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My Housekeeping Book!

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




Smart Housekeeping


Kitchen Work Spaces

Major Appliances


Work Zones and the "Kitchen Triangle"

Countertop Housekeeping

Kitchen Tables



Garbage Disposals and Garbage Cans

Major Appliances

Choosing New Appliances

Stoves and Ovens




Kitchen Tips


Easy Handcrafted Gifts

Thoughts about Clutter--Countertop Clutter

The Mice Step Out!--Storytelling

Book Reviews

Product Reviews


Work Zones and the "Kitchen Triangle"

The Kitchen Triangle is a set of design rules for kitchens. It's based on efficiency--placing the major appliances close enough to one another to minimize footsteps in meal preparation, but far enough apart for adequate countertop work space. It works very well in the situation it was designed for, fairly small kitchens where only one person is cooking.

Recently, with multiple cooks in many families, the idea of Work Zones has become more popular. So a kitchen will have a Cooking Zone, a Washing Zone, and a Storage Zone, or those may be further broken down into sub-zones like Baking, Kids' Zone, etc. Of course, much of this would only apply if you're building or remodeling a kitchen, which goes well beyond housekeeping.

Still, the way you use an existing kitchen can add or subtract a lot of order and convenience. I think most of us tend to organize our kitchens for efficiency as much as possible. It's fairly obvious that, if you have the cabinet space, the canned beans and tomato sauce are going to be kept separate from the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Pots are near the stove, knives and cutting boards aren't across the room from each other, and so forth.

If your kitchen is disorganized and tiring to work in, give some thought to efficiency. Think of the tasks you do frequently, and whether they involve wasted energy because of the way things are arranged. This is one place where it may be smart to have a few duplicates, no matter what household advice books say. For example, I have three pairs of scissors in my kitchen--one on a magnetic hook on the side of the refrigerator, mostly used for opening food packages, one near the cutting boards, used for chopping herbs and other foods, and one in a drawer beneath the counter "peninsula" where I open packages that come in the mail. Having scissors handy in each of three places where they're needed saves me walking across the kitchen for many everyday tasks.

Countertop Housekeeping


I've read opinions to the effect that countertops have more germs than the toilet seat. I won't believe that until the researchers start doing food preparation on their toilet seats.

More than one study has concluded that excessive cleanliness and sterilization cause more problems than they solve. On the other hand, countertop cleaning is something to take seriously, particularly if your food preparation includes raw meat and fish. Even vegetables can have harmful bacteria. So a middle way seems best--don't try to sterilize everything, but clean countertops frequently and thoroughly, and always clean them before preparing food that will be eaten raw. Also, clean and disinfect sponges, dishcloths, and cutting boards frequently. Just don't think you have to autoclave everything.

Keep countertops as uncluttered as possible to make cleaning easier. Keeping them completely bare may not be practical, though. It may be necessary to keep frequently used or very heavy small appliances like large food processors or stand mixers on the countertops. You probably won't use them at all if they're a pain to drag out of a cabinet. If you do put them on counters, put them in an inconvenient corner with a flexible cutting mat underneath them. That way, you can drag the appliance into a convenient position when you need it without scratching the countertop. Wind up the cord and secure it with a Velcro tie when the appliance isn't in use.

If you have a glass topped stove, don't be afraid to use the stovetop as part of your countertop when it's not hot. You can put hot things directly on it, but be careful not to drag things across a glass stovetop--they scratch easily.

If you have a regular stove, you can get a cover that will convert a (cold) stovetop to countertop space. I had one of these and found it useful, but the problem was where to store such a large object when it wasn't in use.

Countertop Materials


Plastic Laminate

Loosely referred to as "Formica," the original trade name. It varies in quality depending on maker and, to a large extent, price. Disadvantages are a lack of heat resistance in many brands and a tendency to scratch, chip, and lose any shine it started with.

Advantages are easy cleaning, low cost, and a slightly resilient surface--if you overturn a glass on a plastic countertop, the glass may not break. On harder materials like tile, it probably will.

Any general purpose cleaner, vinegar, baking soda paste, plain water, soap and water. Probably the easiest to clean of all countertop surfaces. Stains can be removed with bleach--straight, diluted, paste of cleanser, or straight liquid dishwasher detergent.

