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Kitchen makeover: Reorganizing cabinets and drawers

  • Story Highlights
  • Kitchen organization not working under old rules
  • Real Simple shatters the old "system"
  • Edit, purge, and relocate is one method
  • Shelf organizer now separates stack of plates into three tiers
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Real Simple

(Real Simple) -- When the simple act of opening a cupboard is followed by the sound of breaking glass, it's time for an intervention.

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Beth Jorgensen tries to be organized; she really does. About a year ago, for example, the 44-year-old mother of two from Fargo, North Dakota, decided to reorganize all her packed kitchen drawers, with mixed results. Among other things, she had heard that the dishes used most often should be kept closest to the dishwasher, so she decided to store the family's drinking glasses and stemware in an adjacent cabinet  on a lazy Susan. A disaster waiting to happen with every spin? You betcha.

Beth's husband, Mike, 41, a chiropractor, never liked the new system. Somehow, "it didn't make sense to him," she says. But Beth, a part-time legal assistant, couldn't face the idea of reorganizing yet again, even after she opened the door of another cabinet and watched her mother's cut-glass creamer fly out and smash to pieces.

And there were more problems. Despite Beth's organizational attempts, each cabinet overflowed with items grouped with no rhyme and little reason. Antique china and glass serving bowls were stacked on high shelves another opportunity for accidents.

Then there was the clutter: spice containers tucked into every spare inch, special-occasion candlesticks crammed into prime real estate, not to mention the food-container drawer, where anything and everything jockeyed for space with the hand mixer and the lidless cottage-cheese tubs.

But all that was about to change. Real Simple shattered the old "system," replacing it with a few strategic organizing tools and rules. Here's how the pieces came together.

The Breaking Point

"Last Thanksgiving, as relatives helped me put away leftovers, they opened my plastic-container drawer and were amazed at the chaos," says Beth Jorgensen. "For Christmas they gave me collapsible food containers." But the drawer was just a symptom of a larger problem. "In fact," Beth says, "my whole kitchen needed help."

What She Likes

• The big, deep drawer where she keeps plastic containers.

• The collapsible containers her family bought her.

• The convenience of having cookbooks in the kitchen.

What She Dislikes

• The chaos of the container drawer.

• The need to pull down a stack of heavy bowls from a high shelf to retrieve the one she needs.

• The fear that things could come tumbling down at any moment.

The Strategies

Edit, purge, and relocate.The first step in any organizing project is figuring out what you can throw away, give away, or store in a more appropriate place. Into Beth's trash can went things like the empty cottage-cheese containers and old dishes. Other items moved out of the kitchen to storage elsewhere. With more room in the cupboards, the essentials  now grouped together more logically  look neater and are easier to get at.

Sort by frequency of use. Seldom-touched things, like fancy candlesticks and china and glass serving pieces, went into boxes and moved to the basement on shelves alongside the holiday gear. The casserole dishes and the mixing bowls that Beth cooks with all the time migrated from hard-to-reach high shelves down to the lazy Susan, doing away with the heavy lifting, while everyday glasses are now more accessible (and safer) on a bottom shelf of the upper cabinet.

Collect and contain. The antique plates that Beth uses only occasionally went into quilted storage containers, so she won't have to wash off dust each time she takes them out. Instead of scattered spice bottles, she now has a sleek rack in the spot on the counter where the paper-towel holder once sat (a new holder was mounted on the side of a cabinet). Also evicted from the cupboard were Beth's cookbooks, which are now gathered in a magazine file on the counter.

Lift and separate. Previously, bowls were stacked on salad plates that were stacked on dinner plates, so Beth had to lift all the bowls to find a plate. A new corner shelf organizer now separates the stack into three tiers. Creating a double layer of drinking glasses with a wire standing shelf makes efficient use of the space and is safer than nesting one glass on top of another.

The Gear For details on the products used to organize Beth's kitchen, see Six Products for Organizing Kitchen Cupboards.

The Update

"I love it," Beth says of the reconfigured kitchen. "I don't have to lug down five bowls to get one plate. Plus, my husband can find things and put them back where they're supposed to be." Now Beth is mad for organizing: "I redid the kitchen's other cupboards, and I want to do the rest of the house." Her commitment to order appears to be unbreakable. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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