Welcome to our Healthy Habit Challenge! Instead of focusing on New Year’s resolutions, we challenged 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. Here’s how they went.
Several weeks ago, I set out to transform my cluttered, chaotic kitchen into a clean, organized, zen space where I could work, prepare meals, and hang out with guests without stressing about the mess.
With zealous ambition I planned to take every single thing out of the kitchen and start totally fresh. That included every last fork, bottle stopper, and bag clip. Once everything was back in place, I’d get on a schedule to keep things shiny and happy.
So, how did it go? While it didn’t go exactly according to plan, I still consider this challenge a success.
How I Got My Kitchen Clean and Organized
Rather than the massive purge I had originally intended (why did I think I’d have a 12-hour block of time free to analyze my entire kitchen inventory?), I tackled things one by one. That meant some days I only got one or two pantry shelves done, or one section of the fridge, so the project took longer than I expected.
The good news is that it turned out to be a lot more feasible that way. We touched and assessed every single object. The ruthless process of clearing out a pile of stuff was easier when tackling one pile at a time. Baby steps, they say.
I put everything in its logical place – and to make sure things stay where they belong I painted the shelf edges (bless Annie Sloan; long may she reign), and hand wrote what goes where. Now nobody — whether hurrying husband or weekend guest — has an excuse to hide the measuring spoons behind the bowls. I liked the result of our dish pantry (above!) so much, I considered removing the doors. Then I thought Why risk it? and kept them on. Know thyself.
The next thing I did was go shopping. I know what you’re thinking: We had too much stuff, so the idea seems a little silly, right? Not entirely. We had this little dining table from our old house that was a weird size and blocked traffic around the island. It was literally getting in the way of my challenge.
So I felt entirely justified in springing for its replacement — a smaller (super-cool) vintage factory cart from an architectural treasure trove in Chicago (the battle to get it several hundred miles home strapped to the top of our car is a story best left untold). I love the look of the metal cart paired with our zinc countertop, and with its three shelves, I increased our available surface space all while reducing the footprint in our limited floorspace.
I also picked up an inexpensive stand at a thrift shop to make a coffee station on the other side of the kitchen, again reducing traffic in the trouble area, getting the coffeepot closer to the sink, and making it easy for guests to find what they need.
At this point, I was feeling quite satisfied with myself. And, since I needed to move some things to the mudroom, that area got its own purge and clean. Bonus! We’d let the room fall to pieces because it’s second or third on our list of renovation projects (the plaster walls and ceilings have to come out, thanks to past water damage) but it kind of made my head explode every time I opened the door to see what looked like a Hoarders episode.
So yes, it still sports the hideous paint scheme courtesy of the last owner (imagine if a box of crayons threw up and you get the idea), but with the addition of a shelf we pulled out of the garage, and some boxes going to Goodwill, it’s at least tidy and organized now.
How I (Sort of) Kept My Kitchen Clean and Organized
I admit it: I failed pretty miserably to stick with the chore plan I’d intended. I blame the cold, travel, being busy, and my pure laziness for that. We did implement some unwritten rules, though, like to never leave anything on the counter for more than 24 hours. And to really try to put things back in the same place they came from. Right now as I sit at the counter where I work every day, the tally of things that do not belong here includes only a stray empty glass. I can live with that.
To borrow a theme from the trainer working with our exuberant puppy, it’s easier to keep something dialed in than to get it dialed in. It took a lot of labor to get the kitchen in order, but now that we have it that way it’s ever so much easier to keep it like that.
Will I Stick to My Clean and Organized Ways?
I can’t promise I’ll never let it slide again, but I knew this challenge was a success when my husband reached into the pantry for the pizza stone one night, and — instead of sighing in frustration as he clanked and banged around like usual — drew the pan right out. “That’s the easiest it’s ever been to get to,” he said, his smile equal parts amazed and thrilled.