January 26, 2008

The Kitchen MOTH

How To Organize Your Kitchen
Or, "Do The 'Kitchen' Dance"

I believe that kitchens are like children. Each one is different with their own shape, personality and usefulness. And, they need to be cleaned up all the time! (I started to say, “Kitchens are like men…”).

Because I’ve worked as a home nurse for many years, I have seen most every kind of kitchen. Some are so sterile and spotless, I dared to walk in them with my socks on. Many kitchens are warm and cozy as the center stage of the home. Sometimes I find kitchens that have become a combo package of the bedroom, washroom, laundry room, mailbox and garbage dumpster.

In my experience, the one area that is 100% consistent is that I have never found a refrigerator that had room for my lunch bag.

I take that back. Some time ago I walked in to client’s kitchen that had two beautiful full-size refrigerators lined up together. The top of one was covered with a multi-colored Spanish doll, and the other had the usual array of cereal, paper plates and bottles of old wine. I opened the door of the Spanish doll refrigerator to place my lunch bag inside but stopped cold when I found the inside to be warm, dark and old smelling. That one was ‘dead”. Opening the second, I jumped back at the sight of a dried up roasted pig and green slime that once was a picnic delight. There was plenty of room for my lunch, but it was disgustingly spoiled on the inside. Some people I know are like those refrigerators, but that’s another story.

Picture your kitchen right now. Look under the sink. Peek into your refrigerator (unless you already have that picture in your mind) and tell me what you see. Well, never mind. Unless you are like my little sister, Sandy. She has spent years rebuilding and designing her small kitchen to fit her personality as a great cook. Her little 8x10 kitchen nook is a clean, well organized, user friendly, picturesque place to fix a quick breakfast, or serve a great Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends.

I've learned a lot from her although I have no idea where she learned so much about organization and cleanliness. She lived in her car when other young women her age where getting married and having kids.

Would you like to have that “ahhh” feeling when you walk into your kitchen every morning?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you knew what to put on your grocery list, and you stayed within your budget?

How would it feel to have a place for everything in your grocery bag when you got home?

Imagine what it would be like if you could prepare a meal and have every ingredient on hand?

When you finish reading this article on how to organize your kitchen, you will find that you may actually enjoy cooking, and your ‘family’ will feel more relaxed at the dinner table that was under there somewhere. You may even find yourself eating healthier and feeling better. Not every suggestion from my kitchen will apply to your kitchen, but hopefully many ideas will be useful to you.

By the way, are you a Kitchen MOTH? Or, do you as the MOTH (Mother-Of-The-Home) have little say on what happens in your kitchen? If you are not happy with your present kitchen, you can take a stand right now and become the MOTH in your kitchen because you are always the MOTH (Mother-Of-The-Home)

If you want to make a change, here's one suggestion. Run everybody out of the kitchen for a weekend as you flitter about emptying drawers, cupboards, tops of counters, the microwave, the stove top and the top of the refrigerator. Dare I add, 'the kitchen table"? Like they do on those clean house shows on TV, make piles to discard, send to storage and to keep. And only keep what you have room for! That’s the “Big Secret”. You don’t need 49 drinking glasses on one shelf in a small kitchen. Keep a half dozen on a shelf closest to the refrigerator or drinking water, and put the rest on the top shelf or in a storage box.

Rule #1 “Have a place for everything and keep everything in its place.” That works for the entire home. I even have a place for safety pins and those extra pennies. As the MOTH, you can make that happen too, but that’s another story too.

When we moved to a new home a few months ago, my husband and I started to clash in the kitchen. His rule of thumb is, “If you can see it, you can find it.” I found myself getting grumpy when he stacked all the cookies and tea bags at one end of my clean counter top; placed all the bread and chips on top of the dishwasher and piled the extra paper plates and lunch bags on top of the refrigerator. He was confused. "Isn’t that the way it is in every kitchen? “, he asked.

"Not in my kitchen,” I said with a flutter of my MOTH wings.

"Just tell me what you want”, he grumbled as he walked out of the kitchen and into his study where he couldn’t hear a word I said in response.

Before we moved into our new home, I had counted the number of drawers and shelves in my ‘new’ kitchen. In my mind, I had replaced everything from the old kitchen to my larger one. Personally, I like the counters to be open and clear. I want each shelf to be assigned for the things we use and the frequency that we use those items. I also don’t like bending down and lifting the items that I use most often. (Big bowls, bags of potatoes, large pans and heavy bottles).

The oils and seasonings are within reach on the shelf to my left as I stir the soup on the stove. I add the salt and place it right back on the shelf with one hand. Also, under that shelf of seasonings is the shelf with two sets of pots and pans. Not in the cupboard across the room from the stove, but right where I can reach UP and bring them down to the stove as I start to prepare a meal. Extra pots and larger cooking pans are stored in the pantry area (or pantry shelves) so I have more room for the eggs and cereal dishes in the kitchen.