Ceramic Tile

Tiles themselves are usually very low maintenance. The grout is the problem--it stains, collects dirt, and eventualy begins to crumble. Regrouting is possible, but a major effort. Anything dropped on a ceramic tile counter is probably going to break.

For everyday cleaning, soap and water or a general purpose cleaner will do a good job. Some recommend baking soda paste for cleaning tile. Special tile and grout cleaners are available for occasional deep cleaning. If you use a product of this kind, follow the manufacturer's instructions.



Corian is a trade name for a solid countertop material made of minerals and binding resin. It is somewhat heat resistant, but should not be exposed to extreme heat. Use hot pads or trivets between the counter and hot cookware or heat generating small appliances. Avoid contact with strong chemicals. Some people have commented that older Corian is hard to clean, and easily stained.

Most household cleaners work well. However, the manufacturer says not to use window cleaner. Stains and blotches may be removable with mild abrasive cleanser. Follow manufacturer's detailed instructions for damage repair.



Stone countertop materials include granite, margle, soapstone, slate, travertine, and quartz. All of them like tile, are hard surfaces that may chip or break fragile items that overturn or drop. While different stone materials vary, many rely on sealants to keep them from staining--when the sealant wears off, they must be professionally re-sealed, or even water will mark them.

Some types of stone countertops require special cleaners. Some need to be polished at regular intervals. Follow manufacturer's instructions if available. If not, do an Internet search using "maintain granite countertop" (or whichever material you have). Compare the various results that you get and follow whatever advice seems to be a consensus.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is the material used in restaurant countertops. It's easy to maintain, although it may scratch or streak. You don't have to worry about hot pots and pans, which is a big plus. Comparatively expensive to install.


I've found that white vinegar does a fine, streak-free job on stainless steel. You can also use soap and water or general purpose cleaner. You can go to the trouble of buffing and shining if you want, but it's not necessary. Why should a countertop shine?



Wood countertops may be edge grain, end grain, or plank, and that affects how you treat them. True end grain looks like small blocks, and you see no running wood grain because your're looking at it vertically. Edge grain or plank would show typical wood grain.

Follow manufacturer's recommendations if they're available. Or treat basically as any wood tabletop--keep the surface clean and dry, and reapply sealer as needed.



Concrete is similar to tile in many ways, but it is all one piece, so the problem of grout maintenance is avoided. It's porous and must be sealed to avoid staining, and the sealer has to be renewed. Like tile, it's inclined to break or chip fragile objects. it's much more heat resistant than most materials. The edges can chip.

Clean with soap and water, or with special products made just for use with concrete. Don't use abrasive pads or other tools that could scratch the surface.


Glass countertops are actually recycled glass in a cement or resin binder. The cement binder is more expensive, and probably more durable. Some manufacturers advise cleaning with mild cleaners and say it's important to clean up spills quickly to prevent staining.

Soap and water or mild cleaner.

Kitchen Tables

We all have our dreams, I suppose. And a kitchen table is probably an odd thing to have strong feelings about. But of all the things I would like to have in a house, and rarely have had, a kitchen with room for a table is probably the top.

It's the right height of work surface for rolling piecrust or kneading dough, or quite a few other tasks that are easier done from a height above the work rather than beside it. For someone of my height, anyway, and I'm an average-height woman.

It's also where people sit and talk, share stories and coffee, keep the cook company, and enjoy casual living in a friendly home.

If you have a chance to put an eating area in your kitchen, try it. Countertops are great. But I miss kitchen tables.

Keep a brush and small dustpan handy for removing dry materials like flour from countertops and tables. It's much easier than wet-cleaning, because you're not adding to the mess by dampening it. I have a second brush-and-dustpan set that I use on the floor, but the counter one is saved for only counter and table use.


If your counter space is limited, but you have some floor space, a kitchen cart may be the answer. Another possibility is a rolling tool cabinet of the kind that mechanics use with a cutting board applied to the top.

Even a foldable serving cart can add to countertop space as needed. Some are so compact when folded that they could be stored alongside your refrigerator or in other small spaces in the kitchen.

