The kitchen is the hub of our home, but many of us still struggle with how to maximize and best utilize this important high-use family place. Sometimes it seems like everyone and everything passes through our kitchen, and many things get deposited there. Here are a few general thoughts.
First, resolve to use your kitchen more often. Cook food in it. Try it out. I am trying to spend time in it, rather than just toss my stuff, stand and eat a bowl of cereal, or pass through it. Judging by the crowded restaurants I drive by, I am not alone here. Fast food really isn’t faster or easier once I have to get in my car, drive there, park, and then wait. Interestingly enough, I have observed my kitchen stays cleaner and less cluttered when it is cooked in regularly. Counters and table get regularly wiped down this way, and things get put away.
Second, learn to be a minimalist in the kitchen. This begins with less clutter. When I have weeded out my kitchen, I am amazed by all the non-kitchen items that have worked their way onto my counters and into my precious kitchen cupboard space. Who knew kitchen cupboards would seem large and tempting compared to the small closets and other storage areas in my house? Or, maybe non-kitchen stuff winds up in the kitchen cupboards because that is where someone is standing when they are seized by a desire to actually put something away? Put those things where they really belong! You will be able to find them then too! Regularly weed out the cupboards, base cabinets, and even the refrigerator! Yes, there is clutter inside the refrigerator too. You know it!
Third, cut back on kitchen gadgetry. Have you noticed there is often something new to buy that you didn’t realize you absolutely had to have until you saw the advertisement? (Think about rice cookers, sandwich makers, bread machines, salad spinners,…) After you buy these must-have items, do you really keep using them? Avoid buying kitchen gadgets that can do only one task. If you absolutely have to have something even though it is only good for one task or one time of year then try storing seasonal and infrequently used items in a large plastic tub or box elsewhere in the house to free up space for your daily kitchen activities.
Fourth, do you sometimes buy food you don’t use? Maybe you had a coupon, or it was on sale, or you bought an ingredient for a recipe you wound up never making? Sometimes I can’t figure out why I have to go to the grocery store when my pantry and refrigerator already seem full. To clean out and solve this issue, I sometimes hold off buying groceries and make it a game to cook as many meals as I can with the food already at hand. I also am learning to date spices when I buy them (if they aren’t already dated on the bottom) and date other food items once they are opened (crackers, cereal, and other things that can go stale).
Try cooking with fewer ingredients and learn to make substitutions. I am learning not to quit on a recipe just because I am missing a couple of things. Who else will know something is missing if it is a stew, soup, or hot dish? Slowly, I get better at making tasty substitutions. I also am learning to cheat a little—that is, to use already prepped and washed fruits and vegetables. Yes, they cost more, but it still less expensive than eating out!
Finally, think functional rather than fanciful. My kitchen is easier to clean when I satisfy most of my knick-knack decorating urges elsewhere. I decided the tools I regularly cook with have their own utilitarian sort of beauty. Hang a broom on bracket on the wall if you don’t have a nearby closet. Add towel hooks for dishtowels and mount a paper towel holder under an upper cabinet if you want one handy. Worry less about looks. Your kitchen will look fine if it is clean and functional.
For more information on kitchen organization, check out the following websites. If you want help from a professional organizer, www.napo.net lists their members, including a section with people who specialize in kitchen organizing. Another site for individual help is www.faithfulorganizers.com. Try www.thefamilycorner.com for numerous on-line articles on kitchen organizing that range from the fridge, to the pantry, to kitchen gadgets.
Make your kitchen time special. Slow down to cook. Turn on some music. Light a candle. One evening one of my daughters wondered out loud why I had lit a candle at the kitchen table before a weeknight dinner. My husband didn’t miss a beat. He said, “If family isn’t special enough to light a candle for, who is?”
Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of "Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life" (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs. Sign up for her free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at http://www.clutterclearingchoices.com.