Think about how you cook; what you normally prepare for the family and the movements you make in the kitchen as you prepare the usual meals. Make it a dance to glide gracefully from the cereal boxes to the bowls to the juice glasses, bread, toaster and jam.

If you are short on storage space, don’t be afraid to use your walls and the insides of the cupboard spaces! Next to the stove on the kitchen wall, I have hung several plate holders that serve to hold the favorite lids for most-used pots. I have put pretty hooks inside the cupboard wall for the splatter lid for the fry pan when the oil starts splattering on my favorite blouse. Also, I keep the strainer on a hook next to the sink for that quick grab when I’m holding a pot of boiling spaghetti water over the sink and have forgotten to grab the strainer.

Speaking of the sink. Why is it that we keep the most poison, the heaviest containers, and the least used items stored in the most used area of the kitchen in the most favorite place for small children to play? Under the sink!

Is it something from the cave days when we had to grab the biggest stick to fight off wild animals? I decided to change the rules here. First, I place old pillowcases (since that is something I have too many of) under the sink. It can absorb leaks and is easy to clean up when we move again. In that spot to the left of the water pipe, I placed a narrow wire extra shelf to hold trash bags because that is something I hope everyone in the house will want to use, and it’s easy to say, “The trash bags are under the sink”.

Under that wire rack, I place a box of plastic gloves for messy garbage (for those who think it’s messy), unclogging the sink drain quickly or handling raw meat (should you eat meat). Next to the trash bags (and close to the dishwasher), I keep the dishwasher soap. Under there, I keep my flower watering can for household plants that need water. Way in the back, I put extra clean things that I don’t use often like extra pots for my plants and ‘safe’ items that I’m the only person interested in. Bleach, wasp spray, cleaning supplies and paper towels do not belong under the sink because they are poison or too difficult to get to when you need them in a hurry!

If your family snacks a lot, designate one shelf in the kitchen for those snacks. But, As the MOTH, you should keep that area refreshed and organized often. Because my hubby has a sweet tooth, and because I sometimes crave dark chocolate, we have a drawer reserved for our favorite candy. Old or non-favorite candy is discarded immediately!

The American Way for designing the front of the refrigerator is where I differ from most Americans! Kids' art belongs on its special art board placed on a highly visible wall in the home. Photos belong in a photo album. Phone numbers should be put in an address book. (In a kitchen drawer, if you want.) Schedules belong on a calendar. Magnets go in the trash because little children can choke on them. Maybe you could be like my little sister and make your refrigerator door look like a colorful vacation brochure that you can relax and dream about while you do the dishes.

If you want the kitchen to run smoothly, there are two MOTH rules to remember. Number one. As the MOTH, you must be responsible to empty the dishwasher, or the entire kitchen process comes to a grinding halt. Number two. The MOTH will always empty the kitchen trash. You may delegate who takes out the trash after you have placed it outside the back door.

If you don’t use a dishwasher, please accept the MOTH responsibility to wash the dishes, or make it a team project where you sweetly do the washing while others follow your gentle commands to clean the top of the stove and wipe the counters with disinfectant.

Because my husband wants me to be happy, he finally took the time to let me show him where everything goes in “my” kitchen, and he has learned not to let the dishwasher intimidate him.

What is the secret about the top of the refrigerator and microwave, or that space between the top of your kitchen cupboards and the ceiling that your mother didn’t tell you? As you sit at the kitchen table; or watch TV in the family room; what part of the kitchen can you see from your chair? Yep. That’s it! As the MOTH, I want those spots to be “happy places” for my family and guests to see as they glance into my kitchen.

With that in mind, I have teddy bears lined up close to the ceiling on top of the cupboards. Plants and a couple lunch bags are the only items on top of the refrigerator. (I hear your gasp.) Pretty candy bowls sit on the microwave.

How many times have you pulled opened a kitchen drawer only to slam it shut in fear or frustration? (When I was a child, that is where we could always find baby mice.) Once in a client’s home, I opened what I thought should be the silverware drawer only to find it full of hot chili peppers. No matter what you choose to put in the kitchen drawers, make it a MOTH rule to keep them neat and clean. Do the “kitchen dance” to discover the best place for utensils you use. I keep a drawer supplied with a small spare hammer, nails, kitchen hooks, magic marker, (for labeling food), scotch tape (to seal boxes of dry food), used only by the MOTH. Sandwich bags and like items take up one drawer (near the sandwich makings). Everyday silverware is kept especially clean in a drawer in keeping with my kitchen dance. Better silverware and sharp knives are kept separately in another drawer.

