Week 1 of the 2016 Organizing Challenge: In the Kitchen, part 1

Welcome to the 2016 Clever Girl Organizing Challenge!  If you haven’t read the intro yet, you can glance at it here.  You should have in mind that I’ve got a few principles in mind that will help you understand why the different assignments are important for you to really get organized, once and for all.

1) Your home is (likely) your most important investment.  How you use the space matters, both psychologically and financially.  (Extreme example: If your house is full and you start to pay for a storage unit, that’s an easy way to see you might not be using your investment wisely.)

2) Getting Organized is one thing. Being Organized relies on ongoing systems and maintenance and paying attention to how you live in your space. The goal here isn’t to get rid of everything. It’s to life you live in your home is the one you most want to be living, and you’re able to remove the things that stand in your way. 

3) Decluttering is not the same as organizing, but for most people, it is exactly how the process starts, and we’re going to do a lot of both. Clutter is the stuff that gets in the way of you using and enjoying your space the way you want to, when you want.  Clutter comes in lots of different forms. We could probably ALL use less of THINGS, even if the item once had more value in your life, or if you think you might need it some day.  My goal is always to help people live in the present, and sometimes, our things hold us in the past or in a hypothetical future.  You’ll see me mention this from time to time. 

4) Everything should have a home. Part of having good habits and good routines that you and everyone else in your home can follow involves making sure that items have homes, and people know where those homes are. 

5) Often, the challenges you face in getting rid of things or holding onto things that don’t serve you any more have NOTHING to do with the item itself, but the emotional connection you have to the item — how you acquired it, why you’ve been holding onto it, how you might feel if you thought about living without it.  This is a real phenomena we all deal with, and this process is probably going to force you to face it every once in a while.  Ask questions, be patient, but know that this is a real part of the journey.  

6) Organizing and decluttering can be hard work and takes time, and projects can look worse when you’re in the middle of them than you feel like you did when you started.  Stay patient and focused and remember — it took you a LONG TIME to get this way… it’s not going to change overnight, but it IS going to change with focus, dedication, and learning more about what YOUR habits are, what gets in YOUR way, and how to solve for those challenges. But mainly, organizing and decluttering can be VERY LIBERATING!  You’re here because you want to be HAPPIER in your home. It’s going to take work, but the payoff is the best!

If those sound fair to you… let’s get into Week 1!

We’re going to jump right in to the hub of your home:  The Kitchen. Weeks 1, 2 and 3 will be here, because it’s the perfect place to start the new year with a clean slate in your home! 

16 challenge


Week 1:  Food Storage — Big & Small Spaces


Level 1 Challenge: Big Spaces: Clean out the fridge and the pantry.  In both areas, get rid of the food that just won’t get used: leftovers that are too left-over, expired food, specialty ingredients you used one tablespoon of and will never use a second one of, things you tried and just plain didn’t like, etc. If it is unopened and unexpired, consider a food pantry donation.   Once you’ve cleaned out your spaces, do a cleaning of them.  I should note that we’re starting here not only because it’s completely post-holiday necessary, but because it’s got the likelihood of being the items with LEAST emotional attachments, right? We’re going to break into all of this slowly…  

How to tackle this one:  For a lot of people, the pantry is harder than the refrigerator. (I’m going to point you to this primer I wrote on cleaning out the fridge, and focus a bit more here on the pantry work.)  Some people are good at just looking around inside the fridge or the cabinets and making decisions as they see or touch each item.  Some people do MUCH better doing a complete emptying, and then putting back only the things they want to keep, and putting them in the place that makes the most sense (which may not be where you found it).  You might have to try both approaches to see what gets the most thorough results. It may be the “take everything out” model, even though it takes a bit longer. But it’s ALSO OKAY to start small.  Start with “just one cabinet”, or “just the canned goods” or “let’s start with the chips and cookies”.  Starting small, and finishing one category, can be a GREAT strategy for many people.   

