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Preparing Your Home For The Holidays: Tackling The Kitchen

by Tara Kuczykowski on November 6, 2010 · 25 comments

Mandi of Life... Your Way and I have teamed up to bring you a special series over the next two weeks called Preparing Your Home for the Holidays.

As I'm sure it is for many of you, our kitchen is the hub of our home. It's not only where we prepare food; it's also where we do homework, eat our meals, and just hang out in general.

As such, it's an area that I struggle to keep clean. Our island seems to accumulate miscellaneous "stuff", and it feels like every time I finish doing the dishes, the sink is piled high just a short time later. Our children do help with the chores, but there are still some tasks that slide far too long, so the real challenge for this room will be the maintenance.

Areas I focused on in the kitchen:

  • The area under our sink was very cluttered with unused cleaning products.
  • The pantry was relatively clean but needed tweaking.
  • I hadn't cleaned out my spice cabinet in ages.
  • My coffee zone needed a once over.

I have to give a big thanks to my hubby who wiped down the cabinets and all of the baseboards for me while I was cleaning up my trouble zones. What a guy!

:: Under the Sink

Since we've recently moved to using more natural cleaners and microfiber cloths for the bulk of our cleaning needs, my cleaning products stockpile has become kind of unruly and the area under our sink was filled with products that we no longer use. So I took this opportunity to tidy this area up, disposing of anything that wasn't worth passing on and moving unopened products to our donate box. The storage caddy is great for organizing the small odds and ends that were otherwise just strewn about the cabinet.

:: Straightening the Pantry

My pantry was in relatively good shape since I did a big overhaul a few months ago, so all I needed to do was move things around a bit. I did find a few items that I could donate, so that freed up a little space. And we recently moved several items, like our soups, canned beans, and applesauce, out to our stockpile shelving that's in the garage to alleviate some of the crowding we were experiencing.

I discovered that one of my little monkeys has apparently been using my potato and onion bins as a step stool and cracked them, so I need to replace those ASAP.

:: Spice Cabinet Overhaul

My spice cabinet was in quite a state. As you can see, I could really use either a tiered shelf or perhaps one of those round spinning caddies to make better use of this space.

I was surprised to find a number of outdated baking ingredients and spices in the back, so this is definitely an area that I need to stay on top of more. I have an idea for using up some old pumpkin pie spices, but does anyone have a suggestion for what I can do with a very large old bottle of pure vanilla extract? I hate to just toss it out...

Lesson learned -- we'd been buying a lot of spices and baking ingredients in bulk at Sam's Club because the prices were hard to pass up, but we're not using them all at a rate that justifies the purchase. We'll be more conscientious about what we should buy in bulk and what we should buy smaller in the future.

:: Cleaning the Coffee Zone

I was pleased to see that one of Mandi's suggestions for organizing a kitchen is to create zones for areas in a way that makes sense for your needs. This is something I had already implemented in our kitchen with the coffee zone that I created. It's so handy to have everything I need right above my coffee maker, and this space is also ideally located within arm's length of our refrigerator so I can easily grab my cream!

As I mentioned earlier, the real challenge for me is going to be in the maintenance. I recognize what my hot spots are, and we'll be ensuring that these areas are cleaned up nightly before we all head to bed. Wish me luck!

You can join us in Preparing Your Home For The Holidays over the next couple of weeks by using the handy printable checklists that Mandi has created for each room of the house! And of course we'd love to hear your tips and tricks for getting your home ready for the holiday season.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lynn November 6, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Hey, if that extract is real vanilla in real hard alcohol in a glass bottle, it will last just as long as the alcohol would in a liquor cabinet, which is pretty close to forever. If it smells rights and looks right, it should be just fine!


2 Tara Kuczykowski November 6, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Hmm, it's in a plastic bottle -- ingredients are vanilla bean extractives in water, alcohol (35%), and corn syrup. Yuck, I definitely did not realize it had corn syrup in it! Shame on me for not reading the label more closely.


