Organize Your Kitchen

This week, you can

• Clean out your kitchen cupboards, counters, drawers, and the refrigerator
• Move the items you wish to keep into “zones”
• Consider the things you want to duplicate with your child if you have any childhood memories that revolve around special meals.

IT’S AN OLD SAW BUT TRUE: Where do we all gather in the home, whether it’s for a party, on a holiday, or simply for a quiet gathering of a few friends? Right. Even if it’s the size of a matchbox, everyone will crowd into the kitchen. You would think that such a popular room would be organized to the nines. Sadly, this is not the case. I could count on one hand the number of organized kitchens I’ve encountered over the past twenty-plus years. Why is that, you may ask?

Think back to moving day. You probably had a few family members or close friends stop by. Boxes were everywhere. You were all in a hurry to get things put away. People slammed items into any available cabinet space. They shoved things into drawers. And when they were done they said: “I just wanted to get these boxes out of here. You can organize later.” But later never comes, does it? And the reason is twofold. Many people have no idea how a kitchen should be organized so they simply get used to the current, albeit chaotic, placement. Or you feel like the only way to get organized is to pull just about everything out and start over—and who has time for that?


But it’s easier than you may think to get your kitchen in tip-top shape, and there’s never been a better time to do it. For one thing, nutrition is more important in your life than ever. After all, you’re eating for two, and what you need are nutrition-rich calories. Learn to pick your foods not only for how they taste and look but for the nutrients they provide.

For example, to avoid constipation be sure to get fiber each day. In addition to fruits and vegetables, consider whole-grain breads, cereals, and legumes like beans and lentils. Fluids also help reduce constipation so now you have even more incentive to keep drinking your water. Calcium helps your baby develop strong bones. You don’t have to drink gallons of milk—consider the wide variety of yogurts and cheeses available today, not to mention dark leafy greens, broccoli, and almonds.

Finally, let’s look at how important iron is in your diet. It makes red blood cells, which carry oxygen. The baby needs iron to make her new blood and you need as much as 50 percent more blood during pregnancy. Without enough iron, you can find yourself anemic, exhausted, and having trouble concentrating. The remedy is delicious and varied: meat, poultry, salmon, soy products (tofu and tempeh), nuts, and eggs. Cereals, dark leafy green vegetables, and beans also supply iron. Pregnancy may usher in an entirely new way for you to look at food.

You have a child to nurture and love. One day she will be in your arms and you can sing her lullabies to coax her to sleep, or toss your son in the air to hear that wonderful laugh. The body you hold will have been created by the very nutrients you supply during these crucial months of pregnancy. If your kitchen is a mess, it’s less likely you’ll want to spend time there. Instead of whipping up a good meal or a healthy snack, you’ll be running out the front door for a burger and fries.

In addition, it’s never too soon to plan ahead. Your baby is going to grow quickly, especially during his first year, and you’ll be racing to keep up. Organize your kitchen now and you’ll be ready to whip up homemade baby food when he graduates from breast milk. It will be a snap to find Baby’s bottles and later his plates and cups. It’s better to be organized from the start than to find yourself in the kitchen around 2:00 a.m., wondering where the heck is that bottle you clearly remember washing earlier in the day. Once you’re organized, all the gizmos have a designated spot! And as your child grows, he’ll learn from your well-organized example.

Grab your journal and go into your kitchen. Take a minute to look around. Peer into the cupboards and drawers but don’t touch anything just yet. Now sit for a few minutes and make some notes. Here are the questions I’d like you to answer. But don’t spend more than thirty minutes on this exercise—it’s meant to pinpoint your needs and spark your motivation, not rob you of an entire afternoon.


