Emily Fleischaker, founder of New York City kitchen organization service KitchenFly, dreamt up her business when she started teaching cooking lessons about a year ago. A former food editor at Bon Appétit and BuzzFeed and armed with a culinary degree, she knows her way around a kitchen. But in other people’s (often cramped) apartments, she kept bumping into the same problem: organization.
“I quickly realized that what I needed to focus on most was the idea to make it easier for yourself to cook more often,” says Fleischaker. “You need a kitchen that has enough emotional space for you to approach the idea of cooking on weeknights.” Though she started KitchenFly as a “fun side project,” she has had a steady stream of clients. “It’s fascinating to be in people’s kitchens and see their lives and help them make little adjustments that’ll help make everything easier.”
Take, for example, one gentleman’s bachelor pad. When Fleischaker entered it, his cabinets were bare, save for an empty Jack Daniel’s bottle. Now he’s hung a pegboard for his pots and pans. If he can transform, anyone can.
Here are a few of Fleischaker’s best tips for a more organized kitchen this spring.
1. What’s your #1 tip?
Keep the stuff you use the most at the easiest reach, in your best kitchen real estate. Get everything else that you use the least out of the way. [People] tend to put stuff where it fits in their kitchen, because that’s often the obvious thing to do. But it doesn’t make sense to keep your peeler, can opener and measuring spoons in a drawer with a pizza wheel and an oyster knife. In theory, they’re all the same size, but some of them you probably use every time you cook. Others you almost never use and could put farther away.
2. How about your next best tip?
You can’t say enough for a less cluttered drawer, when you really need something and are hunting for it.
3. Tell us more about kitchen “real estate.”
There’s so much value in having everything in reach and not having to bend down or go up on tippy toes. When you think about chefs in their stations, they don’t move. Moving is something you don’t want to have to do. I often move cutting boards closer to where people do all their prep. Other things reachable from there are their knives, mixing and prep bowls. Keep things closest to where you’re actually going to use them.
4. How about small fixes a person can make?
[Put] salt in a salt cellar and olive oil in a cruet on a tray right next to the range. That makes a big difference for people. When you’re cooking, you don’t realize what you use every single time, but you use those every single time, practically. Having them in a cabinet doesn’t make any sense. Make it feel effortless. That’s sort of the biggest thing. I think sometimes people undervalue the stuff that they use all the time. Even I, recently, was like, “Why is my Tupperware way up above my fridge? I use it constantly.”
5. What are examples of things we never use, which create clutter?
I never use baking dishes, lasagna-type dishes. No one ever uses those, unless they make a lot of casseroles. People keep them really handy, but use quart containers more often than that. What are you actually using? Unless you’re making mashed potatoes once a week, get that potato masher out of the way. These fancy wine openers that are giant, like the Rabbit, take up so much space. They really can only go in drawers; they don’t hang on a hook. I end up wrapping them in rubber bands.
6. Any other space hogs?
Most kitchen equipment is so streamlined and space-efficient. But if you have a really small kitchen, you don’t need a box grater. I’ll try to convince you to get a Microplane. A box grater is clunky and only does one thing. Microplane is space-efficient and you can use it for cheese or zesting. I have a resource I give my clients where I give them kitchen equipment in tiers: “This is essential. This isn’t essential but is nice to have.” I wouldn’t put the box grater in that first tier.
7. What logic should people use to figure out what to keep and what to toss?
I ask: “Would it disrupt your life to get rid of it?” Also, “How big is it and how much do you pay in rent?”
I was cleaning out [cookbook author] Alison Roman’s kitchen and she would not get rid of one of those foil paint trays. I was like, “This costs A DOLLAR. How much does this square foot of your apartment cost you every month?” The truth is, New York City rents are insane, and kitchens are tiny. When I pick up something in someone else’s kitchen … I can tell you right away, almost all the time, if it’s helpful to them, if it’s good at its job, and if they’re using it enough. Like a mezzaluna. No one uses those. A citrus juicer that has too many parts. A knife that’s an awkward size—whether giant or not the right size.
8. Are you usually successful in getting people to pare down?
Typically people are willing to part with things as long as they don’t have tons of value or sentimental value. Most of the time I can convince clients to part with items because I can recommend [a better one] for $4.
9. What else do you see as a frequent problem?
I veer towards space-efficient. I really dislike anyone having mixing bowls that are not nesting. In New York, you need mixing bowls that take up less space, but I think people have tons in various sizes. Maybe one is from an old roommate, et cetera, and they don’t nest. I’ll say, “Look, I know you already have these, but if [you want to be] organized and space-efficient, get a stainless steel set that nests.
10. Let’s talk Tupperware.
Everybody has Tupperware struggles, and they are real. It’s a really hard thing to keep organized. You inherit stuff; it takes up a lot of space. My recommendation is that people get rid of everything they have—unless it’s really organize—a and get one set of glass food storage containers. It has to nest; you have to know which lids match. Store the little lids in a bin separately in a separate container. I recommend glass, because I feel nervous running plastic quart containers through the dishwasher.
11. What particular challenges does spring pose for keeping things organized?
Spring to me suggests more fresh produce, so… the fridge. Fridges are hard. A fridge is just something you have to stay on top of weekly. I recently put bins in my fridge. One’s for meat; one’s for dairy, yogurt, milk. … They are helpful in terms of feeling organized and seeing what you have, but thing about bins and organizers is that you fit less stuff in your fridge when you use them.
12. Are you a fan of getting spoons and knives off surfaces, and hanging them up?
Oh, yeah. Also, it’s funny, this is something I learned in culinary school, but nothing should ever be on the floor. Sometimes people are desperate and will put something on the floor. It’s not good for keeping things clean.
13. What else drives you (and your clients) nuts?
Junk drawers. I take everything out and sort it. And you might want to keep a flashlight, a lighter, and a few pens, in your kitchen, but that it’s likely that you have some of the junk drawer things elsewhere, like batteries. You shouldn’t have things like this in the kitchen unless you have to go for them quickly. Put the sewing kit somewhere else.
14. What oddball things should be in a kitchen drawer?
A sharpie and a roll of masking tape is an under-appreciated kitchen essential. I date everything everything in the kitchen obsessively. It really helps. When you clean out your kitchen, you’ll spend an extra minute saying, “How old is this?” It’s great when you can look at it and say, “Whoa, this is from April 2016?!”