3 Samantha November 8, 2010 at 11:45 am

If you just want to use up the vanilla, you could put it in coffee. I really love flavored coffees, but my hubby doesn't. Therefore, I buy plain coffee and sprinkle spices and vanilla directly over the coffee grounds in the basket before I brew. That said - I wouldn't worry about vanilla going bad. Real vanilla should last forever.


4 Heather November 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Small baskets work great in my spice cabinet, I have two, and group them to our commonly used cooking spices and commonly used baking spices. It's so much easier to grab a basket than search for one spice jar behind so many others! Also, don't worry about getting the spices at Sam's Club in big quanities, I do that too for cost savings and refill smaller jars so they stay fresh! Just freeze what you aren't using in the big containers/ ziploc freezer bag or foodsaver bags and don't worry about your spices going stale!


5 Elisabeth November 6, 2010 at 8:34 pm

I use the basket system too. I have two plastic rubbermaid containers about shoebox size: one is for commonly used spices and the other for the weird spices you only pull out at thanksgiving. I took an organizing class several years ago and the woman recommended all containers are only filled 80% so there is always enought room and to make putting the item away easier than taking it out. For example, keep a container for spices that you take down and dig through to get the oregano, but then just toss the oregano back quickly. I LOVE this idea because then stuff doesn't accumulate where it's not supposed to like on the kitchen counter. Works great for shoe storage and toy rooms too.


6 Nicole November 6, 2010 at 6:47 pm

If the vanilla extract still tastes okay (maybe test it in a pudding recipe or something similar, but scaled down to a small amount since you are only testing the vanilla flavor) you could still use it. Or if you don't want it because of the corn syrup, you could ask a local food bank or church if they could use it. With the holidays coming up they might be able to put it to use in something, but I would definitely ask first since it is open.

About the big spices from Sam's, I know how you feel about the cost. But, for us at least, the price per unit of Sam's versus a regular size at a grocery store makes it cheaper to buy the big one. Even if we have to (eek) throw a lot of it out because it has been around too long, it was still cheaper, and, in some cases, tasted better (more pungent).


7 Michelle November 6, 2010 at 6:50 pm

I love to add vanilla to my coffee and hot chocolate. If it isn't right, you've only wasted one cup, instead of hours of baking time. I make real vanilla lattes all the time with just sugar and vanilla when I steam my milk. Oh so yummy!


8 Erin November 6, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Use the vanilla to soak a couple of cotton balls and throw them into the bag of your vacuum cleaner. Everytime you vacuum you'll end up with the smell of vanilla/baking cookies rather than carpet smells.


9 Ang B F November 7, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Hey, good idea!


10 Susan C. in NY November 6, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Found these tips on the Readers Digest website:

I think these would be great uses, especially since none of them involve eating the vanilla extract (just in case it's beyond it's prime).

Freshen up the fridge
Having trouble getting rid of that bad odor in your refrigerator, even after scrubbing it out? Wipe down the inside of the fridge with vanilla extract. To prolong the fresh vanilla scent, soak a cotton ball or a piece of sponge with vanilla extract and leave it in the refrigerator.

Deodorize your microwave
Is the odor of fish, or some other strong smell, lingering in your microwave? Pour a little vanilla extract in a bowl and microwave on High for one minute.

Neutralize the smell of fresh paint
If you would rather not have the unpleasant smell of fresh paint in your house, mix 1 tablespoon vanilla extract into the paint can when you open it. The house will smell delicious!

Sweeten the smell of your home
It's an old Realtor's trick. Put a drop or two of vanilla extract on a lightbulb, turn on the light, and your house will be filled with the appealing scent of baked goods in the oven.

Repel bugs
Everybody likes the smell of vanilla. Everybody but bugs, that is. Dilute 1 tablespoon vanilla extract with 1 cup water and wipe the mixture on your exposed skin to discourage mosquitoes, blackflies, and ticks.