• What do you like about your kitchen? Perhaps you have a window and you enjoy the way the light streams in. Or maybe you painted it a sunny yellow and you think the room is cheery to be in.
• What do you not like about this room? Make two columns: On the left, list what you don’t like that could be fixed, and on the right side, list the things you don’t like but have to live with. As an example, you might feel that with a baby coming you’ll need a bigger refrigerator. You have to run the numbers to see how much you can spend and look for a good bargain, but it’s not insurmountable. On the other hand, if it’s a tiny space and you lament the absence of room for a table and chairs, well, you’ll just have to eat in the dining room.
• When you opened the cupboards and drawers, were the contents a mess? Or did you have areas that were organized? What bothers you the most in terms of the current setup?
• Would you be happier if you could function better in your kitchen?
• Do you have a few hours you can devote to this organizing project?


• When you think about your childhood are there any special memories you have about the kitchen? Did you come home to freshly baked cookies? Was coloring Easter eggs a tradition for your family? Did you have Sunday dinner each week?
• Was the kitchen in your childhood home organized or thrown together?
• Did you have chores that revolved around the kitchen, like setting the table, doing the dishes, taking out the trash, or cooking any of the meals?


What types of activities would you like to do with your baby as he grows up? Do you like to bake? Are you a great cook?
You’ll want a kitchen that makes preparing nutritious meals a pleasurable experience rather than a homework assignment. The first set of questions helps you get a realistic idea of what needs to be done. A battle plan ensures success. Flying by the seat of your pants can be momentarily exhilarating but in the end you’ll only wind up depleted physically and emotionally. People who follow this method usually abandon projects about midway through the process. Imagine how much easier it will feel to grind up some fresh carrots for Baby’s meal or reach for a healthy snack for yourself when you don’t have to push aside the contents of some cupboards that you left sitting on the countertop several months ago.

I’ve asked you to look at the past to help uncover any special memories you’d like to duplicate in the not-too-distant future. Perhaps you’ll be reminded of a few things you want to avoid at all costs. It would be interesting to compare notes with your spouse. If you grew up in a home where everyone sat together for dinner at 6:00 and his family ate dinner together just once a week on Sunday, you may have different expectations about the future. It’s nice to uncover and discuss them now.

We’re going to break this task up so you only need about two hours a day for three days this week. Focus on what works. Take care of what is under your control to change. And if you feel overwhelmed as you organize the space, think about the fun you’re soon to have in this kitchen: feeding your baby in his high chair, the cookies you’ll one day be baking with your child, or the meals you’ll whip up together.


First, it’s time to divest your kitchen of anything you aren’t going to use. You know what I’m talking about, right? There’s that fancy coffeemaker you got for Christmas five years ago. It takes up too much room on the counter and you need a degree to learn how to operate it. It has been a space hog since you got it. And there’s that fancy Panini maker you dreamed about but never took out of the box. I think that was for your birthday about three years ago. And don’t forget to look in the drawers. You went to a cooking party at your best friend’s house last year and got all those great kitchen gadgets. Of course, you don’t remember what they are for, but you liked them when you saw them. And what about those threadbare dish towels? Don’t be embarrassed. I didn’t sneak into your house last night. This is everybody’s kitchen.

Set your timer for twenty minutes. Start at one end of the kitchen and work your way around to the other side. Do only the upper cupboards the first time. Move on to the lower cabinets and finish with a third and final round to examine your drawers. The maximum time allotted for this is one hour. You’ll probably have the following categories:

• Items you can give to a family member or friend.
• Things you can donate to charity.
• Tools, pots, pans, etc., that have seen their best days and belong in the trash.
• Items you only use once a year, like the Thanksgiving turkey roaster. If you have a small kitchen, park that baby in the garage. If your kitchen is large, stash it in that deep cabinet above the refrigerator. You know, the one you need a stepstool to reach. (Don’t avoid using the highest shelves if you are short. A two-step stepstool is one of the best investments you can make. My favorite folds up and slips into that sliver of space between the refrigerator and the cabinets.)

