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Organize Your Kitchen | Summer 2007 Out Here Magazine

Streamlining can make the family hub more efficient and enjoyable

By Renee Elder

The kitchen is the heart of most homes, so when it becomes clogged with outdated appliances, clutter, and disarray, the entire household suffers.

The good news is that just a few organizing strategies can help revive this vital organ and keep it flowing smoothly from season to season.

To get started, take an inventory of your kitchen — not its contents but its range of activities and uses by all family members, says Monica Ricci, an organizing expert who dishes out advice in books, at public appearances, and on shows such as HGTV's Mission Organization.

"The kitchen should work for you; it's the busiest room in the house," Ricci says. "That's why you need to look at what you are doing in there. Reevaluate what you need in your life and what's taking up space."

For example, big family dinners may have gone by the wayside since the kids left home, yet the slow cooker and deep fryer still occupy valuable countertop space.

Or the reverse may be true. "If you entertained a lot and enjoyed gourmet cooking before you were married and had kids, you may need to make some changes in your kitchen to reflect a new lifestyle," Ricci says.

Toss the things you no longer use on a regular basis. "If something's not irreplaceable and you are not currently using it, it's better to let it go for the time being," Ricci says. "If you need it again, you may be able to buy another one in five or 10 years that is less expensive or performs better."

If you want to hang onto some items, another location may be the answer.

"I moved my bread maker to the laundry room; it's right off the kitchen, so it's convenient when I need it, but it's no longer taking up a big space on the counter," Ricci says.

Getting rid of unnecessary duplications, such as multiple colanders and cheese graters, is essential to streamlining, as is tossing non-working items, such as leaky storage containers and pots with loose handles or missing lids.

You can re-purpose some storage containers for use in organizing your cabinet shelves, Ricci says. Square containers can corral unwieldy packets of soup and sauce mixes, coffee and tea supplies, or small jars of condiments.

"This helps in two ways: One, these items are not then migrating all over the cabinet. And two, it allows you to easily reach up and get an entire inventory of your tea and coffee supplies with a single movement."

Square containers are better than round ones for this purpose, she notes. "Using a circle wastes space in the corners."

Organizing the refrigerator is always easier when it's not full of unwanted items, so go through the fridge each week just before trash pickup is scheduled.

"The night before our trash goes out, we clean out anything that's old in the refrigerator," she says. "The shelves don't necessarily get cleaned every week, but they do get culled. And that prevents our excess containers of sauce from turning into crazy science experiments in the refrigerator."

Renee Elder is a writer in Raleigh, NC.