As a military wife whose “home” is always determined by her husband’s next set of orders, I have become an expert at making everything fit in every type of abode. Admittedly, we are in a military community that does not move nearly as much as others, but even within the boundaries of San Diego/Coronado, we have lived in 4 different homes!
My ultimate dream is to have a house where I can deck out each closet with a beautiful California Closets display, but until then, I will have to enjoy temporary, inexpensive fixes that make all of our belongings fit together like a game of Tetris.
Generally speaking, I am pretty organized – you have to be when you pack up all of your belongings and move every two years (or less)! Since my little man arrived 9 months ago, I have found it a bit harder to keep up with everything. There’s much less time to get everything done and of course, more work – not to mention I clean out his drawers every month as the outfit that was laughably big on him becomes too small to even fit over his head within a matter of weeks. Sound familiar?
During one of my Pilates sessions, a friend mentioned that a local professional organizer had started a Facebook Group called “The Daily Five.” The goal was to purge 5 things per day, take a pic, and post it to the group – sounds simple, right?
I immediately requested to join, but didn’t start purging right away. The methodical side of me said that I should go through each room, cabinet, and cupboard in a specific order, but I was always waiting for the right time to start. You know the right time to start – when each stitch of laundry is folded, all the dishes are cleaned, the dog has been walked, the baby is happily playing, and the kitchen floor has just finished drying from a good scrub. Believe it or not, this perfect time NEVER came and I watched as Amy Gardiner, the amazing professional organizer and group administrator, proclaimed that in the month of August, she had purged over 155 items!
Finally, after a trip home from Costco, riddled with frustration of where I was going to put everything, the “perfect time” found me and thus my necessary “purge” began.
My epiphany happened in the kitchen, which, looking back, is a great place to start. Many of the tendencies to hold onto items that we no longer need do not apply in the kitchen. There is no sentimental attachment to expired food in the fridge. It’s as simple as finding and tossing. (I don’t take this lightly as one of my pet peeves is wasting food – but if it’s expired there’s only one answer, no decision needed.)
Here are 10 Simple Rules that I followed and you can incorporate into your Kitchen Clean-Out (and the other rooms of your home.)
1.) START IN THE KITCHEN
Starting in the kitchen gets you into the habit of purging, which you can then, take with you to the other rooms of your home. Also, you can make quite a bit of progress in a short amount of time. I was able to clean my freezer, refrigerator and 4 cabinets within 45 minutes. As Amy would say, the difference is AHHHH-Mazing!
2.) REDUCE WHAT YOU HAVE
You have less to organize when you have less “stuff”. You don’t have to figure out how to organize it if you simply get rid of it. No need to spend money on organizing materials when its simply not there. Keep this in the forefront of your mind regardless of the square footage of your space.
3.) CHECK EXPIRATION DATES
Spoiled produce or meat is easy to detect and part with, but what about that Costco size ketchup that has been in the back of your fridge for countless months? Check the expiration dates on all of those sauces, condiments, spices, and canned foods. You will be amazed at what you find (you can purge)!
4.) WHEN IN DOUBT…THROW IT OUT
I don’t care what the expiration date says, if it looks bad, its gone! Don’t even chance a bad case of food poisoning. In the future, be more aware of what you purchase and go to the grocery store with a plan!
5.) COMBINE IT!
We had three bags of quinoa opened! They were purchased from Costco at the same time, but at some point they were all opened. The bags were all about a quarter full so I was easily able to combine them and it made the space much cleaner.
This is not always a great idea, especially when there is a big difference in the expiration dates of the items or it will be used up fairly quickly (i.e. its not worth taking the time to combine. It.)
6.) SEPARATE IT!
We had two bags of Almond flour – one opened and one not yet opened. As the opened bag was not clearly visible, there was a pretty good chance that I would have accidentally grabbed the unopened bag, not realizing that the other on was there. This is also really common with the spices.