Make sure before you wrap things up for today that all of these items are on their way to their new homes. Give everyone a deadline for pick up if you don’t have a car and can’t do drop-offs yourself. If cousin Melissa doesn’t pick up that coffee maker by Friday, on Saturday it’s going to Goodwill or the local women’s shelter.

You probably noticed I didn’t mention the counter space. Since you organized your papers a few weeks ago (page 17), I hope you’ve stopped using the counters in the kitchen as an adjunct office! We’re going to address using the counters for maximum effect on day two.


I want to keep these work sessions short so today we have just two areas to consider : the dark cave under the sink and your counters. Since cleaning products are usually stored under the sink, I’d play it safe and ask your spouse or best friend to help you. I want to keep you away from toxic chemicals, and soon enough you’ll be wiping down the counters with a baby in your arms. That brings me to an option you have: Consider replacing your household cleaners with “green” varieties from companies like Seventh Generation or Meyer’s, or make your own cleaning products. With regular household supplies like vinegar, baking soda (is there anything you can’t do with that stuff?), and lemons, you can have inexpensive, toxic-free cleaning agents in your home. As with any new cleaning agent, test all of these concoctions on a small area to be sure they work in your home without damaging surfaces.
Mission Possible:

Misadventures under the Sink
Ready to begin? Your job is to sit on a chair and direct the operation. Have your helper sit on the floor and pull out items one by one. Be sure a sturdy trash bag is handy to catch the debris. You might want to spread out a garbage bag on the floor so you have a safe staging area. If one of your containers has a leak, you don’t want to damage your floor. As always, put all related items that you wish to keep in categories. The most common for this area are:

Household cleaners
A bucket
Sponges (soft and for scrubbing)
Hand soap and dish detergent
Poison for critters like ants and roaches

One by one examine the items. Here are some guidelines to help you keep this process moving quickly.

If the container is old (check for an expiration date) or leaking, toss it.

If you don’t use this product any longer, toss it or give it to your helper.
What about the condition of sponges and cleaning rags? If they have reached the disgusting stage, let them go!

If you bought several items in the large economy size, can you better store those containers elsewhere? For example, if you have a garage, place an inexpensive shelving unit right inside the door for these large containers as well as for overflow paper towels and toilet paper. In the absence of a garage, do you have a walk-in pantry? Paper products can be kept here, but I don’t like to store cleaning products near food. Better to keep them under the sink with a secure lock to be sure your baby can’t access the items.

If you are storing items under the sink that you use in other parts of the home, transfer those items to the more appropriate location. As an example, toilet bowl cleaner should live in a bathroom and laundry detergent should live near the washer.


Let me tempt you with four easy cleaning product recipes. The minimal expense is in your base ingredients like vinegar and baking soda as well as in new spray and storage bottles, which you will want to have on hand.
Vinegar: Mix one part water with one part vinegar and you’ve got an all-purpose cleaner you can use all over your home. (Don’t use it on marble.) Before store-bought household products became a big industry, women traditionally cleaned with vinegar. Did you know it disinfects and deodorizes in addition to cleaning? And don’t worry about that distinctive aroma: It dissipates in a matter of minutes. Your home isn’t going to smell like a salad! Try it full strength in your toilet bowl to remove the ring that all bowls acquire over time. And, last but not least, you can save on fabric softener because a half-cup of vinegar will soften your clothes and effectively break down your detergent. If Baby turns out to be sensitive to detergent, vinegar in the wash will help her skin stay soft and irritation free.
Lemons: You can mix fresh lemon juice with vinegar to make a cleaning paste. Who could have imagined that the tart and tasty lemon, so lovely in sparkling water, tea, and salads, could also clean your home? A paste can be more effective than liquid cleanser in those hard-to-clean areas of your home. You can use straight lemon juice to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits in your shower and around the sink. Imagine how lovely the area will smell when you’re done! Speaking of clean-smelling, don’t toss your lemon rind away after extracting the juice: Put it in the garbage disposal. Lemon juice is safe on copper and brass and if you mix a half-cup of lemon juice with a cup of olive oil, you can polish your hardwood furniture.
Baking soda: You can brush your teeth with it (my dentist suggests adding a little peroxide to make a paste), bake with it, and keep a container in the refrigerator to absorb odors. (You can use it in your diaper pail for the same purpose.) Guess what else you can do with it? Add a little water (or lemon juice) and use it the way you would a commercial abrasive cleaner.
Lavender oil: This popular oil has antibacterial properties and a lovely, relaxing fragrance. In your kitchen and laundry room, you can clean with fresh lemon because the citrus fragrance seems appropriate in that room. In the bathrooms and bedrooms, you can slightly reduce the amount of vinegar you’re adding to your water and add a few drops of lavender. (Use the pure oil, not a synthetic version.) You can also mix up plain water with lavender or lemon to keep in the nursery. Use it to spray around after diaper changes to freshen the air.

