Moving In: Kitchen Edition

One of the best times to get organized is during a move. Unless you’re on an extremely tight schedule, the packing process is one step during which you can get rid of a lot of unnecessary items. Before you pack each item away in a box, you subconsciously ask yourself, is this worth hauling to our new place?

I’ll address packing more later in a future blog post, but today I actually want to address the other side of moving: the unpacking.

Unpacking belongings into a new space gives you the chance to start fresh.  Each type of space has unique tricks and challenges, but today were going to take a look at unpacking a kitchen since I did this for a client recently.  Take these tips to heart in your next move, or apply them to your existing kitchen right now if you need a fresh start!

Before You Start, Plan

Since you just had to pack everything up at your last place, hopefully you have a pretty good idea of what you own. Start by making a list of everything, being very thorough. Cookie sheets- how many? Pyrex dishes- what kind? What size? This may seem a bit tedious, but it shouldn’t take more than a 15 minutes and will save you lots of time during the unpacking process.

After you have a pretty comprehensive list of your kitchen tools and utensils, take a good look at your cabinets and drawers with those items in mind. Are there any items that are lso arge or bulky that they can really only go in one place? Or maybe you only have one drawer, so you know the silverware will go there (sounds crazy, but this was the case in my first apartment!).  If you know you need to keep certain things in certain areas, start placing them there. Not physically- but by using sticky notes.

For big spaces like a kitchen, planning with sticky notes is the way to go. Write “Cutting Boards” or “Dish Towels” on a sticky and then stick it where you think those items will fit best.  However, if you change your mind as you go along, you don’t have to physically move all the items from one cabinet to another- you can simply move the sticky note!  Go through your list, and make a sticky note for each item. Then get to sticking!

Work Your Way Out

Something to keep in mind as you are sticking away is to work your way out from the center of the kitchen.  If you live in an apartment or house with a very small space, this may not mean much. However, if you consider your storage options moderate to substantial, organizing in this way can increase functionality once you’re finished.

Pro Tip: Roll your towels instead of folding them! This way you can see them all at once, and not just to top one or two.

I’m considering the “center” of the kitchen to be where the main appliances are located, most notably the stove, oven, and dishwasher.  When you’re working in the kitchen- whether that be cooking dinner or unloading the dishes you want your most-used items to be close at hand. Don’t put your everyday bowls and plates in the furthest cabinet from the dishwasher. Unloading dishes will take twice as long!  Likewise, put your cookie sheets and pots and pans by the oven. And put your glasses in a cabinet by the fridge. Be strategic about your placement, and save those cabinets in the bar or further down the wall for holiday dishes, entertaining pieces, or your china set.

Put Like-Items Together

We’ve covered putting items close to where you’ll need to use them, but within each drawer and cabinet, you want to be smart as well.  Don’t place items together that don’t belong together in the same space. Mentally (or physically with a sticky note!) designate your cabinets and larger drawers by category, such as “Baking” “Dinnerware” and “Stovetop.” Once you’re done that, you’ll have much less trouble trying to decide where to put things! The mixing bowls go with baking. The slow cooker goes in the “Small Appliances” cabinet.  This method also helps when you can’t remember where you’ve put something. If you keep to this system, all you have to do is think of the category and your item should be easy to locate.

One more tip to keep in mind is to keep drawers or cabinets with the same theme close to one another. For example, if you need two towel drawers, choose two that are side by side. It doesn’t make much sense to have them across the room from one another (unless of course you have two sinks. Then it might!).

Leave Space

As you start unpacking your belongings into the cabinets and drawers you’ve chosen, keep in mind not to cram each area to full capacity.  If your tupperware only fits in the drawer when you place everything just so, this drawer may not be the ideal spot for these items. Chances are, as you go through life, not everything will be placed in that drawer perfectly and you may even accumulate a few more containers. Save yourself the headache now, and move them to a location that provides a little wiggle room.

If finding a bigger spot is not possible, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the contents.  Do you need 12 pyrex measuring cups, or could you get by with half of that?  Sometimes it can be hard to say goodbye to perfectly good items, especially if they’re hardly used.  (But then again, if they’re hardly used, why are you keeping them?) Lots of kitchen supplies can fetch a price online. And if not, why not donate them or give them to a young couple you know could use them? It’ll be a win-win, trust me.

The Takeaway

Overall, the key to unpacking your kitchen is to be intentional with the placement of your belongings. Have a plan in place before you start unpacking items willy-nilly. If you’re having people come over to help, have the sticky notes arranged before they arrive so there’s a plan in place. Hopefully this will not only allow the unpacking process to go more smoothly, but will allow for greater efficiency in the days and months to come!

