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Adapt and improve with ‘Secrets of an Organized Mom’

Barbara Reich helps you make sense of the mess and take back your home in “Secrets of an Organized Mom.” Here’s an excerpt.PURGING IN THE KITCHEN Tools, utensils, pots, and pans Most of us have more of these than we need. Partly, this is the fault of all those wedding gifts—the pot and pan assortments that include sizes that aren’t useful, and the knife blocks with far more knives that y
/ Source: TODAY books

Barbara Reich helps you make sense of the mess and take back your home in “Secrets of an Organized Mom.” Here’s an excerpt.


Tools, utensils, pots, and pans

'Secrets of an Organized Mom'

Most of us have more of these than we need. Partly, this is the fault of all those wedding gifts—the pot and pan assortments that include sizes that aren’t useful, and the knife blocks with far more knives that you actually use or can keep sharp. And as we marry older and combine households, I find that couples often just put all their stuff together without weeding out the duplicates. The result is a kitchen with five wooden spoons, four spatulas, and two ladles. You can argue with me about the wooden spoons, but I swear to you: no one needs more than one ladle.

Ironically, we amateurs pile up on the kitchen supplies, but professional chefs are all about economy. Dalia Jurgensen, pastry chef for Brooklyn’s Michelin-starred restaurant Dressler, and author of the memoir Spiced, is a case in point. I asked her what she uses in her kitchen at home—not just once in a while, but constantly—and she also told me what she finds to be a big waste of time:

Rely on these:

• Microplane – for grating hard cheeses, citrus zest, whole nutmeg.

• Heat-safe rubber spatula—for everything: scrambled eggs, risotto, soup, folding batters.

• Hand blender (also called an immersion blender or stick blender), preferably with a chopping attachment and detachable wand for easy cleaning. For smoothies, soups, baby food, and loose purees; and the chopping attachment is great for small jobs (no need to drag out the big food processor for a handful of nuts).

• Non-stick omelette pan—really the only thing to use for eggs; just make sure you get the very best quality available, and it’s labeled “green” which means that the chemicals stay in the coating, not your food.

• “Y” shaped peeler—the only kind chefs use because it’s easier to handle than straight peelers; shaped like a slingshot and costs about $3.

• Tongs—any chef will tell you that this is an all-time favorite tool.

• Fine sieve—for straining homemade stock, silky smooth purees, and it can double as a colander

• Knives—all you really need are a quality chef knife (worth investing some money in) and some small serrated paring knives that cost about $6 at a restaurant supply store.

• Pots and pans—the heavier the better, both for conducting heat, and for easier cleaning—definitely worth the investment. A good assortment would include a Dutch oven (for stove-top stews as well as oven braises and roasts); a sauté pan that can double as a frying pan; an 8 quart or larger stock pot (if you actually make soup and broth); and one quart, two quart, and 4 quart pots.

• Food processor—OK, this isn’t an everyday necessity, but when it’s needed, nothing else will do.

• Stand mixer—again, you might not use it every day, but if you bake, this is essential. If you don’t, then skip it.

• Scale—if you’re serious about baking, this is the only way to measure.

And don’t bother with these:

 Hand mixer—if you have an immersion blender and a stand mixer, then you don’t need this.

 Onion goggles—they are supposed to keep your eyes from watering when cutting onions, but they’re just silly.

 Fancy/complicated wine openers—They’re not actually easier, or faster. And often, they’re huge! A simple wine key is the best, and cheap.

 Avocado knife—or any knife that has a specific purpose. Just use an ordinary knife! This level of specialization is a total waste of money.

Baking items

These can take up a lot of space in cabinets, and they vary in size and shape so they’re hard to consolidate neatly. Pull out everything you have and evaluate what you actually use. Aim to have items within each category match in brand and style so that they stack better—have the same kind of measuring cup, the same kind of cake pans, etc.

Let’s go through a list of common baking items and the quantities you should keep:

• 2 sets of measuring cups and spoons.

• 2 muffin pans

• 4 cookie sheets—two to go in the oven, and two waiting to go in

• 3 round, standard-sized cake pans—if you actually make three layer cakes; if you only make 2 layer cakes then just keep that many.

• 2 bread pans

And here are two things that you should avoid keeping altogether:

 Specialty pans that you used once, years ago, for a particular recipe, and never again

 Cookie cutter sets—these take up a lot of space and invariably there are shapes that don’t work. If you make shaped cookies then just keep a few shapes that you like and use.


As noted, duplication and mismatching are two of the biggest reasons for cabinet disorganization. If your dishes all match then they will look more pleasing on the shelf, and they will also stack neatly. And if you have all one kind of dish, then it’s also easier to evaluate whether you have the right quantities. What is the maximum number of people you feed at one time? That’s the number of dishes you should have—no more. Also purge any chipped plates, since you don’t use those anyway.

Take this same approach to glasses, cups, and mugs. Calculate your needs and get rid of the rest. And again bear in mind that if you have all one kind, they will look much tidier when lined up in the cabinet. For more about what to do with never-used china or the silver service that was handed down to you from a relative, see Chapter 11.

A word about children’s dishes and cups: Most homes have more plastic plates and bowls than they could ever use, and the assortment is totally haphazard. I recommend that my clients avoid the cutesy theme-plates and instead calculate how many child-sized plates, utensils, and cups they need, and then buy matching sets. Sturdy solid-color melamine lasts a really long time, looks much nicer, and stores well. (Just remember that no plastic dish or cup should be used in the microwave.) As for sippy cups, color-coding for your children can work well to avoid arguments, but definitely buy only one brand so that you don’t have a mismatched jumble of tops and bottoms. Moreover you probably don’t need more than four per child. And by all means, once your children have graduated to real dishes, then dump all the plastic. I recently organized a kitchen for a mom with teenagers, and out of one of her drawers I unearthed plastic placemats with multiplication tables.

Excerpted from the book "Secrets of an Organized Mom." Copyright © 2013 by Barbara Reich. Published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.