It’s a nightmare! My friend’s cabinets are so jammed with things that I don’t even know where to begin and how to get her organized. I have never seen so much junk. I feel I can make a world of difference if we can toss 50 percent of her things – then there will be room to work. I am clueless for ideas on where to start in for her kitchen. I told her I’d help, and I don’t want to “quit” before I even begin. Any suggestions as to where to begin?
Signed: Losing Sleep over Clutter
Dear Losing Sleep over Clutter:
You are not the only one overwhelmed by the clutter. I bet your friend is overwhelmed too. When the cabinets are full, the counter top is likely to be full and so is the kitchen table. If you open one overflowing cabinet and then another, you just do not know where to start or where to even set stuff down if you do take it out of the cabinet.
Before starting in, talk with your friend about what she wants to do with the excess items. Have a plan so that those items leave the house and she is not tempted to put them back in the kitchen later.
You definitely want to choose a first project that makes a visible difference. Seeing success will lead to success. If she cannot see anything was done after you leave, she might not be motivated to continue the process. Try to also do something visible- like the kitchen table or a portion of the counter so that there is something out in the open that is clean and tidy for her to see.
Another good first job is the pantry because it is hard to argue with keeping expired food. It is not like you are talking her out of duplicate dishes.
To organize a cluttered kitchen, begin by opening every cabinet to get an idea of what is there.
Clear off counter tops and island so you have a work surface. It is easier said than done because there may be things on the counters that need to be put away- and you cannot put them away because there is no where to put them. Gather some empty boxes when you get ready to work on this kitchen. You can use them to hold donations at the end of this project. In the meantime, they can hold all the things from the kitchen counters so you have room to organize.
Make hot soapy water in the sink. If it is full of dishes, they need to be washed or loaded in the dishwasher. you will surely find some dusty or dirty things in the cabinet or just want to wash the insides of the shelves so have the water ready.
Wipe off the counter tops.
Then pull out everything that is in one category.
For example- open every cabinet and pull out anything related to baking. Once you can see what all is there, then you can make baking decisions. When you hold up only one pie pan and ask “Do you want this?” It is pretty hard to answer. But when someone can see all their baking things and see they have five pie pans, it is easier to let the extras go.
Continue with themes: Pull out all of the small appliances then all the cookware- pots, pans, roasters, casseroles and so forth. Then pull out all of the tools- colanders, measuring cups, spatulas, wine openers. Finally, work on dishes, glasses and serving pieces.
Each time, look for doubles or triples. Have her choose her favorite. Be specific rather than general. Instead of saying “Can you get rid of some of these?” Say “Choose two soup pots to donate.”
Use some of your extra boxes to hold your theme, like baking, once you have finished sorting it. Once you have emptied a few cabinets, you can wipe one out and put all the bake ware away together.
If cabinets are so cluttered and full, begin by taking everything out. Sort it by use and store like items together.
Make sure to label things. When a kitchen is rearranged, it can be frustrating to empty the dishwasher as suddenly not everything is where it used to be. Adding labels to the lips of shelves can really help, especially if more than one family member uses the kitchen.
Author Lea Schneider, a columnist for What’s Cooking America, is a freelance writer and organizational expert whose organizing ideas have been published in many magazines including Woman’s Day, Better Homes and Gardens Kitchen and Bath Ideas, Family Circle, Parents Magazine, as well as numerous newspapers and websites. She is a member of the Association of Food Journalists.
Getting organized is all about living simpler and making things easier. The bonus is it often leads to saving money. Lea Schneider’s kitchen organizing columns tell you how to organize the many things that relate to kitchens, menus, meals, and special food events.
Check out all of Lea Schneider’s helpful home and kitchen columns at Organizing Kitchens, Pantries, Menus and Meals.