HHC Week Four: The Kitchen

I'd like to firstly apologize for the tardiness of this week's HHC Post. There's currently a remediation company here to start the process of drying out our basement from a small, but annoying, flood and it's just been a week so thanks for bearing with me. 

But let's get back to the Happy Home Challenge, yeah? YEAH.

Who took a bag of clothes to donate over the weekend?! THIS GIRL('s husband...)! I did a big clean out of the closets right along with y'all last week and it felt so good and this week I'm riding that high straight into the kitchen. If you're like me, and love to cook, it's REALLY easy to get caught up in the gadgets and tools and all the things for the kitchen. But let's be real... there are things you just don't use and they're stuck in the back of a drawer that no longer opens right because of all the stuff crammed in it, and here lies problem with the kitchen. It's a massive storage hub for our home. It's also a social hub, where we prepare and sometimes eat our meals, where friends gather when we host. Often times it's where we check emails, do homework, do crafts... If there's anywhere in the house that's a multi-tasker, it's the kitchen. And as you walk in and tackle it for yourself this week, I've got some tips for what to get rid of, how to store what you keep, and of course, how to make it happy.

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Step One: Clean It Out (are you surprised?)

I think the kitchen may be one of the only places I don't have a hard and fast "use it once a month or it's gone" rule. Mostly because there are certain things in the kitchen we keep for special occasions or special preparations. For me, my roasting pan. I use it once a year to make the Thanksgiving Turkey then it goes back into the cabinet to be pulled out next November. But that's because I have space for it. And I don't want to buy a new one every year and I know when I'll use it. 98% of the things in my kitchen, I use at least once a month. And if I don't, I've vowed to get rid of it. 

When going through your kitchen, go cupboard by cupboard and take every single thing out. Just like the closets, have baskets or boxes for the following: toss/recycle, sell, donate, and somewhere for the keep items to go while you're cleaning out the cupboards before putting everything back. 

As you're evaluating things, here are rules for getting rid of something:

  • It only does one thing. Like an avocado scooper. A knife does the same thing and 100 others. I follow the Alton Brown unitasker rule and keep only one unitasker in my kitchen - the fire extinguisher. That being said, if you use it all the dang time and love it, keep it. But chances are, those random little tools are sitting in the drawer going unused. Donate.
  • You have multiples. I mean this in regards to things like vegetable peelers, pasta strainers... things you're not using multiples of at once. Wooden spoons, silverware, drinkware.. obviously keep those.
  • Small appliances you don't use. The griddle, the grill, the waffle iron, the pancake maker, etc etc. Find small appliances that do several different things (The Cuisinart Griddler is one of my favs and we use it ALL the time), and get rid of the stuff that doesn't work well, you don't love, and is just taking up a ton of valuable space.
  • Cleaning supplies. If you keep cleaning supplies in your kitchen, pair it down. It's amazing what you can do with water, vinegar, dish soap and a good cleaning cloth. You don't need a ton of specialty cleaners so try to pair it down to your favorites and donate what you don't use or don't need to local shelters.
  • Kitchen Towels and Pot Holders. If they smell, if they're stained, have holes in them, don't actually keep your hands from being burned... recycle them. Seriously. Treat yourself to new kitchen towels now and then and don't keep using the same old gross ones. Eventually, the washer just can't revive them. Home Goods is one of my favorite places to buy them and it's a small cost for fresh new towels that don't have their own built in hooks from all the holes they've gotten in them.
  • Food. The freezer, the pantry, the fridge. Expired? Toss. If you don't remember when you bought something in your fridge, toss it. If it's been in your freezer for more than 6 months, probably not going to get used. Toss. If it's in your pantry and not going to be used in the next month or two, donate to your local food bank (if it's unopened, that is). And while you're at it, write things down as you put them back. Then next time you meal plan, try to use as much of it as possible before adding to your grocery list. It'll save money on your next grocery trip and it'll help clear some of that clutter. 
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  • Pots and pans. I will admit - I have a hard time getting rid of cookware and bakeware but I have to come to terms with the fact that I don't use them all. I've found that the 10 piece set we received gets much less use than the things I've picked out by hand. I reach for my cast iron 80% of the time and don't need 5 different sauce pans. Nobody is making that much sauce, Sara. Pair it down to the ones you reach for every meal. Get rid of the ones that have flaking non-stick coating (super bad for you!), you hate to clean (looking at you grill pan...), or otherwise just haven't used and probably won't. Same for bakeware. Unless you're an avid baker, a small selection of quality bakeware will suffice without 3 different kinds of bundt pans.
  • Dried Spices - this may go along with the food category but I thought I would mention them specifically. Did you know dried spices expire? As a general rule, whole spices can stay good for about 4 years, ground spices for about 2 to 3 years and dried herbs for 1 to 3 years. Make sure they're stored airtight and still fragrant. If it's been longer than that or you just don't know... best to toss. They're not doing your food any flavor favors (say that 5 times fast) anyway if they're past their prime anyway.
  • Everyday dishes. This is where it gets tricky because everyone has that random cup they love, some people are big into "fine" dishes versus everyday dishes, the drink/bar ware can easily get out of hand, and then there's salad bowls, pasta bowls, cereal bowls, bowl cuts... and you just don't know which to get rid of. (Hint: the bowl cut should be the first to go...). Personally, I'm not a fan of dishes I don't use so I keep simple, versatile white dishes that can be dressed up or down. I like mason jars for casual drinking glasses because I keep them around for all sorts of things, and they're super durable. I keep wine glasses, specialty bowls, and mugs to what I have space for, and what I reach for every time I make those dishes or host. Bottom line - keep what makes sense for how you use your dishes. But if you don't have space, don't keep it. Period. 
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Putting it Back

