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Smart Housekeeping
The No-Nonsense Guide to Decluttering, Organizing, and Cleaning Your Home,



Smart Housekeeping


Kitchen Storage

Small Appliances and Kitchen Gadgets

Smart Marketing


Kitchen Storage





Other Storage Solutions

Small Appliances


Smart Marketing

Thoughts about Clutter: Clutter in the Cabinets

The Mice Step Out: The Mice's Holiday

Book Reviews




Kitchen Storage

Store things as close as possible to the area where they'll be used. Store in logical groups--baking supplies together, canned foods, etc. Dishes and flatware for the table should be stored near the dining room.

If you store dishes in a cabinet directly above your dishwasher, you won't be able to put them away easily until you've closed the dishwasher. This isn't necessarily so inconvenient that it should be avoided, but it's something to consider.

Storing pans and refrigerator containers with their tops on wastes space. Store the tops separately nearby. For refrigerator dishes, separate the tops of different types and sizes into individual plastic zip bags. Then you can store the containers stacked, and always find what you want.


Most cabinets are made of wood, though older ones may be painted or enameled metal, and a few newer ones are stainless steel. Wood cabinets may be solid wood, or may be particleboard with veneer or plastic laminate finish. Some are painted.

Usually, special cleaning isn't needed for cabinet fronts--wiping them down with a damp cloth or sponge is adequate, if it's done regularly. Either detergent and water or a vinegar solution can be used from time to time.

As attractive as glass cabinet doors are, they're not easy to maintain, and they make what should be utility storage into a display box. If you have glass doors and don't like them, you can use non-adhesive window film to block the view and at least limit the "window" cleaning to one side.

Plastic organizer baskets are useful for grouping foods in cabinets (also in the refrigerator and freezer). They also make messy packages like cellophane bags of pasta into neat, easily-handled items.

One thing to keep in mind when you buy small appliances is that keeping them in their original boxes is one way to maximize cabinet storage.


Commercial kitchens usually have open shelves. They're very convenient, but of course you have to keep them neat or they look chaotic--something that restaurants probably don't worry much about. Pantry shelves are usually open.

Most cabinets are divided by one or more shelves. Sometimes, the shelves are adjustable so you can customize the cabinet for different heights of storage. Plastic tubs can convert cabinet shelves to drawers.

Shelves should be easily cleanable. If shelving material is unfinished wood or particleboard, it's impossible to clean. Short of major remodeling, the only solutions would seem to be heavy, durable paint, contact paper, or old fashioned oilcloth,.

Installing contact paper inside a cabinet is tricky--there are directions and videos online, but you can count on a frustrating experience if you get involved in this. And sooner or later, the paper will wear out and have to be removed, and that's a frustrating experience, too.

Oilcloth lasts longer, and at least you're not fighting adhesive, but you do need a staple gun. You can find helpful videos online for installing oilcloth as well..


Subdivide deep drawers with organizer baskets or other boxes. I use clean, cut down half gallon milk cartons--they're perfect, because they're not tapered at the bottom.


People who live far from a convenient market learn to keep a pantry. I remember visiting friends who lived in the country, and being impressed with their efficiency. They kept a small stock of everything they used. As soon as they opened the last package of something, they put it on the grocery list.

I assemble a "storm pantry" every fall, with nonperishable food I can use if winter weather is too bad for me to get to the market. In the spring, I donate everything to the Food Bank. I don't try to save the food from year to year--it wouldn't be an acceptable donation if it was not within its "use by" date.

Another good thing to keep in your pantry is ingredients for a quick, casual dinner party for friends. Or something nice to serve with coffee--something you can make quickly, like a mix for a baked treat. (Freezers are good for either of these uses, as well.)

You don't have to have a whole pantry. Just a special shelf would be plenty for most of us.

Other Storage Solutions

A few ceiling-hung items are available, such as the hanging baskets shown on the right. These can be convenient, but they can also occupy just as much space as a basket or stand on the counter, and may interfere with work headroom. Onions--or anything that tends to shed or flake--will leave a mess on the couner or floor underneath the baskets. In addition, it's necessary to fasten them securely into the ceiling so that they don't just pull out when you put anything heavy in them.

Some kitchens have nooks and crannies where narrow or folding items can be stored.

Wall-hung shelves may work well in some kitchens. A sheet of pegboard on the wall can hold many items, and can be rearranged if your needs change.

Space on top of upper cabinets can serve as a shelf for rarely-used items. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, though, it's not wise to put anything heavy in a location where it could suddenly come down on your head.

Small Appliances


Small appliances are mostly single-use specialties. They can occupy a lot of cabinet and counter space. In my kitchen, well-chosen ones have proved to be worth it because of the utility cost savings over using an electric cooktop and oven. And I have ample cabinet space.

Regardless of where you buy small appliances, read and consider online reviews. Be aware, though, that buying reviews is a common practice. When I look at reviews, I consider the percentage of negative comments--if it's over 10%, I consider myself warned. I mostly read the medium-level, "three star" reviews, and pay the closest attention to ones that discuss specific positives and negatives.

