Monday, November 12, 2007


by Nancy Martin

Yesterday, I started packing up everything in my kitchen because the whole room is going to be demolished and replaced (I hope!) while we're on vacation. Which means that during the same week I'm putting all my dishes into boxes, I'm also filling a suitcase full of the stuff I'm going to need for 10 days in the Mediterranean. And I have a dreadful feeling that I may pop open my luggage and discover a saucepan nestled among the t-shirts. And chances are middling my bathing suit may end up packed with the canned tuna.

Are you an organized person? I am, in theory. I have a pretty good idea of what's in all the heaps of stuff on my desk, what corner of my underwear drawer I can find the white socks, and I know which kitchen drawer all the baking utensils are piled in. But when it comes, for example, to the exact location of last year's tax return . . . well, it might take me an hour or so to put my hands on it. (But who needs an old tax return in a snap?)

I like the idea of good organization, of course, but I find I only really want to organize myself when I'm procrastinating. Do I color code my royalty statements? Uh, no, they're squished into a folder somewhere. My kitchen is the same. It looks tidy, but behind those cabinet doors there's a lot of creative chaos. I know people who have those fancy dividers in all their kitchen drawers to keep the ice cream scoop from canoodling with the barbecue tongs. But me? I say, let 'em mingle.

There's a spectrum to good organziation, don't you think? Martha Stewart, for example, has a Nazi-like exactness about everything. I wonder if she's ever had a spontaneous moment? Me, I can't follow recipes to the letter. A half a teaspoon of salt in those mint cookies? I find myself guesstimating (okay, maybe I can't find the teaspoon, but I can eyeball it in the palm of my hand!) and my cookies turn out pretty good. Different every time, I must add, but really, how bad can a cookie get? Not ver.

Because I've melded the stay-at-home mom thing with a writing career, my office has always been a separate room (the IRS insists) but my work manages to spill into the kitchen anyway--the place my family would rather I spend most of my time. Can I admit to you, my friends, that I keep all my business receipts in a Tupperware container in a kitchen cupboard? It's the same kind of Tupperware I use to store Christmas cookies. And while going through my tax deductions last year, I discovered the lost recipe card for peanut butter blossoms.

I suspect this is a female thing--letting your life accumulate in the kitchen. Am I wrong? Besides the mail and the pile of bookmarks my publisher sent and that envelope full of ARCs for the new book, I also keep on of my TBR piles in the kitchen. The piles of books frequently get so tall that they fall over and mingle with the groceries I haven't quite had a chance to put away yet.

My husband, on the other hand, wouldn't dream of leaving his golf clubs or his briefcase in the kitchen. He spends as little time as possible in the kitchen.

He's fussy about his suitcase, though, let me tell you. His clothes will have knife creases when he pulls them out. His socks are carefully rolled and tucked into the toes of his immaculately polishes shoes. His ties will be packed in tissue paper. Me, I'm lucky if I don't look like a homeless person on our trip next week. I tend to toss everything into the luggage and sit on it to get the zipper closed.

How do you keep your life out of the kitchen? Or isn't that a problem for you? And if so, what's your strategy? Tell me quick, because when I get back from my vacation, I have a chance to organize my brand new kitchen in a whole new way.


Gina said...

My kitchen is too small -- there's barely room for the food and cooking utensils -- so my stuff piles up all over the rest of the house. It helps that I don't have a kitchen table. The coffee table, though, is usually buried, as are the arms and backs of chairs and couches.

I would like to be organized. I save nearly everything in anticipation of the day I'll put it in order or figure out what to do with it; meanwhile, it accumulates in heaps. Right now, I'm looking at various versions of my WIP, 3 boxes of assorted old office supplies I took from my old job (with permission--they were moving and I actually snagged this stuff out of a dumpster), my old printer (a back-up, just in case the two-year old new one fails), two pairs of reading glasses (in case I misplace one, which happens several times a day), a pencil sharpener (I don't even have any pencils in the office), and lots more. And that's without even bothering to turn my head.

For packing, though, I've found it's best to make a table. I list everything I need to take down the left column and where it's packed(carry on, checked bag, toiletries kit, etc.) across the top. This really helps a lot and, once I did it the first time, I've just modified the same table for every trip -- you know, sometimes sun screen is necessary, sometimes a dress, etc.

Anyway, have fun on your trip. May you remember to take everything you need, and return to the perfect kitchen!

Tory said...

Have a great time on your trip, Nancy! I'm so jealous, as next week my boss is in Florida and a good friend of mine is also in Florida for a MONTH.