There are 1,001 things to organize just your fruit out there so kitchen organization can be intimidating. Here are a few tips and my favorite products to get it done. Again, I've said it before and I'll say until I'm blue (da ba dee da ba die), you don't need a ton of products to get organized. Less stuff = more organized. But I do love a few different things in the kitchen to maximize space especially when all you're presented with is a shelf behind a door and tons of little things to put in it.

  • Group things with how you use them, not necessarily like items. For instance, I have certain spoons I like to stir my coffee with so I store them above my coffee machine instead of with other spoons. I keep oven mitts next to the stove by the trivets and kitchen towels by the cleaning supplies and sprays. I store our dishes close to the forks and spoons so setting the table is easier. You get the point...
  • Group small items with clear bins. We have much more shelving than we do drawers so the little things easily get lost in the back. Bins allow us to pull out the whole thing to get to small bits instead of trying to sift through everything and inevitably make a mess.
  • Don't overcrowd your storage spaces. The more crowded your spaces are, the harder it is to get to your stuff and the harder it is to maintain order. Try to avoid getting new things that you won't use, or don't have a home, and try leaving sections or shelves empty so you have room to shift around as necessary.
  • Don't overcrowd your counters... Your counters are not storage space. Leave room for prep. Pretty canisters and cutting boards and odds and ends make your kitchen look messy even when you've spent hours cleaning it. I keep key things that I reach for constantly, out. I keep my cast iron skillet on the stove because I get it out 2-3 times a day anyway. My stand mixer is something I use 5+ times a week and it has a nice little corner to tuck into. Knives and my favorite cutting board stay out too. Otherwise - it's all behind closed doors. Visual space is so good for your mental space, and it makes a room feel instantly cleaner when there's less stuff. Even cute clutter is still clutter. 
  • Give everything in your fridge a place to be. In our current fridge I have the entire top half dedicated to staples and things we keep in the fridge all the time. I keep labeled bins in that space so everything has a space and I don't over-buy in any category. Half of the bottom part of our fridge is a flexible space I use for produce, party food, etc. 
  • Corral small, like items in the pantry for easy access and less losing stuff. A snack bin, a bin of canned goods, a bin for baking supplies, etc saves you from going through the whole pantry just to find the vanilla. 
  • Make stations. I like a coffee/drink station, a baking station, a cooking station. It helps to have everything in one spot and makes multiple people in the kitchen easier. Trays on the the counter keeps those stations defined and keeps them from spreading too much on valuable counter space. 
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Organizers FTW

A few things I have used over and over again to keep organized. These are things I've actually purchased and have all worked in all four of my kitchens from tiny town home to an IKEA kitchen and everything in between. 

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One/Fridge Binz: I use these all over my house, actually in my fridge, and in cabinets too. They're easy to clean, you can see the contents, and they're perfectly sized for those tight spaces. Oh - and super durable.

Two/Trays: World Market is my go-to place for lovely trays. This is how I corral stuff at different stations in my kitchen and they make plain old stainless steel look extra nice.

Three/Lazy Susan: Helpful everywhere, but especially when there's a group of stuff mixed together. Makes it way easier to get what you need and this 11 inch one fits in upper cabinets.

Four/Expandable Shelf: The only way I don't lose my mind when sorting through my spices at dinner time.

Five/Drawer Organizers: The only thing I don't love about these trays from IKEA is that they don't fit perfectly in every kitchen so make sure you measure your drawers first. But these long wide ones are nice at fitting lots. I don't want tiny little compartments in most kitchen drawers because they're not practical. This makes it easy to find things without over-complicating it.

Six/OXO Pop Containers: We bought a big set of these when we first got married, about 6.5 years ago and have used them every day since and the seals still hold up and they're in great shape. They're a bit spendy but they're 100% worth it to me!

Make It Happy

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For me, a clutter free kitchen is a happy kitchen in itself because it's just so much easier to use and I am happy when I cook. But I think it's worth noting that quality over quantity is especially true when it comes to kitchen items that you use all the time. There's tons of beautiful, well made options for even the most basic of items, so I encourage you to fill your kitchen with only things you love and love to use. Keeping it clutter free and easy to use will encourage you to go in there more often, and if all else fails - a plant on the counter by the sink can be the touch of happy every room needs.

And don't forget to use #happyhomechallenge and tag me as you're making your home happy this week!