The parallel to spring cleaning, it seems, is back to school organizing. In newspapers and on websites at this time of year, professional organizers are offering tips to help keep families from drowning in clutter. In many families, clutter tends to migrate into the kitchen. But organizing kitchen clutter does not have to be an impossible chore.
Most organizers suggest a twofold kitchen organizing strategy. First, move or store any items that do not truly need to be in the kitchen. Second, organize the items that remain, maximizing your use of space and expanding into previously unused spaces whenever possible. Kitchen counters, kitchen drawers, kitchen cupboards, kitchen cabinets can all be organized so that their entire space is functional.
Remove Unused Items
Any unused items in your kitchen could be given away, recycled, or put into storage to give you more space to work with. Store or get rid of appliances that you know you don’t use, and throw out food that is past its freshness date.
Peter Walsh, who is about to start hosting a home organization show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, gave WLS-TV Chicago two tips for how to figure out what items in your kitchen are not being used:
- Empty your utensil drawer into a box, and whenever you need a utensil, take it out of the box. After a month, get rid of whatever utensils are still sitting in your box.
- Every time you refer to a cookbook, mark the page with a sticky note. After a few months, get rid of any cookbooks that do not have any sticky notes.
Clear Off Counters
It’s important for kitchen counters to be relatively clear, so that you can clean and sanitize them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one out of every seven American kitchens are believed not to be sanitary enough to pass a restaurant quality inspection. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s safe food handbook, Kitchen Companion, notes that the greatest risks come from microbes present in meat, poultry, and eggs. Food should not be left out on the counter, but should be refrigerated within two hours. After preparing each food item, the Dept. of Agriculture advises, it is important to wash counters and cutting boards with hot, soapy water. It is not enough to leave the job of sanitizing the kitchen to your post-cooking cleanup.
Find a Home for Clutter
This means that the clutter that tends to end up on kitchen counters has to find another home. One way to make more space for the things that are being left on the counter is to maximize the space everywhere else. Here are some strategies:
- Add shelves and hooks to kitchen walls.
- Install roll-out trays or half-moon shelves in your kitchen cupboards.
- Use tip-out trays under the sink to hold cleaning supplies and other clutter that tends to congregate around your sink.
- Add rotating lazy Susan racks wherever you can, to maximize your use of space.
- Use drawer dividers to organize silverware and cooking utensils in drawers.
- Add nails or hooks to kitchen wall space so that you can hang up decorative trivets and potholders.
- If you have space and own your own home, paint a wall of your kitchen with magnetic paint, and use it to hold children’s school papers, or use it as a family bulletin board and organization center, holding invitations that must be replied to, calendars, collections of holiday cards, etc.
- Some families assign each family member a clipboard, and hang the clipboards on the kitchen wall. The clipboards can hold birthday invitations, school forms and permission slips, etc., taking that clutter off the kitchen counter and organizing it where you can find it quickly when you are in a hurry.
- Use rolling garbage cans or roll-out recycling centers to hold waste baskets and recycling containers, so that you don’t end up with a kitchen that is overflowing with waste and recycling because no one wants the job of taking it out.
Store Items Near Where They Will be Used
Walsh recommends that families set up a “magic triangle” in the kitchen, going from the stove to the sink to the refrigerator. The most-used items, he says, should stay inside the triangle. The least-used items should stay outside it.
Another method is to store items near where they will be used. Coffee mugs go near the coffee maker, along with filters and coffee. Lunch bags go near Tupperware and any prepackaged snack foods that you like to add to lunches. Snacks that you want kids to be able to serve to themselves should go on or near a shelf that also contains kid-friendly dishes.
Label all the containers that you use. If you use plastic bins to organize a cupboard, for example, take a permanent marker and write the contents on the bins on the end, where you can see it. You can also use a dry erase marker to label the drawers in your refrigerator or freezer with their contents. Just wipe the drawer off with a paper towel when you need to relabel.
Create a Mudroom
Kitchens tend to be magnets for family clutter, with counters ending up covered with anything from school papers and permission slips to running shoes to lunch bags. Some families are decluttering their kitchens by making room for the “just walked in” clutter somewhere else in the house. They are making room for those items in the front hall area, if there is one, or by creating a mudroom.
According to Kansas City interior decorator Alan Karlin, who was quoted in today’s Detroit Free Press, many people are trying to reduce the amount of dirt and debris that gets carried into the house by repurposing laundry rooms into mudrooms. Laundry rooms tend to be located next to kitchens, which is ideal if they are to be used as mudrooms.
“People are repurposing their laundry rooms off the kitchen and turning them into mudrooms,” Karlin told the Detroit Free Press. “And then they’re moving their laundry rooms upstairs near the bedrooms where the clothes are. It makes sense.”
Beth Stedry, of Leawood, Kansas, converted her entire dining room into a mudroom. It was a risky move, but she says it was worth it. “I shudder to think of life without it,” Stedry told the Detroit Free Press. “It makes such a huge difference, because each person has his or her own place to deposit their stuff.”
Stedry has three sons and is expecting another baby. She gave each person in her family a cubby in the former dining room, to hold beach towels in the summer and coats in the winter. At the bottom of each cubby is a shelf to hold shoes. The shelf can be removed in the winter to make room for boots. Stedry’s husband keeps his running gear in a cubby, and the cubbies have spots for cell phone chargers as well. Meanwhile, the Stedry family decided to make its formal living room into an informal dining room.
“It’s nice and cozy to have a dining room with a fireplace,” Stedry says.
“Cleaning and organizing the kitchen.” ABC7 News. Aug. 26, 2010.
“The dirt on kitchen cleanliness.” KC Free Press. Sept. 9, 2010.
Downs, Stacy. “Rooms trade places: small bedrooms become closets.” The Detroit Free Press. Sept. 9, 2010.
Food Safety and Inspection Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kitchen Companion: Your Safe Food Handbook.
“Six quick fixes to maximize kitchen storage.” PRWeb.com. Sept. 9, 2010.