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It's a kitchen, not a catchall

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By Domenica Marchetti
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 26, 2011; 2:13 PM

When I came across the can of evaporated milk with a "best by" date of 2007 (shoved behind the cans of condensed milk and pumpkin and the boxes of brown sugar, confectioners' sugar and cornstarch), I knew it was time to tackle the pantry.

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And not just the pantry. There were other signs of kitchen clutter run amok: deep drawers of poorly stacked pots and pans that barely shut; spice jars popping out of place whenever I spun the crowded turntable they were precariously arranged on; overstuffed drawers of gadgets, dish towels, and aprons; and stacks of cookbooks and magazines.

When it comes to reining in clutter, the kitchen is often the hardest room to wrestle into submission. This is not surprising when you think about it. After all, the kitchen is the one room in the house that we are always acquiring new things for: restocking groceries and pantry staples; buying gadgets and equipment; and (in my case) adding to an already hefty collection of cooking magazines and books.

For many people, the kitchen also serves as a way station. It's where the kids dump backpacks and sports gear after school, where mail stacks up, and where purses, briefcases, keys, phones and musical instruments are deposited.

"The kitchen is the hub of the home," says Lorie Marrero, creator of the Clutter Diet , an online company that specializes in home organization. "A lot of activity takes place in the kitchen that is not related to cooking."

Begin organizing by assessing the space and determining whether you are using it efficiently. If your kitchen is the place where everything seems to land, Marrero recommends a "destination station" for these items, preferably where you enter and leave the house. "All that stuff should have a home because it's not going to go away. Giving it a place will keep it off the kitchen counter."

Leah Daniels, owner of Hill's Kitchen , a kitchenware store on Capitol Hill, is a proponent of getting clutter off the kitchen counter. "I feel like I have less clutter when my counters are clear," Daniels says. Among the changes she made was to move her knives from a knife block on the counter to one that fits in a drawer. The knives are within reach but out of the way. In her shop, she carries a line of knife sleeves so blades can be stored in a drawer even without the block. The sleeves are color-coded so you can easily find the one you need.

Daniels reorganized her spice storage by putting spices she uses most often into magnetic jars that she keeps on a metal strip. The rest are in stackable glass jars that she keeps in a cabinet.

She further banished clutter by hanging some of her pots and pans on a pot rack. As for the perennial problem of where to store the lids, Daniel says some manufacturers, including All-Clad and Mauviel, make lids that slide over the handleof a pot or pan so that they "nest happily together" even when hanging.

For Aviva Goldfarb, keeping an organized kitchen depends on keeping an organized tally of groceries. Goldfarb, who lives in Chevy Chase, is founder and CEO of the Six O'Clock Scramble, an online subscription service that helps busy families plan dinner menus. So she does a lot of recipe testing - and grocery shopping.

"I really encourage people to shop with a plan and to shop with a grocery list, and to stick to that list," Goldfarb says. "First of all, this keeps you from continuing to buy pantry items that you already have. Otherwise, every time you see a can of diced tomatoes on sale you'll buy it, even if you don't need it." She limits her own grocery shopping trips to once a week and is disciplined about using up what she buys before getting more.

Goldfarb categorizes the food storage spaces in her kitchen, including those in the refrigerator. In addition to dedicated bins for fruits and vegetables, she stores dairy products together and moves older ingredients to the front of the refrigerator so that she finishes those before opening new ones. She keeps her pantry organized in a similar way, with savory snacks stored together in one space and sweet snacks in another.

She also encourages her family members to be mindful about adding what they need to the grocery list. "It has to be a family effort," Goldfarb says. "If my kids are running out of snacks or drinks and they put it on the grocery list, they know those items will reappear."

And Goldfarb employs her freezer in her efforts to organize. She keeps bags of frozen vegetables on hand for use in a pinch, as well as nuts for snacks (they stay fresh longer when frozen), and several frozen meals "for those nights when you just can't get it together." She keeps tabs on the contents of her freezer and builds them into her weekly menu plan so they don't languish for months.

Although tackling clutter in the kitchen may seem daunting, the Clutter Diet's Marrero says the chore can usually be accomplished in a single day, especially if you recruit family members or friends to help. And when it comes to paring down your stuff, Daniels adds, it helps to be just a little bit merciless.

"We all have things that we don't want to part with, but on the other hand we are always bringing new things home. When your potholders are burned through, it's time to get rid of them. You have to throw away things when they die."

Marchetti is the author of "Big Night In" and "The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy." Follow @domenicacooks on Twitter.



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