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Maximum Efficiency Kitchen: 12 Steps to Save Time & Money

We’ve all done it: buying things we already have, wasting food, and wasting time looking for things. The kitchen is an area that can be huge time and money waster if we allow it to be, and the New Year is a perfect time to focus on Honing the Home and re-setting systems and habits so we can have more time to do the things that are truly important.

For the last few days we’ve talked through what a successful kitchen and meal plan can be for you including reducing stress, meal planning, and having an organized, high functioning kitchen.

There were 2 key efficiency tips mentioned:

At-a-glance kitchen organization.

Having your pantry set up such that you know what you have very easily which allows you to quickly and easily create your weekly shopping list. At-a-glance assessment is the rule of thumb here. If you cannot easily glace and determine what you have at any given moment, this is the first place to start.

Logical placement.

Placing items either where you use it or within reach of where it’s cleaned. For example, plates need to be either right next to the dish washer or in the cabinet closest to your dining table.

Today we’re going to talk about a third key to efficiency: an organized pantry system.

For most families, this will take anywhere from 2-4 hours up to the better part of a day, so schedule this re-org and once you’re ready:

  1. Pull everything out; clean shelves, cabinets and closets. If there’s a light and it’s not very bright, replace it with a brighter LED. If shelves are dingy, line them with shelf paper. Later, consider how to spruce up, brighten, and make this stylish.
  2. Group like items together and as you’re doing this, ruthlessly set aside:
    • items past their expiration
    • items you no longer use
    • items that were gifts or holiday related that won’t get used

You can drop anything usable later at a nearby food bank, grocery store with a food bank donation bin or check with local churches or shelters. Most food banks will accept slightly out of date items FYI.

  1. Assess your layout. Depending on the layout of your kitchen and pantry cabinet(s), consider if you should move part of your pantry to a drawer or cabinet nearest to where you use it. Ideals:
    • oils and spices are now immediately next to my stove and right across from my mixing/work zone
    • coffee, tea, and small containers of sweetener are kept in a cabinet, deemed my “coffee zone”, right below my coffeemaker along with my mugs, milk steaming pitcher, sugar & creamer sets, and breakfast items like cereal and bagels
    • wine is kept in a bar area next to the wine glasses
  2. Consider kids’ get-it-yourself zones before re-assembling. Healthy snack baskets within reach both on counter (fruit) and containerized in cabinet as well as an approved drinking/eating vessel area.
  3. Check stock levels. Once like items are together and you’ve weeded things out, quickly assess if you’re lower on a certain item than usual—don’t want to set up a pantry system today only to be redone next week when you restock paper towels. Use a bright sticky note with any missing items written on it as a placeholder when you begin to put things back in the pantry.
  4. Separate out back stock items. Only keep a quantity that you’d use in a day or two. You should establish a back stock area somewhere else (we’ll talk about this in detail in a later post), but to start, just pick a place like a coat closet, the underused closet in a guest room, or the utility shelves in your garage and pull these items aside and carry them straight to the new area. You can organize these after the pantry is complete. Also, remove any cleaners (also cleaners that you use infrequently like oven cleaner) that are not specific to the kitchen and store elsewhere.
  5. Think vertically. Riser shelves (like bleachers for food), DIY risers, double-tiered lazy susans—anything that allows you to better see items in the back of your pantry or cabinets.
  6. Use what you already own for storage containers. Before you head out to the store, look at your baskets, Tupperware (disposable/not), canisters, vases, office organizers like letter holders—you name it as long as it reasonably fits the item(s) you’re grouping even if only in a temporary way like with gallon zip locks or kid’s shoe boxes.
  7. Place items back into cabinets with the zone concept of keeping like items together.
  8. Assess what storage items you need to buy. Measure spaces, do internet research at organizing stores (you can buy them later at your local shop or on the internet).
  9. See through storage is crucial in both pantry/dry storage areas as well as in your refrigerator. Remember that at-a-glance concept? Wire baskets, clear plastic containers and bins, glass anywhere that’s feasible. The more uniform the better. Be sure to buy a size big enough for the full box or bag to be put in.
  10. Label things. Label machines, pre-formatted pantry labels, wipe board markers/grease pencils, old-fashioned shop tags with pretty writing on them. Use the NQM free pantry labels, DIY or head to Etsy for printable labels at a low cost.

Photo by Nicole Vaughn

Tips:

Keep it clean. Put things back where you found them and as you buy more, put them directly where they belong. Break individual items out immediately after shopping into the designated storage container or basket. ONLY TOUCH SOMETHING ONCE! This means after grocery shopping, take the plastic off paper towels, break apart the case of Snapple, take the cat food cans out of the box, etc. In general, with all thing household, my rule of thumb is if it takes less than 5 minutes, do it right away.

Work towards only grocery shopping once a week. Now that you’re organized, you’ll be able to know when you’re running low on dog food, pasta, etc. and the last minute, time wasting trips to the grocery store can be eliminated.

Get help. If you are stuck or struggling with certain areas, reach out to a professional organizer or a good friend that’s super organized. Ask your spouse—my engineering husband is awesome at special problem-solving. Sometimes outside eyes can solve problems quickly and inexpensively.

No Qualms Mom is going to offer FREE 20 minute solve-your-problem sessions in a few weeks. You can get on the waiting list by emailing [email protected] and in the subject line, note “want free help.” We will reach out to you before we publicize this freebie.

Be creative. Are you stuck because your kitchen doesn’t have enough pantry space? Try these solutions:

  • Hang pots and pans or use free standing rack—sturdy hooks under cabinets, pot holder bars & hooks (see below), pot racks, free standing racks like the antique pie racks below
  • Carts or small bookshelves
  • Over the door storage systems including things like pocket style shoe organizers
  • Baskets under islands, over refrigerators, etc.
  • Adding open shelves or a cute vintage cabinet to store things like dishes or glasses
  • If you’ve got a beautiful, yet big item in your cabinets, figure out a place to display it so you can reclaim the cabinet space; teapots, large enamel stock pots can live on your stove (see below), colanders and bowls can hold fruit on your counter, etc.
  • If you’ve got things in your kitchen that you use once a year or very infrequently, pull them from the kitchen to or near your back stock area. I store things like specialty baking pans, holiday specific dishes/items, items for entertaining like chafing dishes, coffee thermoses, and rarely used electronic appliances. Once you’ve pulled these items, you can consider if you even need them but first things first
  • Install sliding shelf organizers to optimize your space and fit more in cabinets
  • Lid racks and file organizers holding cooking trays can both add room
  • Pull kitchen utensils from a drawer and place in a cute holder next to your stove—as shown in the feature photo

Celebrate your work! Having an organized pantry (and kitchen) will save you many hours of time! The time you spent will pay you back threefold at least so the effort and time you just spent is worth celebrating! Job well done and cheers to an efficient, calming system.

Photo by Angela Carlyle

Feature photo by Angela Carlyle