In order to avoid having several half used bags of the same produce taking up space, I have one cabinet that is reserved for “duplicates.” I use up what I have open and when I run out, I check the “duplicates” cupboard to see if I have an extra stash there or if I need to add it to the Complete Cupboard list.
7.) EXTRA STORAGE SPACE/REFRIGERATOR
Along the lines of Tip #6, if you have extra space, use it! In our current space, we have an extra refrigerator in the garage. (It’s the 1st time that we have ever had this so I know we are LUCKY!) This makes it easier for us to take advantage of sales on certain products and keep the refrigerator in the house a bit more organized.
As an example, when Almond Milk is on sale, we stock up. Unopened, almond milk usually lasts 4-6 weeks or more. Once opened, it is good for 7-10 days. If it’s on sale, I’ll get several half gallons and keep one in the kitchen and the rest in the garage refrigerator.
We also keep those not too frequently used sauces and olive oil in the garage refrigerator. I worked with a great chef that gave me a quick tip about olive oil.
Once opened, olive oil starts to lose its freshness after about 2 months. When stored at room temperature it can last for 18-24 months. After that, it quickly breaks down and turns rancid.
We use olive oil in quite a few dishes and buy the large container of Extra Virgin Organic Olive Oil from Costco. At home, I pour half of this bottle into our olive oil dispenser and keep the other half in the Costco bottle. We keep the dispenser at room temperature and the Costco bottle in the refrigerator in the garage until the dispenser needs to be refilled with the remaining half of the Costco bottle*. This is MUCH cheaper and better quality than purchasing the smaller quantities of olive oil at the regular grocery store.
*Note: Only cool the olive oil once. Do not cool, thaw, cool, thaw. After you remove it from the refrigerator and return it to room temperature, do not put it back in the refrigerator.
8.) FORGOTTEN ITEMS
Once you get to the back of the cupboard, you get to rekindle your relationship with all of those items that you INTENDED to use. I reconnected with canned pumpkin that I had purchased months ago with the intention of making my Pumpkin Walnut Protein Bars (stay tuned in the next few weeks for the recipe). I completely forgot about that can until I saw it back there! The next morning I made a batch and they were delicious.
With the forgotten items, either find a recipe or donate them to a food bank. There’s NO point to having these items take us precious space in your kitchen if you are not going to use them. Whether you decide to make a dish or donate, they will be put to good use.
9.) ORGANIZE YOUR SPACE
Now that you have cleared your space of the items you won’t need, take a look at what you have remaining and organize it in a functional way.
Keep healthy foods and perishables up near the front so you can easily find them before they expire. Also consider getting a few bins for the little items that can easily get disorganized or have to be moved out of the way frequently. I love these Clear Handled Storage Baskets from the Container Store.
They’re lightweight, have a handle, and are stackable when not in use so the space profile is quite small. I keep most of my baking supplies in the bins so when I need something, I pull one bin out and find it. I don’t have to sift through bunches of bags of almond flour, granulated sugar, oat flour, wheat flour, and powdered sugar that are always falling over to find what I need.
10.) ENJOY YOUR NEW SPACE
Enough said – I’ve opened my cabinets and refrigerator a few times just to get that Ahhhh feeling.
Ultimately, some storage is more functional that others, but either way, you need to find a suitable solution that works without spending too much money on each space – if you are in a temporary situation. While I am still a ways away from my “DREAM SPACE,” I am a lot closer.
Stay tuned for our Pumpkin Protein Bar recipe and for more tips that I learn as I navigate the other rooms of the house! Thank you Amy for the inspiration!
Live your WHOLE life,
Meg + Shannon
maureen valenta says
Meg loved the clean out your kitchen segment..Going to go work on my pantry….By the way when you need your California closet done let me know. My best college friend does that for a living and she lives in San Diego!!!
Meg Sullivan says
Maureen- you’re already so organized, but happy I could be inspiration to clean out the pantry! I dream about my perfect California closet and will definitely let you know when I’m ready! Thanks!