By Marty Basher
As leaves turn color and temperatures drop, we are happily reminded of the upcoming gift-giving, family-gathering, carol-singing season. With only three months left in the year, interwoven with various observances and religious festivities, it’s time to get your kitchen organized and ready for the holidays.
For some people, preparing for the holidays often translates to stress, chaos and breaking the bank; however, an organized and well-stocked kitchen will greatly reduce any feelings of anxiety and pressure by encouraging a clutter-free and functional food prep space.
General Organization Tips for Kitchens
The first step toward organizing your kitchen for the holidays is a complete cleaning overhaul of the pantry, fridge/freezer and wherever you store cleaning supplies (typically under the sink for most homeowners).
Pull everything off the shelves. Taking inventory of what you have will help cut costs when making a grocery list for holiday dinners; therefore, remove everything out of the fridge, pantry and cleaning station one area at a time. Inspect each item’s expiration date, and throw out anything old and moldy (including cleaning solutions).
Wipe down all surfaces. Using a diluted bleach or vinegar-Dawn soap solution (either one--do not mix), clean up stains and grime that have coagulated over the months (or years). Microfiber cloth works well with picking up dust and food crumbs, and Magic Erasers removes tough smudge marks.
Tackle the microwave while you are already in cleaning overdrive. Mortified by the caked on splatter turning your microwave into a crime scene? Squirt some dish soap in a glass bowl of water and heat it for five minutes. Once done, let the bowl sit inside for an additional three to five minutes before you wipe the inside with a sponge or hand towel. The food residue scrubs right off.
Categorize similar items together. Before returning everything back onto their shelves, an organization system must be made. Until then, categorize items by similarity and separate them into different piles. This will help you visualize what you have and decide on how to arrange the items.
Whether yours is a walk-in or a dedicated cabinet, pantries store a majority of what we need for making delicious everyday meals and holiday dinners. They deserve an organized system that maximizes functionality while minimizing time spent digging around for ingredients. You are more likely to forget or miss ingredients for holiday baking/cooking with a messy, overstuffed pantry. Ditch last-minute shopping runs with the following organization hacks for decluttering your pantry.
Mounted door organizer for smaller items. While intended for storing shoes, mounted door organizers consist of pockets that are perfect for holding spices, condiment bottles, seasoning packets and anything else that fits. Many homeowners dedicate this organizer strictly for spices and herbs, while others divide common baking ingredients into each pocket. Made of a durable plastic or fabric, mounted door organizers cost between $10 and $50.
Categorize items into designated baskets/fabric totes. Pantries naturally give off a cluttered vibe due to all the little or boxed-items stored inside. However, homeowners can tidy up their pantries by stowing like-items into baskets or fabric totes. Not only does this “hide” smaller items out of sight, but also dedicated baskets help you find and put away items quicker. Remember to label the baskets/totes.
Plastic storage bins for messy items. Bags of flour, sugar, yeast and more should be placed in plastic storage bins at the bottom of the pantry. Doing so prevents spills and messes, as well as little bugs making homes in your baking goods. Consider lids with locking clamps to prevent children and pets from getting inside.
Next on the list for preparing your kitchen for the holidays is the fridge/freezer. A disorganized fridge results in food waste--something nobody wants. You need a clean and spacious place to hold ingredients for a perfect holiday dinner and the leftovers afterward.
Dollar store plastic bins. A cheap and simple way to organize things like soda cans, yogurt cups and bottled condiments is investing in dollar store plastic bins and group like-items together, similar to what you would do in the pantry. The walls of the plastic bins allow for stacking, clearing more shelf surface by utilizing vertical space. Lidded bins work especially well with preventing freezer burn for frozen food.
Label, label, label. Just as you would with bins in the pantry, label everything--including food containers. Chalkboard stickers allow you to name and date containers and then wipe away the chalk paint/ink when done. They are dishwasher safe, so you won’t have to worry about them peeling off and needing to buy replacements.
Store meat and fish in a separate drawer. Meat and fish leak juices, and you may find yourself in a foul-smelling, sticky situation if those juices seep into milk cartons or fruits and vegetables. Avoid this by giving meat and fish their own shelf or drawer. Align the bottom with paper towels or hand cloths, and double bag meats marinating in Ziplock bags.
With holiday dinners and baking comes the back-breaking task of cleaning up. Everyone dreads hours of scrubbing dishes, wiping down tables and counters and sweeping/mopping floors. Make your life easier by creating a portable cleaning station with everything you need for post-holiday clean up.
Invest in a large shower caddy. Shower caddies comprise compartments that can hold bottles, sponges, gloves, trash bags, etc. and a handle for portability. While you can find them at the dollar store, investing in a more expensive, heavy-duty shower caddy prevents breaking and plastic warping from the weight ($10-$20).
Stock up on solutions. You probably already own all-purpose cleaner, bleach and dish soap which are crucial for cleaning up after the holidays. While you should buy extra of each during your next trip to the store, consider adding the following solutions to your cleaning supply: pan degreaser, drain cleaner and white vinegar and baking soda. Store all-purpose cleaner and diluted bleach solution in your cleaning caddy--both of which you will use more often--and other bottles in a lockable bin under the sink.
Remember the miscellaneous tools/items. Along with solutions, your portable cleaning caddy should have sponges, trash bags (large and doggie-bag sized), Magic Erasers and steel wool. Other tools like paint scrapers (plastic not metal) and mini dustpan and sweeper can be added if there is room.
Install child-locks where you store cleaning supplies. Whether you have children or you are inviting over guests with children, the last thing you or anyone wants is a precious little one accidentally ingesting toxic cleaners. Unwanted ER visits are best avoided with child locks. Inexpensive and easy to install, child locks often come in two ways--with sticky backs for temporary use or with screw holes for permanent use.
By getting your kitchen organized and prepared for the holidays, you can face family dinners and baking binges head on and without that overwhelming stress that leaves many people wishing for a fast forward button. You save time, money and your fridge from smelling like mold.
Guest hygiene station
Something to keep in mind when preparing for cooking and entertaining for the holidays is guest hygiene. In the midst of a pandemic and the flu season, you want to set up a small area to promote hand washing and germ mindfulness.
Purchase or borrow a tea tray. Typically made of wood or galvanized steel with handles on the sides, tea trays make for a fun and classy guest hygiene station. Place this tray on a stand or counter where guests first walk into your home.
Make guest hygiene care packages. Using festive party favor bags, stock them with holiday scented hand sanitizers, single pouches of hand wipes and pocket packs of facial tissue (which you can easily find in holiday-themed packaging). Tie the bags with crimped ribbon and curl the loose ends with scissors. Leave these on the tray with a note that invites guests to take one.
Provide glass markers in a bowl on the tray. Never lose your glass and drink out of someone else's cup again with marker sets. Each guest gets either a removable sticker, charm, decorative toothpick or rubber band to go around their cup. Every marker is different--by color or design--to prevent germ-swapping mix-ups.
Offer two kinds of soap for hand washing. Give guests the option of choosing which soap to use when washing their hands. Some people love scrubbing with gingerbread foam soap, while others prefer generic, scentless, antibacterial soap.
Marty Basher is the design expert with Modular Closets, https://www.modularclosets.com. Marty regularly contributes on topics of home design, organization, improvement and more, helping home owners get the most out of the spaces in their home. Modular Closets are high-quality and easy-to-design closet systems made in the USA you can order, assemble and install yourself, in no time at all. Using closet modules (closet pieces you can mix & match to design your own modular closet), homeowners everywhere are empowered to achieve a true custom closet look- for nearly 40% less than standard custom closets.