Once, I saw a photo in a book on the organizing of 30-plus hanging copper pots and pans. The caption said that hanging pots saves on cupboard space, and keeps them in view and within easy reach. That's the perfect solution for an average number, but imagine polishing more than 30 pots! For me, organizing should make life easier, not create more work. Here are my real-life solutions to three universal kitchen troublemakers: plastic containers, pots and pans and the junk drawer.
• I've quoted Kathy Waddill, author of The Organizing Sourcebook (Contemporary Books, 2001), before, but what she says definitely bears repeating: “Use clear plastic containers with matching tops. Keep enough to fit on two shelves in your refrigerator, and no more. Discard every top and container with no mate. Toss all opaque containers.” As for those yogurt and margarine containers, as Kathy asks, how many can you use at one time? If you can't use them, lose them.
• Invest in one set of containers from one manufacturer: they'll stack together better than different shapes and sizes from different manufacturers. Kudos to Rubbermaid for their new Servin' Saver Plus line: containers of the same size nest tightly inside each other, and also stack securely on top of their lids, which have grooves to keep the containers in place.
• The best place to store containers is in a deep pot drawer, where they can't spill over into nearby cabinets. Upper cabinets are a nightmare unless you like containers raining down on your head daily. Wherever they're stored, devote that entire cabinet or drawer to them.
• Improvise when organizing plastic food containers, since there's nothing specifically for them on the market that we know of (manufacturers of kitchen cabinets and organizing products, take note; if there is, write and share it with us!). For large lids, use a rack like ClosetMaid's new coil-design rack. Smaller lids can go in a plastic bin, which is great for separating groups of large, medium and small containers. You might also retrofit cabinets with pullout wire shelves so that containers are easy to reach.
• If you want to store a lot of containers, maximize cabinet space with a wire shelf rack that sits on the existing shelf.
Pots and pans
• Keep pots and pans as close to the stove as possible. Having lived with and without pot drawers, it's better having them! If you're thinking about a reno, include at least a few pot drawers.
• To streamline your cookware collection, get rid of duplicate sizes and burnt, damaged and rarely used pots and pans.
• Store all pots and pans with their lids when space allows, so that you can grab the right pot and lid in one move. Stacking may be necessary in a tight space, but it's cumbersome to lift the top pots to get to the one you need.
• If you stack pots, store the lids separately in a pot-lid holder, such as a wooden peg model or a stainless-steel or plastic-coated wire type that sits on a cabinet shelf or is mounted on a wall or cabinet door. A separate wire basket that will hold the lids upright could also work.
• Protect the easily damaged surfaces of nonstick pans with a tea towel or paper towel, or purchase specially designed felt liners from an organizing store.
• Hang pots and pans if they add to your decor –- you'll have to keep them really clean, including the bottoms.
• Take out everything, then trash what doesn't work (like old pens or batteries). Sort what's left into three piles: items you never use, and items that do and don't belong in the kitchen. Give away or recycle things you don't use and relocate items accordingly. What's left is what you need (it's not junk anymore). Sort those items into categories, such as stamps, pens and pencils, Post-it Notes, elastics, paper-clips, scissors and tape.
• Line the drawer with a nonslip liner (check hardware and organizing stores).
• Create a grid of square- and rectangular-shape containers to separate each category. The best system that I've seen is Rubbermaid's Instant Drawer Organizer, which links together to form a big grid, so there's no wasted drawer space. You can also improvise with whatever types of containers you like, or use a kitchen drawer divider tray. One caveat: adjustable kitchen drawer trays are usually designed for storing large items like utensils or cutlery, and aren't ideal for the small items that tend to inhabit junk drawers.
• Devise an efficient system for loose papers like takeout menus and recipes; for instance, a sturdy plastic accordion file that can be tucked into a cabinet.
• Set aside a separate tool drawer or a section of the drawer if it's convenient to keep some frequently used items like a hammer, a few nails, screws, extension cords and a tape measure in the kitchen rather than in the basement or garage.