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Tired of cooking in your kitchen? 5 easy and cheap tips to organize and upgrade

By Jennifer Day
Chicago Tribune

I bought a plastic-bag organizer recently, and the other day, as I was shoving a grocery bag into its neat confines, I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. It was an emotion that was hard to place, one that resided somewhere between calm — all too fleeting these days — and, dare I say it, joy?

So maybe you don’t have the energy for a full Marie Kondo-style purging of your household, but if the novelty of home cooking has worn thin as the pandemic continues, consider a kitchen overhaul.

Are you always struggling to find a spot for the milk? Consider reconfiguring your fridge setup to eliminate minor daily hassles.

Here’s a roundup of cheap — mostly free — tips for inspiration. If they sound like no-brainers, well, maybe they are. But both my husband and I have noticed how these minor adjustments have made our lives noticeably better — and easier. And who couldn’t use an easier life right now?

1. Do a deep cleaning.

It may sound like a drag, but put on some dance music and see how much pent-up aggression you can work out. Do all the crummy jobs: Get in the corners; clean the grease off the tops of the cupboards; pull out the stove and the refrigerator. Getting rid of that blanket of dust on the fridge motor will make it function more effectively too. You need a clean slate.

2. Rearrange your refrigerator.

Yes, clean it and throw out the long-expired condiments. But then, take a look at the shelves. Are you always struggling to find a spot for the milk? Consider reconfiguring them to eliminate minor daily hassles.

3. Rethink your drawers and cabinets.

What other annoyances could you eliminate with a bit of rejiggering? Where else could you put the tongs that make the drawer jam every time you open it? How about employing a little-used vase as a utensil bucket so you don’t even need to open a drawer for those tongs?

Could you streamline your movements around the kitchen if you shuffled what you have in your cabinets? I’m not sure how I chose the cupboard for my plates when we moved in; I suspect it was the one closest to the box where the dishes were packed. Moving the plates made my prep area more efficient and saved a few steps — which may seem minor, but who has even a few steps’ worth of energy to spare these days?

4. Engage in some gentle KonMari.

As you reorganize, think about what you have and whether you really need it; if you can shed it, get rid of it. Note what’s worn out and needs to be replaced. If you can afford to replace that dull can opener, do it; if not, put it on a list for down the road.

5. Invest in a few organizers for convenience. Here are my top picks.

--A small, cardboard box (free). Back when I tested a bunch of meal kits, one of the companies sent its produce in a small cardboard box (think shoebox), which I saved to keep onions, potatoes and other root vegetables in a dry cupboard. Should something rot in there — which hasn’t happened yet — it can easily be discarded and replaced.

--Hooks, hooks, lots of hooks (about $3-$20). Consider magnetic ones, 3M Command hooks that stick on with double-sided tape, or racks of hooks. I installed a large rack in our wastebasket closet for grocery tote bags, and a smaller utensil rack over a countertop.

--A bin for pot lids ($6.99). I tried a few different options for organizing pot lids — all of which either didn’t work as promised or chewed up too much space. I settled on a plastic file bin. The lids that used to spill all over two shelves of a cabinet, regularly crashing out onto the floor, are now neatly contained in less than a quarter of the same space.

--A rack for plastic wrap and foil ($8.99). I resisted these racks for a while, thinking a drawer was fine, but then I thought of all the other things that could go in that drawer if I didn’t have the clutter of boxes for parchment paper and foil and whatever else. It’s a good way to make use of dead wall space or the insides of doors.

--A plastic-bag organizer ($14.99). I always thought these were ridiculous objects, especially since I’d tried to phase plastic bags out of our lives. But then we had a kid. Our organizer installed with double-sided tape in about 3 minutes, and has been brightening our trash closet — and our lives — ever since.