The top of a portable dishwasher would also serve as additional counter space.


At least one housekeeping book makes a point of the need to begin by polishing your sink. Wouldn't work for me. If I started cleaning by polishing the sink, that's as far as I'd get. Sinks are there to be messed up as you clean everything else. How can you clean if you're dealing with a polished sink? You might as well polish the mop head.

There are more kinds of kitchen sinks than anyone could count. Many different materials, colors, mountings, sizes, and shapes. Faucet types. Sprayer, no sprayer. As far as all that goes, most of us are stuck with what we have. Assuming that you're not remodeling your home--which would go far beyond housekeeping--the main thing you need to know is how to clean the sink.

For that chore, I'd use cleanser unless the material was one that needed special treatment. If the faucets or mounting have crevices that are hard to clean, a small, stiff brush or a battery powered scrub brush can be very helpful.

Some sources recommend pouring boiling water down the sink drain to wash grease and dirt away. This is probably not the best idea, as it can damage porcelain sinks and some kinds of pipe. Instead, I flush the drain with ordinary hot water and dish soap from time to time.

If the drain of a double sink becomes clogged, and you use a plunger to unclog it, block the other side with a stopper or pot lid (either a regular lid from one of your pots or a silicone "fits all" type lid. A plunger won't develop enought pressure if the opposite side of the sink is not blocked.

Garbage Disposals and Garbage Cans

If you have a garbage disposal, make sure you know how to unclog it. There is usually a key, fastened somehow to the lower part of the unit.

Don't put grease, eggshells, rice, potatoes, beans, fibrous foods, raw chicken skin, onion peels, coffee grounds, fruit pits or seeds, apple cores, or bones down a garbage disposal.

Maybe it would be better not to use it? I thought that, but it developed nasty odors. Many people clean them with ice and salt, or vinegar and baking soda. I use hot water and dishwashing liquid. However, when you are using the appliance to grind garbage, always use cold water, so the fats will get disposed of properly.

For kitchen disposal containers, I keep food garbage separate from trash. The food garbage goes in a small, heavy can with a tight lid. I take that to the outside can every day.

In very hot weather, I keep a bag of vegetable peelings, fruit peels, and similar things in the freezer. I put the frozen food waste out in the outdoor can on garbage pickup day. This saves having extreme odors from food waste, but it's important to remember to take that bag out of the freezer!

Trash would be things like food wrappers and rinsed out cans. These won't smell up the house, so they can be collected in a larger can and only disposed of when the can is full.

You could have another container for recycling. Find out what is acceptable for recycling in your area, because it varies.

When I'm cooking, I use a bowl on the counter to collect trimmings and other garbage. This saves a lot of steps back and forth to the garbage can as I'm working at the counter. If your garbage can is in a handy location, doing this might not be as helpful as it is in my kitchen.

Major Kitchen Appliances

Choosing New Appliances

New appliances are a major purchase on most people's budgets. However, if you have an old refrigerator, you may actually save money by replacing it, as the efficiency of new models results in lower electricity costs. In the long run, a new refrigerator may pay for itself. The same would be true of freezers, of course.

Still, it's a fair amount of money to shell out all at once. Consumer advocates have hints for considering and comparing new appliances:

General Considerations

Ask around. What do your friends think about recent purchases of their own?
Review the Energy Guide label. How does the utility cost of this appliance compare to similar ones?
Make sure the electrical circuit you plan to use has adequate capacity for this appliance.
Read consumer magazine articles.
Make a list of features you'd use, and compare models.
Be realistic about your needs. Interesting features aren't always things that would really make a difference to you.
Read the owner's manual and the warranty.
Make sure you can get it into the room and that it fits the space you have, vertical as well as horizontal.
If the appliance has a door, make sure clearances would permit the door to open.
Make sure service is available in your area.

Stoves and Ovens

I thought I'd love a glass cooktop. Then I got one. It completely changed the way I cook--I avoid it if at all possible. I use small electric appliances of all kinds to avoid dealing with it. When I absolutely have to, I use a heat diffuser to keep it from burning everything. Mostly, I regard it as a heat resistant countertop.

