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Organize This! -- The Kitchen

In part five of our "Organize This!" series, we take a look at the hub of most people's homes - the kitchen.

As we all know, the kitchen is home to gadgets, appliances, dishes and food. It's also where most of us spend time not just eating or preparing food, but hanging out with family and friends. Donna Smallin, the author of "Organizing Plain and Simple," says the kitchen is a place that can quickly become a mess, so she showed us how to tackle kitchen clutter.

Smallin says that with some simple organization, the kitchen can be transformed from a disaster area into a more functional space in a matter of minutes. But she says organizing the kitchen can be a full day's work, so if you can't spare a whole day, break the task down into smaller jobs. For example, clean the refrigerator on a Saturday and the following week tackle the countertop. Here are her tips and recommendations:

Unclutter countertops
Give your kitchen an instant organization makeover by getting rid of the clutter on countertops. Instantly, your kitchen is neater and easier to clean. Leave out only those items that you use at least several times a week. Store everything else in cupboards and drawers. Use a pretty bowl or basket to collect keys, coins and other small, loose items.

The baskets displayed on The Saturday Early Show are available at Home Goods Store.

Eliminate paper pile-ups
Set up a vertical file for sorting mail, bills and other paperwork. Label folders: To Read, To Pay, To File, Mom, Dad, Kid 1, Kid 2. This is a great tool for sharing school paperwork between parents and kids and for relaying telephone messages. Vertical files come in a variety of colors and materials.

The Eldon Vertical File is available at Office Max, about $8.

Organizer stands:
If you're always on the go, you might want to try a portable system for filing that lets you organize bills, school paperwork, recipes and coupons all in one place. Smallin says you can use an organizer stand on the counter for sorting and filing mail as it comes in. It can be closed up and transported, too, so you can pay bills and read mail on your lunch hour, on your commute to work, or while waiting to pick up the kids at school or at the dentist's office.

The Mead Carry-File is available for about $10.

Simpliciti Home Organizer:
A more high-tech solution for eliminating paper pile-ups is the Simpliciti Home Organizer. Smallin says to use it instead of a calendar for family scheduling so you can stay on top of who needs to be where when. You can also use it to store electronic shopping lists for all the stores you go to. Then just print the list before heading out the door. It stores notes too, plus telephone numbers and addresses.

The Simpliciti Home Organizer is available at many CompUSA stores, about $120.

Magnetized Clips:
Magnetized clips can be used for attaching notes, shopping lists and other papers to the fridge. You can also use them to close up opened bags of chips or to hold open a cookbook.

The OXO Good Grips All Purpose Clips come in assorted colors, about $6.

Recipe Organizer:
Smallin says a neat way to organize recipes is to store your favorites in a three-hole binder with photo album pages. She says to create divider pages for each category such as salads and desserts. You might also create a section for "Recipes to Try."

Clean up around the sink
If you're short on storage space under your sink, Smallin says the Pop-Up Dish Rack is the perfect solution. Skinny little "fingers" pop-up to hold dishes and glasses and retract for compact storage.

OXO Good Grips Pop-Up is available at a variety of stores such as Crate & Barrel or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The dish rack is about $40 and the utensil holder is sold separately for about $5.

Soap dispensing dish wand
It's always great when you find a product that does double duty, Smallin says. The OXO Soap Dispensing Dish Wand gets the bottle of dishwashing soap off your sink for a neater, cleaner look. It's gentle enough for stemware, but you can use it for cleaning muffin pans, too. Plus, you can throw it in the dishwasher to sanitize it.

The OXO Good Grips Soap Dispensing Dish Wand is about $6.

Determine what's essential and what's not
Smallin suggests paring down kitchen tools to just those items that you actually use. Everything else is just taking up valuable space. Ask yourself: "Could I get another one pretty easily and inexpensively if I need it someday?" If the answer is yes, let it go. Smallin believes you don't need a lot to have an efficient kitchen that will meet your cooking and serving needs.

Kitchen Essentials:
For food preparation

  • cutting board
  • bread knife with serrated edge
  • 8- or 10-inch chef's knife, for chopping
  • paring knife
  • vegetable peeler
  • vegetable scrubbing brush
  • egg beater
  • grater
  • kitchen shears
  • can opener
  • set of nested mixing bowls
  • rubber spatula
  • dry and liquid measuring cups (2 sets)
  • measuring spoons (2 sets)

For cooking

  • small, medium, and large pots with lids
  • extra-large pot with lid
  • whisk
  • tongs
  • metal spatula
  • wooden spoons (2 sizes)
  • slotted spoon
  • small, medium, and large skillets

*All of the kitchen essentials demonstrated on The Saturday Early Show came from

Also, set limits on things like leftover containers and plastic shopping bags. Here's a way to limit the number you save to what you really need. Take an empty plastic gallon jug and cut a hole in the front that's just big enough for your fist. Insert bags one at a time. The jug will hold about 20 bags.

Read an excerpt from "Organizing Plain and Simple":

Getting Started
Organizing the kitchen can easily be a full-day job. If you can't spare an entire day, break the task down into smaller jobs. Unclutter the counter today, tackle the refrigerator and freezer tomorrow, and unclutter everything else one day at a time until you are satisfied with the results.

The countertop is a good place to start. Just uncluttering your countertop can make your whole kitchen look neat and organized. Simply remove everything from the counter, and then put back only those things you use at least twice a week. Find a new home for everything else - possibly in another room or in the "Give Away" or "Sell" box. The next step is to organize for efficiency.

Where to Store What

Think about the types of activities that take place in your kitchen. They might include food preparation, cooking, washing dishes, eating, opening mail and paying bills. Then think about where in the kitchen you do these things and what tools you need to do them. Now look at nearby storage areas in each of these activity areas. Tools should be stored as close as possible to where you use them. For example, keep the toaster near the breadbox, pots and pans near the stove, and the coffeemaker near the sink.

Before you start lamenting your lack of cabinet or counter space, look at your walls and ceiling as potential storage spaces. In a restaurant kitchen, the chef's main tools are hung up rather than stored away because it's more efficient. If you have a handsome set of pots and pans, consider hanging them on a wall or from a ceiling-mounted rack. Hang knives on a magnetic bar attached to the wall, and hang cooking utensils on a pegboard or rail system with hooks mounted near
your stove.

When replacing small appliances, consider ones that mount under cabinets (coffeemaker, microwave, toaster, and can opener are good examples). Another way to gain counter space is to put your microwave on a rolling cart that has shelves and drawers, where you can store cookbooks and measuring cups and spoons.

Organizing Cabinets

Take everything out of your cabinets, one cabinet at a time. Throw away plastic containers without lids, and give away those in odd sizes that you never use. If you have more than enough coffee mugs or glasses, get rid of some. Discard or hold aside for donation anything else in your cabinets that's just taking up space.

The most efficient place to store dishes, glassware, and silverware is close to your dishwasher or sink, so that it's fast and easy to put them away after being washed. You also might store them near the table, so a helper can get to the table without getting in the way of the cook in the food-preparation zone. A great way to optimize storage space for dishes is to install a wire shelf unit that attaches to the underside of your existing shelving. Also, consider using cup hooks underneath shelving for hanging coffee cups and mugs. Glassware should be stored upside down to keep the inside dust-free. Stemware can be hung by using an organizing product that clips to the underside of a shelf.

Excerpted from "Organizing Plain and Simple," by Donna Smallin. Excerpted by permission by Storey Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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