As I slowly worked my way through all the decisions to get my food storage under control it became clear to me that just doing the pantry was not going to settle my overall kitchen condition.
A few years ago the men remodeled my lower cupboards to make the storage in them much more efficient and I love all they did replacing the standard two deep shelves with dead zones. Now my lower cupboards are a series of drawers that roll out to let me easily see where all my mixing bowls and such are.
The dead corner now stores my seldom used big serving bowls on a special shelf that can be pulled out through an open area created when the shelves there swing out on piano hinges to make room for the hidden shelves.
Essentially these lower cupboards have stayed in excellent condition. Periodically I may need to re-stack a bowl or two. Or to wipe out a drawer on big clean-up days. The swing out cupboard worked so well I’ve worn out the hinge, so the guys will soon be replacing that hinge.
The upper cupboards, however, up until now, had gone pretty much untouched and were becoming more and more a source of irritation and inconvenience for me.
When I started this phase of the kitchen clean-up my plastic storage bowls were taking over one long shelf that ran behind five separate cabinet doors. We had far too many glasses stacked dangerously. In another set of cabinets y spices blocked getting my mugs.
Then there were the spices themselves. They were what got me started on this part of the pantry/kitchen cupboard re-do.
I am, for the most part, a scratch cook. While I do use convenience foods when I can get them on sale with a coupon 95% of my cooking is from scratch. I make Master Mixes for all my baking, seasoning, and many of my condiments. As a result I have a LOT of spice and herbs I use on a daily basis. This creates the question “Where and how to store them for easy use?”
When I started this cupboard corralling my spices were in two cupboards by the stove, in the pantry near the dining room and in two different grain pantries in the sunroom, besides the back ups in the main pantry downstairs. I had both big and little containers of spices and we won’t even discuss the stash outside in the camper.
As a result of this chaos cooking could be a challenge. Since I do most of the cooking around here I pretty well knew where what was, but when the guys cooked it was often “Where’s the…?” Also when they helped with the nightly kitchen clean-up they didn’t always put things back where I normally store them. I couldn’t complain, because they were helping, after all. We needed an organized game plan with everything together which would allow any of us to find anything quickly and as conveniently as possible.
In the beginning my “little bottles” were for the most part on a tiered rack in a deep dark cupboard. While I had them alphabetized at one point that had long ago gone the way of the do-do bird.
Because my son does a lot of scratch cooking on his own when we travel he will often purchase a certain spice or herb rather than try to find it in the clutter when I’m not here to tell him if we have it and if so where it is. This has created many duplicates in the cupboards, which of course adds to the chaos.
So as I mulled over the best place to store the spices, especially my big containers of them I first put them in the pantry. Too inconvenient, they were much too far from the stove. It simply was not going to work. I needed them in my main cooking area to save time and steps.
The little bottles often got lost in the dark on the upper shelves, not to mention I’m only 5’1” on my tall days and often I couldn’t reach the seasonings on the second shelf without dragging out the stepstool, not to mention my mugs that were behind them. So anytime I wanted a hot cuppa I had to get the step stool (or a tall person), move the spices and get the mug. Then repeat when the mug was washed and ready to put back. I needed a plan!
It was my husband that came up with the first suggestion. He was watching something on HGTV and pointed out how the small bottles of spices were being kept in a drawer near the stove in the kitchen remodel that was being done. That allowed the cook to spot any spice easily if they were alphabetical in the drawer.
Yes that was a good idea only my drawers closest to the stove were overflowing with unorganized junk. Great another area to straighten. I could feel the “but first” syndrome rising in me. It is a disease I have suffered from greatly all my life.
You know that syndrome. For me this was happening with the pantry remodel and spilling over into the cupboard corralling. Here is how it was building up.
1. I need to finish the pantry shelves, but first…
2. I need to decide what is going on the fourth higher shelf, but first…
3. I need to make a decision on the spices and herbs that are in the pantry, but first…
4. To put the spices and herbs up the way I want I need to re-arrange the main spice cupboard, but first…
5. I need to straighten up the glass and plastics cupboard so I could move the mugs, but first…
6. I need to empty the two drawers closest to the stove, but first…
7. I need to get that fourth shelf ready to store the things I’m moving from the kitchen, but first…
8. See #2.
How often do all of us run into this syndrome? So I made myself set down, take a deep breath and work out first in my head and then on paper where I wanted everything to end up. This gave me a game plan. I also knew I needed to make myself STICK TO that game plan. So I chose a day I didn’t have to worry about cooking dinner because the men were going to an evening dinner meeting. Then I got up early and got started.
Having a plan makes everything easier and saved me a lot of walking. Here was the plan.
