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Order in the Kitchen

One day last summer I’d had it with my refrigerator – totally had it. The crisper drawers were broken and although I’d put a wire rack in there to replace them, it wasn’t working.
So even though our plan was to wait on buying a new refrigerator until we could renovate the kitchen to accommodate the larger model we wanted, I grabbed a measuring tape, pulled the behemoth out from the wall, and began shopping online.
Then I checked to make sure we still had the extra kitchen floor tiles I was going to need to patch things up after I sledge hammered the small cabinet I needed to remove to make room for the new appliance.
Luckily, my sister was visiting. And rather than trying to talk me down from the bright conviction that I could get rid of the cabinet (and live with the results) she quietly began cleaning the refrigerator.
By the time she’d finished taking everything out, wiping down all the surfaces, throwing out a bunch of stale foodstuff, and installing two bowls to hold various items, I brought the tiles back to the basement. Then I happily went off to Whole Foods (instead of Sears) to fill up my now sparkling refrigerator.
All of which is to say that when the kitchen is in good order I want to cook and when it isn’t I tend to want to lie down on the couch.
For me, wanting to cook starts with a clean refrigerator that isn’t confusingly filled with old leftovers and possibly moldy stuff. If it’s messy enough, I don’t even want to food shop, never mind cook. But if things are clean and orderly – in the fridge and the kitchen at large – I can cook like a TV chef.
“If it’s not convenient, cooking becomes a real hassle,” said professional organizer Laine Dougherty ( in Norwell.
Most tips for keeping a refrigerator clean also work for the kitchen cabinets. The basic idea is to keep things moving: out with the old and in with the new.
“Every week before recycling day pull out any old leftovers like uneaten strawberries, recycle the container, and wipe off the shelves,” said Dougherty. She also uses wire baskets — in the refrigerator to contain similar items, like fruit or snacks, and in the freezer to keep frozen vegetables in one place.
“It’s all about zones,” said Dougherty, referring to the principal of storing similar things together.
Dougherty recommends putting fresh food items in the rear of the refrigerator so the older ones get eaten first. Same thing for the pantry shelves: get rid of old canned or boxed goods and store new items behind the older.
I apply the same principals to keep all the kitchen cabinets organized. If I’m not using an item, I give it away or recycle it. I don’t need four corkscrews, three sets of measuring cups, or more than a half dozen food storage containers. Out! Same thing with specialty gadgets designed to make cooking easier: keeping things simple is what makes it easy for me.
Once you’ve culled your stuff down to a collection of items you either love or find beautiful or useful (as the conventional wisdom goes) you need to figure out where to keep everything.
If I have to squat and risk skinning my knuckles to get a particular pan, my little mind knows this and keeps me on the couch.
The fundamentals here are simple: Store the most frequently used items in the most easily accessible cabinet spaces, remember the spot you’ve assigned to them, and always put them there. (Dougherty suggests using labels if you want to prompt kids to help with cooking or cleanup.) Professional organizers refer to these easy-to-reach cabinet areas as prime real estate.
Countertops should be largely clear so you can use them to work. The only items that should live on them are things you use every single day, like a toaster, coffee maker, knives, and a fruit bowl. If you have a very large fabulous kitchen, you’ll have room for lots of things – like a food processor and mixer (if you use them), while still having plenty of uncluttered counter space.
Rarely used items like platters, machines, or your enormous lobster pot should be stored out of the way. Again, depending on how large your kitchen is, you may end up putting these items in the rear of cabinets, in out of the way cabinets, or in another room altogether.
That’s it: We still haven’t renovated and but I’m fine with the refrigerator as long as I keep it clean.