Even though I no longer live in Ohio, Lisa Abraham was kind enough to interview me for the following article "Time to Give the Kitchen a Clean Sweep, which appeared in today's Akron Beacon Journal.
Professional organizer Jamie Escola (left) of Calm & Collected Organizing provides helpful tips to homeowner Marcia Cianchetti on ridding her home of clutter. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal) View More Photos
"Is your post-holiday kitchen decorated with a trail of cookie crumbs and broken candy canes?
Is your refrigerator filled with the aging remains of New Year’s Eve party food, molding cheese and ham that’s well into its second curing?
You aren’t alone in your mess. With cooking, baking and entertaining, our kitchens tend to take a beating over the holidays.
But just like taking down the Christmas tree, making an annual ritual of organizing the kitchen is a good January resolution.
Tallmadge resident Marcia Cianchetti pointed to her kitchen table covered with the remains of the holidays — containers of candied cherries for fruitcakes she never baked, a bread machine her daughter dragged out of storage to take back with her to college, a food-filled basket her husband received as a Christmas gift, an empty tin from cookies a neighbor sent over, newspapers, dishes, presents and more.
Because her family eats in the dining room, the kitchen table and its nook off the back of the room have become a quasi-storage area and dumping ground for her family’s stuff.
'Honestly, I just have too much stuff. Thirty-one years ago, I had half the cupboard space I have now and I had plenty of room. Now, I have twice the space and I still don’t have room for everything,' she said.
The 58-year-old retired baker said the holidays are particularly challenging because of all of the new items that came into the house as gifts, and because her youngest daughter was home from college and she wanted to make sure the refrigerator was well-stocked with her favorites.
Now the amount of food left over was making Cianchetti nervous.
Professional organizer Jamie Escola, of Calm and Collected Organizing of Canton, said Cianchetti’s situation is typical. 'It’s human nature. If we have the space, we will fill it up,' she said.
Escola gave a walk-through of Cianchetti’s kitchen to offer tips on how to get a kitchen organized and keep it that way.
She likes to practice a technique known as SPACE, created by organizer Julie Morgenstern:
S — Sort through your stuff.
P — Purge anything that is expired, broken or unused.
A — Assign everything a home.
C — Containerize your items.
E — Equalize your space.
In Cianchetti’s case, her kitchen offers ample storage — two large pantry cupboards (one for food and one for equipment) and a generous number of cupboards to hold dishes, glasses and other items. All of them are filled.
Escola said to begin by sorting all of it and purging.
For food in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer, get rid of expired packages, stale items or food that you know won’t be eaten.
Particularly at the holidays, when food gifts are common, we tend to end up with food that we may not actually use. If you know a bottle of exotic vinegar is not something you will open, don’t be afraid to donate it to a food pantry or give it to a friend who will. Otherwise, it will probably get shoved to the back of the cupboard, where it will be forgotten until it expires and eventually is thrown out anyway.
Escola advised Cianchetti to edit out about 25 percent of what was in her pantries. For cookware, that means examining what she has and eliminating items she doesn’t use. For items that are seldom used, like holiday platters, Escola recommended storing them in the basement or somewhere off site, where they aren’t taking up space the whole year.
'Make sure the things in the kitchen are things you are using at least once or twice a week,' she said.
But deciding what to keep and what to get rid of can be difficult.
Cianchetti looked at her husband’s gift basket, and wondered after the food was put away, was the basket something to save or get rid of? The same for the empty cookie tin.
Escola said saving items like baskets or tins isn’t always a bad idea, because it does cost to replace them and most of us may need one from time to time. But you can’t realistically save all of them. She suggested setting a small number to keep — no more than five — to be stored in the basement. 'That way, you’ll have one on hand if you want to make a gift basket for someone else,' Escola said. But when basket No. 6 enters the house, it’s time to get rid of one.
When it comes to storing off site in the basement or garage, Escola said again it is important to set a limit; otherwise you will fill up the basement. Assign three basement shelves for kitchen overflow. When that space is filled, it’s time to purge again, she said.
Sometimes, Escola said, you just have to give yourself permission to get rid of things and donating is always a good option.
'Ask yourself, "Is it something I really need or that adds to the enjoyment of my kitchen?" If it does, you need to create a home for it. It’s basically about weighing the positives and the negatives and about letting go. … If it does not have a purposeful and obvious home, those things are going to become clutter,' Escola said.
Assigning everything a home is the next step, and is crucial to getting and staying organized. If you always put coupons and receipts in the same place, then you’ll always know where to look for them when you need them, Escola said. The space doesn’t have to be a perfectly organized file. It can be just a box, basket or drawer. But as long as you use it for paper and only paper, you’ll always know where to find items and you’ll avoid paper clutter taking over your countertops.
The time to buy plastic bins, containers and other organizers is after you have given everything a home, so that you will buy the right container for the job. 'Resist the temptation to go out and purchase new containers, products and organizing tools, because then you have to organize around them. Take stock of what you have first,' Escola said.
She is a big fan of baskets or plastic bins for holding like items — for example, bags of nuts and baking morsels. They keep supplies together, and can be pulled in and out, essentially creating drawers on shelves.
The final step, equalizing, is about maintaining the new order.
When she examined her cupboards, Cianchetti discovered that she had four bags of marshmallows, and didn’t even remember buying them.
Eliminating the multiples is a great way to create space and will help to stop food waste, too.
Before going grocery shopping, Escola said, 'Shop your pantry first.' If you have three bags of rice, then plan some meals using rice to help pare it down. Knowing that you have three bags at home already also should stop you from bringing home a fourth.
Now that you have a plan, getting started can be the hardest part.
'I was thinking, if I just did an hour a day, then maybe I would get into it and maybe that would turn into two hours and I might actually get somewhere,' Cianchetti said.
Escola recommends starting with all flat surfaces first — counters, islands and tabletops. Eliminating the visual clutter will immediately transform the kitchen’s appearance, and it will give you space to work when you want to tackle what’s inside the cupboards and drawers.
Countertops are a constant trouble spot, but they also can be an indication of what a kitchen is lacking. If your counter is cluttered with keys, mail, sunglasses and everyone’s cell-phone charger, it’s probably because there isn’t an assigned spot for those items.
Professional organizer Beverly Coggins, who ran her business, 1-2-3 … Get Organized, from her home in Cuyahoga Falls before recently relocating to Montana, said it is important to create functional areas within a kitchen.
Hooks by the door for keys work well, and so does a basket for important items like school papers that need to be signed and party invitations that need replies. 'If you keep it all in one place, then you aren’t screaming around the place to try and find things,' she said.
In a similar manner, store baking equipment near the oven, knives and cutting boards near the sink, and dishes, glassware and silverware near the table or dishwasher, Coggins said. 'Mostly, you want to put those things together that make sense. The coffee maker, coffee, sugar and tea, store all of that in one area,' she said.
The idea is to create spaces where everything you need for a particular task is organized in a single space.
Coggins said one of the best ways to deal with maintenance is to make it a part of your daily routine.
'At the end of the day, make sure things are cleared off kitchen counters,' she said."
Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More on organizing your kitchen:
Three Steps to Organizing Your Kitchen
Three Steps to Organizing Your Kitchen (on Kindle)
Some of My Favorite Organizing Products - Cabinet Expanders