Does the oven size work with pots and pans you have?

Refrigerators and Freezers

Is the door opening direction workable? If not, it may be reversible.
Does the layout work for you?


Dishwashers are available in full size and compact. Both have their advantages--depends on what you need.

Check the options for cycle selections. A light wash cycle option may save energy and money if that's what you mostly need.
Some dishwashers have a sanitizing feature. I don't feel the need, but if your household includes a person with health issues, or if you're bottling food or toiletries, especially for sale, it might be worth your while to have the sterilization feature.

Check the system for distributing water. There are different ways of getting water to all the dishes, and they may limit what can be washed.
A portable dishwasher has big disadvantages as well as its obvious advantages. It uses a great deal of floor space and monopolizes the sink when it's running. You shouldn't wash crystal, gold-trimmed plates, good knives, hollowware, aluminum, cast iron, some nonstick pots and pans, wooden items, or cans with glued-on labels in a dishwasher. Many plastics are only washable in the top rack.

Don't wash stainless steel and sterling silver together in the dishwasher.

Dishwashers do have their share of disadvantages. Still, the pluses may outweigh the minuses for you.

Kitchen Tips








It's easier to weigh many ingredients than it is to measure them. If you have a scale, you can work out the weight of a given volume from the nutrition information. (Then make a note in your cookbook). With some things--brown sugar is a prime example--weighing is much easier. Many accurate, inexpensive scales are available. Weighing in grams is more accurate than weighing in ounces, so even if you live in a country that doesn't use the metric system, you might decide to set your scale to grams--it's easy to get used to.

I weigh or measure all ingredients into small bowls and have them ready before I start mixing. This is what restaurants call mise en place. It does use more dishes, but you avoid a lot of mistakes.

Disposable-reusable food storage containers like Gladware come in a bewildering array of sizes and shapes. Limit yourself to two or three, or you'll have a storage problem. I store the lids in zip bags and stack the containers themselves. They take up much less space that way.

Whenever possible, I use parchment paper instead of greasing pans.

Substitute broth for water in soup and similar recipes to get better flavor.

If a baking recipe calls for whole eggs, bring them to room temperature. But don't try to separate yolks from whites at room temperature--it's much harder than if they're cold.

Keep a grocery list pad and pen handy, and add to it as you use things up or notice that they're getting low.

Use unwaxed dental floss for slicing foods that are too soft to slice well with a knife. When you make cinnamon rolls, slice the roll by "lasso-ing" the rolled-up dough with dental floss, and then bringing the ends up and together.

Buy good knives and treat them like the fine possessions they are. Protect the edges from damage by using sheaths, or keep them in a knife block or on a magnetic strip. Hand wash them but do not ever submerge the whole knife in a dishpan--you could cut yourself badly. Either have your knives professionally sharpened or get a high-end knife sharpener--cheap ones will ruin your knives. One exception to all this is: Buy one or two cheap knives, so that when you need to use a knife for something that's likely to damage it, you won't be tempted to use one of the good ones.


Lay berries in a tray one berry deep and refrigerate. The less they touch each other, the less chance of spoilage, or of spoilage spreading if one does go bad. Don't cover. Don't wash until your're ready to eat them.

To get the best taste from a fresh pineapple, turn it upside down for a day. This makes the sweet juice run back toward the top of the pineapple. The easiest way I've found to prop a pineapple up is to put it in the jar of a countertop blender. The base is heavy enough to keep the pineapple from falling over.

If you're using lemon peel in a recipe with sugar, mix the peel and sugar and rub them together before combining with the other ingredients. Brings out the fragrant oil in the peel.

Cut an apple in half and remove the center of the core with a melon baller. Wastes much less than trimming with a knife.

I sometimes buy bananas at different stages of ripeness, separating them from their bunches in the market--a couple of ripe or nearly-ripe, and a few more that show some green. If you wrap the stems tightly in plastic wrap, they last longer. Also, if you can, keep them in a bowl or basket that's at least a little open, to get good ventilation around the whole bunch.


