Finding order in kitchen chaos

Everyone has their own way of finding order. Maybe you wash your hands until they are cracked to keep from catching something. Maybe you vacuum the entire house every day. Maybe you fold your underwear and sort them by color. Maybe you organize your books by size. Each is a way to find order and to sort things in our brains until they make sense. My bookshelf is packed with books whichever way they can fit — vaguely alphabetical, mostly unorganized and messy-looking, some books even laying horizontally on top of the others. I don’t care very much to keep my bedroom neat. In my head I’d like a beautiful, Better Homes and Gardens-type bedroom, but in reality it’s just much easier to close the door when people come over.

I find order in a clean and organized kitchen. Cooking anything is so much better when you don’t have to clean off the countertop first. In our kitchen, we have a mishmash of plates and bowls from different sets. I stack them so that the dishes from the same set are together. Cups are organized by size — juice glasses, wine glasses, water cups, tall glasses. Mugs are in the cabinet over the coffeemaker. Water bottles sit on top of the refrigerator. Pots and pans are stacked in the cupboard by size. Even the spoons in their compartment are divided because I use the big spoons and the little spoons for different things (small for ice cream and desserts, or for stirring coffee, things I want to savor; big for huge bites of cereal or for mixing).

When things are messy or out of order it makes me feel dirty and my brain feel all scrambled. This is a challenge in a shared kitchen where no one else is as anal as me. Here are my rules for keeping the kitchen in order. I’ve never been brave enough to actually tell them to anyone because I know it’s no one else’s business but mine to keep my brain in order, and I don’t want to be THAT GIRL.

Don’t leave dishes in the sink. If there isn’t a dishwasher, then we can talk. But if there is a dishwasher, fucking put the dishes in it. It’s RIGHT THERE. Don’t leave your half-eaten bowl of cereal to get soggy, the old milk mixing with dirty dishwater and the food you rinse off later. Don’t let the dishes pile up so much that you’re unable to use the faucet. By that point, the food will have gotten so crusty that the dishwasher won’t do any good and you’ll have to rewash them by hand anyway. Just. Put them in the dishwasher.

Don’t leave food in the sink. Good job; you’ve cleaned the dishes out of the sink. But at that point you must have gotten distracted because there are bits of food still hanging out in there. This is where you’re supposed to clean dishes. How can they be clean if there’s still food from who knows when in the sink? Fucking rinse out the sink.

Don’t load the dishwasher like an asshole. The dishwasher is a beautiful appliance. It’s meant for plates and bowls and glasses, NOT for the bowl in which you mixed pancake batter this morning. It’s also not meant for the pan you used to fry bacon. All the dishes will come out with little dried-on batter bits or will end up slimy, and you’ll have to run the machine again. Do you like doing dishes twice? I fucking don’t. Load the dishwasher like a logical human being so that as many dishes can fit in as possible. Maybe consider putting the plates in rows. There are even little holders for them! I’d much rather wash a few pots and pans than ten plates. Don’t be an asshole. Think ahead for maybe five seconds before you put things in the dishwasher.

Don’t leave spills. Everyone’s in a hurry, but it’s way easier to wipe up that coffee you just spilled. Otherwise you’ll have to scrub it off later, and by then who knows what’s happened to it. Does coffee curdle? I’d rather not find out. I don’t want to be scraping unidentified substances off the countertop with my fingernails.

Lest you think I’m using this column as a passive-aggressive way to call out current and former roommates, these are rules that I sometimes break, too. Sometimes I really just don’t want to wash the dishes right away and would rather lay on the couch instead. But there is nothing like a clean sink, a full cupboard, and a stack of clean bowls to make me feel like things are the way they should be. So, internet, these are the rules I use to keep order. What are yours?

Jill Kolongowski is a freelance writer and editor living in San Francisco. When she’s not cooking, running, or reading, she blogs at Follow her on Twitter at @jillkolongowski.

2 Responses to “Finding order in kitchen chaos”
  1. Cd says:

    I live alone so I can change the rules. When you live alone, there are no rules. The mess is mine. It waits faithfully for me. I am a secret slob. No one ever gets to see what how messy my place can be! I laugh to think people think I am a neat person! Ha! My rule must be I will be neat when I feel like it or when company is coming. When my young daughter saw me cleaning the toilet one time, she said “Who is coming over?” What’s with the potty-mouth!

  2. anniecardi says:

    “Don’t load the dishwasher like an asshole” is a huge rule. It’s engineering, people! You gotta get the most done with the least amount of space.

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