It’s no secret in my family that clutter makes me crazy. I’ll take a house that needs dusting or a floor that need vacuuming any day over a home that’s a cluttered mess. Disorganization is chaos to me and chaos is stress – gives me jimmy legs and turns me into some dude who frantically scurries around the house like a crazed mouse trying to put everything in it’s place. And not surprisingly, time and again the same areas in my home are victimized by the gangs of clutter and disorganization. It’s sickening, but like the local neighborhood crime watch, I decided to take matters in my own hands. The areas I hit first included the following:
- Meal planning
- Daily tasks that lead to clutter
- Junk drawers
Now before I go into my organizational methodology for the above areas, I need to lay out one specific rule of organization that all other rules follow. And that is that every thing must have a place. I know it sounds like common sense, because it is, but you’d be surprised how many folks miss the boat on this one. And I should point out that this rule comes with one major caveat. That being you cannot choose the same place for everything. Which means the stack of miscellaneous crap on the counter doesn’t count as a place and neither does the over-stuffed junk drawer or the spare closet whose door is ready to buckle from 152 pounds of scrapbooking doodads and a couple Hefty-sized bags full of God-knows-what that should have been taken to Goodwill 3 months ago. When something has a place that means you’ve actually thought about this place and it makes sense, it’s efficient, orderly, and ideally it keeps your stuff out of sight (though not in every case as you’ll soon see).
So let’s dig into the first area: Meal Planning
I’m sure some eyebrows were raised while reading this one since many people may not consider meal planning to be something that would have it’s own area in the home. For my wife and I, the notion of planning meals came about a year or two ago after far too many nights of one of us standing in front of an open fridge, staring blankly at the food within, while the other opened and closed every food cabinet three or four times trying to think of what the hell to make with whatever ingredients we had. And every time the dialogue was the same:
“What do you want to have for dinner?”
“I don’t know, what do YOU want to have?”
“I don’t really care, I’ll have whatever.”
*blank stare into fridge* “Well, there’s not much in here…hey, why am I always the one who has to come up with something?”
“Well, you know I’m not good at just making stuff up on the fly.”
“This sucks. I hate not knowing what to make. Let’s just go out to eat.”
“Fine. But I don’t know why we don’t just come up with a plan for what to eat. It sure would make our lives a lot easier.”
Surprisingly, this conversation occurred many times before anything was actually implemented. I mean the answer was right there. We needed to do some kind of meal planning, but if you’re at all like us and you enjoy trying new recipes on a fairly regular basis, then planning meals takes time. The mere act of finding the recipes and putting together shopping lists was often an absolute pain in the ass. So in the beginning I’d keep up with things for a couple weeks, then fall off the wagon for a short period, experience the same dialogue mentioned above and gradually get back on track. Clearly my method wasn’t working. I’d spend time flipping through books or magazines looking for recipes or thinking of ingredients in recipes I have memorized, then after making a list of all the ingredients I needed along with any other essentials, I’d head to the store and spend a couple hours going up and down the aisles grabbing things from my mess of a list. Then each night I ‘d refer to the master menu list, find the book/magazine and page number of the recipe and start cooking.
Now that’s embarrassing.
Calling that a plan is a travesty to the definition of the word. Needless to say, after months of struggling with this so-called plan, I refined it a bit and have the following 5 step process to offer:
(1) Go digital
Screw all that lookin’ up recipes in books and magazines. I don’t have time for that. These days the majority of my recipes come from MyRecipes, FoodNetwork, and occasionally, AllRecipes. Outside that I may Google some ingredients or search for a specific recipe from time to time, but that’s it. As for managing the recipes I found, there was a lot of software out there to choose from, unfortunately, a lot of it is crap, especially if you use a Mac. But I did find one that I’d recommend. It’s called Cookware Deluxe and the beauty of this software is that I can go anywhere on the web, find a recipe, highlight any portion of the recipe (ingredients, instructions, photos, etc), click and drag that content to the Cookware Deluxe interface and boom – there it is. It’s fast and it’s easy. It also includes a shopping list feature and meal calendar feature, but to be honest I don’t really use them. They’re just not as efficient as I’d like them to be.
Recently I began experimenting with MyRecipes’ online recipe management system. The site allows you to save any of their recipes or any you add on your own to one of the recipes boxes you create. You can also group any number of recipes into a menu, which is convenient if you have a lot of recipes saved. AllRecipes and another service called Recipezaar offer similar tools but my reason for going with the former is that most of the recipes I save come from Cooking Light, though MyRecipes pulls their content from a number of other top quality magazines as well. So far I’ve been pretty pleased. It’s not a perfect service but it definitely has the potential to eliminate my dependence on Cookware Deluxe and allow me to safely store all my recipes online.
(2) Catalog your recipes
I found a mini photo album that holds about 100, 4×6 recipes and loaded it with my family favorites. Naturally, the typical cookbook is arranged by ingredient (beef, poultry, pork, vegetables, etc.) or cuisine (Mexican, Chinese, Indian, etc.) or course (main, desert, sides, etc). My little ditty is sorted by cuisine because that’s what works for me, and I also only include those recipes I’ve rated 4 or 5 stars. That way I know whatever recipe I pick from the book will be top choice. And it feels good knowing you’ve got a winner on your hands. So however you choose to do it, remember to keep it simple. Save your frilly scrapbooky recipe cards for some other time. This is business, and in business time is of the essence. Oh, and remember that the recipe card size you choose will have a direct impact on #3.
(3) Create a recipe display
After pulling the recipes I’d be using for the week from my recipe album, I wanted a place to post them in the kitchen so there would be no mistaking what was on the menu any given night. This would eliminate the need to flip through magazines or cookbooks when it was time to do the cooking. A quick search online led me to Plastica where I purchased two of their stainless steel magnetic strip bulletin boards. I also bought some 4×6 photo sheet protectors that I use to hold one or more recipes for any given day and hung them on the magnetic strip using the sleek little magnets that were part of the package. With six pockets I have enough space for a week’s worth of dinners. This is taking into consideration we typically eat out once a week or at some point have a leftover night.
(4) Create a pocket-size shopping list
I created a Microsoft Excel template that categorizes ingredients and other household items according to the layout of my local supermarket. The list is created in such a way that all I have to do is circle the items I need to buy, note the quantity, and write in any oddball items that are less common in my kitchen. Now when I’m in the store I know exactly what items to look for in each aisle. Very niiiice. And if you want, you can view and/or download my pocket shopping list. You’ll likely need to adjust it for your supermarket, but it may help get you started. And don’t forget to keep a stack of these in a convenient location so you don’t have to bother with printing them out later.
(5) Plan for all other logistics
I try to shop during the day, in the middle of the week or late at night and I prioritize my meals throughout the week so that all the recipes that use perishable goods are made first, that way fewer items run the risk of being tossed in the trash.
And there you have it. Everything you need to successfully plan and organize your meals is right here. Got other ideas? Feel free to share in the comments. Next week my focus turns to laying the smack down on those mundane, daily tasks that lead to clutter – so stay tuned.