Monday, August 10, 2009

Kitchen Organization

With Guest Blogger Bonnie Dewkett
The Joyful Organizer (Website | Blog)

During the recent renovation of my kitchen, I acquired a few new cabinets and lost a few others. This meant I would have to re-organize everything, a daunting task in a kitchen if I do say so myself. Most kitchens have so much "stuff" that it can be hard to know where to start. Additionally, you want to be choosy about where you put stuff so that it's at your fingertips when you need it during cooking.

While moving back into my own kitchen, I found a few products and unique tips that might help you along. I also spoke with a friend and colleague of mine, Bonnie Dewkett of The Joyful Organizer. Bonnie is a full-time professional organizer and has helped many a client tackle the job of organizing a kitchen. I've included Bonnie's tips alongside mine below. I hope you enjoy.

Cabinet Lining
We've come a long way in the world of cabinet liner in the past few years. It used to be that your only choice was contact paper, a thin vinyl sheet with peel and stick adhesive on the back. Not only was it difficult to work with, but you inevitably ended-up with bumps and creases and the paper either stuck for a lifetime (and ruined the cabinets) or it'd come un-stuck a few days after installation. That's why my favorite materials for lining cabinets don't have adhesive on the back. Instead, they have a rubberized back that resists sliding and keeps it in place.

The first product I like is Rationell Cabinet/Drawer Liner from Ikea. Unfortunately, the product doesn't seem to be in their online catalog, so I can't provide a link. It's priced comparable to other shelf liners but it's really more like a thick rubberized plastic mat with a textured pattern on top to allow for drainage if something, like a glass, were placed on top of it while still damp. The product is similar to commercial mats used in bars and restaurants. I like this product for base cabinets and large pan drawers because it can stand-up to the abuse of large, heavy objects and doesn't move around. It's also great in cabinets holding glassware for its drainage properties.

My second favorite product is Duck Brand's Non-Adhesive Shelf Liner, although many companies have made knockoffs that work just as well. Most of the Big Box retailers (Walmart, Target, etc.) carry it. The "Easy Liner Solid" is rubberized on the back and textured vinyl on the top. This product is my go-to product for upper cabinets with dishes, glasses, and pantry foods. The rubber backing keeps it in place and the vinyl tops can be wiped clean with all-purpose spray cleaner or a damp sponge. The product also lasts a long time. I've had some for over 5 years and it's still as good as new.

The last liner product I like is the one made of waffle/mesh rubberized material. This product is great and inexpensive to use anywhere where you're trying to prevent slipping and don't necessarily need a moisture or dust barrier. I place it beneath cutlery trays so they won't slide around and I couldn't live without a piece of it under my cutting board since the board has a tendency to surf around the counter otherwise. It's an a must for safety while chopping veggies.

Dealing With Oversized Cabinets and Drawers
My cabinets have a lot of oversized drawers and deep shelves. This is great for additional storage, but it's hard to keep things organized in one huge drawer or find things in the back of a deep cabinet. To deal with both problems, I recommend using baskets, shoe boxes, modified cardboard boxes, or snap-together organizing trays like these from Rubbermaid. They're available at most Big Box stores and you can find inexpensive knockoffs at Walmart.

The snap-together trays are excellent for extra-wide drawers or to organize the extra space next to a standard cutlery tray. Plastic baskets and cardboard boxes create smaller areas in a large or deep drawer so you can organize things by category instead of just tossing everything into one big pile and having to dig through it when you need somehthing. Try the dollar store for these items.

I love drawers. When building a new kitchen or doing major remodeling, I recommend putting in several units of drawers, including pan drawers. Actual drawers are slightly better than drawers inside a cabinet door because you don't have to open the doors to get to them and risk scratching the door or frame when it's not open enough for the drawer to fully extend.

If you're not remodeling, after-market drawers that replace the shelves in your lower cabinets and pantry can be found. However, they're a bit expensive. If you're into DIY stuff, you can make them yourself. The slider kits are available in the hardware section and cost about $3-5 per set, depending on size.

Small Bottles & Spices
Small bottles like those that spices come in can get unweildy. You can, of course, store them in a basket or box but it's difficult to see what each jar holds unless you label all of the caps. Bonnie, from The Joyful Organizer, recommends inexpensive lazy susans (round turn-tables) and metal or plastic risers, similar to these. Both let you peruse your spice collection easily. If you have limited space, risers do take-up more vertical space than lazy susans. With lazy susans, you can set the shelves closer together and take advantage of the extra space or buy "two-story" turntables. Be sure to use the product that makes the most sense for your kitchen and your needs.

Add Shelves
Most cabinets come with only 2-3 shelves. However, the peg holes allow for as many as you like to make better use of vertical space. If you're not into making your own shelves and you don't want to shell-out big bucks to special order them from the manufacturer, you can purchase inexpensive laminate-coated shelves or ready-cut 12-inch pine, particle, or MDF boards from the home center. Look in the lumber section near the MDF and other artificial wood and in the modular cabinet and shelving aisle. Head over to the hardware aisle (screws and stuff) and ask them for the pegs that go into the holes to hold the shelf up.

