Makeover: The Kitchen Reckoning

I say it all the time. My preference, especially in a home that is a major hot mess of clutter, is to start in the kitchen. The kitchen is the heart of the home and we usually spend so much time in it that we never spend time on it. Kitchens are usually unemotionally charged so it's a good place to get the hang of letting go and learn the ropes before deep attachments come into play. Plus, and the best part, it has clearly defined areas that make for good goals. The counter tops. The pantry. The cabinets. The refrigerator. When you're overwhelmed by your clutter, it's best to set small goals for yourself. The kitchen practically does that for you. Added bonus is that these small areas can be quick to do, instantly pumping motivation. In most cases I can knock out a pantry in a few hours. Which brings us back to the beginning...because we spend so much time in the kitchen, you feel the benefits of your work several times a day, every day.

Feeling the benefits so early in the process and so often through the day is key help when clearing out more emotional areas. Clients tell me all the time how they just stand and stare at their pantry when they're feeling overwhelmed by the rest of the house.

It's the little things, my Sunshines.

As with all homes that have large amounts of clutter, something happened to cause it. In this home, many different challenges had come into play. However, my client was ready to move past it. Also, she's about to undergo major surgery so we had to get the home into great working order since she'll be out of commission and dependent on her husband and in-home health care to keep things in check.

It's always easier for people to keep things tidy for you when everything has a home.

Now everything in this kitchen does. I called this the Kitchen Reckoning because that's what my client called everything where there was too much. We had a stationery reckoning, office reckoning, hanger reckoning, shoe reckoning, vinyl get the picture.

It's a fun way to look at it and it stuck.

(Expect to see many more amazing transformations from this home in the next few weeks. Since the kitchen we've already made fabulous progress in other rooms. I've posted pics on Twitter and Tumblr. Follow there for daily bits. Full stories will be here later on.)


Root cause to this kitchen was an overstuffed pantry. The challenge with this pantry is common to many cabinets and closets in homes I work with - narrow and deep. Food would get lost forever in the back because it couldn't be seen. Of course, to address the pantry, I'd need to empty it out. And there wasn't anywhere to spread yet. So we started with the dining table. Again, very small goal and less overwhelming to my client.

The dining table was mainly prescriptions with a few other random things thrown in. We started by removing the random things and either putting them into the rooms they would live in or into a pile for donate. Then we moved on to the prescriptions, which what was the main clutter of the dining table and one of the counter tops. We pulled all prescriptions together and started sorting like with like. From there, we threw away everything that was expired and then organized prescriptions by person and how often they were needed. Some over-the-counter medications had migrated from the bathroom to the prescription area and we sent those back to where they lived. This ended our first session together.

Pro tip: When tossing prescriptions, peel and shred the label or black out your name and other personal information. Don't want that stolen. As for the drugs themselves, it's ok to put them in the trash but mix them up with coffee grounds or another nasty and undesirable substance so they aren't used.

In between sessions, my client sorted through the items on the floor and in the chest of drawers between the dining table and kitchen proper. She also weeded things no longer necessary out of the cabinets. They weren't too bad to begin with and are better now through a touch of tweaking.

On our next session together, we hit the remaining counter tops and heart of the issue - the pantry. Again, I started with the counter tops so there would be a place to spread when I got into the pantry. I started on the left side counters, sorting like with like. Many items were placed on the newly cleaned dining table so my client could check everything for expiration dates. Once the left side was cleared off and cleaned, I moved to the right side counters sorting like with like and then throwing out expired foods.

Pro tip: when dealing with foods, sort like with like first and then check for expiration dates. It's easier and much quicker to stick with one task at a time instead of combining these two. Manufacturers put expiration dates all over the place so when you have like items together, when you've found the date on one, you've found it on them all thus speeding up the process.

Once the right side of the room was done, it time to tackle the big boy. That deep, narrow pantry. Again, everything was pulled out and sorted like with like. Expired foods were thrown away. In times like this I always like to play the "What's the oldest food we'll find game."

So what's the oldest food you think we found?

Did you guess "Bag of flour from 1992?"

Good! You win!

This bag of flour had apparently followed my client from apartment to apartment, through marriage and home to home. It was a BRICK!

And now it's gone.

R.I.P. Flour Brick.

Once everything was sorted and done, we were left with 4 giant black trash bags of expired foods and still too much to go into the pantry. But we made it work. Placing everything back in, I put breakfast on an upper shelf, the main staples at eye level and drinks, spices and more snacks at the lower level. Some chips and snacks didn't originally fit in with my final vision of the pantry. Between sessions, my client bought a basket for the snacks and put them in front of breakfast. Because she knows breakfast is back there and it's now easy to move the snacks since they're in the nifty basket, it works.

Pro tip: Put the main staples to your meals at eye level. If you don't see it, you won't know you have it or eat it and it will eventually become 8 boxes of expired potatoes au gratin.

After this session, my client and a friend cleaned out the refrigerator and freezer and gave the whole joint a scrub down. When I came back, I was treated to this!


Total hands on time: 5 1/2 hours spread over two sessions plus client work in between.

Does your kitchen resemble this one? Well what are you waiting for, Sunshine? Go fix it!