Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Tiny Kitchen That Screams "Used" (In a Good Way!)


The 28-Day Organizing Challenge at I'm an Organizing Junkie officially ends today. Although I didn't accomplish everything I had hoped to this month, I'm quite proud of what I was able to do — and in only 28 days! Public accountability sure does wonders for your motivation, huh?

The Organizing Junkie has asked each challenge participant to answer a few basic questions about their experience.
1. What was the hardest part of the challenge for you and were you able to overcome it?

I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that TIME was my biggest challenge. I'm a mom, a wife and a part-time worker. Finding enough hours in the day to go above and beyond regular maintenance cleaning is tough. I ended up doing much of my work on weekends or on my Tuesday off.

My small space was another big challenge. I looked to the Internet for resources from other tiny kitchen cooks. That's how I learned about the wonder of pegboard!

2. Tell us what kind of changes/habits you have put into place in order for your area/room to maintain its new order?

Because I have such a small kitchen, I had to think through my work "zones" to make the best use of my limited space. As you can see in the picture below, I now have clearly defined areas for prep/cooking, plating, cleaning and various storage needs (appliances, entertaining, baking, etc.). The areas are logically placed and organized well (with only the bare essentials).

3. What did you do with the “stuff” you were able to purge out of your newly organized space?

I rid my kitchen of many gadgets, small appliances and utensils (how many wooden spoons does one woman need?!). I plan to sell the items in a garage sale benefitting my mom's Breast Cancer 3-Day team. I'm proud to say that she's a 4-year survivor! Items that don't sell will be donated to Good Will.

4. What creative storage solutions were you able to introduce in order to create additional space as well as establish some limits and boundaries?

We are very low on cabinet, drawer and counter space in our 1936 kitchen. As a result, I had to think outside the box (or, in this case, the cabinets). Using two empty wall spaces, I built a pegboard pot rack and installed two utensil racks. (Before and after pictures follow.) Both solutions were inexpensive and made a significant improvement in how my kitchen looks and works!

I also found that inexpensive wire racks helped to better define the spaces within my cabinets. Another cheap solution that produced great results. (Before and after pictures follow.)

5. Why do you think you should win this challenge?

If there is one word to describe my space, it is: REAL! I live in the real world, with a real budget, real space constraints and a realistic view of what my home can and cannot be. I will never be in Better Homes and Gardens, but my kitchen can serve as a great example for people working with less-than-perfect spaces (and less-than-huge budgets).

Too often, people believe that home cooking requires MORE (more gadgets, more storage, more ingredients, more space, more STUFF). But the truth is that a small, well-organized kitchen can produce meals that are as good (if not better) than a kitchen with space and gizmos galore. Just ask your grandmother! She probably worked in a kitchen very similar to mine. (And she probably had more kids, too!) If she could do it (and if I can do it), so can you!

Before and After Pictures

The west wall of my kitchen used to look like this:

  • An ugly stove, pulled forward to protect the recently repaired walls (man that beast kicked out a lot of heat!)
  • A toaster oven on the counter to make up for the larger oven's serious shortcomings
  • Utensils taking up counter space in an overcrowded stainless steel canister
  • Drawer and door pulls that blended into the cabinetry
  • Random junk strewn about.

And now the west wall looks like this:

  • A perfectly functional stove and oven, making the toaster oven redundant
  • Two inexpensive Ikea racks to hang utensils on the wall
  • Black drawer and door pulls to coordinate with the black stove
  • Oven mitts hung on wall hooks near the oven
  • A vent hood, finally hung on the wall
  • CLEAR counters!

