last month of cleaning: kitchen

February 27, 2022


If you've read my last two cleaning posts, thank you so much, and please, keep reading! I've saved the best for last and you'll find many awesome tips in today's post. 

My house is almost done, and while it's not always tidy, it can be easily tidied. My husband, watching me from the sidelines (but helping sometimes too) has said more than once, "the house doesn't look any different". I'll give him that, it doesn't look that much different, but the way it functions is really different. And only I know how many grimy rags I've washed, how many buckets of dirty water I've tossed and how many filled boxes I've donated. I feel a great sense of satisfaction and pride knowing that my spaces function so much better because everything has been winnowed down to what we use and love. I'm a million miles away from being a minimalist, but that's never been my goal. I just want to be the boss of my house.

My kitchen was remodeled 30 plus years old ago and could use another facelift but it won't get one for many reasons. I'll save that for another post. I'm showing pictures of it because several readers were interested in seeing my home.  A few things have changed since these photos-- a new refrigerator, yippee!, also the wreath is gone and the cookie jar is full. 

So friends, this is the last of these posts and today we're in the kitchen so let's hit the pantry first.

I worked really hard on it.

Are you ready for the big reveal?

Tada! This is it! Gorgeous, right?

All right, so you know this is not my pantry. I slurped this image from a magazine, and while it's gorgeous, it doesn't look all that practical. Let's just for once and all set aside the idea that we need to decant our food into gorgeous containers and curate a rainbow pantry a la Instagram. Instead, let's take an afternoon and clean out our hard working pantry and turn it into a practical pantry that is easily tidied, easily maintained, and ultimately, beautifully functional. Let's do it! 

a pantry in real life ;)

Take everything out.
Vacuum up the bits and scrub every surface; over, under, sideways, down.
Replace shelf liners if used.
Throw out expired food and set aside food you won't use and deliver to your local food bank.

Now you need to put it all back and this is where you will need some containers. I love the idea of using matching baskets, but if that is not in your budget, or if you're like me and would rather find something that can be had for free, go to the shoe store and ask them for their unused shoe and boot boxes. You'll need many sizes and lots of them, so take more than you think you'll need. Put your pantry items into the boxes, like for like; pasta in one box, snacks in another, etc. Make it make sense to your family's needs.

I'm not a fan of decanting as I think it adds an unnecessary, expensive and time consuming step. The original package usually has info I'll need and keeps the food fresh. I will decant if the package doesn't keep the product fresh and then I use a mason jar, as again, I try to use what I have on hand. Our goal is to create a neat pantry that is easy to tidy up, maintain, and shop for, and contains food that we can find and will consume. A quick glance will help me make my shopping list and avoid overbuying, thus throwing away expired food which makes me sad. My pantry won't win any beauty pageants but it's clean and functional, and what's more beautiful than that?

Pantry done. Phew! Pat yourself on the back and vow to:

-use what you have.
-resist sales and advertisements that lure you into buying what you don't need/won't consume.
-check your pantry before shopping so as not to purchase duplicates.
-move older items to the front and place newly purchased items behind it; i.e., rotate your food.
-never buy in bulk again unless you absolutely know you will consume before the expiration date and you  have a sensible place to store it.
-understand that you'll never be done cleaning and organizing because...

...pantry maintenance is ongoing, but now it's easier!

Every once in a while I vow that for one week I will cook from my pantry and my freezer. I'll only shop for fresh vegetables and dairy. If nothing else, it makes for some interesting dinners. ;)

Now, on to the rest of the kitchen. While cleaning the kitchen this time around, I had a pretty big aha moment. Last year I ridded myself of duplicates and gizmos I never used but still held onto my commercial sized pots, pans and storage ware I used when I  hosted large parties and cooked for my church. I no longer cook for 100 people and don't see a time when I will again (but if you do hear of me making spaghetti bolognese for 100 people, please pack me off to the asylum). My aha was when I realized I should only keep items in my home for the lifestyle we live right now, not for the lifestyle we used to live or hope to live one day in the future, just the here and now. After that breakthrough it was easy to donate these large items. I was then left with some large empty spaces in my lower cupboards but I didn't fill them, instead I spread things out and enjoyed the roomy space. Are you holding onto things that no longer suit your lifestyle? It's time to give those things the heave-ho.

If you have to buy things to organize your things then you have too many things. That says a lot about today's consumerism, but for drawers, no way do I agree. Drawers need help! Some of my drawers still have box lids and tuna cans for organizing, but over the years I've upgraded most of my drawers with these expandable metal mesh organizers. They are meant for kitchen utensils, but I use them in my bathrooms and the office too. They are the bomb. They are easy to clean and they configure to fit any drawer size. I have since found this set of clear plastic organizers and they work beautifully too. Whatever you choose to use, either homemade or store bought, use something; drawer organizers keep things from shifting around and making your drawers a constant jumble.

