Raise your hand if you’ve ever used a first aid kit, makeup kit, or sewing kit. 🙋If so, you’re already familiar with the concept of what I like to call “kit (or “task) organizing"...storing all the items you need to perform a specific task or complete a certain activity together. We tend to do this naturally with certain items, such as cooking and laundry, but there may be other opportunities you've overlooked.
Why organize this way?
Think about the steps required to complete a task...any task. Step number 1 is always to assemble all the tools and materials you need. At least it should be. Otherwise, you end up having to interrupt the task to go find what you need, and who has time for that? Well, kit organizing takes care of the first step for you. Assuming you remembered to put your tools and materials away the last time you performed the task, you only need to get out your kit again and voila! Everything you need is right there!
An even bigger benefit to organizing this way is that it’s actually much easier to put your tools and materials away when you're done. Rather than putting the scissors back where the scissors go, and the tape back where the tape goes, and the ribbon and gift wrap back where they belong, you simply put everything back in your gift wrapping kit and store that away for next time. Let’s face it...searching for the scissors and tape because they didn’t get put back in the right place the last time you used them is often the most challenging and time-consuming part of wrapping a gift. Kit organizing just simplifies the getting-out and putting-back (and consequently, the finding-of) everything you need to complete your task.
What’s the best way to store kits?
Contrary to the mental image you may have in your head, a “kit” doesn’t necessarily always involve a cute little carrying case. Many may, but what makes it a "kit" is not what kind of receptacle it's stored in, but rather that all of the items in it center around a specific activity. Some kits may include large items that take up an entire closet, while others are better stored in a small, transportable pouch. How you contain it depends on what type of task/activity it’s used for and where that activity is performed. Tasks that are always performed in the same location and have room to store the kit there don’t require a carrying case. For example, if you always put your makeup on at a makeup table with drawers, you can just use a drawer to hold the components of your makeup kit.
Conversely, if you like to do your nails at the kitchen table but don’t have room in the kitchen to store your nail kit, putting those items in a small bag you can retrieve from the bathroom makes a lot of sense. Anytime you have to carry stuff around, having everything already stored in a transportable receptacle makes it more likely you won't leave something behind by accident. Open caddies, small backpacks or totebags, lidded or open bins, baskets and zippered pouches are all great options for containing your kits. Pick the one that best suits how you use that particular kit.
Kits aren't just for home use!
Kit organizing can be particularly useful for items you use outside the home. Grab-and-go activity bags for trips to the pool, sporting events (or practice), or picnics take the stress out of preparing for fun outings. Being already packed and ready whenever the mood strikes will make you more likely to go enjoy yourself! And you'll be less likely to forget something if you've invested some forethought in what belongs in your kit and store everything together between outings. Just make sure you remember to remove anything you've accumulated during your trip that doesn't belong in the kit before you put it away.
What should go in a kit?
Chances are, you are already organizing this way for some tasks/activities. If you store all your camping equipment together, that’s a camping kit. But there may be items you can add to your existing kit to make life even simpler. For example, does your camping kit include all the "staples" you routinely take camping with you, such as paper towels, aluminum foil, and utensils...or do you still have to retrieve those from the kitchen each and every time you pack for a camping trip? It may not always be feasible to store everything you need in your kit, due to space or financial considerations. The idea is to make your kit as complete as you reasonably can in order to simplify assembling and putting away your tools and materials before and after use. (Tip: for camping or other away-from-home activities, consider including with your kit a list of additional items you know you'll always need to take with you but for one reason or another cannot store with the rest of your kit. This will help ensure you don't forget something.) How often you use your kit will also determine what goes in it. If you go camping multiple times each summer, it may be worth investing in a second set of cooking utensils to keep in your kit; if you only go every couple of years, perhaps not. Think about the types of tasks/activities you perform most frequently and make a list of all the items you use. Begin building your kit from there.
Would having any of these kits assembled and ready to go make your life simpler?
It’s never a good sign when it starts raining in your garage…especially when your kitchen is above the garage and you’ve just stepped in a wet patch near the dishwasher!
So yes, we need a new dishwasher and no, there is no room for one in our budget right now. At first I was so busy being grateful that it wasn’t an issue with the kitchen plumbing that I forgot to groan about having to hand wash all my dishes for the foreseeable future. It didn’t take long for me to remember just how much I hate it. I mostly hate not having any room on my tiny counter to put all the clean dishes and how quickly I run out of dry dish towels since I don’t have a drainer and have to drain them on a towel. (I’m actually anti-dish drainer because I think they invite you to leave the job unfinished and take up valuable space even when not in use.) But once I figured out that I could use the empty dishwasher as my drying rack, my perspective began to change. I began to see the silver lining to this cloud and realized that what at first seemed like a curse may indeed become a blessing.
