By Kelly Hines

If your family is like mine, the kitchen is the center of your home. It’s where we eat, socialize, entertain, do homework, and reconnect after a busy day. We proudly call ourselves “kitchen folk”; we’re most comfortable in the bustle of a warm kitchen.

But when that kitchen is in disarray, it’s the last place I want to be! Papers that collect on countertops, a fridge overstuffed with produce going bad, and where is the tuna? I swear we had some tuna! A disorganized kitchen can upset the whole applecart. To save you time, frustration, and even money (no more rotten eggplant!), here are my tips for taming the kitchen clutter.

Tame the paper tiger! You know how it happens – backpacks come home from school stuffed full, the mailman delivers an armload of junk mail, the newspaper and notebooks have babies, and before you know it there is a mound of mess on your countertop. Probably on the landing pad right next to the phone. So how do you reduce that paper? By committing to clean it out as soon as it comes in the door. I have two baskets in my house – a bill basket, and my “Sunday basket”. Mail comes in and immediately gets sorted, bills in the bill basket, action items into the Sunday basket, and everything else into the recycling bin. The same thing happens when the kids get home from school. Everything gets immediately sorted – trash, keepsake, action item. Everything that goes into the Sunday basket gets taken care of, you guessed it – Sunday! I clip coupons, write checks, fill out forms, and get my ducks in a row. I’ll be honest, sometimes things hang out in the Sunday basket for a couple of weeks, but I try not to let them make a permanent home there. These simple steps have completely eliminating that mess by my phone!

Clean out the fridge. Weekly. I know, that sounds like a lot. But before you sit down to make a grocery list, go through the fridge. Get rid of expired or spoiled foods (like that eggplant), give the shelves a quick wipe (you can do a more thorough job once a month), do a quick inventory of what you need from the store. This will save you from getting items you don’t need, or forgetting the ones you do need.

Wash your produce when you bring it home. This one takes some retraining. It seems insanely time consuming to wash the fruits and vegetables when you get home, but it’s really not. I promise you’ll spend no more than 10-15 minutes giving everything a good rinse. The upside? You eat better – no more grabbing a cookie because the cucumbers aren’t washed. You don’t waste produce – no more carrots going floppy because you were in a hurry to get dinner on the table and didn’t want to wash them. Meal prep is faster – you’re cutting out steps and getting to the cooking!

Put like things with like things. That sounds simple, doesn’t it? So why is your flour in a different cabinet than your sugar? Why is your salt and pepper over the stove but your other spices are by the sink? I once found seventeen boxes of Jell-O in four different cabinets. Tuna mixing with baked beans, rice consorting with cereal, chips rubbing elbows with the pasta. It’s anarchy, people! Put your grains with your grains and your syrup with your pancake mix and let all be right with the world once again.

Make it make sense. I recently helped a friend organize her kitchen, and move her spices from a corner cabinet by the sink to a drawer right next to the stove. She called it “life changing”. Put things where you use them. Make it make sense.

Let it go. Go ahead, sing the song. Then stop buying eggplant. Or, in the case of my house, V8. My husband wants to drink V8, but he just buys it and there it sits. I want to use the teeny tiny itsy bitsy cutesy widdle whisk, but I’m never going to. I am never going to deep fry chimichangas. I am never, much to my eternal disappointment, going to use my mini torch to flambe something. Stop buying it, pass it on, let it go. (OK, I am never getting rid of that torch because that thing is awesome and I WILL use it. Someday.)

Your kitchen is the heart of your home. Keep it simple, keep it warm, and keep it organized. You’ll never lose the tuna again!