A good source of unbiased reviews is Consumer Reports magazine. If they feature the type of appliance you're considering, you'll get a thorough discussion of features and value.

Since space here doesn't permit full discussion of every kind of appliance, I'm limiting my notes to personal observations that may not come up as you look at more formal writeups.

Microwave Ovens--Available in various sizes and power levels, many with more bells and whistles than most people would want. Choose by desired size and power level. The effective size of a microwave oven isn't the size of the interior compartment--it's the size of the turntable. Some small ovens may not be able to hold even a dinner plate. Negative online reviews of specific models cluster around two kinds of problems: delivery issues and durability.

Convection Ovens--The hot air circulation in convection ovens speeds up cooking, but may dry the food out. It's useful for some things, not for others. Negative comments about these had to do with durability and confusing features and instructions.

Mixers--Be careful to match the features and power to your needs--there's enormous variety. For stand mixers, one important feature for me is how well the beater "cleans" the bowl--do I have to keep helping things along with a spatula? Stand mixers are heavy, so you're probably going to have to give it a permanent home on your counter--do you have room? If you do buy a stand mixer, consider getting an extra bowl. (And don't forget that these are mixing bowls that you can use for all kinds of things, not just in the mixer.) I've bought and discarded so many portable mixers that I've decided I don't really want one.

Food Processors-- Power and capacity are the big considerations with food processors. Some special features like a dough setting might make a difference, depending on how you plan to use one. I bought a second bowl assembly and blade at the time I bought mine because the bowl wears out before the motor, and I found it was impossible to get a good replacement bowl for an older model. It's not that they don't exist--they do. But in the case of my machine, the replacement didn't work well at all.

Blenders -- I originally thought food processors would replace blenders, but they're different. Blenders are mostly for liquids. If that's a function you need, a blender is worth the storage space. More than a couple of speeds seems excessive.

Coffee Makers -- For me, the major consideration is capacity. I don't think twelve cup coffeemakers ever do a good job with two cups. At least not in my price range--there are units with eye-popping price tags that apparently do everything but grow the coffee. Maybe they do a good job with small quantities. My experience with coffee makers that grind the coffee beans (or with grinding the coffee beans daily myself) has been that it doesn't improve the final product much.

Slow Cookers -- As cooking devices go, slow cookers use minimal power, which is one of their best features.The usual four-quart capacity works well for me, but if you cook in larger quantities, you can get much larger ones. I also have a small one for reducing sauces and other small jobs. It isn't impossible to burn food in a slow cooker as I used to believe--it's harder, but you can do it. I see little or no point in buying plastic liners unless the crock part isn't removable, which most are.

Woks and Fry Pans -- Like all small appliances that cook or heat, these can be much more economical to use than an electric cooktop, if that's what you have. I like a nonstick wok for sauteing.

Griddles and Waffle Irons -- Sometimes griddles and waffle irons are one appliance with interchangeable cooking plates. I've had both, and found that I didn't use them enough to make them a good use of storage space.

Steamers and Rice Cookers -- A rice cooker has the advantage of taking care of one side dish with no supervision. Worth it for me, but I know other cooks who consider them unnecessary.

Toasters -- This is one appliance that I've repeatedly purchased and then given away. I've finally decided to just keep one, even though I go long periods without using it.

Et Ceteras -- I've looked at yogurt makers, ice cream makers, pasta machines, juicers, grills...you name it, I've probably considered it, and maybe even bought one. The major reason I haven't bought, or in some cases, kept, specialty appliances is that I don't use them often enough. I think any appliance has to earn its way into your kitchen, and some of them just don't.


The usual advice about kitchen gadgets is "no single use gadgets." That's one of those household rules of thumb that you don't want to apply without thinking. After all, a knife sharpener is a single use gadget, and it's very advisable to have one.

So, when is a gadget more trouble than it's worth?

It's a good idea to think hard about heavily advertised new gadgets. Many of them are just fads. And some will work well for some people and be next to useless for others.

An example from my kitchen would be the device that cuts vegetables into pasta-like forms. A number of people recommended this enthusiastically to me, knowing that I like low-calorie cooking. It looked like a good idea, and I considered it seriously. But I decided not to buy one, because I'm happy with what I do now, which is to dice and roast vegetables and put pasta sauce on them. In fact, I probably like the roasted ones more than I'd like steamed or boiled vegetable "noodles." But for some people, having a more appetizing alternative to spaghetti squash is enjoyable enough that the tool is worth the money and the storage space it would take.

Another example is one I decided I need, even though I rarely use it: a grease mop. This is a small tool that soaks up fat from the top of a stock or sauce. I cook with very little fat in any case, so I almost never need one. In fact, I've bought and discarded a couple because I didn't think I used it enough to bother with storing one. Then, for some reason, I'd need a grease mop, and of course, I didn't have one. You can chill the food and take the fat off when it solidifies, but that takes time. You can skim off extra fat with a spoon or a paper towel, but it doesn't work very well. So I own a mostly idle grease mop.

