Lately I’ve been keeping busier-than-normal with a little side reseller/organizing business. And sometimes I just lend an organizing hand to a friend because it’s more fun to clean someone else’s house!
I like reading about organizing, so most of what I do is stuff I picked up from books and blogs and I can’t claim to be the one who thought any of this up. The Don Aslett books are great, and I really love the various homemaking posts over at Like Mother Like Daughters and if you haven’t read her blog and you are like me pulling my hair out trying to have something approaching home management with small people underfoot, do yourself a favor one night: grab a glass of wine and enjoy yourself some reading by a veteran mom. None of that Martha Stewart stuff over there, just good sense.
Anyhow, this post is actually for someone specific, but it’s way easier to do a post and email it than it is to show photos on a phone while we are packing and our combined ten kids try to build their Lego masterpiece under our feet.
Disclaimer: My husband can be my witness: I do not have it together in every area of the house. I just don’t. Our own bedroom is particularly bad because I have a rule: things that come in my house go in their home. But sometimes they don’t have homes yet. Then they go in The Pile and once every couple months when the pile starts encroaching into actual living space (it lives in a corner of my bedroom that might someday again be devoted to my embroidery… hopefully while I can still actually see) then I freak out on everyone and lock myself away to deal with it. And usually not in an saintly, Orthodox Christian way befitting a priest’s wife, but in a rather less pleasant way that involves me bellowing at small people to go play while simultaneously blocking my bedroom door with my business inventory so I can actually work.
BUT! My kitchen? I got this. Probably because I spend 50% of my day in there. I have bad days, and if I sit down after dinner and relax before I finish putting things up… they’ll be there in the morning. But I have a good system, and that means it’s easy to get back on track. A warning. This is probably massively boring to anyone not obsessing over where to put things in their new home. And maybe to them too!
So here’s how I set things up. It works for me. It may not work for you. We’re a family of five who often have house guests.
First the food. Because you can’t cook what you don’t know you have.
My fridge has zones. There is actually also usually 1-4 glass gallon jars of raw milk in there, but I haven’t picked up my cow share this week yet. Veggies in drawers. Roots on the right, and miscellany in the left. (The potatoes aren’t always in there, but I lost my pantry to our pending mold remediation. :p) Bottom shelf is for wine and various flat breads/tortillas and the salad I clean and store in a tupperware for the coming week. Main shelf holds the milk, the massive kimchi container and leftovers (which have dates.) Drawer holds cheese. Top shelf, left to right: eggs, fermented dairy, veggie ferments. I stick with my zones; I eat my food. I let things just get shoved in there; I end up tossing out stuff, giving up, and ordering Chinese takeout.
The door has zones too. The butter compartment hold… wait for it… butter. The top shelf holds yeasts, jams, and meds/vitamins and my husband’s cold water. The second shelf holds condiments. The bottom shelf holds my Korean pepper paste, my tahini, and whatever overflow from the second shelf.
Also, I have a deep freezer, so I can put bulk-bought frozen goods elsewhere. Everything in the freezer upstairs is for snackage, frozen spices, or frozen items for the next week or so. And because we buy our meat bulk-frozen, I rarely store it in the fridge. It almost always comes out of the basement freezer and out to the counter.
I go through my fridge the morning before I head to get my milk, because otherwise I’m lugging in my milk, my veggies (because I buy them nearby that day too), my eggs, and my kids into my house and THEN having to clean my fridge so I can fit four gallon jars in there. But the upside of that is if things have turned, I can toss them, and if they are close to turning, I make sure we eat them.
Also, I never, ever, ever let small people touch the food without express, one-time, permission. There’s no good reason I can see that a small person who just ate less than two hours ago needs to get in there and mess things up. I have a Please-Ask Basket for that.
My friend who told me to do this doesn’t even do this herself anymore! But it was genius. Always in the basket: peanut and cashew butter. Because even if there is NOTHING else to eat, a hungry kid can eat a spoonful of nut butter! Fortunately for them, there’s usually other stuff in there too. Anything I find in my cupboards that is still good food, but *I* don’t want to eat it, goes in there. Right now: a bag of taco shells that I dropped and broke, a banana, a bag of leftover fried wontons from a takeout night, a bag of mixed nuts, and a jar of toasted pumpkin seeds. Occasionally I’ll feel like making muffins or some such and they’ll end up in there too, if there’s any left from breakfast. So you *can* stock it intentionally, but I’m trying to encourage them to eat a lot of the good food I make at meals. So better if the grazing is not all that appetizing.