For one thing, washing and drying dishes is something everyone in my family can do…even the more “spatially challenged” among them. My kids have finally completed the Dishwashing Badge in our Life Skills Badge Program. My husband is more sensitive about helping with dinner clean up, and I don’t have to worry about whether the bowl I really want to use is going to take up too much space in the dishwasher later. Maybe now we won’t have to take out a second mortgage just to pay the water bills that also fund my daughter’s showers. (She’s the only 11-year-old I know with permanently wrinkled hands.) And once the kitchen cleanup is done, it’s done…no more dishes to put away later since I ascribe to the dry-them-and-put-them-away-now philosophy.
Best of all, I’m no longer worrying about what will happen if my dishwasher breaks…I already know. My children will enjoy an excuse to play in some sudsy water before school. My husband and I will giggle and flirt as we snap dish towels at each other. I’ll imagine my mother, now gone to her rest, washing that very same serving spoon back in our kitchen on Timber Trail Rd. The clean scent of the dish washing liquid will remind me of my grandmother’s kitchen.
Sometimes we need something to break to realize how truly unimportant it is. And often in our never-ending quest to simplify our lives, we end up complicating them instead. The modern conveniences designed to free up our time wind up stealing our opportunities to forge that time into something memorable. Think about your funniest family anecdotes. Chances are they felt like catastrophes at the time. (Someday I’ll share my “Mom in a Manhole” story…a real family classic.) Next time “disaster” strikes, look for the hidden blessing instead of feeling cursed.
I suppose we will replace the dishwasher eventually, but I’m not in any hurry. It might be kind of fun to share KP duty with my sister after a family holiday meal just like the old days. But only if she dries.
I hate grocery shopping! Once upon a time it was fun, back when I was young and single and only cooked because I wanted to. Back then, I could meander through the aisles for hours, dreaming about the days when I had a family to cook for and imagining all the tasty, fun foods I'd make. In my little dream world, my well-rounded and appreciative children would be eager to try new foods, and there would always be oodles of time for teaching them to cook in my spacious, always-clean-and-tidy kitchen. It was a Betty Crocker Utopia. Ha!
In reality, grocery shopping with two impatient and whiny kids is like playing Supermarket Sweep, American Ninja Warrior, The Price is Right, and Survivor all at once...where the only prizes you win are gray hair, frazzled nerves and a big fat bill at the end. Oh, and then you get to cart all your stuff home and put it away. And we haven't even come to the Hell's Kitchen part of the show!
The only way I can win this game is to limit the number of times I play to once a week. That means making sure I don't forget anything, which means creating a list. I've tried those pre-printed lists you check off, using electronic lists (many versions) and even creating my own list each week, but nothing seemed quite strong enough to numb the pain to a bearable level. The lists were never comprehensive enough or not arranged the way I liked, and crossing off (or deleting) items as I put them in the cart was too cumbersome a task to perform while simultaneously trying to prevent my kids from hiding in the freezer case or climbing the piles of giant rice bags. And in my frenzied rush to get out of the store before being kicked out by the manager, I was always forgetting some key ingredient I needed.
I finally came up with a solution that's been working really well and has even gotten some positive comments from fellow shoppers, so I thought it was worth sharing with you guys. After consulting my pantry, fridge, freezer and cabinets, I created a comprehensive list of everything I typically buy. (I've been using this list for a few months now and haven't discovered any major omissions yet.) It's organized alphabetically by category. While store layouts vary, the categories are fairly standard. You may skip around from category to category on the list, but you will usually find the majority of items within a category together in the store.
The best part about this list is that it's reusable and easy to check off. You see, it fits on the front and back of a single sheet and thus can be laminated or placed into a plastic page protector and used with a dry erase marker.* Hang it on the fridge and add to it all week long as you think of things you need to buy. Check off any additional items you know you will need before heading to the store. Scanning the list itself will even trigger your memory of things you need to purchase. Then as you shop, simply rub off the check marks with your finger as you put items in your cart. No pen required! (This leaves the other hand free to yank your kids back BEFORE they pull the bottom orange out of the neatly-stacked pyramid.) Hang it back up on the fridge when you get home, ready for next week's round.
Feel free to download this printable PDF and give it a try, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a FREE editable version you can customize (created in Microsoft Excel).
And for my fellow suffering moms out there: I've discovered that assigning each kid an item and having them race to see who can retrieve theirs first not only keeps them occupied and teaches them where to find things in the store, it saves my energy for more important things...like chasing the shopping cart they are coasting downhill to the car.