Mugs are kept with the hot chocolate and tea. Juice glasses on a shelf close to the refrigerator. Heavy dinner plates and large bowels store near the dishwasher or dish drain on the lowest shelf. (For that bad back I don’t have.)

By the way, if you have a pet and keep the dry dog food near the kitchen. I made the best $30 investment of my life to install one of those shelves under the kitchen cupboard that holds a small trash can that pulls out. It could also be used for trash or anything you use several times a day. It takes up some space, but is well worth it!

If you think discussing the inside of your refrigerator is too difficult to talk about, please believe me it can be a delightful subject for a good MOTH to discuss with another MOTH.

Refrigerators are like …men. They like you to take good care of them – and they get spoiled easily! The number one rule here is that the MOTH must always take responsibility for keeping the refrigerator happy! Men won’t toss out the cheese because it looks funny, or dump the milk because it’s too thick to pour into the glass. They will go "out" to eat before they will clean out the refrigerator.

I suggest that you do the kitchen dance inside your refrigerator too. What do you use most often? What do others use most often? Teach your family what goes where and flutter those MOTH wings as you gently repeat the instructions over and over again.

I special ordered an extra shelf for the refrigerator because I wanted a four-inch space for lunch meats, cheese, eggs and small containers of leftovers. Hubby likes to snack in the evenings, so he has a container on the bottom shelf for his little treats. I want cold Dr. Pepper ready at all times, so the top shelf is reserved for a 12-pack that I don’t have to reach way back for. One bottom drawer is reserved for those small condiments you pick up at fast food or restaurants. It holds all those extra small containers of extra real butter, soy sauce and even honey packs for tea. Don’t expect anyone to remember where everything goes, but over time they will learn it’s so much easier to keep the MOTH happy when they can

A good MOTH cleans out the refrigerator (and the freezer) the day before trash day because it’s going to smell bad somewhere if you don’t. Taking responsibility for this task is also worth the effort and saves one more opportunity to complain because the kitchen is a mess and the refrigerator smells like dirty laundry!

Here are some more helpful tips for your kitchen.

Make your pantry or designate some shelves as your “kitchen store’ where you keep extras to save your valuable kitchen space.

Keep large holiday pots and pans in a storage area.

Keep your cans of food organized into soups, vegetables, tomato items, olives, pickles, etc. Get Lazy Susan’s for things you can stack together in high areas of your kitchen shelves.

Don’t keep perishable items in your storage or pantry area.

Put all light bulbs together in a box or plastic container in your storage area.

Label leftover foods in your refrigerator with that magic marker in the kitchen drawer closest to the refrigerator. It will help as you keep the refrigerator fresh and clean.

Keep pad and paper in the MOTH drawer of the kitchen with an address and date book.

Use a trash can with a lid that can lift with your foot in the kitchen. Use 30-gal bags in your kitchen-size trash can. Keep another trash can away from but near the kitchen for the family to put junk mail and paper products.

As the MOTH, you may have to keep the tabletop cleaned off. Lay out a table setting on the table and put candles in the center. Light them if people don’t take notice. This saves time and sends a message to all family members. The MOTH has entered the building.

Happy dancing!

PS Feel free to comment with your tips (or stories) below. Or, send me your article to my email (in Word form) to lindasbook@usa.com and I might post it here. Thanks

Take Care on the Journey



The Cat's Meow said...

I'm known to Miss Wendy as
"The ZIP LOC Queen"
I store ALL my leftover in bags, name & date them. Its no mess when it comes to cleaning out the fridge. Also if you DO eat the leftovers, all you need is to just pop'em in the microwave and suppers done. Less work on Wanda!!
(yea, my dishwasher has a name)
Tip one;
If you don't want your trash to smell REAL BAD before garbage day Put raw meat, or anything else thats gon'na stink, in a publix bag, tie handles tightly and freeze till garbage day.
Tip two;
Clean fridge out the night before garbage day. I try to clean mine on Thursday so everything is clean & edible for the week-end.
Tip three;
Be HAPPY in your your kitchen!!! And happy your tools say "kitchenaid" or "Cuisinart"
and don't care if their red, white, blue, or black. Because you got them at Big Lots,Tuesday Mornings, Sear outlet, or better yet FREE as a gift. (Thanks Kids)
The only rat in my house is STAR!!!
Enjoy being a MOTH, I sure do.

Linda Meikle said...

Thanks, little sister. I knew you'd have a lot more tips. I didn't mention that in my kitchen, I put little christmas lights on top of the "china cabnet". I've also ran some tiny lights around my flower pots on the ledge. I hope more will write with these helpful kitchen tips.

You are wonderful, beautiful MOTH!