Our east wall used to look like this:

  • Chipping paint and spackle
  • A pendant light hung over...nothing
  • Wasted wall space

And now our east wall looks like this:

  • A pegboard pot rack mounted on formerly wasted wall space
  • An Ikea kitchen cart (not only to make the pendant look less ridiculous, but also to serve as a prep or entertaining counter, when needed)
  • Fully repaired, brighter walls
  • Curtains

Our wall of cabinetry used to look like this:

  • Boring drawer and door pulls that blended in with the cabinetry
  • Wasted wall space

And now our wall of cabinetry looks like this:

  • (Once again) Black drawer and door pulls to coordinate with black appliances
  • Counters that are even more clear
  • Creative use of wall space
Our dishes cabinet used to look like this:


  • Too much stacking and blocking
  • Entertaining pieces infiltrating the regularly used items
  • Disproportionate ratio of food storage covers to containers

And now our dishes cabinet looks like this:

  • Inexpensive wire racks maximize vertical storage
  • Stacking is significantly minimized
  • Every storage container has a corresponding cover! (Stacked neatly above it!)
  • Only a few entertaining pieces remain
  • The rest went in the cabinet above (see below)

Our food prep cabinet used to look like this:

  • Tiny spice jars everywhere!
  • Infiltration of supplements and medicines
  • Generally untidy look

And now our food prep cabinet looks like this:

  • An inexpensive shelf elevates spices to keep them in sight and in reach
  • Only regularly used supplements and medicines remain
  • Very tidy appearance!

Our baking and appliance cabinet used to look like this:


  • Too much stacking (forcing us to rearrange piles every time we needed a pan)
  • An overabundance of small appliances
And now our baking and appliance cabinet looks like this:


  • Inexpensive racks organize the pans and racks vertically, keeping everything within easy reach
  • An edited array of small appliances

Our pots and pans cabinet used to look like this:

It wasn't very unorganized, but building a pegboard pot rack freed up the space for other items!

And now our pots and pans cabinet looks like this:

Now, it's not really a pots and pans cabinet. It contains our Dutch oven, larger baking dishes and the lids for our pots and pans.

Our tiny upper left cabinet used to look like this:

  • Odd assortment of party supplies, storage items and appliances
  • Too much stacking

And now our tiny upper left cabinet looks like this:

  • Everything in the cabinet belongs in the same category (lesser-used appliances)
  • NO stacking

Our tiny middle upper cabinet used to look like this:

This cabinet wasn't very unorganized, but I wanted to keep like items together. So I moved these lesser used appliances in with their neighbor, the crockpot.

And now our tiny upper middle cabinet looks like this:

All the party supplies (and a few entertaining pieces) are now together. Again, a handy wire rack improves vertical storage

Our pantry cabinet used to look like this:

This cabinet just needed a minor reorganization and purge.

And now our pantry cabinet looks like this:

(Uh, no. We do not have room to stockpile items when they are on sale!)

So that's it! Our 28-Day Organizing challenge has come to an end. But that doesn't mean our work is over. Our plans for next month include:
  • Buying a new refrigerator (I can't wait!)
  • Installing a DIY backsplash behind the stove
  • Installing shelves by the sink window to hold potted herbs

Stay tuned...

And before I end this post, I want to give a huge THANK YOU to I'm an Organizing Junkie for giving me much needed motivation to move this project along. THANK YOU!

Friday, February 26, 2010

My Spunky Nephew Strikes Again!

The pictures I took at my dad's birthday bowling bash are hilarious. My nephew, Maddox, gave each shot is own special touch. I just had to share. (Read: I needed something easy to post about since I've had an insane week!)

But this weekend, you can expect to see more of me. I'll be wrapping up my 28 Day Organizing Challenge. Stop by to see February's last few organizing efforts and a preview of what we still plan to accomplish in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Decluttering/Organizing With Pegboard

Remember when I removed all of my pots and pans from the lower cabinet near my stove? I bet you're wondering what happened to them!

Well, for nearly two years in our current house, the east wall of our kitchen looked pretty much like this (substitute chipping paint for the spackle).

And now it looks like this!

I first saw a pegboard pot rack on Apartment Therapy's Cooking Blog, The Kitchn. I immediately thought it would be a fabulous way to use an otherwise useless space in our own kitchen.

And it was so simple to create! We bought a pre-cut chunk of pegboard from Menards. I primed and painted it to match the walls. (I think accent colors can be cute, but I didn't want too much going on in our little kitchen.) Kyle mounted three half-inch-thick wood slats to the wall and then screwed the pegboard to the slats.

