Case Study #2: Compact Kitchen Needs a Heaping Serving of Zen
Last updated May 2022
They say the kitchen is the heart of the home and, because my family likes to cook (and eat), mine gets a workout. Our house’s open floorplan serves my brood well, but our limited kitchen storage space had become a disaster—and I didn’t know how to fix it.
We have several deep cabinets, but a lot of them are high up. To use them effectively I’d frontload them with things I use most often and then fill the back with stuff I couldn’t see and therefore almost never used. We also have a basement shelving area we use as backup storage for food, entertaining items, and some small appliances, but that was also a mess.
It got so bad that I’d sometimes order another cake pan or condiment because I couldn’t find or bear to rummage for one I already had. Every time I tried to organize, I became frustrated by the lack of space and just gave up. I hoped a personal organizer could help me figure out a plan and implement it.
I checked the NAPO (National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals) online directory and perused biographies, looking for someone who seemed practical and not too into the psychological side of the business. (I didn’t have emotional attachments to the stuff in my kitchen; I wanted practical advice and help making everything fit.)
I contacted four organizers within a 30-minute drive of my home. One never responded. Another had an abrasive demeanor: She wanted to tell me what bins and tools were needed, I’d buy them, and then she’d supervise me doing the work. “It sounds like you just haven’t made the time to do this, that’s why you’re calling me.” Nope, not a good fit. Another lady I spoke with was very friendly and had smart ideas, but she wasn’t my guru—I’d already spoken with him.
I liked “Jake’s” NAPO bio and I was impressed by his up-to-date website and social media pages with testimonials and before-and-after photos of recent jobs, including several kitchen projects. He also answered by email within a couple of hours.
After connecting via phone, Jake and I had a FaceTime meeting and tour of my kitchen and basement shelving space. He asked me to measure certain shelves and cabinets so he could come up with a rough plan and order the right items. If we worked together, he said we could get the job done in one day.
Jake was amazing. He showed up with seven Container Store bags, a toolkit, and lots of positive energy. We started by taking everything out of the cabinets and cleaning the shelves. He asked great questions to make sure his plan matched my family’s needs. “What are some meals you make often?” “Which small appliances get used the most?” “How often do you bake?” “Which serving platters and dishes do you use weekly?”
He also gently asked what we could part with. “When’s the last time you used this fondue pot? Can we let it go?” I didn’t think I had much to offload, but we filled four large garbage bags with things to trash or donate, freeing up precious space. I wouldn’t have parted with all that stuff on my own.
Jake organized my pantry with a variety of clear storage bins (many of them tall to accommodate items like cereal boxes and full-size chip bags) and created sections that made sense for us: snacks on a low shelf so my kids could help themselves; a breakfast area with cereals, coffee, and teas; a Mexican food section for taco nights; a dessert bin; a container for spreads like peanut butter, jams, and Nutella; containers for grains and pastas; and a bin for our dog’s treats and products.
Jake created enough space that we could bring my slow cooker, air fryer, mini food processor, and hand mixer up from the basement—a fantastic result, since we use those weekly. We stashed downstairs things we use less frequently (baskets for plastic cutlery; large platters and bowls; seasonal items like cookie cutters, and the electric knife). He used an accordion-style organizer to store platters vertically—a huge space-saver.
Jake noticed my aprons crumpled under the sink and produced a hook that fit perfectly on an empty wall. Because they’re now easier to grab, I’ve used them more often, keeping my clothes cleaner. He put two serving bowl sets that I use daily on the prime-real-estate shelf above the microwave. It freed up cabinet space and they also look great. One of the sets—colorful vintage Pyrex—had belonged to my late grandparents and showcasing it makes me happy. That shelf used to hold a basket of medications and vitamins, many of them expired. Jake suggested moving what was still good into bathroom medicine cabinets. (Why didn’t I think of that?)
For about $1,000, including supplies, I now have a functional kitchen and less stress. It takes less time to prepare meals and snacks. A bonus: Working with Jake inspired me to organize my bathroom cabinets and linen closet, and to replace broken, worn, and outdated items. The experience gave me a more organized life.
- Prioritize moving frequently used items and ingredients to the most accessible spots.
- If you haven’t used something in a long time, get rid of it. The extra shelf space is well worth it. Use an item only once a year, like a turkey platter? Stash it in an out-of-the-way place.
- Using clear plastic storage bins in various sizes can help contain everything from snack bags to cereal boxes. The ones with high sides are especially handy. They make it easy to shift around numerous items while still seeing where things are and what you have.