It’s hard to cook when there isn’t room to spread out, cupboards are overflowing and prime real estate is at a premium. Clear the clutter so cooking isn’t such a chore.
No part of a home attracts and fascinates me more than kitchens. They’ve gone from a utilitarian space to the center of the home, the place where you can find people congregating, pets hanging around looking for a nibble of kibble and probably a number of things that aren’t even food related. They’ve become the entryway and the launching pad, in new homes they are bigger than most any other space and they can have simple appliances or be tricked out with professional grade appliances that rival a small café/bakery. Kitchens can be deal breakers when it comes to buying a new home even if the new home owner isn’t especially into cooking. Some kitchens are set up in a dysfunctional way so even though there is lots of space, it’s not necessarily efficient. The idea of a galley kitchen makes even a novice cook cringe but there are some very small kitchens that can pump out an amazing amount of food because of the excellence of the design and the best use of the space. The one thing that I would love to have is a bigger kitchen. I spent a number of years in the culinary field and generally still enjoy cooking but cooking in my glove compartment sized kitchen is challenging and frustrating. Let’s consider some hacks that might help your kitchen function better.
• Flat surface space is almost always at a premium. Look around for things that are taking up prime real estate such as knick knacks, canisters of flour or sugar that you rarely use, medications that should be in a cabinet or mostly stored elsewhere and the oh so typical pile of mail hanging out on the counter top.
• Counter space is one of the most important aspects of any kitchen and I’ve seen a number of counters that are so cluttered with small appliances that aren’t being used regularly or houseplants that should probably be somewhere else. Fido or Fluffy’s pet care center shouldn’t be near food prep period. Try to find better places to store flea/tick killer, leashes, and brushes.
• A large crock on the counter that holds frequently used utensils is a good idea but if it’s stuffed so full that something comes out with the tongs or ladle when you grab them, then it’s too full. Take most items out of the crock except for 4 or 5 spatulas, whisks, or tongs, put the rest in a box or drawer. When you need the extra utensils, pull them out. Over a months’ time you’ll realize which utensils really are your go to favorites that should reside in the crock.
• Upward space is always the best way to go. Think of 2 big cities in America, New York City and Los Angeles. Early in the history of NYC, it became obvious that if the buildings were taller, more offices and homes would fit onto the tiny island. In LA, instead of going up, city planners mostly built outward, low and squat. Square foot wise, NYC fits a lot more in a smaller distance. Is there a large painting hanging on a wall where a few open shelves could be? Could you create more clear counter space by using an “above the sink” shelf for salt, pepper, olive oil, bulbs of garlic or other little items that allow you to wipe the counter off without wiping around a whole bunch of stuff? Instead of phone books that you rarely use on top of the refrigerator, maybe that’s a good place for nested stainless steel mixing bowls?
• Cooks books can be space hogs! Sure, they are super handy right there in the kitchen but do you need all 25 of them living in a prime real estate area? Is there a place near the kitchen they could be stored? You might find that you have 2 or 3 favorites that you go to all the time and the rest are for special occasions so keep your favorites nearby and the rest elsewhere.
• Let’s think about cupboard space. Some of us have our everyday dishes, special occasion dishes, serving dishes or glassware. If you don’t have a lot of cupboard space and a quarter of it is being taken up by Grandma’s fine china that you use at Thanksgiving, may I suggest that the china find another home? Is there a hutch or a bookcase for it to live if you love looking at it? Maybe it could be stored with proper cushioning in a well labeled box or bin in a closet, the attic or basement? One good thing about china, dishware and glassware is that it won’t absorb mold or mildew odor if stored in the basement that has those issues (and most of them do) and it’s rarely affected by the heat of being stored in an attic.
• Be careful of organizing containers that are intended to store things like cereal, grains and flours. If it all doesn’t fit into one container, then you are stuck storing the remainder of the cereal as well as the nifty container. Canisters and mason jars can sometimes fall into this category. If you bake frequently than the traditional canisters of flour, sugar, brown sugar and maybe oats makes sense but again, unless the canister holds all 5 lbs. of sugar, you’re left storing it twice. Square or rectangular canisters store easier in cupboards than round. If you are storing beans or grains in mason jars on an open shelf, be aware that sunlight can change the composition and nutrition of the ingredient.
• Cleaning and utility closets can often be close to the kitchen but sometimes we are taking up room with excessive brooms, floor steamers, dusters and other supplies that could be stored elsewhere. Perhaps there is room on the back of the basement door to hang a broom or mop or maybe there’s extra space in a bathroom closet. One thing I frequently see is too many cleaning products. I highly encourage everyone to consider leaning more on the non-toxic, natural side of products or even using homemade solutions. Baking soda, white vinegar, lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide are inexpensive and there are plenty of recipes online and in home magazines about how to make your own cleaners. I purchase a non-toxic window cleaner, all purpose cleaner and disinfecting wipes and use natural solutions to keep my cleaning supply inventory low.
• Plastic leftover containers seem to magically multiple and it’s pretty common for us to have much more than we can ever use. Sometimes we’ve invested in a set that is easy to match up tops and nests easily but oftentimes there is a mixed bag of different sizes, shapes and styles along with some containers that may have held take-out and plenty with missing lids. Grab yourself a box, bin or basket and empty all of the storage containers out so you can sort through them. Recycle or toss anything that doesn’t have a matching lid or is in good shape. Now evaluate how many containers you really have. How many do you really need for food storage? What else could you use if for some reason you ran short? For instance, you could store a sauce or a soup (cooled down of course) in a ziplock style bag if you didn’t have the right size container. As you go to put the containers back, it’s best to try to corral them in a bin or a basket than to have them all loosey goosey in your cupboard. A lot of cooks are getting away from reheating anything in plastic due to concerns about toxic BPA and are even using glass storage containers. If you’re thinking of converting to glass, just understand that it might take up a bit more space as it can’t nest as easy as plastic does.
• Building an island in your kitchen can be expensive and maybe you don’t always want it to take up that particular space so consider a rolling or fold up cart/island that you can break out when needed. Maybe it can live at the end of a counter and you can roll it near the stove when you need extra flat surface space.
• At most home goods/box stores you can find little self-standing shelves that can boost your space in tall cupboards or under shelf storage baskets that attach simply. I like the multi-level shelves for my dishes so I don’t have to lift a whole pile of small sandwich plates off of the dinner plates every time. Be sure to measure your cupboards before shopping. Most of these convenient little shelves or shelf boosters are rubber covered wire, easy to clean and come in different sizes.
• Take the time and consideration to really evaluate before purchasing a small appliance if you have limited space. Sounds like a good idea to dehydrate your own food but those dehydrators are pretty big and if you aren’t putting up food you grow in your garden, is it really worth it? A client’s husband was interested in buying a deep fat fryer and I played devil’s advocate by pointing out that they can be messy, use a lot of oil that then you have to store and smell up even the most ventilated spaces. Since fried food is on most menus at most restaurants, I suggested that he consider enjoying his wings or French fries when the couple goes out to eat and not investing in the uni-tasker appliance that his wife didn’t really want to sacrifice space for.
• Don’t forget cup hooks that can hold more than just coffee mugs under a cupboard. I use them for some frequently used utensils and have used 3M’s Command (self-sticking) hooks on the back of cupboard and closet doors. If you don’t like hanging dish towels off of the handle of the stove, find magnetic hooks so you can hang your towel off of the refrigerator. There are even magnetic based spice storing systems that could be attached to the side of a cupboard.
So with a little attention, you can have your kitchen, small or big, running smoothly and creating healthy, delicious meals without the hassle of disorganization!