My advice about gadgets is to think carefully, especially about fads. Get what you need and use, store things so you can find them easily, even if you rarely need them.

Smart Marketing

You'd think, to read some books about grocery stores, that they're run by evil weasels who are out to strip us of our last dollar. I don't agree.

I do have a few tips for food shopping:

Make a menu for the week and a list to go with it. Many people plan meals around advertised specials at their store--this may save you quite a bit of money.

Consider restaurant supply stores for things you can use in larger quantities.

Stick to your list when you get to the store. Put specific quantities on your list or take a copy of the recipe with you. "Canned tomatoes" may not be good enough--what size can? Diced, crushed, or whole?

Make decisions about what to bring into your house while you're making the list. Don't buy something that's off-limits for one member of the household. If one person has to avoid sweets, and someone else in the house wants them, don't bring them home. The person who wants them can get them somewhere else.

Know what produce is in season in your area. Take advantage of the good quality and low prices you get with seasonal shopping.

If the produce in front of the display doesn't look fresh, check the back of the display. Markets rotate their stock. (When you get your groceries home, you should do that too--put the new items behind any of the same kind that you already have.)

Don't assume that store brands are the equivalent of national brands. Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't. Try both and decide.

Read and understand nutrition labels

  • Ingredients are listed in order of how much is in the food, by weight.
  • Know what the words mean--for example, anything ending in -ose or -ase is probably sugar. So is anything that uses the words "can,." "syrup," or "malt." Many people avoid sugar, and some manufacturers try to disguise it.
  • Check the serving size. Some foods seem to be low fat or low calorie based on unrealistic serving sizes.
  • If you buy a food regularly, check the nutrition label again from time to time.

Don't market hungry. You'll be surprised how delicious everything looks when you're hungry.

I keep my list on a small pad, and I take the whold pad to the store with me. If they're out of something, I add it to the next page on the pad. That gives me a list of things I need to go elsewhere for, or if it's not urgent to get it immediately, it's a start on the next week's list. Some apps for handheld electronic devices will do this automatically.

Buy in bulk when it makes sense--but it doesn't always make sense. How much are you saving? Will you use the larger quantity? Will it go bad? Do you have convenient storage space for it?

Only use coupons or pay attention to sales if you were going to buy the item anyway.

Look for small type on labels that says things like "previously frozen" or "from concentrate." It may indicate over-processed food.

Be ready for the checkout. Don't keep a whole line waiting while you go back for something you forgot. If you use coupons, get them assembled and ready before you check out.

Pay attention to recalls. They usually give lot numbers. If you use that product and that brand, make the effort to find out if your food is safe.

Use washable, reusable bags. Many markets give a small credit for this, and in any case, you'll be cutting down on your household trash. If you do use plastic or paper bags from the market, some small stores will accept them for re-use.

Thoughts about Clutter--Clutter in the Cabinets

Cabinets attract clutter and keep it, because it's hidden. On high upper shelves of cabinets and in their back corners, all kinds of things can lurk. Small appliances that haven't been used in years, food way past its "use-by" date--with the cabinet door closed, it's easy to ignore. And it's a big job to tidy them all at once.

But why tidy them all at once? If your cabinets haven't been cleaned since the year dot, why not do one section at a time? Of all the cleaning chores in the world, kitchen cabinets are one of the easiest to do in stages. Take one cabinet, or even one shelf or drawer of one cabinet, and do a good job of cleaning it out. If you do one section a day, or even one a week, you've made major progress in getting your kitchen decluttered.

Take everything out of the space you've decided to tidy. Clean the shelf or drawer with whatever you use to clean your countertops. Dry it, and then cull the things you're going to put back. Get rid of food that's past its "use by" date. Discard anything that's broken or useless. You may or may not try to sort and discard the other objects in the cabinet--you could save this for another day, another project.

And don't forget to take a break to enjoy the results and congratulate yourself on a job well done!

The Mice Step Out! The Mice's Holiday

Click here to see the mice's holiday celebrations.

Book Reviews

Kitchen Organization Made Easy
Sherrie Le Masurier

Good kitchen tips. Recommended.


What's a Disorganized Person to Do?

Stacey Platt

Good tips for organization all over the house, including very good tips for kitchen organization. Recommended.


Consumer Reports Kitchen Planning and Buying Guide

Great for reviews of products. Probably oriented more toward homeowners, more toward rehabilitation including some construction, than toward making the best of what you have. Recommended if that level of advice is what you need. Recommended.


1001 Ideas for Kitchen Organization
by Joseph R. Provey

Excellent practical suggestions, many involving small changes that don't require construction. Recommended.


Kitchen Organization Tips and Secrets
Deniece Schofield
Get Organized Books

Good ideas for cooking as well as kitchen storage. Recommended.



Felted mice by Diyana Stankova



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