Do you want to eat at home more often, but your kitchen is a mess and it’s making you want to dial a take-out number? Here are a few easy, inexpensive kitchen setup ideas that will get you ready to cook at home in no time.
A messy kitchen can be a mental drain
Picture this: it’s after work and you come home to clean kitchen, with open countertops, dishes put away, and everything sparkling. Now picture this instead: you come home to a sink piled with dishes, mail on the counter, and last night’s dinner still stuck on the stove.
Which kitchen would you rather cook in?
If you’re like many people, you’d rather cook in the former, but your kitchen actually looks more like the later. But it doesn’t have to be that way! If you’d like to make a functional, organized kitchen the norm, this post will get you there in the simplest way possible.
Smart kitchen setup begins with clear countertops and a clean sink
Have you ever noticed that certain surfaces in your house attract random items and clutter? In my house, the kitchen counter is one of those surfaces.
In her book The Joy of Less, author Francine Jay advocates for keeping all surfaces clear, including the kitchen counter. She notes that horizontal surfaces have a tendency to be “sticky,” in the sense that they attract objects.
Her advice? “Surfaces are not for storage.”
“Think of all the things we can’t do when our surfaces are cluttered; we don’t have room to prepare a delicious dinner, and we don’t have a place to sit down with our family and enjoy it.”Jay, 2016, p. 83
Therefore, smart kitchen setup starts with cleaning off your countertops. It will provide a very visible win when it comes to making your kitchen a place you want to spend more time in.
How to clear those countertops
There are a few possible reasons you have items on your kitchen counter that don’t belong there. Maybe they just need to be put away in the kitchen, and you haven’t gotten around to it yet. That’s an easy fix – just take a few minutes to tidy up.
Sometimes we leave things on the counter because those items belong somewhere else in the house, and we don’t have the time or energy to put them away right this second.
That’s also a pretty simple fix – designate some sort of container to be a collect-all for items that don’t belong in the kitchen. Put the random items in there when you find them. When you are tidying up the kitchen, grab the container and return all those items to their proper places. Repeat daily.
Other times we leave items on the counter as a reminder to do something. I am guilty of this – I will leave out my dog’s flea meds to remind me to give them to him, or a book I need to return to the library. Chances are, however, that the item sits there for several days, long enough for me to stop noticing it is even there. A better solution to this issue is to add whatever task you are trying to remember to your to do list.
Another reason we leave things lying around is because we’re not sure where they belong. This one is the trickiest to fix. Here’s how to do it:
Find homes for your “homeless” items!
If you walk into your house and toss your mail on the kitchen counter, and that mail stays there until you get around to dealing with it, then that mail needs a home.
Designate some kind of container – be it a pretty basket or an old shoebox – to be that mail’s home. Then find a place for that basket or box – inside a cabinet, or on your desk, or anywhere else besides the kitchen counter. The kitchen counter is for cooking, not for storing mail.
Repeat this process with any of the odds and ends that wind up on your counter. If you designate permanent homes for all these items, then it will simply be a matter of putting them away when you see them, instead of having to make a complicated decision about where they go in the first place.
How to keep the countertops clear
If we want our kitchen counters to remain clear and uncluttered, we need to deal with all of the above issues. And we need to keep dealing with them on a regular basis.
Personally, I try my best to keep moving that clutter to an appropriate location at least once per day, usually after the dishes are done. It will inevitably accumulate again the next day, but I keep on top of it by inserting this little routine into my evening chores.
Start cooking with an empty sink
Just as it’s important to have a clean work surface, it’s also helpful to have an empty sink when you begin cooking. You are going to have dishes to do after cooking and eating; if you’ve already got a full sink, then you know there’s going to be even more work at the end – yuck.
Do yourself a favor and put away clean dishes and throw dirty dishes in the dishwasher before you start meal prep.
This is sort of an extension of a tip I learned from the FlyLady, which is to shine your kitchen sink every night. I personally do not go so far as to scrub my sink each night; I just don’t have the energy for that. But I do make sure all the dishes are in the dishwasher or on the drying rack so that I can start out the day without a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. It’s marginally more work, but it has a rewarding payoff.
Smart kitchen setup requires thoughtfulness about storage
Another aspect of having a kitchen you will actually want to cook in is being smart about where and how you store things. If you can’t find what you are looking for, or if it is annoying to get out what you need (or put it away), it makes cooking more frustrating. Being thoughtful about this aspect of kitchen setup can make cooking both easier and more efficient.
Store the equipment you use most often in an accessible place
Have you ever used that random cabinet over your fridge to store some infrequently-used piece of kitchen equipment? And have you ever thought to yourself, I should make ___ (something that uses that piece of equipment), and then promptly decided against it because you are too lazy to find a stool and dig that appliance out? I have. If it’s not accessible, I am much less likely to use something. I think that’s just human nature.
Therefore, make sure that your kitchen tools are stored in a place where you can easily find and use them. And store the items you use the most in the easiest to reach places.
Having to move a food processor you use twice a year in order to get to something you use every single day makes your job all the harder. Make your life easier by being smart about how you set your kitchen up.
One caveat – if you have small children, be thoughtful about where and how you store your knives and other potentially dangerous equipment. In my house, my kids have their own designated drawer with child-safe kitchen supplies. And – bonus – having their own special tools also encourages kids to want to help with cooking.
Reconsider countertop storage for items you use infrequently
Just as it’s important to store things you use often at the ready, it’s equally important to move things you seldom use out of the way. And that doesn’t just include the items that are already in your drawers and cabinets. It also includes equipment that you “store” on your kitchen counter.
In my house, I keep items like my Instant Pot, the blender, and a countertop grill in the cabinets instead of of on the counter. I also keep my knives in a drawer, not in a countertop knife block. This saves a ton of counter space and it also makes my kitchen look neater.
I actually started this habit when we were selling our house. If you have ever bought a house before, you know that one with clean, clear countertops always presents better than one with tons of objects lying about.
A general rule of thumb: if it can fit in a drawer or a cabinet, and you don’t use it daily, consider storing it off the counter.
Optimize pantry storage by storing food in jars
Over the years I have struggled with finding the best way to store food in my pantry and cabinets. It seems like stuff somehow gets pushed to the back and I can’t see it when I need it. Or I forget it is even there, and then I end up buying multiples of something I’ve already got.
It makes it hard to cook effectively when you have to empty half your cabinets to find what you are looking for!
That’s why I have gradually switched to clear containers for pantry storage. Clear containers are great because not only can you see what you have, you can also see how much of it is in there. And you don’t have to read random package labels to identify what you are looking at. You can tell at a glance.
Consider storing cookbooks in the kitchen too
If you like to cook using cookbooks, then store them either in the kitchen or close by, if possible. That way you can quickly access them when preparing a meal, and, just as importantly, easily put them away when you are done.
If you are tight on space or if you commonly use recipes found online, consider a digital alternative to cookbooks. I have been using Plan to Eat for years and highly recommend it. It allows me to store all my recipes in one place and access them from anywhere via tablet, phone, or computer.
Putting it all together
As a general rule, cooking at home is healthier than eating out. At the same time, there are many obstacles that keep people from doing it. If an untidy, cluttered kitchen is a barrier for you, then use the kitchen setup ideas in this post to get you started on the path to cooking more meals at home.
What’s your favorite kitchen setup idea?
Share it in the comments below.
- Jay, F., (2016). The joy of less. Chronicle Books.