A Clean Kitchen Helps

Illustration for article titled A Clean Kitchen Helps
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo
Refresh WeekRefresh WeekThis week, we're purging the old, cleaning out the trash, and looking ahead to the new and the better.

Feeling a little claustrophobic in your own kitchen lately? I certainly was.

When the pandemic started, I struggled with figuring out how to juggle a fully at-home food situation. Getting used to making and eating three meals at home rather than the customary one—or even none on some especially commute-heavy days with little time to race home—definitely took some adjustment, as did leaving an apartment in June that had a fully functional dishwasher for a house with a miniature one that’s been broken for months. Keeping the fridge stocked with healthy and nutritious foods is a whole thing on its own, particularly for two busy adults whose schedules seldom allow a shared lunch hour. But add to that a pile of dishes that only gets taller throughout the day, a disaster fridge that seemingly disappears anything you actually want to eat, and a haphazard cabinet and drawer organization system, and anyone would be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed walking through my kitchen. I did, and I live here.

About a month ago, I decided the kitchen needed a drastic overhaul, and I can’t stress how much of an impact even small changes made to my tiny cooking space. There was the whole matter of forever piled-up dishes, of course—we’ll get to that in a bit—but even taking the time to assess whether everything was stored in the most optimal spaces possible was a huge help, as was cleaning those little corners and organizing trays that can get really gnar over time with heavy use. I’m still working on pinning down a perfect system for keeping my house in some order during lockdown, but here’s what I’ve got so far.

Step 1: Do a Deep Clean

Before I did anything else, I started with a deep cleaning of all of the nooks and crannies, drawer organizers, storage compartments, and utensil holders in my kitchen. My worst offender here was the silverware organizer, which sent me into a panic every time I reached for a fork. It was a rat’s nest of bread bag clips, twist ties, rubber bands, long-forgotten packets of soy sauce or mustard, and a handful of those small plastic sleeves that come with a fork, spoon, and fairly useless napkin. Everything came out, the drawer was reorganized, the tying devices were collected into a compact container, and the plastic utensils found a home elsewhere in the drawer, rather than mixed in with the silverware we regularly use.

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The same goes for the fridge and cabinets where stuff had been shoved onto shelves with little consideration for whether that home had been the most practical place for that food, bowl, cooking tool, etc. Before I moved onto the second phase of this war on disorder, I wanted to make sure that everything was pristine. Keeping a small space tidy throughout the day is a lot easier than having to deep clean intermittently.

Step 2: Pull Everything Out and Start Over

Steps one and two can definitely be performed together or in separate sessions. I had to work in phases to get the whole kitchen reorganized because I lack a lot of counter space to pull everything out at once. So now, for example, I revisit this routine for my fridge right after or right before a grocery run, when I’m running low on stuff and pulling everything out to reorganize isn’t as much of a chore.

Elsewhere, after the objects used for putting things on top of other things had been cleaned, I did a serious audit of where everything was stored and started moving stuff around to be more functional. Tupperware used often was moved from an unreachable top shelf to a drawer where it could be at the ready. Dog treats and dry foods moved from the liquor shelf to their own designated and previously unused cubby. Bowls and plates were shuffled around to be easier to reach, and cookware was reorganized in a way that didn’t take up so much damn space in my cabinets.

Step 3: Invest in Some Cheap Racks or Organizers

Can I recommend a spice rack? I have something like this in my own home now for managing spices, and it’s made finding what I need while cooking so much easier. Try a spice rack! I’ve also found that trays and organizers can help keep everything corralled in a designated area so a drawer or cupboard doesn’t start looking like the place where you hide your shame. Entire parts of my kitchen had become a mess where I knew things were hiding but had no idea what they actually were. Did I have olives on hand? Who knows! They may or may not be two feet back behind a wall of precariously stacked cans, bags, and boxes. Reader, this is not the way!

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For drawers especially, I can’t say enough about how bamboo trays really helped tame the mess in my spaces. The Container Store has some, as do any major retailers, but I really like Ikea’s Variera series a lot. I was even able to snag this one at Goodwill for super cheap, so if you don’t want to spend a ton on organizational solutions, definitely keep an eye out next time you’re at a thrift store.

Step 4: Establish a Routine

This one will sort of depend on how many folks you have living in your household, but establishing a good routine was a tremendous help in keeping my kitchen cleaner over time. In my house, we try to do dishes as we go to keep things tidy, but that can get tricky if you’re whipping up something fast in between calls. And by the end of the day, there’s always a few dishes in the sink. So one of us will do the dishes while the other one tackles dinner, that way the kitchen is clean for the morning and Dish Tower doesn’t become an eyesore you’re forced to pass for many days before somebody finally caves.

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These are imperfect solutions, of course, but they’ve helped. If we have to be inside our homes all day, every day, for the foreseeable future, we may as well make it a place we want to be, you know?

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DISCUSSION

For cookware, I was always struggling to store it due to varying sized lids and space they took. Finally I gave up, pulled all the lids off (making stacking/sorting of the actual cookware so much easier) and put the lids in a plastic milk crate in a lower cupboard. When I need a lid (and I dont always use the lid every time I use a pan anyway), I slide the crate out, find the lid I need and it feels like I have about 4 times more storage space for cookware.