Thanksgiving is on the way, and Christmas isn't far behind. Is your kitchen up to the task?
You may be facing the prospect of roasting a turkey this month and making gingerbread men next month on exactly 12 square inches of counter space. And forget clearing the counter; the cabinets are so stuffed already, the doors won't shut.
To the rescue: Jill Ferguson, a professional organizer in Brandon. After years of sorting out her family and friends' places for free, she started her own business, Living Orderly.
The biggest problem she sees in kitchens?
"People have excess stuff, and it's in the wrong places,'' she said. "They move in, they unpack and put things away without thinking about how they use the kitchen.''
The good news in these hard times is that getting organized is one home improvement project you can do on the cheap. You can also hire a professional organizer and buy lots of accessories, but that's entirely up to you. Here is a 10-step program to get your kitchen in shape.
1. Clear the decks
The fastest way to make a kitchen look more spacious is to clear the counters, Ferguson said. Move off everything you don't use every day. So the toaster can stay; the Mixmaster, maybe not. Exception: "You do want colorful, decorative things on your countertop,'' Ferguson said. But go for double-duty items. She found a pretty bowl buried in a client's cabinet that now sits on the countertop to hold her phone and keys when she walks in the door.
2. Cull the herd
Pull everything out of the cabinets — go one at a time if you're doing this on your own, or hire a pro to do the whole job at once. (Ferguson says a friend can also help, but I say choose wisely. This could get embarrassing.)
Discover anything you haven't used in a year — or longer? Perhaps the sippy cups of your child who is now in college? Donate such treasures to a worthy cause or a friend. Or have a yard sale. At the least, put them away in a box and see how long it takes to forget all about them.
3. File those memories
If you're keeping something because you think the giver will search your cabinets for their gift, well, you know your friends and family best. But if it's the memory, and not the object, that you cherish, Ferguson suggests taking a picture. Then give the item to somebody who'll use it.
4. Think green
When it seems painful (or boring) to go through all your stuff, just think about all the space you are creating. And how environmentally conscious you're being. "With so much emphasis on recycling and living in a green society, people are more apt to think, 'Oh, somebody else could use this, or there may be another use for this,' '' Ferguson said.
5. Make a plan
Now that you've sorted your treasures, don't just pile them all back in. Think about how you use the kitchen. Where do you chop veggies? Store the cutting board, knives, salad bowls, whatever you need close by. Help your kids make their own lunches by storing all their treats together — maybe in one place in the fridge. Chrome baker's rack, $109.99 online only at Target.com.
6. Shop at home
If you still don't have enough room for your thinned-down collection, Ferguson suggests looking for items in other rooms to solve your woes. For instance, she has an antique wash stand in her kitchen that's pretty and provides storage.
7. The inside job
If you have a few bucks and a tendency to lose things in the back of cabinets, consider installing lazy Susans, shelves or pull-out racks, like these Rev-A-Shelf chrome baskets, $84.97 at Lowe's. But measure before you shop.
"The biggest thing people do wrong is, they get all excited, run out and buy all their organizing containers. They get home, they don't fit, and they can't use them,'' Ferguson said.
8. More spacemakers
If you have the space and the funds, she also recommends a portable kitchen island on wheels. It will increase storage and counter space, and some even double as breakfast bars. Find them starting at about $200 at home stores. "Pot racks are good, especially if you've got nice-looking pots. There are a lot of grids that hang on the wall, or magnetic strips to hang across the backsplash for knives,'' she said.
9. Live with it
See if your new system works for you. If not, adjust until it does. Ferguson suggests labeling the inside of your cabinet doors so the kids can help you unload groceries and put away dishes.
10. Looks count
Once you've got everything arranged to suit you, consider aesthetics. Among Ferguson's suggestions: painting walls and/or cabinets, changing cabinet hardware, changing light fixtures, throwing a bright rug on the floor, adding a pretty bowl of fruit to the table or counter. My kitchen has no window, so last week I hung a mirror on a wall. It really does make the place look brighter.
But I'd still rather have another cabinet.
Charlotte Sutton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8425.