If the kids seem hungry, I tell my oldest to go make them a snack out of the basket. This is because she’s now moderately able to identify what they need and provide it safely, and she’s not going to make a mess. And when she does, she knows I’m going to make her clean it up. So she cleans it up. This requires a sort of low-level vigilance, but is totally worth it in my opinion to not have to clean my floor twelve times a day.
And since we’re there, next to it is the only space in my kitchen I have to cook on. I have three containers of rice, a mixer, and a food processor that live there too, and occasionally an overnight ferment.
That’s Great Northern beans soaking under black beans soaking under pumpkin seeds getting brined. The plates make the bowls nice and stackable and off my four square feet of counter.
I keep all the things that go to my machines in the bowls. When I want to use a machine, I pull them out and put them in the Please Ask Basket until I’m done, and then they go back in. I never have to hunt for the right attachment that way.
Underneath my workspace is a Lazy Susan. I have never been a fan of them as pantry, but I do like them for storables. Which brings me to another rule I have about my stuff: if I have to use more than three motions to obtain an item, it’s in the wrong place. That means: (1) open the cabinet, (2) lift an item with one hand, (3) grab the thing I need. Max. More than that, time to rearrange. I know myself. I know that if I open a cupboard to bake muffins, but I have to pull out eight things to get to my pan (and I’ll have to pull them out AGAIN to put it back!!), I’m going to say to myself, “Um. no. How about I don’t.” That meant I had to part with some stuff. And I continually part with stuff to make room for newer, more useful-to-me stuff.
Next to the Lazy Susan is my miscellany cleaning cupboard. I keep all the little things in a souffle dish that I never used and now when I need something I just pull it out and grab what I need. This is a deep cupboard, so behind the stuff I use all the time, I keep things like tallow for soapmaking that I use much less frequently. Because I might could convince myself to pull things out once a year.
The cupboard on the other side holds my pots, my lids. I don’t have very many, because I only have three working burners and one oven. How many could I possibly need? If I clean a pot before I use it for the next thing… not many. Which leaves room in there for me to also keep a few extra take-out containers. I only keep enough to provide three meals, so when a call goes out at the parish or what have you for someone to make a person dinner, I don’t have to worry about getting my pans back. I keep a few above the range as well, the smaller ones that I use several times a day for bits of cooking.
Above my workspace is a cabinet that I keep my mason-storage jars in and things that I use for my mason jar storage like the funnels and lids. The stuff on the right of the cupboard I only use once or twice a year. Which is why I shoved it back there. I knew I’d never want to pull it out! The top shelf is more things I almost never use. I am not tall enough to reach it, and I’m not pulling over a stool.
Next to that is a cupboard that holds our regular dishes. The top shelf again holds things I rarely use: bulk spices not yet in use, and various other rarities. This cupboard is two steps from my dishwasher, because I don’t need to go all over carrying dishes. I was very conscious of giving plenty of room and things have a place; it is very easy for my daughter to put away the dishes, though that’s not a regular chore for her yet.
Under that cupboard is a large divided drawer that looks like it is a gigantic mess, but is actually organized well. I only use the stuff in the left compartment a handful of times a year. Except the grater on top. Which means the grater is not really in the way. The middle stuff is kabob skewers, spatulas, a potato masher, and my basters. The right compartment holds all the other tools I use. And I use everything in that compartment. If I notice I’m not using a tool, I give it away. No need to wade through fifteen serving spoons. I just need three.
Speaking of drawers, this one is under the range. Everything in here I use, and often. Everything fits my three motion rule. And things are kept in order by the baskets, which I got at a yard sale for 10 cents each.
This is my silverware draw. I’m actually looking for another basket for the back, but haven’t found one thrifting yet. I don’t even want to put anything in it, but it’ll keep the tray from sliding around in there. I used to have a motley assortment of silverware, but I inherited a set from my mother-in-law. So now it’s all matchy! If I had known how awesomely matchy silverware fits in a tray, I would have bought a set years ago!!
