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Space-saving tips for the kitchen,

from an organizing wizard

Everybody loves a big kitchen.

Watch a home show on TV or tour a new model, and the kitchen area tends to take up a big part of the house. It can be one of the main selling points, in fact.

For some, however, that great big kitchen and the massive storage and organizational potential it houses remains elusive.

There still are many homeowners and apartment dwellers let's call them kitchen-impaired who can fit half their home in one of those newfangled kitchens.

Ah, the kitchen impaired.

They, too, would like to pull out a drawer and find all of their gadgets neatly placed, or open a cabinet to find the secret waste can.

Coping with a small kitchen is a daily battle for anyone who likes to appear organized and uncluttered, but it can be done.

Just ask Yvonne Phelan, owner of the Organizing Wizard in New Lenox.

She has helped many a homeowner cope with the overflowing "stuff" that can crowd a family out of a small kitchen.

"Kitchens are now the hub of the house. It tends to be the catch-all for mail, newspapers, schoolwork," Phelan said.

People walk into their kitchens, set items on the countertop and walk away.

"Mounds pile up on the tables and countertops. It tends to create chaos. Everything gets thrown in a pile," she said.

Organizing a small kitchen takes diligence and a lot of creativity. And there is a definite starting point streamlining.

"The first thing is get the garbage can out and circular file everything you are not going to look at," Phelan said.

One way to organize is to place a basket on the table or counter to house mail, fliers, magazines and the like.

At the end of the week, if it hasn't been read, throw it out.

Unread magazines can be donated. If they continue to pile up unread, you should cancel the subscription.

If you're going to read the magazine only once in a while, you should buy only one at the newsstand when you have time to read, or go to the library or a bookstore.

Newspapers can be another clutter causer.

Many people hang on to the paper thinking they will read it or they want to save it for an article. Then another paper comes, and another.

"What I tell people if they are article savers is get a ring binder with clear cellophane sleeves. Paste the article on paper and slide it in the sleeve," she said.

"If you leave a newspaper in a stack of 300, how are you ever going to find the article you need?"

Another suggestion: Get a rack or basket with compartments to hang on the wall or put on the counter for mail. Making a respond pile, a bill-paying pile, etc., can help. By all means, she said, be sure to open the envelopes.

Another source of paper clutter in the kitchen is children's schoolwork.

To help organize that, get a basket for each child. Put all the paper that comes home in that basket.

Then, at the end of the month or the quarter, you can go through it and toss what is not important.

Now, on to the kitchen staples.

Buying in bulk may be a money saver, but it is a space killer if storage space is at a premium.

"Don't overbuy," Phelan said.

If space is short, you may need to trade convenience for more frequent trips to the store. You can use items such as paper towels, for example, until they are almost gone before replacing.

When Phelan goes to a kitchen to organize, she takes everything out of the cabinets to sort.

She advises homeowners to store food with food, paper with paper, and so on.

"That way, you can see what you have," Phelan said.

"The problem is, if it is out of sight, it's out of mind, and you may buy more of what you already have."

If storage for bulk purchases exists outside the kitchen, perhaps in a basement or pantry, you can use notes on the inside of the cabinets as a reminder of what is stocked elsewhere.

Phelan said she also likes using clear containers for many kitchen staples. Unlike bags of flour or pasta and uneven sized boxes of cereals, uniform containers keep products fresher and cabinets neater.

Clear containers also help keep an eye on how much of a product is left.

Kitchen gadgets are another source of clutter.

"Again, watching the overflow will help keep things neat," Phelan said.

Some people have two or three pizza cutters and five spatulas, for example.

It always seems, however, that people gravitate to the same utensils over and over.

"Keep an eye on what is getting into the house as far as gadgets, and keep what you like to use," Phelan said.

The extras can be discarded or donated.

Keep in mind when curtailing the clutter that crops up in your kitchen, "if you haven't used it in a year or two, you probably will never use it," she said.

There are many organizing accessories available that can help create extra space.

Shelves that clip onto cabinet shelves to create another level can be perfect for paper plates and napkins.

Graduated racks that fit inside cabinets can store spices so that all are visible.

You should be careful not to buy too many containers or organizing gadgets, as these, too, can get out of control and cause more clutter than help.

"Plastic ware can get way out of control if you're not careful," Phelan said.

This article was featured in The Star newspaper on January 15, 2006 and in The Daily SouthTown newspaper on February 10, 2006.

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