Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Flow in the Kitchen

Leila has a post up about about doing dishes. Since I am knee-deep in a kitchen that has not been completely clean in over a week, I was interested in what she has to say about it. 

Why hasn't my kitchen been cleaned? First Marian turned off our refrigerator Saturday last week. We discovered this delight on Sunday. Sunday afternoon was spent dumping all the spoiled food out of their little saving containers. Some of this was long overdue anyway. I've been meaning to clean out the fridge for months. Monday, I washed all the regular dishes and about half of the junk from the fridge. On Tuesday I washed the regular dishes and the other half of the junk from the fridge. So maybe everything was clean last Tuesday? It's hard to remember. On Wednesday I decided to take the plunge and tackle the fridge. I dismember shelves and drawers and cleaned every surface I reach as well as I could without getting out the toothpicks. Believe me, I had to resist the toothpicks. Good enough is good enough, right? This job took all of my post-supper cleaning time on both Wednesday and Thursday, which means I didn't wash the regular dishes on either night. On Friday, I was gone almost all day long, night too. On Saturday, I washed about 40 percent of the build-up from the past three nights. I intended to catch up on Sunday, but time change and evening plans made my day quite unproductive. On Monday, I stayed up until 1am making cookies for our parish's St. Joseph Altar. Tuesday, being exhausted from Monday, didn't work out well and I was gone all evening to put cookies in bags for church. Now it's Wednesday. Dishes are everywhere and I am hiding from them by writing this post.

But hey, my fridge in the kitchen is clean. We won't discuss the freezer side or the refrigerator in the garage or the deep freeze. We are pretending those don't exist right now.

One of the problems I have had is getting the children involved more with the daily chores. I feel like they are a mountain to climb everyday and I haven't figured out how to teach the children while I am barely hanging onto my own grasp of the situation. It always feels like it is about to spiral out of control and turn into, well, the way it looks now. How can I let them help when one false move means a carefully stacked piles comes crashing to the ground?

Anyway back to Leila's post. She has one paragraph that stuck out to me and has me puzzled:
Another thing: Figure out where you will stage things.
You can’t handle a sink full of dirty dishes and neither can a kid. You need a place where you will put away food (that’s someone else’s chore, by the way!) and stack things so that they are scraped and ready for the dishwasher or soapy basin.
It is true I cannot handle a sink full of dishes. It is so overwhelming--I'm writing this post instead, remember. But how do you develop flow in a kitchen that has no room for staging?

I have found over these months that you can do one thing at a time in here. You can cook one or two dishes, but not more than that or it gets hectic. You can clean, but trying to cook at the same time is difficult. Let's just say having the dish backlog along with regular meals plus the cookie baking just about sent me over the edge. Lots of ill-tempered phrases were uttered. Lots of inefficiency from making trips all over the kitchen just trying to find a blasted clear spot to set things down.

How do you stage without a staging area? We have one small countertop where the dirty dishes are stacked. We have one smallish countertop where the drying rack is kept. An aside: I don't understand how people go without drying racks or even take them out and put them away fourteen times a day. Something is always wet here and wouldn't it take an eon and a half to dry everything by hand everyday? Moving on: We have one countertop where most of the mixing and chopping happens. Sometimes this spills over onto the kitchen table and then setting the table to eat becomes problematic. And we have one countertop that is a staging area for the drinks/stovetop. We pour drinks here and keep all necessary stovetop items here like salt, oil, spices, spoons, whatever. Most of all that gets put away everyday, but while cooking is happening, it's out and then it gets shoved around to make room for glasses.

So then we need to eat. There is no good place to serve so we make a dozen trips back and forth to the table with individual plates or we take the pot to the table to serve. Because we are classy. After supper, we put items on the small countertop next to the sink until it is full and then what? The table isn't clear. There isn't room to stack on the other countertops with out cleaning them up first. There isn't room to put the leftover food into storage containers. There really isn't room for more than two people to be working at once.

I am at the point where I need 20 minutes to clean the kitchen before the kitchen is in a state where it can be cleaned.  Good luck getting the children back after that.

So how do I approach this? Is this something that gets better with experience or when, finally, the kitchen is totally rearranged? Or is this something I just have to live with because there is no good workaround? How do you find flow in a kitchen that makes you want to shake the house designer?


Jenny said...

I have a kitchen with a reasonable amount of counter space, but one end of the long counter is my homeschooling "teacher's desk".

I try (and am much, much happier when it happens) to "pre-party" in the kitchen ("pre-party" is what we called it at college when the drinking began in your dorm room prior to actually going out). If I can get the *day* dishes done before time for the *night* dishes, things work much better. "Pre-party" for me means the dishwasher is unloaded from yesterday's wash, the sundry things from the drying rack are put away, and the sink is emptied from anything that may have accumulated during the day. We eat on paper towels as our "plates" for lunch (sandwiches) and often breakfast (toast), so the "day" dishes are often limited--maybe I ran the blender for smoothies, maybe I made muffins for snack, maybe we finished leftovers for lunch, maybe folks had cereal for breakfast. But if I can go into dinner with an empty sink (or one that only has supper-prep things in it), my after-dinner clean-up is much easier and quicker.

I also often store food in the fridge in the container it was cooked in (so yes, I just put the soup pot with lid on the bottom shelf after the first night's soup and take the whole thing out to warm up again the next night). I do casseroles in corningware, and fridge it with its lid. I also cook with plans to serve each meal at least twice, so I only cook every-other-night, and I plan to use the leftovers on specific days (like days we have homeschool PE, where I *really* don't want to have to cook when we get home).

And what this has to do with "flow" is this: I don't bake on days I'm also cooking supper, because it's TOO MUCH WASHING UP. I can bake on leftover-using days.

Also: each kid gets one cup per day. It gets rinsed out and either put back at her place at the table *or* right next to the sink in age-order, so they don't get mixed up. Kids are responsible for rinsing out their cups if they drink milk at breakfast. The rest of the day, water is their only option.

We also rinse-after-use-and-set-aside-for-later things like apple-cutting knives so that they don't pile up in the sink.

Could you have a (hopefully small) after-lunch dishwashing chore? Or even an after-breakfast one? Or a use-out-of-the-drying-rack-first rule, where the drying rack slowly but surely gets at least partially emptied as the day goes on?

As for staging for supper, what if you has a clear-the-table and set-empty-plates and then you just served at the table? Not necessarily planning on leaving the serving dishes on the table, but carrying them over, dishing out, and then returning them to the stove (or whatever)?

I do have to say this: when you first put up photos of your kitchen, about halfway through, I thought, "I know what's coming next!!" because it is EXACTLY the same layout that we had in the apartment we lived in when we were first married! I really enjoy reading about how you're figuring all this out. It's inspiring and really awesome. You are in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

Your fridge looks great! "Good enough" is better than it was before, right?

I agree that with your configuration, a drying rack takes up too much room to be out all the time. It also gives you a place to let dishes pile up. We put dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher, then empty it after running, and no longer use a dish drainer except for times of heavy baking/bulk cooking when pots need to be washed repeatedly between uses.

the one cup per kid rule is awesome!