For drawers that need just a little bit of help, these adjustable spring loaded bamboo dividers are fantastic. I have several sets and find them so handy. They come in several sizes so measure your drawers to find what will work best for you.

I'm showing my spice drawer to show you my failed attempts at decanting because for some reason I felt my spices should match. Now I'm not saying that I wouldn't love all my spice bottles to match and line up beautifully, but realistically, I don't see it happening. My spices sit in a drawer that only I open and the unmatched original containers are just fine with me. Santa always brings me some interesting spices in my Christmas stocking every year, (one year I got a bacon bbq salt, not kidding) and they definitely never match anything, but still I find room for them. Sigh. Who knew a spice drawer could give us anxiety? Not keeping up with the Joneses here. 

One place where I do want my spice bottles to match is on the counter next to the stove where I have my most often used spices, decanted, yep, into cute bottles. I do buy olive oil in bulk--a huge bottle from Costco and I definitely don't want it on my counter. I use this olive oil decanter and also love this handy little olive oil spray bottle when I want just a spritz of olive oil. Both wash up easily and are easy to refill.

I'm all for putting things away when not in use, but the sink, that's a different story. I keep out what we use several times a day and I try to make it look nice on a little tray.

Foaming hand soap and foaming Dawn dish soap. Seriously, is there anything better than Dawn? Why, yes--it's FOAMING Dawn. Save money and make your own foam solution: one part Dawn to 3 parts warm water (warm to make it easier to mix). Swirl gently. That's it! This recipe is the same for foamy hand soap. Make sure you buy a foamy soap dispenser like this one  because regular soap pumps won't foam it. Foam soap is just nicer to use and it makes the soap last longer saving you money. Yay you.

Keep your sponges dry and out of the sink. A regular sponge and a Mr. Clean sponge sit in this unobtrusive sponge holder that has a drain, comes apart easily and goes in the dishwasher a few times a week. Help. I'm looking for a biodegradable sponge. I've tried a few that were too stiff. Any recommendations? 

Cutemol, always Cutemol, to protect hands like nothing else can.

A wood handled natural bristle brush for scrubbing. These are so popular now because they are great. I use my sponge less and less. They say you shouldn't put it in the dishwasher but mine goes in several times a week and it's fine. After several months you'll need to replace it; smash your old brush with a hammer and put it in your garden composter.

Also, below my sink is a gift for my footsies; an anti-fatigue foam mat I've had for years that is showing no sign of aging. You can see it in one of the pictures at the top of this post. I bought it at the time when you could buy it in any color, as long as the color was black. Now they have it in dozens of colors. If you stand at your kitchen sink for even short periods of time, do yourself a favor and invest in this. It's very easy to keep clean too. 

Here are some other great purchases I've made over the years to make my life easier. Above and below, and in many other cupboards throughout the house,  I use shelf risers to make storage more practical.

I use these wooden dish racks not just in my kitchen, but all over the house. In the kitchen they separate the tupperware lids, pot lids, and above, those odd dishes that I grab often but didn't have a real home until now.

I love that I can finally see all my baking supplies with this expandable tiered spice rack organizer
Such a simple and ingenious design. We also use a small one for my husband's vitamins. 

We're not fans of single-use disposable items around here. Here's how we avoid a few of them:

--I make my own cleaning wipes and didn't know the disposable ones were so popular until people started having fits when they were impossible to find during the beginning of the pandemic. I make reusable wipes from washcloths and keep them in a jar. My cleaning mix is one part alcohol, one part Mr. Clean, 1/2 teaspoon Dawn, and 4 parts warm water (warm enough to make the initial mixing easier), although you could make your own fabulous brew with your favorite cleaning agents. I pour the mix over a few dozen cheap washcloths that I stuff into a glass cookie jar and let it sit overnight for osmosis to turn them into light, evenly moist towelettes. They are great for a quick clean up on the counter or to quickly clean a bathroom. I love them and use them everyday. No special washing--I just toss them in the machine and they get washed with the next load.

--In place of paper towels we use cotton muslin towels. Again, no special care; after use they are tossed into the washing machine and get washed with the next load.

--In place of tissues we both keep cotton hankies in our pocket/purse; much nicer for the nose too and we even have Carter using cotton hankies. Again, no special care; after use they are tossed into the washing machine and get washed with the next load.

--I don't buy paper plates or cups. Just hate them.

