Monday, January 17, 2011

Tip Three: Get organized

I can't get excited about a whole day of cleaning and organizing, though I know that's how this step really should be attacked. Let's just agree to outline the basic steps, without any prescribed timeline, and any tips or comments can be added below. It can take you a morning (in which case I salute you, and will definitely be talking behind your back), a week, a month or more. Or, as my uber-organized uncle does, you can schedule little kitchen tasks to repeat routinely (obviously retired, borderline obsessive). I personally have been getting to it one drawer at a time; I accomplished the pantry on a snow day with a two-hour school delay.

The pantry goes back to medieval times, taking its name from "paneterie" meaning, in French, from bread. The butler's pantry is home to china and silver, and is so named because the butler used to sleep there guarding the silver.

First: Declutter
Pantry: Since moving so far from civilization, I've become somewhat of a hoarder, and with my little pantry (I'm in good company -- an American Institute of Architects study shows 50 percent of us yearn for a larger larder) this can be hazardous. I shove jars into the deep shelves never to be seen again, or until they all fall out on my head when pulling out the pickles. To try to combat this, I cleared out each shelf and wiped it down. While you're there, check expiration dates and pitch anything that might have gone bad. Make a box for anything you haven't used that is still good, and take it to the local food pantry (our bank is also a drop for food donations). My neighbor makes a game of it by lining up her pantry goods and creating menus from them, to use them up and gain space.

When I replaced, I organized by shelf, one shelf for pasta and flours, one for jarred and canned goods, one for lunch box items, etc. Only you can determine what works for you. (More on restocking to follow.)

Pots and pans: When my parents got an induction stovetop, they brought me their collection of pots and pans -- a windfall, except that I had just shoved them in the cupboard with the ragtag collection I had collected over the years, augmented by those my husband had when we married. My first All-Clad copper stockpot (from the '80s and still cooking!), and my wok, and a bamboo steamer we picked up in a small shop in Chinatown, were buried beneath an onslaught of skillets and a few heavy Le Crusets. I pared down to three sizes of skillets, two sauce pans, the wok, small stockpot and a larger pot for broth and lobster, and stored the lids on a shelf beneath. The rest are in a box waiting for someone to move out and need them.

Utensils: Again, like the pots, we had a regular army of plastic spatulas and wooden spoons. I cleared the drawers and wiped them down, and put any utensils with obvious goop in the dishwasher. Then I sorted the utensils, parsed the redundancies and replaced them neatly. We will see how that lasts.

Serveware/silverware: Total disclaimer here, I love dishes. I've admired beautiful functional ware since I can remember -- I still have a few pieces from Greece, where I lived in high school. I have a set of my grandmother's everyday ware, the set from our first summer cottage, and two dessert sets from my husband's family. And I don't just wait to inherit, I'm a proliferate buyer: I've carted home soy sauce dishes and teacups from Japan, shipped trays and salad bowls from Italy even, on one extreme occasion, carried six hand blown crystal champagne flutes from Berlin. On a train trip around Japan, I found myself staring into the dusty windows of a pottery shop which was closed that day. Perhaps I was salivating, anyway, an old man opened the door and invited me in, gave me a tour of his kiln and studio. He spoke no English and I no Japanese, but I understood him perfectly. As I left he gave me a teacup, which I still have. At the time, I showed it to a friend back in Tokyo, who recognized it as the potter was quite locally famous, and a recluse. I just remember thinking he was really small.

Passion is everything.

But I digress. Once again, clear the cabinets and drawers, wipe them and clean any obvious goop. Sort and replace, putting aside duplicates and unneeded items for later or the thrift. Organize for the way you use the space. We, for instance, use a lot of bowls and spoons, so the bowls are in the front of the dish cupboard, and I have separated out the spoons in the front of the silverware drawer.

For health, this bit of kitchen cleaning regularly needs to be done. Think of it like this -- if it's easier to find and appealing to use, you're more apt to.

Next week: restocking!!

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