One of the biggest mistakes people make with any project is thinking of it in too large of terms. Sure, it is useful to begin with a broad goal: I want to organize my kitchen cupboards. But if you continue to think of it in those terms your are likely to get discouraged, and quite possibly never start. For one thing, it can be impossible to arrange a big enough block of time for such a grand accomplishment. For another, it’s hard to know where to start. If you do start, the next thing you know, it’s three days later and you haven’t seen your children since then… they are either “eating their way out from under something” or doing something that will send you through the ceiling. Your husband has gone to live at the office, and you are ready for the funny farm trying to make decisions about what to throw away and what to keep. That is why you should only declutter your kitchen one cupboard at at time – one day at a time.
The one day at a time doesn’t even need to be consecutive days. You can aim for once a week, or even once a month. Anything will help. But just start with one medium to small cupboard, and only one. You may feel inspired at the end of one cupboard, but I recommend you stop there. It is like a good workout. It is best to stop when you are feeling like you could have done more, energized by the thought of getting back too it next time.
There is also how the brain works to take into account. The brain tends to process things during the down time, without us even trying. If you give some time between efforts, you will find yourself automatically problem solving issues that would have taxed your mental powers differently if you tried to organize more right away. You can plan which cupboard you will organize next. You can even take a moment and look at it to evaluate contents, but don’t work on it until the next day, after a night’s sleep. There may be some shuffling of contents between cupboards as you go along, but if you limit it to very obvious relocations, you will not get bogged down as easily. Other rearranging will come to you as you get to that particular cupboard.
Giving yourself time between cupboards allows for communication between family members, if you have more than one person using the kitchen. At my house, we have multiple cooks and people shopping for their particular cooking plans. It’s not that everyone is doing their own cooking, but the 2-3 kids that live here still are adults. They cook for all of us, for their own special events, and to accommodate their schedules. And my husband cooks or goes shopping for party food. Only worrying about one cupboard for a day means I can relax more about talking to them, and giving them time to answer. And I’m not interrupting people all day. When people have various work schedules or my husband is in his workshop, it is troublesome to everyone if I have to run around all day asking these questions. Who bought this? Do you still want it? Does anyone really eat this?
There is also enough counter space to easily handle the contents of one cupboard without having to clean the whole kitchen or to finally find space at 9:30 PM to cook dinner. Activities in the kitchen can go on pretty much as usual. No massive clean-up needs to be done before you begin and no frantic midnight, possibly useless, organizing. I can get everything out within 10 minutes, note what I want to ask questions about, and take about 5 minutes of each person’s time because they can see exactly what I’m talking about. Then, I can get on with my little project, feeling very good about my progress, because one cupboard is the goal for the day.
Cleaning out kitchen cupboards will inevitably lead to needing to wash containers. I personally ended up with 5 empties from just one cupboard. This due to things hidden in the back, expired food, and repackaging in better sizes and shapes. The containers were on the large side, so it was one load of hand washing (since they weren’t of the sort to go in the dishwasher or it would have been a waste of dishwasher space). This amount of extra dishwashing in one day is much more manageable than multiple cupboards worth.
Speaking of containers, I have an odd mix, but they have some characteristics in common.
- I like transparent containers. Labels are okay, but nothing beats a good visual for finding things. Well, except for salt and sugar, of course.
- I like a combination of secure, but easy to open lids. I have tried some plastic containers that rip my fingernails off to open. Those are gone. But the lids on containers similar to old yogurt containers pop off too easily when handled. Plus, you can’t see through them. They are better for sending leftovers home with people or throwing away liquids in the trash.
- I like canning jars for many things. They are very easy to see through, come in standard sizes, and there are inexpensive white lids available to buy that fit them perfectly. Jars are what I commonly vacuum seal some food in, so that is an easy transition. Jars work best if it is only one layer, since they don’t stack well.
- I also like some things that stack, although I try to keep stacking of food containers to a minimum. Stacking means you will end up accidentally relocating things more while trying to find or put back items.
- My daughter who really likes raisins and dried cranberries, but still likes them on the plump side, came up with this method for trying to keep them moist longer: She cut a rectangular piece of plastic wrap and pushed it part way into the jar. Next, she put the raisins or cranberries into the middle of the plastic until the jar was full. The top corners of the plastic wrap were twisted closed, then the regular screw top lids were put on. This fits better than a stiff or small ziplock bag inside the jar, and doesn’t have to be taken out of the jar to work the “zip.” It is still easy to press closed after each time fruit is gotten out.
The labeling system is continually evolving. I have used masking tape as a label or written right on the plastic or glass. The glue from the tape can be hard to get off if it is on there for months, but typical stick on labels are unreliable shelve life. The permanent marker comes off of plastic sooner or later.
What is most important is the information on the label. I usually ask for date of purchase to be on there. Just about every item in my pantry has a date of purchase on its original container. If it happens to be a food we go through regularly in less than a couple of weeks, a date might not have to be applied. Milk comes to mind. But most of the time it is well worth my effort to have this marked. Such dates also help to make sure that food is getting rotated through the kitchen in a first-purchased-first-used cycle.
Any desires to have the food available for a given cooking project need to be clearly marked. I will even do this for things I have bought, if I want it for a particular menu I’m planning. It is not uncommon that I need my husband to be informed about what he is or is not allowed to cook when he is feeling creative with leftovers. I don’t want to discourage him at all in this endeavor.
This time around I am concentrating on decluttering and organizing the food cupboards in my kitchen. This is partly dictated by what fits in a certain cupboard, but I am also trying to have themes, of sorts, for my “general” food item cupboards. Nuts and dried fruits all in one spot; basic baking supplies over there; beans and pastas right here. And where will people look for the honey and the oil in my refreshed cupboards?
I have done this sorting and categorizing to some extent before, but I’m thinking about it differently this time. It’s not as easy as I would wish, but whatever I end up with will need reorganizing again later. That’s another aspect of all of this that needs to be kept in mind. Don’t get caught up in wishing it could all just be done. Forever. It won’t be and there is no need to create your own stress about it. You are setting up a system that can be worked with, will get messy, and won’t necessarily be the best in a couple of years. If you keep the attitude that life is an ongoing project, to be taken at a reasonable pace, you will be less frustrated. Just approach it one cupboard at a time.