*Laminating the list stiffens it, making it easier to write on or rub off and preventing it from creasing in your shopping bag. If using a page protector, place the two sheets back to back with a piece of cardboard in between to achieve the same effect.
By now you should know that I'm a big fan of keeping things simple and affordable. One of my favorite places to practice this is in the kitchen. Some of the best culinary inventions were born of a need for frugality, convenience, or both (Think pizza, soup, and croutons). For someone like me who is one part lazy, two parts budget-conscious and three parts control-freak, finding ways to reduce waste in the kitchen satisfies my need for easy, cheap yet homemade cooking in one fell swoop. What could be better than saving myself time, money and guilt all at the same time? (Well, besides eating all the yummy results of my efforts?) All it takes is a freezer, a little planning and a few new habits in order to get started.
Whether your freezer is stocked full of ice cream and frozen pizza or you use it primarily for taking advantage bulk deals on meat and other expensive ingredients, here are a few items you can store in this under-utilized appliance to you save time and money and reduce waste:
The sky is the limit on other things you can freeze, from lemon zest to extra frosting or cookie dough. Be realistic when you are shopping and only buy what you need, but when you find yourself with obviously more than your family can easily consume, freeze it before it goes bad. Not only will you reduce waste, but these little gems just may come to your rescue the next time you find yourself in a pinch.
Share the wealth! Comment below and let us know what you save and how you use it.
Update 2/28/2015: I have discovered an even more convenient way to make the vegetable broth. Just dump everything into the slow cooker and cover with water. Cook on low for several hours and before removing the vegetable scraps and straining the broth. This broth is amazing in this slow-cooker potato soup recipe from Budget Bytes (replaces the chicken broth).
I recall the look of complete amazement and bewilderment on the face of my British friend as I described to her, sometime back in the late '80's, how a drive-thru bank worked. I'm not sure if she was impressed by the ingenuity of such an idea or astonished at the sheer laziness of an entire culture where such a phenomenon would even be needed, much less commonplace.
Indeed, we Americans seem to be almost obsessed with an ongoing demand for more and more "convenience". As though drive-thru restaurants, pharmacies and dry cleaners are not enough, we now have curbside pickup, hands-free concierge service on our cell phones, and remote controls that open our car trunks for us from 50 feet away. Of course, being the queen of laziness, I love it all and can't wait for the day that someone invents an exercise machine that allows me to burn calories and tone muscle while napping.
But if we aren't careful, our never-ending quest for convenience can become downright inconvenient, particularly when it comes to all those "convenience" kitchen appliances: juicers, bread makers, rotisseries, countertop grills, food dehydrators and vacuum sealers. Look around you. Are the appliances that are intended to conserve your time just consuming the valuable real estate in your home?
As with anything else, it's all about choices. Choose which convenience you want...drive-thru burgers, or easier homemade burgers? Vacuum packed groceries you can freeze for fewer trips to the store, or door-to-door grocery delivery? Be realistic and consider your lifestyle and current needs to determine which you will really use. If you want to keep the food dehydrator, fine. USE IT! Commit to it. Let go of that notion that you'll use it "someday". If "someday" ever does come, the newer models will be better, even easier to use, and probably worth the cost of buying a new one, so there's no need to keep this one around and in your way until then (unless it's Grandma's old ice cream maker and you are keeping it for sentimental reasons...but that's another post). Realize that there is nothing convenient about having to move the juicer every time you need to find a glass for your store-bought juice. ALL conveniences require some type of sacrifice--time, money, space, accessibility--so choose wisely.
I have a bread maker I bought about 15 years ago but rarely used because it was too big to store on the counter and required too much effort to get it out when put away. Storing such a large and infrequently-used appliance in my tiny kitchen was a luxury I could no longer afford, so I gave myself an ultimatum: either start using the bread maker regularly or get rid of it. Thus I re-organized my kitchen to make it easier to access my bread maker and have started using it at least weekly to make homemade dough for pizzas, pita bread and hamburger buns from pre-measured, homemade mixes I toss together once a month or so. I am choosing the convenience of having easier homemade pizza over the convenience of ordering pizza delivery, but that's a personal choice. The point is, you need to evaluate your current needs and priorities and stop allowing your convenience appliances to inconvenience your life by either finding a way to make using them easier or getting rid of them to make room for a different kind of convenience.
By the way, unused space is a pretty versatile convenience of its own. Just saying.
Update 1/5/2014: It's been five months since I originally posted this and I'm happy to report that I am continuing to use my bread maker very regularly. If you have a bread maker that's collecting dust, start using it to make home made pizza dough, rolls and pita bread from one of our EasyPeasy Mixes. You'll save money and will be amazed at just how quick and easy it is. Trust me! You'll never go back to eating that store-bought cardboard again!
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.