1. Unload, reload the dishwasher as often as needed. This was to be step one because I knew that as I moved things around I’d find things that were dusty, or sticky that would need cleaned. If it could safely be done in the dishwasher it was definitely going in there. I’m not a big fan of hand dishes at all.
2. Clear the cabinet tops. This would allow me to have unfettered sorting areas.
3. Clear off the top pantry shelf completely. Wipe it down. By doing this one first I could put the seldom used kitchen utensils I’d be moving to that storage shelf up as I came across them. The plan for this shelf had become one that would place those utensils behind a front row of my gallon and half gallon jars of my flours, beans, grains and similar goods.
4. Take a before photo of the dishes and plastics cupboard. This is for not only my benefit but yours as well. I have to admit posting the before photos is always hard for me, but it is my way of forcing myself to not only see how cluttered things have become this last 17 years, but to remind me to never let them get that way again.
5. Using my cleared cabinet top sort all the plastics by size and shape for better storage. Only keep one lid per storage bowl. If I have a bowl/lid with no match up they will be removed to either go to recycling, charity donation or to use in gardening.
6. Wipe down emptied shelves.
7. Replace the now sorted/organized plastics in an orderly fashion in a more convenient order starting at the far right.
8. Pull out the plates, cereal bowls, saucers and organizer from the bottom shelf. Wipe down the shelf and replace.
9. Pull down the items from the top shelf of the far right cupboard sorting by where it will either be stored, or disposed of. Wipe down shelf. Return the items that will remain on that shelf to the cupboard. Put the items moving to the pantry storage shelf to the pantry. Take to recycle items to the recycling area.
10. Moving on to the middle cupboard. Starting at the top, sort and cull as I did on the previous cupboard. Wipe down the shelf, replace and put up the items.
11. Middle shelf will be continuation of the plastics and would be dealt with in the same manner.
12. Bottom shelf. The men prefer plastic glasses, I prefer glass, thus the two separate glass cupboards. However, there are items we seldom use in both glass shelves so those items will be culled as previously described. Wipe down shelf and deal with the sorted items before moving to the next cupboard.
13. Third dish cupboard. Will be handled much the same way as the previous two. By now my middle shelf in this cupboard should be empty or near empty. This is where my mugs and glass measuring cups will now go.
14. Take before photo of the drawer closest to the stove.
15. Empty the drawer sorting the items as I go as previously described, however, I’ll be putting things like my salad shooter together instead of in parts to store as a unit in the upper cabinets. I believe this will be a more efficient use of space. I only use that utensil about once every two months, so it will not be a big problem that it will be behind the large containers of spices, where I’ll only have to move 1-2 containers to retrieve it, fully assembled, when needed. Wipe out drawer.
16. Repeat with second drawer.
17. Put up things I’ve sorted in spaces created in the previous segments, in recycling/charitable donations or on the far cabinet temporarily out of the way.
18. Take before photos of the two spice/herb cupboards.
19. Starting with the top shelf and working my way down of the cupboard closest to the sink sort the items as has become the habit by this time. Sorting the spices and herbs in rough alphabetical order as I go. Culling old spices, combining newer ones, and washing any extra small bottles as they become available. I will be using these small balls for spices for the camper in the future.
20. Repeat with second cupboard.
21. Now the fun part. In alphabetical order, starting at the drawer closest to the stove place the small spice bottles on their sides so the labels can easily be read. I will be filling smaller bottles of the spices/herbs I use in small amounts regularly from my big bottles. The bigger containers of these will be put in one of the grain pantries to do refills with as needed.
22. If needed, fill part of the second drawer similarly. The remaining space in the second drawer will be to hold my individual measuring cups, funnels and rolling pins.
23. Starting with the upper cupboard nearest the stove. Place the now assembled items like the salad shooter, popcorn popper etc to the back of the shelves in an organized manner. A single row of large spice/herb containers of the items I use nearly daily in large amounts will be in front of those utensils, that are used maybe once per month.
24. Take after photos of all the cupboards.
25. Wipe down the outsides of all the cabinet and drawer fronts.
26. Sweep and mop.
27. Smile as I turn off the light and leave the kitchen to go collapse in exhaustion at the computer to put this blog post up.
Yep, that was the plan. Now how did it really go?
As with any project around here it took longer than I thought it would. On day one I managed to get most of the upper cabinets to the right of the sink finished. There was far more in that cupboard than I thought there was. By the time my son came home I was thrilled that he helped me move the mugs from the left side of the sink cabinet to the right side one. He agreed that over by all the other dishes was a far better place for them.