After you whittle down, take a look at your categories. There are all manner of containers that are designed for under the sink to help keep these items together. You might want to take a break with your helper or send her out to shop while you move on to the counters. The most important thing to keep in mind is the configuration of the pipes. If the most popular under-the-sink organizer doesn’t fit, it can’t serve you. Remember, you can mix and match your product solutions or use items designed for other areas. And sometimes nothing is more beneficial than a simple zip-top storage bag for loose items like sponges. Just be sure you benefit from the container. I don’t want to add to the clutter!
Counter Clutter

Some people get nervous when they see space. They feel more secure when objects fill the area. In the extreme, you might find it’s literally hard to breathe in their homes. “Stuff” seems to literally suck the oxygen out of the room. The great Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says that sometimes his cup is full of tea but when the tea has been consumed the cup is full of space. Wrap your mind around that for a minute. I’d like to see your counters full of space rather than full of clutter. I’d like to have the visual of space bring clarity to your busy day and to those sleep-deprived nights on the horizon. Let’s take a look.

One of my pet peeves as an organizer is American packaging. The smallest items come buried in five pounds of cardboard. It’s best to remove items and store them without all that cardboard and plastic! You’ll be surprised how much space you will save.

During the first month we were together, you created a file system. If you didn’t gather the papers off your kitchen counters at that time, I want you to make short shrift of them today. First, you can speed through and eliminate what you don’t need. Next, take the remaining material to your home office or wherever you have designated as your workspace. Sort the items into categories and then file the material away in the folders you created two months ago. And you thought this was going to be a complicated process, didn’t you? You laid the foundation, now you can reap the benefits.

The way you have used your counter space is going to change. I want you to stop and think for a few minutes about the equipment, decorative items, and tools you now have out. Are they on display or do they get used? I have clients who can’t boil water but who keep top-of-the-line kitchen equipment on the counter because it speaks to their prosperity, or so they think. On the other hand, your countertop equipment might be a lifesaver. When I was into cooking and dinner parties, my food processor lived on the counter. Why put it away every night only to haul it out the next morning? I was so into cooking during that phase of my life that I literally wore out the motor on one processor and had to replace it!

If coffee and toast are part of your morning ritual, I can easily see you dedicating an area on the counter to them. When my clients want those items out, I take the cabinet just above to store the items that go with coffee like mugs, sugar, powder creamer, etc. It’s creating a category by using all the related space to make breakfast preparation as easy as possible. Personally, although I do drink a cup of coffee each morning, I put the coffeemaker away after I use it. I could leave it out and not fear a demerit from the Organizing Police, but I’m into space these days. The moral of the story is clear: There is no right or wrong. There is clutter, but then there is convenience.

Only you can design your counter space. Every woman and every kitchen are unique; make this space serve you. Here are some questions to help you create your design:

• Do you have plants everywhere? Could they do just as well if not better in another room?
• Are bowls or other serving items piled high and attracting dust?
• Is there equipment out you never use? Can you donate it? Would a relative like to have it? Can you pack it away in the garage for another time in your life?
• Is there equipment out you wish to keep but aren’t going to be using for the foreseeable future?
• Is there anything in your cleaned-out cupboards that should now live on the counter?