More drawers. Under the silverware is a bread drawer, that I keep flour in. I actually hate this drawer, because it makes me violate my rule every time. You have to slide the metal lid back. But I lost my pantry so I have to suck it up and use it until we finish the remediation. pbblt I say!
Bottom draw holds linens. Pot holders in the back, hand towels in the middle, dish towels in the front, and dish rags down the side. I put them in here so that even the smallest people can clean up a mess.
Above that set of drawers is a square foot or so of counter where I keep cooking utensils in a canister, my knife block, and cooking oil, and then above that is my spice cupboard. We are adventurous eaters who are enthusiastic about trying our hands at international cooking, so I have a lot of spices. I date each and every one when I open it. And I keep them in baskets so that I can follow my rule. Open the cupboard. Pull out a basket. Grab my spice. Bottom shelf: a basket for A-L, and one for M-Z, plus salt, pepper, and Real Pepper. Under the M-Z I keep an Indian spice container, but I admit I don’t use it often. I’m thinking of re-purposing it. The middle shelf: one for Very Useful Things, which include two spices I use in almost every meal (allspice and cinnamon). The one on the right has lesser used things like broth herbs and condiments. The top shelf holds extra salt and some things I rarely use, and a basket of dried hot peppers.
This cupboard in particular needs to be organized. I do NOT want to hunt for a spice. I do still have to hunt a bit, but because I can pull the whole basket out, it’s not bad. I can’t remember who told me about using baskets to make “drawers” but they were brilliant!
This is my drink station. We like to drink coffee, and we like to have people over to drink with us. Some of them want tea, so I stock a small selection of things. I don’t go crazy, and I keep everything I need except the cream in this cupboard, including a jar of small spoons. If you want to make yourself a drink at my house, you don’t need to ask me where things are. You just open the cupboard.
My pantry is always changing. I recently had to revamp this one, because I lost an entire closet! We’re making due. I put nuts and dried fruit in that pink basket. Those little bags just get everywhere and make things messy! Corral them, I say!
Under that is another pantry, which also holds the plastic bags.
The rest of my pantry is now in my Zombie Maker room for the present, so I hauled a bookshelf up from the basement (guess where all those books are? not organized, I’ll just say.) I shop at a discount salvage store, so most of what’s on here is either from there, or from my semiannual Korean market runs. I don’t buy food I don’t eat, I don’t care how interesting it looks. When I do get something that wasn’t what I expected, and I don’t like it, I donate it to the local food bank. (This is easy, because my church has an ongoing collection box.) Someone else might like it, and then I won’t be throwing it out five years from now because I didn’t eat it. (And this was a lesson that took me half of my marriage to learn! But I learned it.)
There are a couple cupboards left. I don’t use the one above the fridge to store much. Most of what’s in there I use LESS than once a year. And I have stuff stuck up on the fridge now until I get my pantry back. This above photo is of the weird cupboard above my oven. It’s not where I want it yet. This means the I only use the top three things: the tray, the cookie sheet, and the broiler pan. All the stuff underneath? Nope. So I need to tweak the system. I also got rid of a deep fryer that lived where my new-to-me oat groater now resides. Freshly ground oats! Yay! I can fry my potatoes in a pan to have an oat groater!
So that’s what I do, my friend. I don’t have seven kids, and the kids I have I am a crazy tyrant about them touching stuff in my kitchen. That’s why it stays organized. It’s not magic, and it’s not because I’m working hard. I’m super lazy in the kitchen actually.
I do let the kids work with me occasionally, but more like Jonathan Toomey style: sit down, don’t touch anything unless I say to, and be quiet so I can think. Mine are all still small, so this is a simple decision for me. If I had teenagers, I’d have started putting them to work. I do make my daughter do jobs I know she can handle… and I stand there and make her do them over if she cuts corners. I’m hoping the upfront work cuts down on having to tie up loose ends later. There’s also a frugal element to it: I can’t have them wasting food. We can’t afford to throw money in the garbage can because we don’t have our act together in the kitchen.
Maybe that helps? Maybe my new readers have are all rethinking signing up for my feed? My kitchen is the way it is because I constantly ask myself: where do I use this item? How often? How can I fit all the things I need to have in the space I’ve been given without having to do more than three motions?
If this doesn’t help, let me know and I’ll come unpack your kitchen after you move in. ;)