However, instead of putting the mugs in the larger middle shelf of the cabinet closest to the sink we found it was a much better use of space to put them on the same shelf in the middle cupboard and put my larger storage bowls in the large cupboard. This was because the larger storage bowls would not fit well in the smaller middle cabinet. We are, as always, flexible in our organization plans around here.
By the time I declared myself too tired to proceed further that day I still needed to sort the top shelf and the bottom shelf of the cabinet closest to the sink. Everything left of the sink and near the stove remained pretty much untouched.
I did smile as I left the kitchen that night because the seven shelves we had completed were gorgeous in our eyes.
Day #2 only the minimal got done in the kitchen. Instead I went with my men to see Star Trek:Into the Darkness.
Once home I wrote the blog review of the movie and then spent the evening with my guys. You can view the review by clicking on the link.
Day#3. Was budget day. So very little was done in the kitchen, I have certain days I work on the budget, pay bills, balance the checkbook or other things in my time budget and I try very hard to not skip that day to avoid financial chaos. So day #3 was a sticking to schedule day for me.
Day #4. I was in a cooking mood so as I worked on the kitchen in a normal fashion I made a large Sunday afternoon meal, followed by an evening of watching the weather extremely closely as massive tornadoes moved into my part of the state. Why bother to sort it all out if it’s going to blow away right?
Day #5. I did a “but first” and started on the cabinets on the left side of the sink rather than completing the right side because I needed those cabinets at least partially organized in order to finish the first set of cabinets.
Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm to get started, I forgot to take photos of those two cabinets for the before and didn’t remember until I had all the small spice bottles out of the cupboard and basically sorted. I wasn’t about to put them back for the sake of a photo, after all I was already four days behind schedule on this project.
I alphabetized and sorted the small spices, filling the drawer closest to the stove as planned. This is where I hit an emotional road block. This is a drawer of medium depth and all that vacant space with a single layer of small spice bottles in it really bothered me. Decisions needed to be made and I needed to consult with the two other cooks in the household before I went forward with the spices. They wouldn’t be home for hours, so I went to work sorting out other items in that cupboard until…
Tornado warnings went off for the second day in a row. Then I became glued to the tv, phone and computer all at once. I watched in horror for nearly an hour the live video as fellow Oklahomans were in danger from the two mile wide tornado in Newcastle and Moore, Oklahoma tore the ground up for over 17 miles, destroying everything in its path. I prayed hard for all those folks as I kept track the path of that storm. Fearing the worst for family members in Moore. Thankfully they are physically okay, but their home is totaled.
As it veered toward my home I gathered my emergency supplies and hit the basement, for the second time in two days. By the time we were all clear and had worked hard on checking on the family members in Moore it was too late to finish the kitchen.
However, I did confer with the two men on the drawer and ideas to avoid wasting that space. Dh suggested I create a tray of some sort similar to the trays I have in other drawers in the kitchen that create two layers that are easy to move to get to the layers below.
I had purchase these drawer expanders at Garden Ridge years ago and have never regretted putting them in the drawers. I had no idea if Garden Ridge still carried anything like that any longer, but I did know that the exact same ones wouldn’t work because of the way the compartments were made. So I closed the drawer and mulled it over during the night time hours.
Day #6: I woke up still with no idea what to use for a tray. So on this day I started again on the upper shelves leaving some small spice jars, and the spices that were in tins unstored at this point.
I had decided the day before to remove permanently as many of my small appliances as possible from the cabinet tops because I have very limited cabinet top space. However, I still wanted them where they were convenient. I had also decided I wanted my most used mixing bowls up where they were more convenient for me to use and more importantly put up as I empty the dishwasher.
This resulted in a completely different storage plan than I had originally decided on for the bottom left shelf closest to the sink. I moved my expanding tiered spice shelf, also purchased at Garden Ridge years ago, from the large section of this cabinet to the bottom shelf of the smaller section. On it I placed all my food colorings, small cake decorating kit, cookie sprinkles, extracts and similar products in alphabetical order of each type of item. In front of this tiered shelf I placed the large bottles of extracts and condiments that we use regularly.
In the larger section on the bottom shelf I placed my mixing bowls, my ingredient cups (ramekins), my Oster Kitchen center base and my small hand mixer. In front of the mixers. This left some space in front of the mixers, but I wanted to wait and see what type of space I was going to need for my large containers of spices.
It was as I worked with this cabinet I had a thought for the spice drawer. Storage bowls, Ziploc large rectangle to be exact. Would they fit on top of those spices? Why yes they easily would.
This meant a slight re-arranging of the spices already alphabetized. I decided to put all my tinned spices in one of those bowls, and the used daily or near daily spices, herbs and seasonings in another. With all the remaining spices being alphabetized below so that we could get them quickly and easily as needed.
