Five Messes You Can Manage

Thursday, January 4, 2007

You know those places around the house that annoy you every time you notice them? The kitchen shelf jammed with old plastic takeout containers and storage bowls with no lids? The dispiriting tangle of wires under your desk? The coat closet so clogged you just throw your coat over a chair when you come home, and the linen closet piled with almost everything but fresh sheets and towels?

Do you really want to go through another year letting your house push you around like this? Pick one spot -- the one that bothers you most -- and fight back. Clean out, throw away and restore order in just this one area. See how much better it makes you feel. You may be energized to move on to another.


We remodeled our kitchen two years ago, replacing curling linoleum and rusted metal cabinets with more counter space and cupboards than we'd ever had. Yet when the friend who designed it called, I told her the drawer by the stove for hot pads and towels was too small.

"How many hot pads do you have?" she asked.

"Only 11 or 12."

And so began my reality check about kitchen storage. It's usually not about too little space: It's about too much stuff.

Plastic bags, says D.C. professional organizer Scott Roewer. And food storage containers. And food -- a particular problem among warehouse club shoppers. "A typical household cannot use 5,000 individual packages of sweetener or the 24-can case of chicken broth," says Roewer.

Then there are spices: Way too many spices that are way too old, says Fernando Alban, manager at Chesapeake Kitchen Design in Washington. And appliances: "People buy a new coffeepot and keep the old one, buy a new food processor and keep the old one."

Plus old utensils and gadgets, "like cheese graters pushed way back in the drawer," says Dana Souksavanh, a design specialist in the newly opened kitchen showroom at Bradco Supply in Hyattsville. And don't get her started on place mats and napkins. "People keep buying new ones and stuffing them in till the drawer won't close and the fabric is wrinkled. Do you really need more than a couple of nice sets for eight or 10?"

So here's the word from the experts: Admit what you have too much of, and reclaim the space it's taking up.

* Plastic containers: Sort by size and shape (each one must have a lid), then send the overflow to recycling heaven, says Roewer. Zipper bags work for almost everything and take a whole lot less space to store.

*Food: Set aside a cabinet as a dry pantry for pasta, cereal, jars and cans, suggests Souksavanh. Using one cabinet is more efficient than scattering food storage around the room.

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