Relieve minor burns
You accidentally grabbed a hot pot or got splattered with grease in the kitchen. Grab the vanilla extract for quick pain relief. The evaporation of the alcohol in the vanilla extract cools the burn.


11 Tara Kuczykowski November 7, 2010 at 8:47 am

Thank you -- these are some awesome suggestions! I especially like the microwave one. I usually use some citrus juice and water in a bowl, but vanilla seems much nicer for colder weather.


12 Tara Kuczykowski November 7, 2010 at 8:49 am

This is a great idea too! We have a Dyson so it doesn't use a bag, but I think I could just throw one in the canister.


13 Leah November 6, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I am a firm believer in using turntables or "rounders" as some call them. I use the smaller, 2-tiered ones for my spices and a larger one for bottles like olive oil, syrup, and vinegar. That way you just spin it around to get to your stuff and nothing is forgotten in the back of the shelf!


14 karinya @ Unlikely Origins November 6, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I love the coffee zone! My "coffee zone" is a corner of the counter that gets dripped on when I'm doing dishes... saying that mine could also use a "once over" is an understatement.

Great ideas here. Adds some motivation for tackling my own kitchen!


15 Kristin M November 6, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Soak up some vanilla on a paper towel and wipe it in your fridge/freezer to remove/cover up any odors.


16 Shelly T. November 6, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Soak a couple of cotton balls or pads in the vanilla and put one in your freezer and one in the refrigerator to help with odors. I recently did this and it really works!


17 Precious November 7, 2010 at 8:09 am

You kitchen looks great! Over the past month or so I have been organizing my kitchen also so that it is more functional. You can see the results here:


18 Ang B F November 7, 2010 at 4:32 pm

I know what you mean about the spices at Sam's. I bought a huge thing of real vanilla and chili powder last idea, because the prices are so reasonable....find some friends or family to split is with. My Sam's has SUPER CHEAP bread flower but you have to buy it in a huge bag. I called my mom and a few other in advance and they were happy to have a gallon size ice cream bucket of bread flower for only a buck.....we all one on that deal!


19 Trish B November 7, 2010 at 7:15 pm

I call my girlfriends and we have a spice exchange. There's always someone who can use a spice, that I may have plenty of in stock. I tend to buy a spice for a recipe only to realize that I have a bottle at home. Spice exchanging can be a great way to save you a trip to the store.


20 kristine November 7, 2010 at 9:48 pm

My husband taught me to use vanilla in french toast, I use a splash, so probably a tablespoon to 4 eggs 1/2 cup milk and the french toast is awesome!


21 Mandy November 8, 2010 at 12:36 am

for my spices, I used a wire utensil tray that I got on clearance at target. it easily slides in and out of my pantry and holds the spice bottles perfectly :-)


22 James November 8, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Your first pantry pic looks just like my pantry. I held my breath because I somehow thought you had a photo of my own pantry! Similar products, too. HA


23 Tana November 8, 2010 at 9:51 pm

I make primitive folk art (click the link to visit my Etsy shop!). I stain many of my creations with a mixture of coffee & vanilla.

I think any type of vanilla should be good for at least a couple of years but if not, use some of the tips suggested above or find someone nearby who makes primitive folk art and uses coffee & vanilla to stain it (it's a popular combination!).


24 Amanda November 9, 2010 at 9:04 am

Keurig makes great storage things for the K cups. We have no counter space, old house. So we started with the carousel, which served it's purpose. But I also saw in the last Bed Bath and Beyond catalog they make a drawer that sits under your machine and holds the K cups! what a great idea! i'm going to use the 20% off coupon and $5 off to get it soon!


25 Angela November 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm

I was so inspired by this post, I decided to clean up my own spice cabinet. I ended up buying one of those tiered shelves and turntables, as you suggested you might do. Check out the difference it made:

Thanks for this post - I was sure to reference it in my spice post above!!


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