Are your kids old enough to help with chores? Did you just move in with a spouse or partner? Or are you just tired of being the only one who makes the kitchen look presentable? If you are the only person who knows where things are or where things go, you cannot realistically expect the other people in your home to maintain your organizing system. I’ll walk you through how to create an objective organizing system for the whole family, so all the tidying up doesn’t need to fall on your shoulders.
Everything needs a home that makes sense
An object’s “home” is the place it is returned to once it’s no longer in use. It’s hard to put something away if “away” isn’t a specific place.
In the kitchen, it’s important to store the things that are used the most in the places that are the easiest to access. It’s also best to store items that are similar to each other together.
When sorting like with like, choose categories that everyone can easily see. For example, its better to have one shelf of the pantry always be for canned goods, rather than using it for the dry ingredients you’re planning to use that week. If your categories are too subjective it will be much harder for other people to keep up with the system.
Label as much as possible
Now that things are organized into clear categories, the next step is to label them. Label every pantry shelf, drawer, cabinet, and container. This is how someone else will know where to put things back. Labels don’t have to show on the outside of a drawer or cabinet to be effective.
Labels might seem like overkill, but they ensure the people in your home will know where to put items back. They are a key piece of invalidating the excuse of not knowing where things go.
Have a family meeting or two in the kitchen and discuss
The last component of eliminating the “I don’t know where it goes” excuse is having a conversation with the whole family about the kitchen. This conversation is also the time to discuss how often the kitchen needs to be cleaned and who will do it. Everyone needs to communicate what matters to them and agree to what their responsibilities will be going forward.
Depending on the size of your family and the ages of your kid(s), you may need to have two conversations. If you have a spouse and kids who don’t already have chores (or if you’d like to change their chores), have a conversation with your spouse first where you decide and agree on the rules and any chores for the kids. During that chat, make sure your spouse is on board with the concept of following the rules to set a good example for the kids.
Give your family a tour of the fruits of your organizing labor. Show them where things will go from now on and why. Be sure to explain what any remotely vague or possibly confusing labels mean. I’ve found this to be an especially common problem in kitchens and pantries. Someone who doesn’t cook often won’t necessarily know that a potato masher and meat tenderizer are called “hand tools.” I’m not suggesting you explain every little detail, but keep your assumptions about everyone being on the same page as you in check.
Be a little flexible
It’s okay for things to not have one exact home. This might sound contradictory to the rest of what I’ve said, but it’s just as important. The more flexible you are, the more success you will have getting your family to help.
The trick is to strike a balance of specific and general homes for things. It’s easier for multiple people to maintain organization when some items’ homes are a shelf or a drawer in general, rather than a specific, exact place on a shelf or drawer.
The true purpose of organizing is to be able to find things quickly. Make that your goal and don’t lose sight of it. The battle of the whisk living in the tall container on the counter, hand tool drawer, or baking drawer might not be worth fighting if you can always find it in one of those three places.
Make it easy to clean the kitchen
It’s so much more of a hassle to wipe down counter tops when you have to clear a bunch of stuff off of them. If several small things are frequently placed on your counter, put a little tray down to corral them. Then you can pick that up instead of all the tiny things when it’s time to clean.
Unless you have a kitchen desk, avoid leaving paper in the kitchen. When people see random paper, they don’t know if it’s trash or important, or where it should go. However, if you have a kitchen desk, people are more likely to pile it there.
If paper needs to land in your kitchen and you don’t have a kitchen desk, you can still use that concept to your advantage. During the kitchen conversation, tell your family the place they can always put any paper found in the kitchen. This might sound like the organizing equivalent of robbing Peter to pay Paul, but once all paper has been sorted into a group together, it will be easier to deal with later.
Do your best to avoid letting the dishes pile up. When you cook, clean up as you go as much as you can. Look around for other reasons someone might be intimidated by the job of cleaning the kitchen. See what you can do to alleviate those issues. You might have gotten some clues during the family meeting. The easier it is for people to see how they could quickly and easily clean the kitchen, the more likely it is that they will participate.
The kitchen is the room that gets dirty the fastest and most frequently because of how many times people eat throughout the day. However, these tips can apply to any room in the house.
I’m not the only one with wisdom. Share an organizing or cleaning trick that’s worked well for you in the comments!
get in touch
Proudly organizing Madison, Wisconsin, Dane County, and beyond.
sign up for our free newsletter
Organizing and time management tips, resources, and more, delivered straight to your inbox.