Easy and cheap!

I love how it looks and, more importantly, how it works. Everything is easy to see and easy to reach. No more crouching down and digging around to find the right size pan.

My new tiny kitchen motto: When it doubt, hang it on the wall!

So far, it's working great for me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Art Is Kind of Like Science"

"Making art is kind of like science, mama. You take all different kinds of materials and do experients* until it looks really really cool!"

By "it" he definitely does not mean his craft cubby. That thing isn't looking very cool these days — at least not to me.

Oh well. I can't be accused of stifling his creativity!

*This is how he says experiments.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Menu Plan Monday ~ Feb. 15

I'm on strike, people! Yep.

But don't worry. It's not a melodramatic, "mom's on the edge" kind of strike. I'm just feeling a bit weary of accommodating picky eaters and responding to less-than-stellar attitudes.

So on the days when we're home this week (of which there are relatively few), I'm planning to cook for myself and let the hubby and the kiddo fend for themselves.

While my guys dine on frozen pizza and other commercially prepared cheese-and-carb concoctions, I will be enjoying some of my favorite meals (and non-chicken proteins) — lovingly prepared for one.

The list below only includes my dinner plans. My breakfasts and lunches remain pretty static from week to week. And no links this time. I don't tend to follow recipes for basic pan-fried/braised/sautéed protein meals.

Hope you have a great week in food! I know I will!

Sunday: Kid-friendly taco night with hubby's family for Valentine's Day

Monday: Creamy chicken* and potato soup (left over from making a batch for hubby's aunt, who recently had surgery); French bread

Tuesday: Eating out

Wednesday: Sautéed shrimp with angel hair pasta and vegetables

Thursday: Braised pork chop with apples

Friday: Pan-fried steak with a simple red wine/mushroom/shallot sauce

Saturday: Dinner out and bowling for my dad's birthday

*Note that this is the only chicken dish on the menu for this week. I grow so tired of chicken!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day! (Did You Get Your Box of Candy?)

Happy Valentine's Day from our family to yours!

In what has become a yearly tradition, Rowan received a heart-shaped box of candy along with his valentine from us.

How could we resist? He love love loves Valentine's Day. And to him, a heart-shaped box of candy is the ideal gift.

Remember this video from last year around Valentine's Day?

We hope you have a love-filled day and receive whatever your little heart desires this year!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Decluttering/Organizing With Utensil Racks

Remember this dreadful sight from the 360 "before" tour of my kitchen?

Nice, huh? Take note of these oh-so-lovely features:

  • An ugly stove, pulled forward to protect the recently repaired walls (man that beast kicked out a lot of heat!)
  • A toaster oven on the counter to make up for the larger oven's serious shortcomings
  • Utensils taking up counter space in an overcrowded stainless steel canister
  • Drawer and door pulls that blended into the cabinetry
  • Random junk strewn about.

Well, I'm happy to report that we've made significant progress!

Check it out! Last weekend, Kyle hung two Ikea racks so that I could get my utensils off the countertop. He also installed new drawer and door pulls that coordinate with the black stove we bought late last year. (Stainless was not in the budget.)

Kyle also recently hung our new vent hood. Professionals installed the ductwork last year, but we couldn't install the fan until this year. (We had a dented part, and then a scratched part and then a missing part. Very frustrating!)

This weekend, I decided that the wall space above the racks looked rather boring, so I found a funky frame at Target and filled it with food-related pictures and color blocks.

Working with our old kitchen (and our small budget) has been a surprisingly fun challenge!

Next step for this area: a backsplash for above the stove. Any suggestions?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Reuse Is Better Than Recycle"

My son has a frustrating habit of stealing things out of our recycling bin. He uses the items to make art projects, "machines" and — most recently — musical instruments.

He might make a mess, but I love his creativity! And I suppose he's right. Reusing is better than recycling.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Decluttering/Organizing the Food Prep Cabinet

Another week night, another simple fix!

This evening, I emptied out what I call our "food prep" cabinet. Sitting to the left of our kitchen window, it contains cutting boards, mixing bowls, spices, oils and our measuring/weighing tools. We also keep vitamins and our coffee and tea accessories in here.

