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San Antonio Express-News: Experts’ tactics help you clear the decks for cooking

November 08, 2008


by Stefanie Arias

Click here to read the article on the San Antonio Express News website.

Have you been chosen as this year’s holiday host? Are you looking at your kitchen and wondering how you’re going to pull it off?

The first thing to do is get organized, and soon. The easier the kitchen is to work in, the more enjoyable it will be for cooking at the holidays and the rest of the year.

Lorie Marrero, certified professional organizer and founder of The Clutter Diet, recommends the “Four F’s” when getting started: features, flow, function and frequency.

Note the locations of the features — fixed appliances such as the fridge and the oven. Then, examine the flow — how those features relate to each other. Generally, there’s a work triangle between the stove, sink and fridge. Think about how youstep from one to another. Is there something in the way? Can you move anything to make it smoother?

Next is function — what are you trying to accomplish? Divide the space into zones for food prep, cooking, baking, serving, food storage, making lunches and so on. Store items necessary for each task close to their point of use.

Marrero breaks frequency down further with the ABCD method. A is for most-used items such as paper towels and the coffee maker; B for those you reach for frequently (serving bowls, blenders); C for once or twice a year (holiday dishes, formal china) and D for almost never (specialty gadgets, outgrown baby dishes).

“People get a light bulb moment when they’re thinking of ABCD,” she said. “It makes them look at what they have differently.”

Local chef Michael Flores agrees that the best place to start is by cleaning house, or in this case, kitchen.

“If you haven’t used it in a long time, pitch it,” he said. “Keep it only if you’re go-ing to use it in the next two weeks. If you have extra pots and pans — maybe you burned something on a pan and don’t really use it — donate them. The holidays are a great time to get rid of things and donate.”

So you’ve gone through your things and decided what to keep and what to toss. Now you’ve got to put it all together in some kind of order. Let’s take a tour of the kitchen.


“There’s no substitute for having good drawer dividers,” Marrero said. “Otherwise you have a whole bunch of stuff that slides around every time you open the drawer.”

Sometimes the dividers themselves slide. For that, Marrero recommends a dab of putty to keep the divider in place.

Flores organizes drawers with all like items together. Separate cooking utensils from bigger items and have them in the drawer closest to where you will use them.


Again, Flores says, keep like items together. Put similar-sized platters, plates, cups and dishes in the same cabinet, and keep matching sets together.

“The biggest mistake with cabinets is not using wasted vertical space,” Marrero said. “I recommend helper shelves. They’re made in all different materials. You just stick them on a shelf and add a whole other layer. They’re really great for coffee cups.”


“Take an inventory of what you have,” Flores said. “Is everything fresh? If you’renot sure, throw it away. Don’t shove it to the back. Things get lost in a big pantry.”

To keep from losing items, Flores recommends assembling boxes as a buffer at the back of deep shelves.

The key to an organized pantry, Marrero says, is visibility. Because the pantry is a shared space, make it as easy as possible for everyone to see where thing are supposed to go.

Counter tops

This is where Marrero’s ABCD method really works. Remove anything you don’t use consistently from surfaces that could be used as workspaces.

Group items you’re leaving on the counter on trays. When you need more workspace, you can pick up one item — the tray — rather than a bunch of smaller items.


First in, first out, Flores says. Use older items before breaking open the ones you just bought.

“Use the tray concept in the fridge, too,” Marrero said. “For example, put everything you need to make sandwiches — mustard, mayo, pickles, lunchmeat — together in a little bin. Then you can take everything out and put it all back in just a couple of trips instead of juggling different jars and shuffling back and forth.”

The most important thing overall is to stay realistic.

“What happens so much is that we’ll watch the Food Network, get all excited and go out and buy all these collections of elaborate cookware,” Marrero said. “We get caught up in the idea of all the things we want to make, but we don’t actually do it.

“Next thing you know, you’ve got roasting pans and cookie cutters and pizza stones that you don’t even use.”

Don’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the job, either. Like with any big project, an overhaul is going to make the kitchen look worse before it looks better.

“There’s a logic to a good organizing system,” Marrero said. “You want to think it through before making a move. The biggest mistake would be to jump in without a strategy.”

The worst thing you can do, Flores said, is to start and not finish. Take it a little at a time and, most important, maintain your space.

“The holidays are stressful enough,” he said. “So start now, clean and get organized.”


Need help getting organized? Here are 3 ways we can help:


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