Fill a mason jar partway with water and put herb stems into it like a bouquet, first removing any rubber bands or ties. Also remove any leaves that would be beneath the water level. Cover loosely with a plastic food storage bag. I put the herb jar on the shelf on the refrigerator door in a washed half milk carton--that keeps it from overturning.


Most nuts taste better toasted. I usually toast them whether the recipe directs me to or not.

To grind nuts for baking, mix with part of the flour and process in a food processor. Without the flour, you get nut butter.

Spices and Extracts

Spice dealers are a far better source tthan the grocery store. For one thing, the spices are fresher and taste much better. For another, even with postage, you may save money, because you don't have to keep buying little jars. They contribute a great deal to the price of packaged spices. And bulk grocery store spices are usually mediocre brands, and often stale as well.

Freeze fresh ginger root. It's much easier to grate if you do, much less fibrous, and of course, it won't go bad. I substitute fresh ginger for powdered in almost every recipe that calls for the dried version.

Different types of vanilla extract are available, so test-taste and see what you like. My favorite, Tahitian, is avoided by some because it contains sugar. Everything I put vanilla extract in contains a lot more sugar, so that doesn't bother me. Avoid artificial vanilla extract--it tastes nothing like the real thing. In general, natural extracts are always the way to go.

Culinary citrus oils can substitute for citrus peel. This is a strong flavor, so use carefully.



Freeze leftover onions, carrots, celery, and tomatoes for making soup or pizza sauce.

Freeze leftover broth for soup making.

Puree fresh herbs in the food processor or blender with water or broth, and freeze them in ice cube trays. Move to labeled plastic bags once they're frozen. Use in soup, homemade pasta sauce, and casseroles.

If you can, buy lemons or limes in large bags at restaurant supply stores--they are much cheaper. Grate the peel and juice them. Freeze the juice in ice cube trays--you can remove the frozen cubes, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, and store them compactly in plastic bags in the freezer. Freeze the peel in a labeled zip bag.

Freeze leftover tomato sauce, tomato paste, or canned tomatoes in ice cube trays, too. I used to buy tomato paste in tubes, rationalizing the price by the waste-free advantage of tubes over cans. Then it occurred to me to freeze the leftovers from cans, so I get the advantage of both.

If you don't like storing food in plastic bags and GladWare dishes, glass containers like the ones on the left are available, with either plastic or glass tops.



A few favorites, either my own recipes or used by permission. Click here for recipes for:

Anne's Carrot Cake

Louisiana Gumbo

Brookfield Fruitcake (for people who hate fruitcake, as well as those who love it)

Health Bread

Easy Handcrafted Gifts

You can make wonderful gifts at home. Click here for help with making:

Glycerin Soap

Lotions and other Toiletries

Beeswax Candles

Mix in a Jar

Bead necklace or Bracelet

Jewelry using blanks

Packaging for Gifts


Thoughts about Clutter--Countertop Clutter

Clutter on countertops is hard to avoid, but it's important to make a point of doing it. Unless you have almost unlimited counter space (and who ever heard of that?), it's a good idea to think carefully about what you're going to keep on your countertops. Every object that sits on a counter permanently makes that counter a little harder to use and clean.

If your space is very limited, you may choose to keep nothing at all on the countertops. One way to avoid countertop storage is to use hooks, hanging rails, hanging baskets, wall shelves, and similar organizers to raise storage of tools like spoons and whisks to the wall space above the counters. Look at designs and products for camper and boat galleys--they are ingenious and efficient.

Think about what's traditionally on kitchen counters in homes. I have very little kitchen counter space, so I pared things down as much as I could.

Canister Sets--Typically Flour, Sugar, Coffee, and Tea, in graduated sizes. I decided I didn't need to have flour, sugar, or tea any more handy than anything else. Instead of flour and sugar canisters, I have large plastic jars with screw-on caps, which are better for keeping ants out of the food in any case. Rather than put them on the counter, I added them to the other baking staples in my pantry. I do have a coffee canister on the counter, next to the coffee maker.

Spice Rack--I put my spice jars in the refrigerator in a slide-out box. The spices last longer.

Knife Block--I found a knife rack that mounts on the inside of a lower cabinet door. Not recommended if there are small children in the house, but you can also get knife trays that drop down from the bottom of the upper cabinet.