If you bring your measurements along, the store personnel will even cut your shelves to length for a small fee (sometimes even for free). If you're using laminate-coated shelves, I recommend bringing a roll of blue painters tape, a measuring tape, and a pencil along. Before you call the employee over, measure the shelves yourself, cover the cut line with painters tape on both sides, then re-draw the cut line on the tape. Cutting through the tape prevents chipping of the laminate on at least one side of the board. If you need to cap the ends or the front of cut laminate boards, ask for a roll of iron-on laminate strip. It comes with an adhesive backing that is activated with a regular household iron on the no-steam setting.

No Drawers?
When I first moved into my condo, I was faced with only having two extra-wide cutlery-depth drawers. I had no place to put all of my baking tools (dry measuring cups, whisks, pastry cutters, cookie cutters, etc.) Some of the longer utensils can be placed upright in a countertop tool cannister. Others cannot. I recommend using baskets or plastic shoeboxes inside lower or upper cabinets to hold the materials you would have otherwise placed in drawers. The added advantage is that the basket can be brought out and up to countertop height to rummage through it. With drawers, you'll be bending down.

This also works great for any items you use seasonally like, say, your gravy boat ladle that only hits the table on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Put it in a basket on a high shelf to keep the clutter out of your everyday drawers.

Too High?
Many of us live with shorter people (I believe the politcally correct term is "vertically challenged") or you may have extra-tall upper cabinets that are hard to reach. While a stool certainly solves this problem, it's not all that convenient to have to get it out every time you need something in the cabinets and constantly step up and down to get the items you need, possibly tripping over the stool as you work.

My solution to this is to adjust your cabinet shelving to make a short shelf at the bottom of your cabinets (can or pasta box height) and second shelf a tall one (to fit tall bottles, cereal boxes, etc.). This will leave another short shelf at the top. What this configuration does is allow your shorter person to reach everything on the first and second shelves without a stool. On the top shelves, use baskets for all of the items or use those shelves for rarely used or seasonal items. Taller folks can often stretch to pull the baskets down and reach the items. Shorter folks will still need a stool but the basket makes it easier to rummage for the item without staying on the stool and having to pull stuff out and step down to place it on the counter.

Another thought regarding height. If you're planning to remodel, consider building-in a lower work area (table height) if you have shorter folks in the household or a taller work area for tall people. Julia Child herself was tall enough that she had her cabinets raised several inches to prevent backaches. Also, consider the depth of your sink. When washing dishes, if you have to bend too far down into the sink to get at the dishes and scrub, you'll also have back pain.

A Proper Pantry
Let's face it. Most of us don't have the luxury of a walk-in pantry like you see on TV. However, if you buy in bulk, like I do, you need big spaces to put things in. I call it my "overstock shelves". If you have a basement and it's dry and free of odors, modular shelving might be an option for you. If you don't, see if you have a closet in the hallway or close-by that you could use as a pantry or overstock area. If it's a double-wide closet, as mine is, you can put shelving on one side and leave the other side for the vacuum, mop, and cleanup supplies.

Shelving options are plentiful for building your own pantry closet. I used pre-cut 12-inch boards from the home center and wooden cleats made out of scraps or inexpensive furring strips. If you want something more finished, adjustable rack-based systems work great and are fairly inexpensive. If your budget is a little higher, consider a modular closet system like those found at Ikea, The Container Store, or Closet Maid, which is sold at Lowes and Home Depot.

Paring-Down Your Gadgets
Kitchens have a tendency to acquire "stuff" in the form of gadgets that only do one or two things. Most people accumulate these and rarely, if ever, use them.

To weed-out which gadgets you need and which ones you don't, Bonnie, from The Joyful Organizer, recommends purchasing a roll of blue painters tape and placing a piece of tape on every kitchen gadget you use for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, look at the untaped items and consider whether you really need it or not. If it's a sesonal item or something you really do need and no other tool will do the job, put it in a hard-to-reach area (like in a basket on a high shelf) instead of letting it clutter your everyday storage areas. Anything else, donate or discard it. Chances are, if you didn't use it in two weeks, you probably don't need it.

Embrace Open Storage
For some reason, the Baby Boomer generation is a big fan of closed storage--closets, cupboards, things with doors. Open storage units such as shelves, can be a great and inexpensive option, especially if you're limited for space. Plus, you can make it part of your decor if you're careful about how you do it.

Adjustable shelving systems are great for this if you have an open wall to use as are shelving units you may already have in the kitchen or in another room. If you have small items to store, purchase decorative baskets to place on the shelves.

In my kitchen, I had a set of plates that didn't fit in the cabinets with the doors closed, so I just took-off the doors! The plates I place in there are colorful and compliment the white cabinetry, so it looks intentional. You can even buy a piece of trim to attach around the frame if necessary.

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