Perfecting the Pantry

Most people use their kitchen pantry often, which means it can easily get jumbled and feeling like chaos. Most pantries (even mine) are in constant need of tweaking and adjusting based on the time of year, what food items you’ve been buying lately, and a whole host of other things.  While periodically cleaning and rearranging the pantry will always be a necessity of good housekeeping, establishing a baseline of organization is imperative to being able to easily maintain the space.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with my client, Lacy*, to take her pantry from overbearing to inviting.  Your food storage area probably has some of its own unique challenges, but I hope you can pick up a few tips here to take back with you!

*name changed for privacy

Planning

First, Lacy painted the pantry a light tan/yellow to match her existing kitchen walls. She also added new granite-look shelf liner. It was a good “clean slate” for our project!

Lacy and I sat down before I got started and to talk through the task. She laid out her top priorities for the pantry as a usable space.

Of course, we wanted to make every inch as efficient as possible, but these three issues were must-solve problems:

Number 1: Visibility of spices, jars, and cans

Before: hard to locate jars and canned goods

Number 2: Poor Lighting

Before: bottom of pantry

Number 3: Wasted space on top and bottom

Before: top of pantry

We started by pulling out all the the food items and sorting them by type: bottles, bags, cans, etc. Then, we went through each stack and threw away all the food that was out of date or donated the items that were still good, but Lacy said she would probably never use.  

Don’t we all have items that we were given or bought on sale, but sit around for months, maybe even years?! It was time for them to go.

Solutions

Since Lacy’s main concern was being able to see and locate all of her spices, jars, and cans, over-the-door shelves were a mustfor her pantry.  Over-the-door shelves are great for pantries (or other closets) where the shelves are deep and small items easily get swallowed up by larger items.  Putting shallow shelves on the back of the pantry door was a great way to pull all of those small bottles and containers into an easy-to-spot location.

This brand of shelf can actually be mounted right onto the wall, but over the back of the door worked best here. And bonus- it was easy to put together!

Cans

To organize the canned goods, we opted for a dispenser. This type of device doesn’t make sense for everyone, but Lacy had a lot of like-cans: 10+ cans of corn, 10+ cans cream of chicken, 10+ cans green beans, etc. Basically, she has several favorites that her family eats often and that she buys in bulk when they are on sale.

These dispensers stack cans one in front of the other, so when you grab one, the next one rolls down, ready to go– kind of like at the grocery store. There are many varying types of can dispensers, but two of these mini organizers worked best for the size of shelves in Lacy’s pantry.

Wasted Space

Another problem was the wasted space at the top and bottom of the pantry. Underneath the bottom shelf, there was about two feet from the floor to the first shelf. The space itself wasn’t a problem!  However, most of the items being stored underneath were short. This left a lot of empty space above (between the items and the first shelf) that was not being used!

The same problem was happening on the top shelf. The pantry ceiling goes way, way up- as high as the kitchen ceiling.  Not all of that space was useable, but we could certainly capture more of it, especially to store seldomly-used items.

Top shef: We added a metal rack to extend the usable space at the top of the pantry

Our solution was to add a steel wire rack to both the top and bottom areas to cut the big space in both places. That means Lacy gained two more shelves in her pantry! That’s huge!

Below the bottom shelf: we added a metal rack to cut the large, two-foot space into two still good-sized shelves!

She now can now use the *new* top shelf for infrequently used items and the *new* bottom shelf for her stockpile. Before, Lacy was storing all of her boxes on the main shelves, even duplicates.  Now, instead of having 4 boxes of cake mix on the middle shelf, she can store one box there and the rest underneath, replenishing the box from her stash below when needed. Keeping only one of each item on the main shelves can be a game changer. I would have advised this method regardless, but having two shelves in that bottom area made Lacy’s available stockpile space twice as large! That’s a win.

Lighting

Lighting is a huge problem in many pantries.  Even if you have an overhead bulb, chances are, once you get a ways back in your shelves, it’s hard to see what’s there.  In this project, our best option was LED motion-sensing lights. As soon as we reached for something in their path – BOOM- everything was bright!

I loved that you didn’t have to hit or click anything to activate the light. We installed them around the door frame, so they would provide light to multiple shelves at once and shine all the way to the back.  Once we had them working, Lacy wondered how she ever found anything before!

Finishing Touches

To complete the project, we put Lacy’s opened snacks, cereals, and baking supplies into tight-sealing containers. Lacy owned a few that she loved already, so we ordered more of the same brand to match. Putting snacks in containers not only extends their freshness, but allows you to easily see how much of any given product you have left. I’m all for anything that cuts down on my time making a grocery list!

Tight-seal containers not only prolong the freshness of your food, but allow you to easily see what snacks are low

Overall, we got rid of very little, but gained a lot! Of space, of light, of visibility.  I enjoyed working on the project with Lacy and am looking forward to conquering our next organization challenge!