I had a stay-at-home mom for most of my childhood and adolescence. I don’t have any memories of our house being messy or the sink being full of dishes. I don’t really recall my mom doing laundry, yet my laundry was always washed and returned to my room after school each day. As a result, I waltzed into marriage with no clue what I was doing. I didn’t really know how to cook and I had no idea how to manage a household: cleaning, laundry, maintenance, tips and tricks, nothing. Now I will say that I was always a neat and tidy kid and teenager. I enjoyed keeping my room clean and I regularly rearranged the furniture in my room completely by myself…which could explain some of my current back issues. lol! But as far as logistics, methods, and skills, particularly in the kitchen–I had nothing.
During my first few months of marriage I burned up our brand new dryer because I didn’t know you had to empty the lint trap! I also filled our kitchen with soap suds for days when we ran out of dishwasher detergent and I decided it would be perfectly reasonable to use dawn dish soap instead.
Don’t do it.
These are just two things among a large list of important things that I have been or will be teaching my sons and daughters before they leave my house. There should be a master list somewhere of random life skills to teach our children before they become adults and have to survive on their own. One probably already exists. If not, I promise I’ll write one when I’ve successfully released eight self-sufficient and domesticated young adults into the real world, all of which will be able to change a tire, cut the grass, clean a well-seasoned cast iron pan correctly, and cook a delicious meal from scratch to name a few.
Trial and Error
As the years progressed and we added children to our family I learned a lot from my mom and mother-in-law. When we were foster parents we worked for an agency that specialized in keeping sibling groups together. We frequently went from 3 children to 6 with just a few hours’ notice. It was probably during that time that I began, as a matter of survival, to hone my organizational skills around the house. Laundry, cooking, and cleaning are vitally necessary but difficult to stay on top of when you have six children under 9. Now, seven years later, I have eight children of my own and I’m still continually learning how to best feed my family, clean efficiently, and keep Mount Washmore under control. However, I LOVE being a wife and mother so it’s a fun challenge to continually tweak and improve my methods.
The Mud Room
When you walk into our house from the side door you are in the mud room.
We didn’t build these shelves and cubbies but we sure love them. There are two kids per cubby and each kid only gets to keep one pair of frequently-worn shoes in their cubby. The rest are kept in their closets and this prevents shoes from taking over the entire floor of our mudroom. The hooks are used for back packs, aprons, my purse, and winter coats…for the two whole months that actually require coats in South Carolina.
The baskets above contain loads of randomness: bubbles, jump ropes, batteries, boot wax, packing tape, flashlights. In the trailer there are three closets; one for each bedroom. There’s no coat closet, no utility closet for my broom, mop, and vacuum, and no linen closet for sheets, towels, and blankets. You have to get creative and figure out solutions that are functional and still pleasing to the eye.
The kitchen is right through the mud room.
This is where I spend half of my waking hours. Feeding ten people whole foods on a budget requires time, preparation, and planning. I prefer to keep my counters clutter-free. I need every inch possible for food prep. In my kitchen, my most-used tools and appliances are my Vitamix blender, Berkey water filter, coffee pot, and Kitchen Aid mixer. However, there’s one stretch of counter that stores foods like onions, potatoes, bagels, bread, and produce that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. There are simply no other good options and I’m okay with that.
When you walk into the kitchen from the mudroom the counter with my Berkey and mixer is on your right. You can see in this picture that I store all of my spare mason jars (pints, quarts, and half gallons) above the cabinets. I like having them so easily accessible. In the glass cabinets I keep smaller quantities of baking items such as flours, sugars, oats, etc. I store them in glass containers of various sizes. The cabinets below hold our restaurant size silverware caddy, plastic pitchers, cloth napkins, kitchenaid accessories, and some various baking pans. Opposite this counter is the fridge and then the stove.
See my four little drawers? That’s it. I’ve lived in six houses since we got married and only one of those houses had decent drawers; what’s with that? My farmhouse will have fabulous drawers. We’ve stored our knife block on top of the fridge since our foster care days. I can reach them and have yet to drop a knife and stab myself in the foot. Also on top of the fridge you’ll find various adult beverages and my large bottle of Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar. I hang my pot holder and oven mit (that’s right, just one of each) on a command hook on the side of the fridge and the coffee pot and utensil holder take up the small counter space on the left side of the stove. The only thing that stays on my longest stretch of counter, which is to the right of the stove, is my cookbook holder which I use every single day. In my four tiny drawers I keep 1) small cooking items like can openers, measuring cups and spoons, 2) salad tongs and a few more random utensils, 3) kitchen towels, and 4) cleaning rags.
I love having windows above my kitchen sink. The windows in our trailer remind me of an RV. There are two very thin panes of glass per window that have to be opened individually. Some have screens, some don’t–lol. On the windows I hung a simple white eyelet valance that is actually an altered roman shade from Target.
All three cabinets under the sink contain organized bins of cleaning products, trash bags, dishwasher detergent, etc. The dishwasher is to the right of the sink. In the corner there’s a glass apothecary jar with vitamins and supplements. Otherwise, this counter stays cleared as well.
Opposite the kitchen sink is our dining room table, a small white pantry, and one more long stretch of counter and cabinets.
I’ll go ahead and confess that I am the queen of unfinished projects. See the wall above the cabinets where my mason jars are? It’s yellow. That’s because I repainted my kitchen and master bathroom when everyone but Annie and I were out of town and I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with Charlie. I knew getting on an 8′ latter with no other adults around would be a really bad idea so I just skipped that little section of wall. One day I’ll paint it and see how long it takes for anyone to notice. The upper glass cabinets house all of our everyday dishes. They cannot be accessed when someone is sitting at that end of the table because there’s no room to slip between the cabinets and the chair. The cabinets below hold my two crockpots, corningware, pyrex, my beloved stash of half-size aluminum steam pans, and serving platters which have to go in at all sorts of wonky angles in order to fit and still be able to close the cabinet doors.
Well that’s a wrap for the kitchen and mud room. I find them to be just right and surprisingly functional for our family. Living in small quarters with a large family forces me to stay on my A-game with clutter and organization. More on that later…