What to think about while discarding items: As you’re looking at the items, consider those “not worth keeping” categories from above — expired, didn’t like it, won’t be used again before it goes bad (or ever), etc.  By the way, if you end up tossing something that you *know* you need to replace, make sure to make a note of it.  If you’re discarded items include things like jars that need to be washed out before being recycled, set these aside, finish your clean out, and then address that step. If you’ve decided to donate the food to a food pantry, once you gather the items, be sure to (a) research where and when you can drop them off an (b) schedule it in your week to make it happen.  

Organizing:  As with all projects, there may be a good system in your pantry that you already had in place that just needed to be weeded, or your system itself could use some tweaks.  The first thing to think about are your Zones.  If you’re lucky enough to have some generous cabinets, you might be thinking about establishing zones based on convenience of use, and size of storage.  Some examples might be:  beverages, snacks, baking ingredients, “things the kids can access for themselves”, etc.  The next thing to think about is visibility: can you see what you have, and find it when you need it?  You can help this with lots of products that you can buy (like can shelves, or baskets for categories that you can pull out, or with wire shelving that helps make a second shelf in your cupboard), but don’t feel like you have to spend money to get the organizing tools that you want. You could create a can shelf that elevates the height of cans in the back row by cutting down a piece of styrofoam that came in a package you received.  You can take a regular box and cover it with pretty paper to be a storage container for a particular category, like your snacks. 

Level 2 Challenge:  Small Spaces: Reduce your food storage items and supplies.  You know what this means — time to get into your Tupperware collection! Also, things like the disposable baking pans or the wraps and foils you’ve bought but won’t use.  

How to tackle this one:  I’m going to refer you to  last year’s Tupperware clean-out challenge so you can get some good tips on how to attack it.  

But beyond just decluttering this collection, you also want to think about how you’re organizing it.  Ask yourself questions like:

“Am I storing these in the cabinet or area that makes the most sense, considering how often I access them?  Would they make more sense elsewhere?”
“Does it make sense to keep the lids with the bottoms, or should I keep them separate?  Which makes more sense for the flow and for the space they’re in?”

“Can I stack them by shape?  And, more importantly, will my family see the obvious system and follow it when they put things away?” (I know, big assumption on that last part…)


There are no right answers that apply to everyone, only the right questions that bring out YOUR right answers!

How The Challenge Works:
As With Every Week, Your mission:

1) Take on Level 1, and if you’re feeling up to the challenge, Level 2. If you’ve already got those covered, identify a challenge for yourself that you know you should be tackling.

2) Whenever possible, take BEFORE and AFTER pictures. You don’t have to share them with anyone but yourself, but it is a fantastic way to (a) identify clutter that’s become invisible to you over time and (b) truly measure and appreciate your progress. 

3) We’re all about letting things go…  be critical about what you’re keeping and why you’re keeping it.  Always ask yourself these critical questions to help decide if you should hold onto items: 

  • Is using this item part of my current life or likely future?
  • If I didn’t have this item and needed it for some reason, is it easily replaced or borrowed?
  • Can someone else use this more than I seem to be using it now? 
  • Am I keeping it for a “maybe some day” or a “just in case” option? How likely is that situation? And am I keeping more in that category than I should, given the space constraints I have?
  • Is it part of my past, and holding onto it reminds me of a former self? And am I keeping more in that category than I should, given the space constraints I have?

4) Stay FOCUSED on this task.  Know what FINISHED looks like, and don’t get distracted by other projects or areas of attention that cross your path while you’re on this assignment.  

5) Have a plan on where things will go — give away to someone you know, donate, sell, recycle or trash.  This Challenge isn’t just about creating new piles that don’t have a future!

6) Work in manageable chunks of time and energy. It’s a marathon, not a sprint! 

7)  Celebrate and reward yourself for a job well done!





  1. Focus and Finish: The Keys to Completing Organizing Projects – CleverGirlOrganizing.com - […] you’ve joined us for Week 1’s assignment — working on your pantry and refrigerator and tupperware – you may…
  2. 2016 Clever Girl Organizing Challenge – All 16 Weeks, Wrapped Up! | CleverGirlOrganizing.com - […] Week 1: In the Kitchen, Part 1Week 2: In the Kitchen, Part 2 Week 3: In the Kitchen, Part…

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