Once again, the "before" isn't horrible. But there's always room for improvement, right?

The biggest change is that I bought a three-level spice shelf. Now I can find what I need much more easily!

I also edited the vitamin/medicine tote to include only the bare essentials. Any duplicate or off-season items (cold medicine, for example) went into our second story linen closet.

The end result is a much more tidy and functional space. Makes me feel like cooking!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Decluttering/Organizing the Party and Lesser-Used Appliance Cabinets

Today for my 28-Day Organizing Challenge and Snyder 5 Blog Hop, I tackled two more of my kitchen cabinets: the little one above the left window and the little one above the large left cabinet.

They're the cabinets you can just barely see at the top of this photo.

The cabinet above the window contained an assortment of lesser-used appliances and tools: a juicer, a small deep-fryer, a cookie press and an apple peeler. Although we don't use these things very often, I like to keep them around and within relative reach. Our little cabinets by the ceiling are perfect for such items.

The cabinet just to the left of the lesser-used appliances contained... hmmm... what is this stuff? Random party junk, I guess. It all got shoved up here after one of our holiday parties last year.

To restore order and keep like items together, I put all of the lesser-used appliances in the wider cabinet. (I'm sure some of you mamas are dying that my crock pot is a "lesser-used appliance." What can I say? We're not crock-pot people!)

I then turned the narrower cabinet into party storage. It contains stuff like plastic forks, assorted napkins, a cake carrier and some platters. Those inexpensive wire racks came in handy once again.

A simple fix for a Monday night!

Menu Plan Monday ~ Feb. 8

Another Monday*, another menu plan! Last week went really well. I only had to make one mid-week stop at the grocery store for milk and yogurt. Not bad! And the leftovers fed us for even longer than I anticipated. As a result, we didn't make the curry or picatta last week.

Our only food-related frustration was Kiddo's picky eating. Remember the night he ate popcorn for dinner? So before I get into this week's menu plan, here is an excerpt of our new picky eater plan (courtesy of Ellyn Satter). I guess it's not a plan as much as a reminder of what I am and — perhaps more importantly — am not responsible for when it comes to my child's eating.


Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility For Toddlers Through Adolescents:

  • The parent is responsible for what, when, where
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether

Parents' Feeding Jobs:

  • Choose and prepare the food
  • Provide regular meals and snacks
  • Make eating times pleasant
  • Show children what they have to learn about food and mealtime behavior
  • Not let children graze for food or beverages between meal and snack times
  • Let children grow up to get bodies that are right for them

Fundamental to parents’ jobs is trusting children to decide how much and whether to eat.


The bottom line: it's time to lay off! I will provide a variety of healthy foods at every meal. Dessert, which is usually fruit anyway, will not be a secret temptation reserved for those who clean their plates. All of our mealtime options will be presented at once. And kiddo can choose whether to eat and how much.

Will it work? Stay tuned...


  • Breakfast: Toddy latte; egg(s); Ezekiel 4:9 toast; fruit
  • Lunch: Leftovers from dinner on Saturday
  • Dinner: Turkey tacos with beans, cheese and lettuce; guacamole; salsa; chips


  • Breakfast: Toddy latte; egg(s); Ezekiel 4:9 toast; fruit
  • Lunch: Leftovers from Sunday dinner; fruit
  • Dinner: Natural frozen pizza and fruit for the boys; dinner out with friends for me


  • Breakfast: Toddy latte; egg(s); Ezekiel 4:9 toast; fruit
  • Lunch: Yogurt with apples and dried mango; whole grain crackers with smoked salmon and cheese
  • Dinner: Pasta with homemade chicken meatballs and simple tomato sauce**; vegetable


  • Breakfast: Toddy latte; egg(s); Ezekiel 4:9 toast; fruit
  • Lunch: Leftovers from Tuesday dinner; fruit
  • Dinner: Chipotle day!