By using these bowls we could lift one or more bowl out to see what was below with no problem. While not as attractive as a specially purchased spice drawer organizer might be, it works. More importantly, I already had these bowls. I also included a 2 cup size one to put my clothes pins we use to seal bags we have rolled the tops down on in.
A side note here about clothes pins. Whether you hang out laundry or not clothes pins have a multitude of uses, this should be another blog post over at “Mind Your Pennies” for the future, the one I just referred to here is a simple enough one. One day I was in Wal-Mart and noticed they were selling “bag clips” for around $1 each. I laughed when I saw them, because they were clothes pins that had been relabeled to sell as bag clips. No special paint, no special design, just a single plain wooden clothes pin.
Out of curiosity I walked over to housewares and priced a package of 100 clothes pins. For that same $1 I could get 100 “bag clips”. Ever since then we have used them to seal everything from chip bags to the cereal box liners, for items we need to store only temporarily that would be too time consuming to use the vacuum sealer on or to place in a jar.
This is when I realized that by doing this I would use up all the currently stacked rectangular bowls, which I would eventually replace with others I had cleaned out from other places in the house. So I went back to that right cupboard to finish it up and take the photo with those bowls in place so you could see the overall cabinet plan.
But first…to finish sorting that cabinet I needed to work some on the pantry top shelf, cheez this is really a circular project isn’t it?
While all of this was going on storms were raging outside again. This time however, so far it was merely thunderstorms, not tornadoes, thankfully.
As I worked I realized I was going to have to give up certain guidelines I had set for myself. Just as with the small bottles alphabetizing my large containers would not work for the allotted space in a single row either. I was going to have to put some containers behind others, so it made more sense to put the most used where they were the easiest for me to obtain. The ones I used on a less frequent schedule, but more than the ones in the grain pantry, would have to be in a second row between the front ones and the small appliances. I wasn’t happy about this turn of events, because I don’t want to have to constantly move things around more than necessary.
However, I liked even less the idea of having them stored elsewhere away from my main cooking area. So instead of totally alphabetizing these bottles I put them in “use” order, but sort of alphabetized. So behind the beef and chicken bullion containers were the containers of the commercially made beef and chicken gravy powders (thinking beef with beef, chicken with chicken would be simpler to find in a hurry). While I use Williams Chili seasoning more than once a week, I only use chili powder about once a week. So the chili powder went behind the chili seasoning. You get the general idea.
My plan to put all the Oster Kitchen Center attachments that were scattered in several drawers, cabinets, closets all on one shelf would not work because of the size of them. So parts of two shelves had to be used. While the citrus, sausage maker, and pasta maker attachments were going to have to stay in the utility room storage they were already in. At least this allowed me to have all the food processor parts together, which was a great improvement.
As I gave into these adaptations the upper cabinet to the left of the sink came together quickly, as did the spice drawer.
That only left the drawer for the rolling pins, measuring cups and such. As the rain continued to fall I took a rest break to type part of this. Then hit at it again hard. I wanted to finish the drawers and cabinets today, but knew there was no way the mopping of the kitchen was happening due to the fact it was nearly time to start dinner. Jambalaya was on the menu for that night.
After dinner I did a small bit of general kitchen clean-up and then headed for bed. I was tired.
Day #6. This day was spent doing general kitchen clean-up, typing this blog report and snapping after photos.
Day #7. Today the final cabinet door wipe downs, sweeping and mopping finally occurred. Along with a round of merchandising for the one company I still periodically help out when they are in a bind, proof reading and posting this blog post.
In summation. It has already probably became clear to you that in this household, as in so many other households around the world, no project of any size beyond tiny gets done super fast.
Life gets in the way, ideas come from nowhere. Not only for that project, but for future projects and for future blog posts. Ideas that must be written down before they flee from my mind forever.
The Princess Plan is a good plan and ideally it could be done in a year for the number of things I want to accomplish. But as you have already seen I suffer greatly from “but first syndrome” and from stopping to smell the roses along the way. After all roses only bloom for a very short time each year, and who can guarantee we will be here for the next season of roses.
I keep records of ideas, an example is the 58 pages of the blog concepts outline for future blog posts for all my blogs including the new one that I will be starting soon called “Lingo” it will definitely be fun to do. Stay tuned for the announcement. I will also be added to my blogs links to the right as soon as the first post goes up.
The main thing to remember is no matter how long a project takes, don’t give up. You can do it and you will be so happy you did. Just look at what a difference this last week has made in all my upper cupboards and the demise of two junk drawers that are now useful organized drawers. Ahhhh, the value of before and after photos.
While all I did might not work exactly for you, maybe you’ll cull some good ideas for yourself.
Jan who is looking forward to working in her now orderly kitchen in OK