De-cluttering My Kitchen

Whew, it is chilly this morning. It feels like a crisp fall day, and it’s May! I almost needed a hat and gloves for my morning walk. Whatever happened to the warming part of global warming? Meanwhile, the Brits are planting olives and almonds and vineyards. Lucky bastards…

After deciding to green my kitchen last week, I also realized that I needed to desperately de-clutter my kitchen. In an ideal world, the kitchen would be the epitome of the Zen workspace: counters and prep areas are bare and clean, but everything you need is close to hand. This ideal is a lot easier to imagine than to achieve.

I started by cleaning off the counters, removing all the bottles of oils and vinegars and spices I had grouped around the stove for easy access (and to remember to use them). When I was finished, I had two work areas — one by the stove and one by the refrigerator — that were completely bare except for cutting boards leaning against the wall for easy access. I also had a space on the other side of the stove with a “permanent” glass cutting board that is a good spot for gathering ingredients before starting a recipe. The only other items left on the counter, besides appliances like the toaster oven and microwave, are salt, pepper and olive oil.

The next step was to make sure needed items were off the workspaces but close to hand. I keep all our dishes in the cabinet beside the stove, and I noticed I was using up all our bowls to hold ingredients during prep. So I moved all the little prep bowls I had collected to that cabinet. It has made a real difference to grab a little bowl for holding that diced onion without having to tramp across the kitchen.

In the other cabinet next to the stove, I put all the spices, sugar bowl, extra salt, oils and vinegars that were gathered on the counter. They are close to hand but out of sight, and I suspect they’ll keep better away from the oven’s heat. The reduced clutter and clean surfaces make a real difference in how I feel when I’m cooking: unhurried, focused, sure that what I need will be in its right place when I need it.

Of course, a de-cluttering often requires a judicious weeding. The kitchen is a prime spot for collecting all sorts of gadgets and junk that seemed neat or useful when we bought it but in reality were not necessary. I’m a weeder by habit, so I didn’t have a lot of these items in my cabinets; getting the space I needed required some creative rearranging, for the most part. But when I looked through the utensil drawers, that was a different story.

The drawers had gotten so stuffed that they were hard to open and close, and often I would spend several minutes hunting down the utensil I needed. So I weeded out of the drawers every utensil that I couldn’t remember using in the recent past. When that was done, I rearranged the drawers to fit the way I cooked. The most used items went in the drawer by the stove: can opener, garlic press, corkscrew, ice cream scoop, etc. In the other drawer by the stove I put the longer items that I need frequently: wooden spoons, spatulas, whisk. I put little items such as measuring cups and biscuit cutters in a small drawer with trays to keep the items organized. One drawer got knives (in a very handy drawer-shaped wood tray) and another got tongs and Microplane graters. I put those occasionally useful but seldom needed items in the drawer that was farthest away: melon baller, pizza cutter, pie lifter and so on.

I can’t describe the effect this de-cluttering has had on my time spent in the kitchen. My kitchen is now a joy to be in, a place that relieves stress rather than causes it. (I wish I had taken before and after pictures to illustrate the change, but I didn’t think to do the before shots, and I’m not about to re-clutter my kitchen just for a photo shoot.) The challenge now is to keep it clean. As we all know, surfaces attract junk: mail, catalogs, books, magazines, cell phones, sunglasses, pens. And the kitchen is full of surfaces. But through paying attention and nagging my husband, I think I will manage to hold onto my de-cluttered space.

For more tips on how to get rid of clutter, see the blog Unclutterer. I have also found good tips at Zen Habits.

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