Home in focus – the kitchen

Picture this. You’ve just arrived home after another busy day. You walk through the door and turn left towards the kitchen (okay so maybe your kitchen is to the right but stay with me for a minute). As you enter the kitchen you see a gorgeous bowl of fruit on the counter….and nothing else. There’s no stacks of dirty dishes from last week, there’s no unopened bills, there’s no soccer boots. You feel relaxed as you open the pantry to start preparing dinner. Your weekly shop is put away so that you can see exactly what you need. The spices are arranged, maybe even alphabetised or colour-coded (well you could if you wanted to).

Now this may not be what your kitchen looks like at the moment. But think about how much more inspired you could be to be creative in the kitchen when you didn’t have to worry about the mess, or worse still, try to remember how long those onions have been in the bottom of the pantry. 

Here are our proven steps to get your kitchen sorted. We will help you decide on the best ways to organise your food and equipment to make cooking easier and fun (yes it’s possible!).

Step 1: Bin everything that you can’t remember buying. Chances are that jar of sumac spice you bought 2 years ago and used once has lost all semblance of flavour by now. Go through all of the contents of your fridge, freezer and pantry and throw out anything beyond it’s used by date. Seriously. Take everything out to do this and leave pantry items on the bench for the time being.

Step 2: Clean your storage spaces while they are still empty. Once all items are out of the fridge (or freezer or pantry), take the chance to give it a thorough clean. When you are cleaning the pantry or other cupboard shelves, make sure you give them time to air dry properly.

Step 3: Look at all the items from your pantry that you have decided are still safe to eat. You want to start organising your pantry items into categories. Think about the way you cook and the types of categories that are useful to you.  In my pantry, I keep all of my baking ingredients (flour, castor sugar etc) together, all of my spices together, canned goods together etc.

Step 4: Think about how you want to store the categories you have created. You can spend a fortune on storage items to do this but I don’t think that’s essential (unless you have a storage fetish like me). The aim here is to make cooking as easy as possible, and you need to be able to see everything in your pantry at a glance and quickly get to the items you use all the time. Eye level is prime real estate in your pantry, so that’s where everyday items should be placed. Things you use less often can go above or below eye level. If these items are stored in a harder to reach place, consider putting them altogether in a container so that you can easily pull out the container in one move. If you buy items in bulk you may want to keep a few of the item at eye level, and the other 32 cans in a less easy to access space. Don’t forget to think about the weight of items in your pantry. Heavy items should be stored at the bottom of your pantry if possible.

Step 5: Tackle the plastic. Chances are you have a stack of plastic storage containers, some missing their lids, some having seen better days, hiding somewhere in your kitchen. Find every piece and spread it out on the bench. Rule number one, if it doesn’t have a lid it doesn’t have a place in your kitchen. The only exception to this is if you plan to use it to store pantry items such as spice jars. Rule number 2: if it is cracked, badly scratched or damaged in some other way, it’s probably not safe to use. Bin everything you no longer can use then stack like containers inside each other. I like to store plastic containers in drawers as this allows you to see everything and contain the containers. If you can’t do this, think about limiting the amount of space you give to your plasticware. It will grow to take up any space you give it. Perhaps storing it in a tub within a cupboard could be an option for you.

Step 6: You probably have drawers full of utensils, if you’re lucky, you may even know what some of them are for. Firstly, give your cutlery draw a clean out, take everything out and wipe out the drawers. Cutlery drawers can get very feral! Now for your other utensil drawers. Once again, pull out all of the items onto your bench. Throw out anything that is broken or badly cracked. Now find all of the tools that you haven’t used in the last year or so. If they are in good condition, consider donating them to Vinnies or the Salvos. If you have double ups of utensils, think about donating those as well. How many can openers does one house need? Sort out the utensils you want to keep into piles, one for everyday items and one for less used items. Serving spoons or salad servers for example can be buried a bit deeper in your drawer. Think of your drawer space as real estate again. Try and make the space for everyday items to live in the most easily accessible drawer. Group like items together, or items that would be used for the same purposes. For example I keep bottle openers and wine stoppers in one corner of my utensil drawer.

Step 7: Pull out all of your cookware, throw out anything that is beyond repair or unsafe to use. Consider how often you use each of your pots and pans. If you haven’t used it in a while, or get frustrated every time you use it, it’s time for it go. Donate it if it is still useful for someone else. Store your cookware so that everyday items are the easiest to reach. Don’t forget to wipe out cupboards or shelves before returning items.

Step 8: Now let’s have a serious chat about appliances. How many do you have in your kitchen that you never use. A hot dog maker? A snow cone maker? Now by all means you should keep the appliances that you use, but be honest with yourself about the ones that you would never miss. Donate or give away your unwanted appliances that still work. This also goes for double up appliances. Some appliances may only get used at certain times of the year but are still worth keeping. I keep my slow cooker specifically for making mulled wine during winter, for example. It is definitely worth the space it takes up.

Step 9: How many plates, glasses, cups do you have? And how many do you really need? I personally don’t have the ‘good’ set and the ‘everyday’ set of dinnerware, servingware and glasses as that reflects the way I entertain. I keep a matching half dozen or dozen of each piece, which is more than enough for me and also makes it easy to store in an organised way. Take all of your pieces out and get rid of the excess. Decide if you want to keep some ‘special’ pieces and think about the real estate you are happy to devote to it. You want this space to be out of direct eyeline (as this is where your everyday pieces will be stored). Be careful not to store heavy items up high. Now choose a place where your everyday items should go. Try to group like items together, so all of your mugs would be together, all of your wine glasses together etc. The items you use more often should be in the easiest to reach spot, so choose if you use wineglasses or coffee mugs more often and store them accordingly.

Step 10: What space do you have in your kitchen specifically for food preparation? Hopefully by now you would have made loads of extra space in your cupboards so try and put away all of the items still living on your benches. Consider the position of power points in your kitchen to decide where to keep everyday items such as toasters and kettles. Then dedicate a space for food prep. This space should ideally be kept clear unless you are preparing meals. Once you have used this space for a while, have a think about whether your current use of your cupboards is working for you. This will become clear when you are using your space, so if need be, take the time to swap the contents of the cupboards around.

Once your kitchen has been decluttered and organised, it is much easy to maintain it. It is as easy (and as hard) as just returning things to where they belong.