Yeah, it’s almost spring

Having an organised kitchen is a space many people desire. The idea of having everything in its place and knowing where to find everything is appealing. Many clients indicate during our first consultation with them, that their kitchens are a mess and that they often don’t know where to find stuff.

We thought it might be a great idea to share with you six of the most common organising problems we face in kitchens and how you can go about solving them with the insights we’ll share.

Kitchen OrganisingBut first, let us have a look at the modern kitchen and where it all started. You know, just to create some context as to why we have kitchens in the first place and why most of us prefer having organised one’s. Finally, our appliances are catching up with our fast-paced, demanding lifestyles. It is a technological revolution on its own. Air-Fryers and plenty of other smart and sophisticated kitchen appliances are so readily available that everyone seems to have one or a couple of mega appliances in their organised kitchens. Big retailers in South Africa such as Hirsch’s home stores and Makro is hosting a variety of mega appliances that are changing our kitchens into modern, technological equipped spaces that are helping us to cut the time of cooking in half, which saves the amount of energy used during the cooking process. The technological advancements in our kitchens also mean that most of us have more time on our hands to enjoy our kitchens to entertain our friends. The idea of having everything in its place and knowing where to find everything is appealing. Many clients indicate during our first consultation with them, that their kitchens are a mess and that they often don’t know where to find stuff.
We thought it might be a great idea to share with you six of the most common organising problems we face in kitchens and how you can go about solving them with the insights we’ll share.
Organised Kitchen with Tablet standIn short, the kitchen nowadays is a clean space, with a full range of sleek appliances looking towards a sustainable future. Sounds great right? I for one immediately feel compelled to have exactly that for my kitchen. But coming to write about kitchens made me wonder about the origin of the kitchen. It seems that in ancient times, people cooked on open fires that were built outside on the ground. Later on, simple masonry constructions were used to hold the wood and food. In the Middle Ages, the food was often placed in metal cauldrons that were hanging above the fire. These cooking areas naturally caused people to gather as they were the primary source of heat, light, safety, and, of course, food. Sounds to me that although the kitchens’ look and feel have changed dramatically over centuries that some qualities remain until this day. The kitchen remains the ideal space to gather with friends, entertain guests and show off the cooking skills that you have learned from watching Master Chef. So why the unhappiness with the state of our modern kitchens as verbalized by many of our clients?

Here are some reasons:

1. Keeping up with the Joneses

Keeping up with JonesesIt’s like a double-edged sword, having more free time due to technological advancements made in the kitchen and spending that free time roaming the internet to see what the rest of the world is getting up to. Yes, we all fall prey to the Pinterest or Insta black holes, I mean pages, that keep us attentive for hours at a time. As a result, we are exposed to millions of kitchens, interior spaces and homes of strangers that we will never meet. Most of the kitchens, among other things we are exposed to on Social pages are so out of our league or buying power that we feel inadequate about our own. Yes, we feel less important and devalue our own spaces based on the thousands of comparisons we can make by following trendy kitchens on Instagram and other platforms.

Recommended solution:
Stop! Stop comparing yourself or your home with the Joneses. It is in our nature to idealise things, have dreams for the spaces we live in and transform them with our art and fill it with artefacts and colours that resonates with our personalities. So do exactly that. Be you. Live within your means and get creative in your kitchen on your own terms. I love the recent take on this topic by Joshua Becker from the popular Health and Wellness website Becoming Minimalist in which Joshua is quoted saying, “One of the rarely mentioned side effects of conforming to the life that others are living (what we buy, how we spend our time, and what we desire to have) is the complete and total loss of individuality.” This message carries so much importance that I felt it important to share. One of the first obstacles most people face when attempting to get organised or to become comfortable with who they are is due to comparing themselves with others. For more on the topic of keeping up with Joneses, visit this link.

