Save time, effort: organize an escape from your kitchen. Create centers for cleanup, mixing, cooking, and storage

``Centering your kitchen is just putting things where they're first used,'' says Deniece Schofield, author of ``Escape From the Kitchen'' (Writer's Digest Books, 1986). That means the colander and potatoes go by the sink, the glasses go by the refrigerator - and 364 of your 370 empty margarine tubs go into the trash. ``First you have to go through everything in the kitchen and streamline. We've thrown out up to 15 trash bags worth in the kitchens we've done,'' says Alice Fulton, co-author with Pauline Hatch of ``It's Here ... Somewhere'' (Writer's Digest Books, 1985). ``You find four spatulas with broken handles, five rusty potato peelers, pans without lids, lids without pans, endless things you don't need and never use,'' she continues.

Mrs. Schofield advocates culling through one area at a time, discarding the obvious and dividing everything else into A's (vital - use every day), B's (important - use at least once a week), and C's (use seasonally, like the turkey roaster or cookie cutters). The C's can be stored on hard-to-reach shelves, in the pantry, or down the hall; everything else should be put in the appropriate center.

The three organizers have different ideas on what constitutes a center, and they all emphasize that deciding what goes where is a very personal choice. ``Architects design for beauty, not function,'' Schofield believes, ``so a lot of what you're doing is making the best of a bad design. And every kitchen, no matter how organized, is going to have a little inconvenience.''

``We're loosey-goosey about where things should go, depending on what's most convenient for the family - a big family might want the tableware near the dishwasher, to make it easy to put away,'' says Mrs. Fulton, ``and a family with young children might want the plates on a low shelf, so the kids can set the table.

``But we're really strict about quality,'' she emphasizes. ``We've done in-depth research and discovered that a new spatula will cost you $1.69. Throw out the three you have with the melted handles and get one good one,'' she advises.

Regardless of what you call the centers, all kitchens have a spot for cleanup, for mixing and baking, for cooking, and for storage. Large kitchens can take on more centers - for the microwave (with paper towels hanging nearby and the special dishes on the shelf below), for serving (with the napkins, salt and pepper, sugar bowl, honey pot, good glasses, and nice tableware within easy reach), for quick breakfasts (with bowls, cereal, spoons, toaster, and jam pots next to the refrigerator), and even, says Mrs. Hatch, for popcorn.

``That's one of our most popular centers - we put the popcorn, the popper, the seasonings, and a big bowl together where the kids can get it.''

Large kitchens also might need duplicates, Schofield says: ``A paring knife near the sink and also in the mixing center, a set of measuring spoons with the flour and also by the stove,'' she says.

Most of us look at such problems with something bordering on envy. For those whose kitchens are little more than narrow closets, ``the centers will have to be more creative,'' Schofield concedes. ``If you don't have shelves and drawers, think about ways to hang it up or put it on the floor - a rolling cart you can stick in the corner, an old chest of drawers, a set of narrow shelves against the wall, something stuck between the refrigerator and the wall.''

Authors Hatch and Fulton advise those with small kitchens to cut back to the barest basics - one pot, one pan, etc. - and clean them continually rather than struggle over putting extras away each day.

Here are some of their ideas on how to set up the basic centers:

Cleanup center

Situated around the sink, the center includes a severely pared down list of cleaning supplies (one or two cleansers, plus something to wash the dishes), sponge and brush in a bucket or dishpan. You'll need a shelf, drawer, or hooks to hang cleaning rags and tea towels (``Buy new ones, or bleach the old,'' says Fulton), and you may want to put the paper towels here.

This is also the place to put the root vegetables (in a dishpan under the sink or a basket hanging nearby, perhaps) and the tools you need to process them - potato peeler, paring knife, colander. Hatch recommends that you put four or five of your not-best glasses near the sink for quick slurps of water; all other glasses go next to the refrigerator. Some families store their tableware near the sink to facilitate putting it away. Mixing center

Ideally situated between the sink and the stove, the mixing center needs a storage area for ``all the foods you have to do something to before you can eat it - flour, cornmeal, oatmeal,'' says Schofield. She bought a dozen or so freezer containers of various sizes so she can keep a small quantity of the foods she eats every week here - and put the rest in the pantry.

Fulton and Hatch divide their spices and put the ones for baking in this area - cinnamon and nutmeg go here, dill and oregano go near the stove. The area also contains the equipment used for mixing and baking - mixing bowls, beaters, wooden spoons and whisks, measuring spoons and cups, cake pans, cookie sheets, and muffin tins.

``You can stand in one place and do everything,'' says Hatch. ``It encourages your children to cook, because it makes it so easy.''

Cooking center

Situated around the stove, this center includes all the cooking equipment - pots and pans, spatulas and spoons, meat fork and thermometer, knives, cooking spices, sauce packets, bouillon, and hot drinks. The organizers don't like the idea of hanging pans in plain sight, ``because in a kitchen there's lots of splattered grease and dust and it starts to grow caterpillar fuzz,'' says Schofield.

If space is limited, spices can be divided into most-used, least-used piles, with the most used labeled and stuck into the nearest drawer. Or they can be organized alphabetically and stored in wall racks, under-counter racks, or on a lazy susan in the cupboard.

``Homemakers are horrified when they clean out their spices,'' says Fulton. Some are decades old.

Storage center

Get this as close as you can to the refrigerator, and get your trash bag ready when you clean it out. ``People just can't stop saving Cool Whip containers and bread bags,'' Schofield says with a sigh. She advocates placing these things in a container; that way, when the container is full, you know you have to throw the rest away. ``Ask yourself, if my refrigerator were full of Cool Whip containers, how many would it actually hold?''

This center needs a drawer, shelf, or hanging space for foil, plastic wrap, and plastic bags.

If your kitchen has a phone, you'll need an area for information - phone books, paper, pen and pencils, stationery, envelopes, stamps, calendar, lists from soccer teams and volunteer groups, etc. This can be anything from a desk with its own file drawer to a cardboard box and a magnetic caddy stuck to the refrigerator.

Once you've meshed your belongings into centers, says Mrs. Schofield, it may take a while to get used to it. ``You may experience a little frustration for a week or two until you feel comfortable with the locations of your necessities,'' she writes. ``Keep working with it and you'll begin to see your escape plans unfold.''

The escape she's describing, of course, is from the very room you've just organized.

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