  • Breakfast: Toddy latte; egg(s); Ezekiel 4:9 toast; fruit
  • Lunch: Yogurt with apples and dried mango; whole grain crackers with smoked salmon and cheese
  • Dinner: Chicken picatta (from Joy of Cooking: All About Chicken); pasta; vegetable


  • Breakfast: Toddy latte; yogurt with apples and dried mango; Ezekiel 4:9 toast
  • Lunch: Leftovers from Thursday dinner
  • Dinner: Kyle's homemade waffles with fruit and family movie night


  • TBD: Not sure whether we'll be away from home, or having company over, or what.

*Notice that my menu plan doesn't actually begin on Monday? That's because I work all day on Mondays! A Sunday grocery shopping/planning session works much better for my schedule.

**My family LOVED this tomato sauce last week!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Decluttering/Organizing the Baking and Appliance Cabinets

Now that you've seen a 360 "before" view of our kitchen, let's tackle two more problem spots for the 28 Day Organizing Challenge.

The lower cabinet to the right of our dishwasher houses our small appliances and baking accessories.

Stacking and blocking was a huge problem in this cabinet. Each time we would use one of the baking dishes, it would end up shoved back on top of the teetering pile. If we suffered the misfortune of needing something at the bottom of the pile, we had to rearrange the whole cabinet just to find the desired item.

Fixing the baking and appliance cabinet required that I also take a hard look at our pots and pans cabinet, which runs perpendicular to the stove.

Although the proximity to the stove made this cabinet a logical place to store pots and pans, I didn't enjoy having to crouch down and rearrange the piles at every mealtime.

I emptied the contents of both cabinets and asked myself some basic questions:
  • Do I use this item on a regular basis?
  • Do I need this many duplicates of this item (four 8 by 8" baking pans, for example)?
  • Does this item have all of its corresponding parts (baking pans without covers or covers without baking pans, for example)?

Everything that I need and use went back into the cabinets.

In the one to the right of the dishwasher, I organized the shallow baking dishes and sheets using some inexpensive vertical organizers. Now I can easily see — and reach — the items that I need without rearranging heavy piles.

I also put the small appliances into this cabinet. The only change here is that I got rid of my Cuisinart Mini-Prep. I have a new Kitchenaid food processor with a small bowl attachment (you'll see the location of that later), making the Mini-Prep redundant. Appliances in this cabinet include those we use most frequently: an immersion blender, a standing blender, a hand mixer and a waffle iron.

In the cabinet that formerly contained my pots and pans, I organized the larger baking dishes, my pizza stone/pan and my dutch oven. The covers for the pots and pans still sit in the slide-out organizer. And you can see that some inexpensive wire racks once again help to maximize the space.

Distributing my baking accessories, appliances and large pots among two cabinets created significantly more "breathing room." Now, I can see the items I need and remove (and replace) them with ease.

But what happened to all of my pots and pans? Coming soon...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kitchen 360 ~ Before

Before I get too far into my 28 Day Organizing Challenge, I thought it would be helpful to show a basic 360 "before" view of my kitchen.

We bought our home just over two years ago. Most of these pictures were taken when we were repairing our kitchen walls late last fall.

Built in 1936, the kitchen is small and still contains the original birch cabinetry...

...and an ugly old refrigerator (obviously not original). I hope to have a replacement very soon!

Turn a bit more to the right and you'll see the stove. (Thankfully, we just bought a NEW stove this winter!) In this picture, the old stove is pulled away from the wall a bit, but you can still see the odd gap between the stove and the cabinets/countertops. The freestanding stove and old school layout present some challenges, to be sure!

Continue turning to the right and you'll see the wall of cabinetry — the only wall of cabinetry! (This picture was taken a couple of days ago. You can see we had already begun clearing the countertops of clutter at this point.) The row of small cabinets by the ceiling are unreachable from the floor. That leaves us with just two large upper cabinets for easy storage. The cabinet in the upper righthand corner of the picture is the one that I organized in my last post.

Finally, turn a bit more to the right and you'll see the wall opposite the stove. This wall represented the biggest waste of organizational space in our kitchen. (A problem that we have now remedied!)

Stay tuned for more on how we're turning this funky old kitchen into a space that cooks!
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