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Bread And Butter: Kitchen Organization

A line of mason jars filled with colorful fruit preserves on a shelf.

How organized are your cupboards, pantries and refrigerators? Organized and in line or organized chaos or simply chaos? Does it affect how you cook or if you cook at all? How many times have we been in the aisle of the grocery store, simply knowing we have a certain ingredient at home…or do we? Was it behind the flour or the canister of cashews? Or was that months ago? Now, how long has it been since you’ve looked behind those cashews, anyway?  And whoops! Those leftovers shoved deep behind the cheese and cream, was that last week’s soup, or wait. Enchiladas from weeks gone? It’s gone so far, you really aren’t sure.

The articles on pantry organization are deep. Buy more containers, different containers, label everything, label nothing, open your shelving up. It can be overwhelming and frustrating, especially since every article attacks this pervasive issue as a one size fits all fix, which is clear it is not. What is clear, however, is that some organizational system is needed simply to reduce waste and spending on duplicates.

I grew up with an organized mom. To this day, I could walk into her kitchen and know exactly where everything is. Brands may have morphed and changed, but that brown melamine sugar bowl does not. Growing up with the ‘everything has a place’ mantra on repeat, it was clearly bound to stick. Mine stuck and then took off. I’m a big fan of everything having a place and regularly pick up stray items that are still in use by others that lack my mother’s voice in their heads. That is to say, my kitchen is organized. 

Last year, we bought a new refrigerator. We had a side by side model that I was not a fan of every day of the 3000 years it was in my life. But, because I hated it, it was a long haul workhorse that would not quit. We finally bought a new one, selling the old, and the new one came with a deep freezer drawer on the bottom and big French doors. However, we also downsized cubic square feet. The complete reconfigure and the downsize meant a totally new system for my fridge. Instead of slotted compartments in the side by side where things were generally grouped by category, I had wide shelves to work with and a drawer beneath our produce crispers that now houses all things cheese. 

Many of the pantry organizing articles tout the glory of baskets and containers for your refrigerator. I’m a bulk buy girl and tall glass canisters with sealed lids are my joy. But I cannot, for the life of me, figure out the purpose of containers in a refrigerator organization scenario. Maybe it’s the loss of square footage, but I feel containers and boxes and baskets would just take up valuable real estate that could be used by actual food. Especially since one article stated to find containers with handles to “make grabbing things out of the fridge a little easier”.  Wouldn’t it be easier, still, to simply forego the unnecessary and load the food straight onto a shelf? Or am I missing the social media brag of it all? Sure enough. The hashtag “fridgegoals” really is a thing.

Another tip I saw was to install strong magnets on the roof of your fridge and hang bottles (with metal tops, of course) from them. This nugget brought on an entire wave of questions I couldn’t possibly start to cover, but the first one would absolutely be, isn’t that a risky little trial and error to find the right strength ratio?

When we were first married, we had several of the great discussions most newly married couples have: to refrigerate or not?  Bread, butter, condiments of various varieties. Bread was a fridge staple growing up, not so with my husband. Same with butter. What I noticed with all of these organizing articles is there was no nuance for ‘how things are done around here’. They assume everyone stores things the exact same way.  read in the fridge, soy sauce in the cupboard, butter in a dish by the toaster. Except when it’s not and it’s bread in the cupboard, soy sauce in the fridge and butter still in that dish by the toaster. What I took away from my short rabbit hole of kitchen organization articles is that it’s most definitely not one size fits all.  Wait. I already knew that, didn’t I?

It took a few weeks of arranging and again to get the right working flow in our new refrigerator, but now things are where they belong. And by belong, I mean belong for us. The bread and the butter and the condiments are all in their allotted space. I do think organization is important, for our sanity, our frugal desires and our ability to cook with less stress, but I think how you organize is definitely best left to the individual and not the countless self proclaimed experts.  I’m also certain my son could start an article in several years' time that says ‘to this day, I could walk into my mother’s kitchen and know exactly where everything is’ and he’d be right and also completely wrong according to someone else’s better way.