2. The Paradox of Choice

Beverage fridges

When you type in the words ‘drawer organisers’ in the Google search button you’ll find dozens or maybe even thousands of similar products available for this specific need. Hey, you might even come across our very own MDF Wooden drawer inserts designed to get your drawers organised. Back to the obstacle at hand, we live in a society of plenty where there are so many things to choose from that it makes us feel confused and anxious when presented therewith. The paradox of choice stipulates that while we might believe that being presented with multiple options actually makes it easier to choose one that we are happy with, and thus increases consumer satisfaction, having an abundance of options actually requires more effort to make a decision and can leave us feeling unsatisfied with our choice.

Recommended Solution:
I won’t urge you not to search on Google for products or services as such an urge will be in vain. I want to persuade you however to be cautious before purchasing products such as drawer inserts without really putting your mind to it. Ultimately, this recommendation applies to all your buying habits. Buy with intention, with purpose. If you apply this simple yet important recommendation you’ll save money and won’t be disappointed on the arrival of your latest purchase of drawer inserts that do not fit into your drawer as you have imagined it would. As for the circumvention of The Paradox of Choice, you might want to do the following before buying anything: Plan and write down the need you have or the product you require. Don’t act on your instant gratification need to buy items immediately. Be intentional and wait a couple of days before emptying your shopping cart. Narrow down the best two products in the category that you are searching for and make sure that the products can be purchased from reputable and local companies. For more insight on how The Paradox of Choice affects our world today, feel free to read some work of Barry Schwartz or one of my latest favourite authors, Mark Manson that discuss this term and its effects in more detail in his latest book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

3. Adding without reducing clutter

Cluttered roomIn common use, “consumerism refers to the tendency of people living in a capitalist economy to engage in a lifestyle of excessive materialism that revolves around reflexive, wasteful, or conspicuous overconsumption. In this sense, consumerism is widely understood to contribute to the destruction of traditional values and ways of life, consumer exploitation by big business, environmental degradation, and negative psychological effects.” Wow!! What a dramatically elaborate take on our consumerist habits? From my experience, I concur. We simply have too much stuff. We buy and replace stuff without considering getting rid of the things we first had. There are 300 000 items in the American average home and they are expanding their homes to accommodate for this huge hoarding problem. In many homes to be decluttered, multiple of the same items can be found in the kitchen. Three vacuum cleaners. Five sets of the same utensils, but in different colours. Excess of odd cups and glasses that is no longer part of a set. Pots and pans that have no lids or has been put in a cupboard for their handles to be replaced someday. Drinking cups and water bottles you first get when joining Virgin Active is shoved into a corner cupboard and left there even though some of us only went to the gym once, ten years ago. I think you get the picture. Right? These are items that keep on adding and it is preventing us from enjoying a clear, organised or modern, if you will, kitchen.

Recommended Solution:
If is not clear yet, I am happy to inform you that DECLUTTERING is best suited as a solution to minimize the amount of stuff that you have. Yes, I get that buying stuff makes us feel all happy and boosts our dopamine levels but so do a neat and organised space. The difference here is that Dopamine spikes in your brain are short-lived when buying an item whereas intentionally focusing on living an organised life is long-lived.  In the long run, you won’t even need to buy stuff to feel validated of your worth, your value and your life once you have started decluttering both your physical space and your mind. The trick is to start with the process. Most clients report that they attempt to start the decluttering process on their own but after spending a few minutes in the problem area, they feel overwhelmed and defeated. This is normal. We all feel like this when faced with big tasks, a change or life obstacles. By acknowledging that the first attempt or multiple attempts, depending on the person you are, is difficult is a step in the right direction. All you need to do is push on, keep on going and set goals for yourself. The decluttering process can be viewed as eating an elephant, one bite at a time. Perhaps a silly metaphor but a practical one. Start small by tackling one cupboard at a time. First, empty the content of one cupboard in your kitchen, go through each item and sort through it by placing them on one of three piles; keep, donate or discard. Once you are done with this process, neatly organize the items that you would like to keep, back into your cupboard. The items that were selected to be discarded can be tossed away immediately. This is to ensure that you don’t get all second-guessing your decisions. By discarding the items you’ll feel relieved and proud of yourself for letting go. The items selected to be donated should be given to someone you know that might need them or a local non-profit organization can be contacted to collect the items. Many of our clients donate items they no longer need to families or schools. That is a great way to give back to the community. We have established a wonderful relationship with Hotel Hope Ministries to which we mainly donate all the pre-loved household content of clients too. Hotel Hope Ministries is a fully registered South African non-profit organisation established to ensure that every child is brought up in a safe, happy and healthy home so that they can grow up and develop into responsible and positive adults. If you have completed the whole decluttering process for one cupboard, you have managed to accomplish so much and can follow the exact process by getting to the next cupboard. Lastly, it is important to follow the habit of discarding things that you are replacing from the start as there simply is no reason to keep on to things that you are replacing.