In terms of the kitchen, I inadvertently did a little aversion therapy on myself. When I was eating macrobiotic I cooked and cooked and cooked. Entire weekends disappeared in the kitchen. Then, one day, I couldn't stand it any more. Almost two years went by, and I didn't do more with cooking than boiling water. Now, I'm trying to reach balance and cook some without overdoing it, but I have to admit, I don't spend more time in the kitchen than I have to. My living room is much cozier for eating.

My advice? If you still like your kitchen, stay there! It's better than the alternative of frozen dinners and take-out.

Martha Reed said...

I've noticed in new houses lately that the dining room has disappeared, replaced by more living area, generally connected to the kitchen and featuring a couch, coffee table and big screen TV. And, at parties, everyone always ends up in the kitchen! Why is that? To be closer to the beer?

Annette said...

I don't have a kitchen seperate from the rest of the house. Instead, I have a "great room." Sounds grander than it is. My house is tiny. And many days, I have to move the clutter from the table so we can make room for plates and silverware.

I love the idea of getting organized...and I DO get organized every so often. I can even keep things need and tidy. For about a week. Then I start to slack off and next thing I know, we're digging out eating space on the kitchen table again. I guess it's my destiny to live in the midst of piles of "stuff."

Have a great trip, Nancy! And good luck with the new kitchen.

Nancy said...

Martha, I know what you mean about the disappearing dining room! Our current house is an old one, so there's no room for a kitchen table (maybe a mixed blessing, huh, Gina?) and therefore we must use the dining room table for all meals. It was hard getting used to that!

And Tory, I go through periods of cooking and not cooking. I'm facing at least a couple of weeks of a non-functioning kitchen when we return, and I think I can manage just fine. Except the lack of a sink with running water is a bit daunting.

L.L. Bartlett said...

I have spurts of organization. Sometimes I file, but often the piles of paper start to take over before I scream, "ENOUGH!" I'm trying to be good about filing my business receipts, but I'll find a postal receipt on my desk with just a zip code and have to try to figure out who I sent an ARC or copy of a book to.

Like Nancy's, my kitchen it so small it has no room for a table. There's only one space I can pile the junk and it often starts to topple before I find new homes for the stuff. (Often it just gets dumped in the junk drawer.)

Organized chaos seems an apt description.

mike said...

Until my kitchen was renovated, space was at a premium...just room enough for the necessities. Now that I have real cupboards, the shelves are filled with spices and baking supplies and the jars, cans, and containers of Chinese cooking stuff that seldom--if ever--get used. But everything's fact, I fear, I'm too organized. Everything in the kitchen and the rest of the house has a place, but that doesn't mean I remember where I put everything. Many are the hours I've spent looking for something that I had so carefully put in some folder or drawer. My response to all this aggravation and frustration: once a year I go thru the house and get rid of stuff I don't need or use.

Nancy, wishing you and Jeff a great trip...and if you do happen to pack a frying pan by mistake, keep it handy. You may need it to fend off the advances of those lascivious natives!

Joyce said...

I'm only organized because it would drive Jerry crazy otherwise!

I do, however, have kitchen drawers like yours, Nancy. No one but me would ever be able to find anything in the kitchen. Jerry reorganized the cupboards once and the next day I put everything back to where I had it. He hasn't touched them since.

When I was a stay at home mom, I liked to cook. We frequently had homemade goodies. Now I have trouble just getting dinner on the table. Thank heavens for the Crockpot!

Cathy said...

Where are you going in the Mediterranean? Are you hitting various spots or aiming for one in particular? My wishes for a great time, too. Bring back some sunshine, please.

Nancy said...

This morning I found 8 (!!!) vacuum cleaner belts---every single one of them for a different machine. So I'm taking your lead, Mike, and throwing them all away!

Cathy, we're going to Venice for a few days, then on a week's cruise of Greek islands. I am still astonished that my husband came up with this idea. I guess I owe him a few cooked meals when we get home, huh?

I wonder if being *too* organized might actually stifle creativity? As in the case of Mike's cooking now that all his ingredients are perfectly organized?

Joyce said...

Nancy, if one of those belts is for a little Dirt Devil Hand Vac, save it for me--I can't find them anywhere!

Lee Lofland said...

I do nearly all the cooking at our house so I like to have things arranged neatly in the cabinets. When I need something I want to be able to locate it without a lot of thought.

However, we have over forty feet of granite counter top that is fair game for mail, books, keys, tools, remote controls, and anything else that's in my hand when I pass by. It drives Denene crazy. She is a total neat freak. I think that's because she's one of those OCD mad scientists.

Nancy said...

I just checked, Joyce. No hand vac belts, sorry. But plenty of Hoover supplies!

Lee, I live in dread that the new kitchen counter will accumulate all the junk that the old one does!