--In place of paper napkins we use cloth napkins. They seem to last forever but have changed a few times over the 49 years we've been married. Usually they have been purloined from some other place or even another use. I cut apart worn table cloths to make new everyday napkins, and ten years ago I asked the upholsterer to save the fabric from our sofas and with it I made 20 napkins for the kitchen. But that was ten years ago and I just banished them to the garage for use as rags and now our everyday napkins consist of a few sets that I retired from the dining room. Same care as above; and never any ironing.

Here's those spring loaded dividers again.

--We inherited my mother's Keurig, and while we loved it I was horrified at the huge amount of pods I was tossing in the trash. I knew a Keurig was not going to be for me until I found these reusable plastic K-Cups. Not only does it eliminate the trash, but it saves money too--they pay for themselves in no time. Fill them with your preferred ground coffee and when done, compost the used coffee, rinse the K-cup and place it on the top rack of your dishwasher. We've had ours for years so I can attest that they last. I always have a few regular pods on hand for guests who prefer caffeine in their coffee as our pods are filled with decaf. I understand they now make reusable pods for Nespresso too.

Our Keurig sits on top of this pod storage drawer. It's been the easiest and most unobtrusive way to store pods and keep them handy.

So friend, are you ready to go on that declutter journey but don't know where to start? It doesn't matter. You can start anywhere. Just start. Make a plan or schedule. Or don't. I didn't. I hopped, skipped and jumped around the house but found that setting a timer every day, even if only for 5 minutes, gave me a daily sense of accomplishment that kept me going. A few minutes a day is better than nothing, and by doing something every day you'll get a rhythm going and may even like it!

Going forward we have put into practice a few new moves:

My mother-in-law kept a spotless home and besides her daily cleaning, she tackled one big job a week. She had a rotation of sorts and it seemed to work for her. I'm going to give it a try.

My husband and I have shifted our thinking to becoming more like curators instead of constant consumers. As I've said before, we follow the one-in, one-out rule to keep clutter from reappearing. 

We have found a home for every item we own and have vowed to put each and every thing away where it belongs. No more guessing where this is or that is. Except the garage. Honey, if you're reading this, it's a bit of a mess again.

Lastly I'd like to leave you with my thoughts on our toy situation. Our grandson is a frequent visitor and we've carved out some spots in our family room where he can play and create. There is a sunny spot for his tiny table and a drawer for his art supplies. He goes through paper like he's a paper mill czar so he now uses our recycled paper that only has printing on one side. And since I just cleaned out our files, he is set for life. We also bought him a white board.

He has two cupboards full of gently used hand-me-down toys from friends, his daddy and auntie. Together we emptied the cupboards, wiped them down, then sorted the toys and books. It was great fun for one of us. We were able to pass on very little. He is very attached to everything, even baby toys. I didn't want to push him; his lip started to tremble and the look on his face was heartbreaking. This project is tabled. Not a hill I want to die on. Not with a four year old.

If you are wanting to donate to a cause to help Ukraine with humanitarian efforts, we did a little bit of research and decided that the International Red Cross was our best bet. That and our prayers. God help them.  xo Kristen

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  1. This was my favorite of your cleaning series!! Definitely adopting some of your ideas.

    1. Thank you Claire. Always so nice to have you comment!

  2. So much fun, Kristen! Do your pantry shelves slide out? In our down-size home the best thing are some - not all, alas, - slide out drawers. Will put many of those Amazon items in my cart and make that Dawn solution. Had been looking for exactly those things! Agree about original containers except flour and sugar. Easier to scoop out with rigid-walled plastic tubs. Love the ideas for Carter visits. So cute! If you must eliminate something minor maybe tuck it away without telling him. If he doesn't miss it after two visits maybe it is safe to donate. But your instinct is more important so just a light suggestion. Love all the photos! Thank you so much. Chloe

    1. I love your suggestion about the toys Chloe. I think I will take a few baby toys and hide them in the attic. He has the memory of an elephant so I may have to keep them for a while!

      Yes, those pantry shelves slide out. They are the modern type and even though they are 30 years old and they slide so easily. Grateful for that!

      Yep, flour, sugar and olive oil are about the only things I decant. Rereading my post I think I must sound like a madwoman in my house. I'm careless and forgetful, but these things help.

  3. Kristen.....thank you for a very interesting series. So many good suggestions. I chuckled at the photo of the (magazine) pantry. REALLY!?! That person must not use their KitchenAid stand mixer. I cannot imagine having to haul it off the top shelf every time it is used. Love your blog.

    1. Thank you. I'm glad you got a giggle from the pretty pantry. I can see me, wobbly on my step stool, reaching over my head for a heavy, awkward something--no doubt a disaster in the making.

  4. Love love this post and all the serie about cleaning and organizing home.Very interesting and inspirational. Thank you for finding the time to write. I'm taking your suggestion and "just start" to reduce and reorganinzing the house.

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