4. Infrastructure and capacity

Pantry that needs organisingHave you ever wondered about the infrastructure or style of your kitchen cupboards? Since I have started organising homes for a living I have wondered how they have come to be and where it all started? After doing a bit of reading on the topic I have learned that uniform kitchen cabinets have only been around for the last 100 years. It might seem like a very long time but considering that the stove has been around since the year 1490 makes a hundred years seem like only yesterday right? Nevertheless, the way modern kitchen cabinets are designed and installed still puzzles me. I would prefer an open kitchen with less cabinets and more shelves. The shelves would accommodate only those items I really need for our cooking and entertainment needs. A kitchen corner cabinet makes absolutely no sense to have. They are clutter magnets and so are many kitchen cabinets in my opinion. I’m truly excited about sleek and modern kitchen designs as they are much more functional. On the topic, I believe that many people feel that a space should be filled with things without carefully considering the functionality of the space. Many kitchen cabinets are filled to the brim. There are no space left for a single mouse, or more appropriate in this case, a glass, and for what reason? Having the comfort of living in a three-bedroom home, for example, doesn’t mean you have to fill each room with the number of people it can hold and offer a place for everybody to sleep permanently. The same mindset should be adapted when it comes to the design or the capacity of your kitchen cabinets. Don’t fill them up with everything you possibly can.

Recommended Solution:
If you are lucky enough to start from scratch and have someone design your kitchen cabinets, make sure to keep your needs in mind. We often install kitchens worth thousands of rands based on the recommendations of interior designers and builders just to find that it scores ten out of ten for its aesthetic look but often five out of ten for the functionality of the kitchen. Having only your needs in mind would probably mean fewer cabinets, less material and less labour that will result in a beautiful, functional kitchen for much less money. You can accomplish this by scientifically quantifying the number of items that you deem crucial to have in your new kitchen. Ask yourself a few important questions first. Questions such as, do I need six incomplete dinner plate sets plus the set I’m using daily? Do I need all of my baking utensils and bowls if I mostly buy baked goods from Woolworths or other retailers? Should my new kitchen be a storage area for kitchenware that I have inherited from my mother-in-law or granny? These are but some of the many questions that you can ask yourself when planning the size, layout and capacity of your kitchen. By doing so, would mean that actual planning and thought has been put in the process and that it was planned with intention. The keyword here is intention. If you have an existing kitchen with multiple unfunctional cabinets please know that you are in the position to change that. By decluttering and making the number of items you keep in your kitchen less will help create space. Professional organisers would usually assess your kitchen layout, cabinet spaces and their functionality and during the process of organising shift items from one end of the kitchen to another. This is to ensure your kitchen space is functional and that it flows as per your needs and behaviour in the kitchen.

