. Most kitchens are short on storage space, so the goal is to only have things you love and use.
Stay Well Stocked
"I keep at least one backup of every item in my pantry," says blogger and cookbook author Elana Amsterdam of Elana's Pantry, "and as soon as I pull it out for use, I am sure to add the item to my grocery list so we aren't ever out of inventory."
Organization is Key
Cookbook author Sheri Castle, whose most recent book is The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Recipes for Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers' Markets, Roadside Stands and CSA Farm Boxes, has organized her kitchen into task-oriented work zones. "For example," she says, "I keep all of the items I use for baking in one drawer, all items for measuring and mixing in one drawer, and all knives and cutting tools together in another drawer. When I'm ready to cook, everything I need is in one spot, ready to grab and go. This organization makes prep work quicker because I don't have to dig around for things. It also makes clean up quicker, because I know exactly where everything should go when I'm done.
Protect Delicate Tools
"Covering the bottom of kitchen drawers with a piece of non-adhesive shelf liner keeps items from shifting and sliding when you open and close the drawers," says cookbook author Sheri Castle. "It also cushions delicate items, like the microplane graters I use to zest the lemons for my lemon curd." Get Sheri's Citrus Curd recipe.
Whatever recipe you're whipping up, having a well-organized pantry means you can find what you need when you need it. To keep her ingredients well-organized and handy, gluten-free cookbook author and blogger Elana Amsterdam uses different size glass jars and labels them with a label maker. "I put the higher jars in the back and the shorter ones in front," she says. "That way you can see everything at once without moving the jars around."
Use Double-Duty Containers
Glass jars make great serving dishes, as well. Annette Joseph, author of Picture Perfect Parties (Rizzoli, 2013), serves her olive tapenade in a glass jar. The casual presentation helps a party feel friendly and laid-back, and any leftovers can be stored right in the serving container. Get Annette's Olive Tapenade and Crostini recipe.
Opt for All-White Dishes
Another serving-dish space saver: Instead of bowls and platters in lots of different patterns, buy everything in white. "That way," says caterer Bruce Soffer of The Chefs Table, Ltd., "the things you have can be used for any sort of party, and any color scheme." For a more casual look, compliment the white china with rustic baskets or to dress things up, add candlelight.
Keep an Eye on Freshness
To help keep track of your perishables, do what Arlen Gargagliano, chef/owner of Mambo 64 in Tuckahoe, NY, does to make sure the ingredients in recipes like her chimichurri are always fresh. "Label items not only with the content," says Gargagliano, "but with the date they were opened."
Contain Bulk Purchases
If you buy ingredients in bulk, as Arlen Gargagliano does not only for her restaurant, Mambo 64, but for her own home use as well, transfer things from floppy bags and large boxes to more manageable, smaller containers. It's easier to keep the containers right at hand, and they're less likely to spill, too.
Chalk Up a Checklist
If you’re planning a party with lots of dishes to prepare, each with lots of prep steps, take a tip from caterer Bruce Soffer of The Chefs Table, Ltd., and keep a chalkboard, white board (or even a large piece of paper taped to your wall) with the steps for every day written out, day-by-day.
Plan Ahead for Parties
When you're cooking to entertain, remember to schedule in your table setting, in addition to the food. "Set your table and do your flower arrangements and tablescape a day in advance," says Annette Joseph, author of Picture Perfect Parties (Rizzoli, 2013). "And label your platters, trays and serving bowls with sticky notes, identifying the items to be placed in each of them."
Tip #2: Group Like Items
After your cabinets are all empty, consider what is best for you in terms of how to group items. Sort all your baking items and pile them together. Sort your cooking items and pile them together. Group the dishes you eat from, glassware, holiday or other seasonal items that only get used once or twice a year, as well as those special entertaining or serving pieces that are only used occasionally.
Tip #3: Organize the Cabinets
Now that you have groups laid out on the floor, decide where each item should be stored. Cooking and baking pieces should be kept close to where you do food preparation. Utensils should be in the drawer nearest to the prep area as well. Glassware might be best near the sink or refrigerator. Make a coffee or tea station that includes sugar, mugs and filters, and place it near the water source, if possible. This way you avoid going back and forth across the kitchen for the things you need just to make your morning beverage.
Tip #4: Use Clear Containers to Store Items
Use containers to streamline the inside your cabinets. Group together things like packets of sauce mixes, gravy mixes, hot cereal packets and hot cocoa envelopes, then put them into small plastic containers to avoid them being scattered all over the cabinet. Use clear plastic shoeboxes to store food that is in tiny boxes such as gelatin or pudding mix.
Tip #5: Store Containers and Lids Together
Discard containers without lids, and store the remaining plastic containers either with the lids on them, or store the lids in another larger container so they all stay together. Do the same with the lids for your pots and pans. A large clear plastic box will keep them nicely together and on their sides. Another option is to store them on their sides in the cabinet on a wire rack.
Tip #6: Make use of Vertical Space
Place hooks underneath cabinets to hold mugs above the countertop, or hang a stemware rack in the same spot for wine glasses. This will free up considerable cabinet space. You could also hang adhesive hooks on the inside of cabinet doors or pantry doors to hold tools such as measuring cups, oven mitts or other kitchen gadgets. Consider using wall space or a ceiling rack to hang pots and pans. Keep in mind that any space you can use to hang something will free up flat space inside a cabinet.
Tip #7: Use Lazy Susans
Rotating trays can be used to hold things such as oils, vinegars and other cooking ingredients, as well as spices, vitamins or medications. You can also use a few lazy Susans in your refrigerator — one for beverages, so nothing ever hides in the back to spoil or freeze, and another for leftovers or small jars of pickles, olives or other small food items.
Tip #8: Use Drawer Dividers
Drawer dividers are great for cooking utensil drawers and your junk drawers. Everyone needs a place to keep those little miscellaneous things, but they don't have to be overflowing and junky. Drawer dividers will allow you to assign a little spot for each thing, and you'll be able to find things when you need them.
Tip #9: Sort Papers
Get a magnetic sorter box to hang on the side of the refrigerator for coupons, takeout menus, a notepad and pen or other papers that tend to accumulate on the countertops. Each type of paper should have its own section in the sorter.
Tip #10: Clean Out the Refrigerator
Keep trash bags near the trash can, and throw a stack of loose bags into the bottom of the can. That way, when you pull out one bag, there is already another one right below it waiting to be used. If you put your trash out at the curb one night a week, use that time to clean out your refrigerator each week too. See what food needs to be pitched and immediately throw it out, and take the trash out to the curb right then. Your refrigerator will house only current items and will be less cluttered — and it only takes a few minutes.
Your personal work style will determine where you store and use the items in your kitchen, but the goal is to get that room and its contents to serve your needs as smoothly and efficiently as possible. If you invest the time and energy into decluttering and organizing your kitchen, it is an investment that will pay off in happiness for years to come.