Dish Drainer--I moved the drainer and its tray to the lower shelf of the kitchen cart I described above. I do have a very small dish drainer on the counter in a narrow strip between the cooktop and the wall. Nothing else fit there, and it's moderately handy.

Tool Crock--Instead of a crock or carousel on the counter, I hung some kitchen tools on the wall, some on a rail that I made from a tension shower curtain rod and S-hooks from a dollar store. A few of my tools weren't made to hang, so I put up a wall basket for them. I found some small wall mounted bins for bag ties and similar items.

Fruit Bowl--I moved this to the dining room.

Paper Towel Holder--I mounted a magnetic one to the side of my refrigerator.

Cutting Board--Instead of a heavy wood cutting board, I hung two silicone cutting boards on the side of a cabinet.

Microwave oven--I moved it to the top of the refrigerator. This isn't ideal, but it's workable. A magnetic hook on the side of the refrigerator keeps a couple of pot holders handy.

So what's left?

Small dish drainer as described above. Behind it is a small tray with a salt shaker, salt cellar, peppermill, and knife sharpener. In another kitchen those items might not be on the counter, but it's a narrow, otherwise unusable space between the cooktop and the wall.

Stand Mixer--Too awkward to drag in and out of a cabinet. I keep it on a flexible cutting board, and pull it out from its corner when I need it.

Food processor--Too heavy and too frequently used to put away, so it also is stashed in a corner of the counter. It's not too heavy to lift enough to reposition it, so I do that. I keep the most frequently used accessory, the steel blade, mounted in the bowl, but the slicing and shredding discs are stored within easy reach.

Coffee maker and coffee canister--These are in a corner next to the refrigerator. I put a magnetic hook on the side of the refrigerator to hold my coffee scoop and a magnetic basket for filters.

Electric Kettle--This is a concession to having an all electric kitchen, which I dislike. It's much more convenient and economical to use small appliances for most tasks. But I wouldn't have it if I had a gas or propane stove.

What you want and need to keep handy will probably be different from my list. But give it some thought if your kitchen is small or counter space is limited.


The Mice Step Out! Storytelling

Click here for the mice's storytelling evening.


Book Reviews

Consumer Reports Kitchen Planning and Buying Guide

Great for reviews of products. Probably oriented more toward homeonwers, 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.


Consumer Reports Magazine

Offers the same sort of help as the special guide. The best product evaluations you can get, because they don't accept advertising.


Home Comforts
Cheryl Mendelson

Excellent suggestions for kitchens and many other topics. Recommended.


Kitchen Organization Tips and Secrets
Deniece Shofield
Get Organized Books

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


Kitchen Hacks
Cook's Illustrated

Good suggestions for easier and more effective food preparation. Recommended.


Kitchen Appliances 101
Donald E. Slivers, CKD
NMI Publishers

Good discussion of appliances. Recommended.


Food Safety at Home
Jennie Webb

Good overview of a very important subject. Recommended.

The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook
Justin Spring

Good ideas for organizing small kitchens. Recommended.


Store This, Not That!
by Crystal Geoffrey and Debbie Kent

Practical discussion of food and food storage. Recommended.


The Sidetracked Sisters Catch Up on the Kitchen
Pam Yound and Peggy Jones
Warner Books

I didn't find this book useful. Not recommended.

Product Reviews

I have no financial interest in any of these companies, and have not received anything in exchange for my recommendations.


Nielsen-Massey Tahitian Pure Vanilla

Boyajian Pure Lemon Oil

Brod & Taylor Professional Knife Sharpener

Spectrum Diversified 40500 Magnetic Paper Towel Holder

Camco 43583 Knife Safe

Not Recommended

HOPE'S Premium Home Care, Wax Free Counter Top Polish. Does nothing, in my experience. Don't waste your money.

Any glass cooktop. It's not just me--everyone I know who has tried one of these things, hates them. They distribute heat even worse than regular electric burners, if that's possible, and they scratch easily. They also require special cleaners, and it can be very difficult to remove spills.


Felted mice by Diyana Stankova





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