Here are some suggestions for items you may want to have out over the next year and beyond:
Blender. Everyone needs a good blender. You can whip up food for your baby and simple, nutritious smoothies for yourself. If your blender has seen better days, get a new one. There are inexpensive and compact versions out there. Watch the newspapers for a discount coupon to a store like Bed Bath & Beyond.
Baby food maker. Many baby food recipes don’t require the purchase of a special baby food maker (see page 325). But again, it’s a matter of taste and temperament. If you know that making that purchase will cause you to prepare more fresh food for your baby because you like the machine, go for it. By the way, start making a wish list for your baby shower. This item is a perfect addition.
Steamer. I like to pop a steamer into a pot. But many of my clients insist on purchasing special steamers to prepare rice and/or veggies. Make the choice for the item you will use religiously.

There is one piece of equipment you can purchase that will function as your blender, food processor, and juicer. It’s called a Vitamix. It’s expensive but guaranteed for life. It also takes up less counter space than three separate pieces of equipment. You can go online to www.vitamix.com and view some explanatory videos and recipes.

Juicer. There is no doubt that using a juicer is a super healthy choice. It will provide creative, healthy drinks for you and every member of your family. It’s also an expensive piece of equipment and a space hog. Be sure you are going to make use of it before you make the purchase and dedicate the space.
Crock-Pot. The Crock-Pot has really come back into vogue. What easier way is there to have a hot, nutritious meal at dinnertime? If you love it and use it regularly, by all means, keep it out. But if you know in your heart that you are the last person on planet earth who will prepare food in a Crock-Pot, again, all you are doing is dedicating valuable space to a dinosaur.
By now, your kitchen probably feels very different to you. One more day and your work here is done. If you are wondering which cabinet should house which equipment, don’t fret. We take care of that tomorrow.


The traditional way to organize a kitchen involves creating zones. In every kitchen you’ll find the dishes to one side of the sink and the drinking glasses on the other. The pots and pans will be in the cabinets closest to the stove. Do you have that in place? This isn’t going to be as difficult as you thought! Now you need to look at the space and the items you decided to keep. The goal is to create categories so that when you wish to prepare a meal, everything is at your fingertips. When you need to clean up, your tools are in one central area. And if you like to bake, that too is all located in one section. Designate the areas before you get up and start moving things around.
Here are some ideas to help make the inner life in your cupboards work better:

If the shelves are deep and you lose items in the back, you can put in sliding drawers. You can find them at a store like The Container Store and in catalogs like www.Solutions.com.

If you don’t have a separate pantry and have to store food in your cupboards, try using a shelf creator for your canned goods. This unit can be found in wood, plastic, and mesh. It elevates your cans, creating three levels. You won’t lose that treasured can of chicken soup ever again. And if you create categories, your soup and your veggies can live in separate areas.

Not able to put in sliding drawers? Make use of dead space in corners or in the back of a cupboard by storing items you rarely use there. Keep your everyday tools in front.
Are there any items that could be stored in your dining room hutch? Very often I find a set of Grandma’s china in the kitchen. It’s only used on holidays but it takes up several shelves in the kitchen. Get china holders at any home store (I like the padded ones that zipper close) and tuck the china safely away in your hutch.

If you want to keep items in a drawer from exploding the first time you shut the drawer quickly, use thick drawer liner (it’s washable and comes in colors and designs should you wish to coordinate with your kitchen decor) and drawer organizers. They come in plastic, wood, or mesh, but the clear acrylic has my vote, as they are the easiest to wipe out and keep clean.

Finally, if you are blessed with a lazy Susan-style organizer that makes the corner of a cabinet really useful, keep in mind that you don’t want to weigh it down with extremely heavy equipment. They are fragile units and break easily. They are great to hold common lightweight food prep items like colanders or mixing bowls.

