My Healthy Habit Challenge: I’m Gonna Get (and Keep) My Kitchen in Order

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

Welcome to our Healthy Habit Challenge! Instead of focusing on (impossible-to-keep) New Year’s resolutions, we’re challenging four writers to start a new healthy habit. These challenges aren’t about cutting out sugar or going on a diet, or focused on the negative. They’re about doing something new and good — and making it second-nature.

Everyone wants their kitchen clean and organized, and I have plenty of incentive to keep ours that way: My husband and I love to cook, we’re Airbnb hosts (meaning random people come and go in search of coffee and corkscrews), and I work from home with my laptop at the kitchen counter.

We’ve also become a one-income family since my husband was laid off and returned to school full time, so the kitchen is more important than ever. Because we can’t afford to go out, we cook — often from scratch because that’s more affordable and we have the flexibility. Why not buy the dried beans instead of canned when we’ve got that shiny Instant Pot I bought on Prime Day back when we had two incomes?

But when I don’t remember where I stashed it, and don’t know if the beans are any good because the bag has been open for who knows how long, it’s a recipe for a squabble. When I buy another mustard because I didn’t see one in our fridge, but whoops, there are already two, that’s cause for an argument over grocery budgets.

Despite all the reasons to have an organized kitchen, we actually live at the edge of chaos. In my peripheral vision as I sit at my counter is unopened mail, dishes drying, tangled charging cords, a box of crackers, and too much other mayhem to mention. I’m stressed just writing this! So it’s time to take back the kitchen; to make this late Victorian-era kitchen work for us in 2017; to have a comfortable, clean space where we can work, cook, entertain, and host; and really, to feel like grown-ups who can handle the responsibility of a house we only half jokingly call Downton.

Why I Want to Make a New Habit

When I moved into my new old house with my husband and dogs last winter, the possibilities were endless; we’d swapped our teeny first home with a galley kitchen for a behemoth with rooms for days. A big house meant no more clutter! No excuse for things that pile up and make it impossible to find anything! We now had an actual dining room instead of a small table in the corner of the kitchen where we’d drop everything that came in the front door. And we found ourselves in possession of a mud room, a bar area, even a laundry room. I was giddy.

Nearly a year later though, I find myself battling some of the same old problems, with new ones to boot. That bigger kitchen — built in 1890 – boasts floor-to-11-foot-ceiling pantries rather than modern cabinets, so despite acres of storage space, not much is reachable. There’s not a drawer to be found. And that small-for-America fridge we bought after falling in love with a tiny one at a Paris Airbnb because we thought it would prevent us from wasting food? It turns out, when you cram things in it helter-skelter you still waste food. And because it all seems so impossible to keep up with, we’ve let it fall apart.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

The Plan: Clean Up This Mess!

In the new year we need a new beginning. When we unpacked after moving in last year, it was in a rush and without an understanding of how we would use the space. Now that we know our kitchen’s layout and quirks, we’re ready for a drastic step: Everything must go … to another room.

Then we’ll assess every single item. Do we use it? How often? Where does it make the most sense to keep it? Maybe I’ll try the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up technique: Does this spatula spark joy? No? Out it goes.

We’ll develop a system for where to store things (and look for tips like this). To keep ourselves in line and aid guests, we’ll make prominent labels. There’s no shame in treating ourselves like kindergartners who need prompts for where to store their crayons.

And to keep it clean — a battle of its own in a house with two dogs — we’ll go old school and assign chores. I love the Unf*%& Your Habitat approach, which breaks things down into tasks you tackle daily, weekly, monthly, and so on. The schedule will go on that little fridge to keep us accountable.

If this works I’ll never go into a tailspin (or call a cleaning company) when there’s a last-minute booking on Airbnb. I won’t hesitate when I’m about to blurt out, “Come over for drinks tonight!” Maybe I’ll even get more work done in my zen space. And while a clean and organized kitchen’s probably not the key to happily ever after, I think our family will feel a lot more at home — in it and with each other.

What Could Go Wrong?

You know what they say about good intentions — I’m all gung ho now before starting, but it’s easy to be energized at the outset. Just like any habit, it’s entirely possible I’ll lose steam partway through, get overwhelmed and give up, or not be able to relinquish any kitchen gadgets. It’s also realistic to imagine that I’ll successfully get everything nice and organized, but in the hustle and bustle of daily living will let it slide and end up right back where I started.

The Goal

I don’t need to be a total neat-freak, but I wouldn’t mind being a partial one. Can I get my kitchen in tip-top shape? Will I backslide if I do get things in order? I’ll fess up to how this turns out – stay tuned!