5. Buying excess food for storage.

Apart from all the other kinds of things, people store in their kitchen, food as mentioned at the beginning of this blog is by far the most important item that is stored in kitchens and kitchens came to existence due to our need to store food and have it readily available. Before addressing the expiry dates of certain foods, I think it is important for you to ask yourself why you purchase food for storage in your pantry or food cabinet and why do you do it so regularly that food is kept for so long that they have exceeded their expiration dates? This is among the questions that I would really appreciate an answer to. My mom always comes to mind when I think about the storage of excess food. As a child, one of the things I looked most forward to was going shopping for groceries with my mom every month-end once she received her paycheque. It was fun because I enjoyed the time with my mom and it was an activity I enjoyed. The activity had rules too. My brother and I weren’t allowed to just take anything from the shelves and place it into our shopping trolley. We helped my mom find grocery items with a shopping list that was drafted by my mother before going shopping. It contained everything she thought we needed for the month and it was all the items she had checked for to be on special at Checkers Hyper. We also had to help her identify which product in comparison to price was the most affordable and take that item. So with my mom’s rules of shopping, we helped my mom gather all the food we would need for a household of six people. It might be that if memory fails I remember poorly but all the food at the end used to be about two to three trolleys and will ultimately cost a fortune at the till. I can still hear my mom saying that she has now little money left for the remainder of the month once we had gotten into her car. Great memories! The reality for my mom and people with the same shopping behaviour is that they spend a large portion of their household income on food once every month to store in a cupboard. The food is certainly eaten as the month progress but I had found back then that many items lasted until the next month’s shopping spree and were then replaced without checking what products remained. This resulted in having multiple bottles of All Gold Tomato sauce and other similar condiments such as spices that were piled up in the food cabinet. Money wasted if you ask me. My mom still does this monthly as a learned behaviour even though all her children are grown and have left home. Again, money goes wasted. I feel better knowing that I have some money in my bank account to buy fresh food daily instead of buying food in bulk that I might not eat. But for each his own I guess.

My concern with buying excess food such as my mom and many other people is that in a world of Uber and Mr Delivery food is always available with a click of a button. You can easily buy all your daily fresh ingredients by using the 60 Min delivery app of Checkers Hyper without ever going into the store yourself and spending most of your money on food in one go. Plus you waste both money and food if it is not eaten before the expiry date and why do you seriously want to have five boxes of Kellogg’s cereal in your pantry? It does not make any sense, well at least not for me.

Recommended Solution:
Again, form habits with intention. Plan your daily meals, do some research on the best foods available, the most healthy and budget around that! I believe a balanced diet is important and more importantly a diet of quality food that contains health. You decide on what food you most like

6. Food and their expiration dates

Food expiry datesMost food apart from fresh food and vegetables last much longer than its use-by date. Most foods can be kept and still be eaten far past their expiry dates without the possibility of you getting sick. This is by no means a reason to accumulate multiple food products just for the sake of filling your pantry. Rather have space than giving a Baked bean can a home for as long as 18 months. Yes, most canned food can be kept for as long as 18 months after its expiry dates and you may want to think twice before replacing the containers in your spice rack. In general, most common spices like salt, pepper and oregano don’t actually expire in the traditional sense, they just become less and less flavorful. For example, there is no difference in 10-year-old salt at all, as long as it hasn’t been exposed to moisture. But over time, the potency and taste of the spice begin to decline, which is why it is recommended to use these spices within two to four years to be safe. Keep in mind too by that point, you’ll probably have to use more of each spice to compensate for the loss in flavour and what is the point of that? Most consumers keep on buying stuff and their homes are filled with consumable goods that keep being added without regularly taking stock of which products you have and when they expire and it ultimately adds to clutter in the bathroom vanity cabinets and kitchen cabinets. It takes up unnecessary space that could otherwise allow you to have a clutter-free kitchen with empty countertops.

As professional organisers, we usually set aside all the products that have passed their sell-by date during the decluttering session and ask our client if they would like to retain it and if so, we organize it as part of the session. Most clients however associate expired consumables by getting sick and choose to discard the items. We welcome the decision as all the food parcels are donated to charities with a large network of getting food to the neediest people. More space and going after a minimalistic look with less clutter and more space to breathe also counts as an additional reason for discarding consumable foods that have expired.

Recommend Solution: Buy only honey! “Honey can take years to expire, but according to Gans, one can conservatively hold onto it for about a year before its consistency begins to change, hardening and losing its sweet taste. Interestingly, Gans says that honey stays good for 12 months whether it’s opened or unopened, making it one of the only foods where that is the case.” As for the rest of your food, buy it with intention and rather spend less money on buying bulk foods that may expire and invest in eating fresher and healthier foods that will keep your mind organised for as long as possible.

If you wish to learn more about our approach to kitchen cupboards and organising the content thereof, click on the following link to learn more about our decluttering services.

Riaan Saayman

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