The overhead kitchen light may prove especially jarring during the middleof-the-night visits on the horizon. Put a small lamp on the counter and use it to cast a soft glow in the room. Those late nights will be less painful on your psyche and your eyes.

Food, Glorious Food!

Take a few minutes more to clean out your refrigerator. Why have fresh veggies, chicken, and a can of opened peanut butter clustered together? Instead, create zones on your shelves so that it’s easier to prepare a meal or find a snack. You organized categories of related items in drawers, inside cupboards, and on the counter. Now you can do the same inside the refrigerator. At The Container Store or in the kitchen department of your local home store, you will find an interesting array of products designed specifically to make your refrigerator more organized. Take a look at what’s available and see if there is anything you need.

When it comes to the food itself, you’ll want to get in the habit of purchasing more fresh fruits and veggies now, if you aren’t already. Skip the fast food, the processed fake food, and the deep-fried, artery-clogging treats. Keep the fresh food in the foreground. When you’re attacked by a case of the “ravenous pregnant hungries,” or you’ve got a toddler hanging on your legs or a baby on your hip, healthy food will be at your fingertips rather than something processed or laden with fat or sugar. Try coming up with a list of snacks that are healthy, easy to prepare (or that can be prepared ahead of time), and appeal to you. Then create a place in your refrigerator—front and center, not hidden behind the milk!—for those “go-to” snacks. Soon it will become second nature to reach for that hard-boiled egg or carrots and hummus when you’re hungry instead of the chips and dip.

The Big Freeze

Make sure your freezer is organized, too. If you live in an area where fresh fruits and veggies are hard to come by during parts of the year, you may be surprised to hear that frozen veggies are a healthier choice than what’s in your produce section. Those “fresh” veggies and fruits have often been shipped from someplace so far away they’re two or three weeks old by the time they get to your table. And during that time they’ve lost a lot of flavor, not to mention nutritional value. Freezer veggies are frozen within hours of harvest, sealing in the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and flavor. You can also freeze your “fresh from the farmer’s market” veggies to last you year-round.

One of the strangest things human beings do is to fill the freezer with packages of “mystery meat.” I know a lady who keeps these things for years. When she offers to thaw one of these relics and make dinner for me, I politely decline and remind her I am a vegetarian. In truth, after six months those items should be tossed. Label your packages so you know what’s inside. And be sure you note the date.

On that note, you’ll also want to make sure to clear out some space in your freezer and fridge close to your due date. Friends and family often bring food to a new family as a way to help out. You’ll want to have a place to put it.

Adapt these solutions to your specifics and you’ll come out with one organized kitchen.

When you are done, please do one thing for the Zen Organizer: Be sure your newly organized, streamlined kitchen isn’t marred by a refrigerator that has too many photos, ads, notices, and general debris all over it! You are about to bring a baby into your home. Create an Emergency Contact list and post that for all to see. Include all key names and contact numbers. I’d make this sheet the only decoration for your refrigerator. This week is about embracing the beauty of empty space.


Now is a great time to expand the variety of food you’re accustomed to keeping on hand. What pantry doesn’t have white rice and pasta? My friend Chef Tanya suggests you open yourself to the world of grains and experiment with barley, oats, and soy. Don’t forget the delicious grains with exotic-sounding names: quinoa, basmati white or brown rice, kamut, couscous, and spelt.

If you are interested in experimenting with soy, tofu is a great source of protein. It’s versatile because you can steam it, sauté it, or toss it in the blender. Aside from being a substitute for meat in main dishes, tofu makes great desserts, salad dressings, and soups.

In your market near the tofu you may see a product called tempeh. That’s another soy product with a meatier texture. Get a “simple” tempeh you can steam or sauté at home. Don’t go with the one that’s been saturated in soy or some other salty sauce. Not all tempeh is created equal, so experiment a bit with different brands.
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