There is a very veg-friendly Indian restaurant in Charlotte that my partner and I haunt. The food is mostly delightful; the service less so.
But every time we go, I can’t help feeling slightly annoyed at drinking water out of a plastic glass. And using forks and spoons whose sharp edges feel uncomfortable in my hands. Meanwhile, my partner complains about the obviously plastic plates. And I always wonder how much better the exact same meal would taste if it were served on nicer plates (or even traditional metal ones). And if we drank our water from actual glass tumblers or goblets.
My point is, I believe that the plates you use, the way silverware feels in your hands, and the way your lips and teeth feel against a glass or cup makes a huge difference in the pleasure you take in eating. So Part Four of Organizing Your Kitchen is Delight In Your Dishes! While Parts One-Three (Organizing Your Pantry, Organizing Your Fridge/Freezer, and Ovens/Stoves) took a lot of hard work but were rewarding, this part should be fun!
Clean Your Shelves
Cleaning your shelves should be easy, because they’re used to store clean dishes. Step one is take all your dishes out and wipe down the shelves. Like in my pantry, I line my shelves with Con-Tact paper to make cleaning super easy. Be sure to use a gentle, natural cleaner (and look for the leaping bunny logo). Wipe down the outside of your cabinets, too. Leave your cabinets open to air out and make sure they are completely dry before replacing any dishes.
Organize In A Way That Makes Sense … To You
Now that our shelves are clean, we need to replace our dishes. Don’t just put them back the way they were – take a few moments to think about it.
If you only have a few dishes, you may want to keep like with like – bowls with bowls, plates with plates. If you have more than one matching set of dishes, you may want to store the sets separately so you’re not always searching for the matching plates or cups.
Also, think about the way you use your dishes. Whatever you use most, keep in easy reach.
Consider proximity – Does it make sense to store glasses near the sink, or coffee mugs near the Keurig machine?
Consider your dishwasher – Open your dishwasher and see which cabinets are the most convenient – or inconvenient – when unloading the dishwasher.
Avoid doing things like stacking salad plates (if you rarely use them) on top of dinner plates (which you use every night). Dish shelves are a wonderful way to separate your dishes and provide extra space! Also, Pinterest is a great source of ideas – as well as any home organization store. Before you splurge, consider – do you need more organizing gadgets, or do you just need to pare down?
Put Away Your Holiday Dishes
If you have holiday dishes, store them separately, on an upper shelf or in a less prime spot of kitchen “real estate.” (Yes, even if your holiday dishes are just a mug or two.) You’ll enjoy using them a lot more during the holiday season if you haven’t been using them all year long.
But You Decide The Holiday Season
I’m not going to tell you when the holiday season begins or ends. Decide that for yourself. My Dad bought me a lovely set of Pfaltzgraff Winter Berry dishes (and that’s a beautiful story I will share one day, when we all have a box of tissues handy). While quite Christmassy, it’s not overtly Christmas – it is a pattern of winter berries. Some people say I should pack these up no later than Epiphany. But since Charlotte doesn’t even get cold until January, I define my Winter Berry season as the day after Thanksgiving until the end of February.
You may be a major Halloween fan who starts decorating the yard the day after Labor Day. In that case, feel free to break out your black plates and Jack Skellington mugs at the same time.
How Do You Feel About Your Dishes?
As you are putting your dishes away, consider how you feel about your dishes. Ideally, you should like them and feel good about them. This is especially important if you are single or eat many of your meals alone.
I know, somewhere a reader is going, “They’re just dishes! They’re fine. They’re serviceable. I’m not into all this feelings stuff!” And that’s ok – in that case, just make sure none of your dishes actively annoy you.
Are your dishes cracked or chipped? Chips add charm to old china, but cracks can harbor bacteria.
Are your dishes plastic? I hate plastic with a passion. Every cold drink in the world tastes better from an actual “glass” glass than a plastic tumbler. And plastic retains odors. It’s also not the healthiest substance to use, with chemicals that can potentially leak into acidic, hot, or microwaved food. Especially if you have older plastic dishes or drinkware (more likely to contain BPA and pthalates), consider giving your plastic dishes a toss.
Has your style changed? Maybe you (and your dishes) were conservative in your younger years, but now you’re retired you’re bold and colorful. Or maybe you had a country-style kitchen and eating nook and dishes in your previous house, but in your current house your kitchen and dining room are sleek and modern. Do your dishes still match you and your environment?
Has your household changed? Adding children, an elderly parent, or a differently abled person to your family – or suffering from a physical ailment yourself – might cause a need for lighter, “break-proof” dishes. I highly recommend Corelle – it is super-light and (almost) unbreakable. Also much safer than melamine.
Is your household a mixed household – vegans and omnivores? Consider having two sets of dishes, drinkware, and flatware in distinctly different pattern/styles.
How does your flatware feel in your hands? I hated my hand-me-down flatware so I bought my own. I wanted a pattern similar to what my family had when I was a child, so I bought several forks in similar patterns to test. There was indeed a difference! Here’s what to look for. First, unless it’s a knife, there shouldn’t be any sharp edges. Second, it should be of a fairly decent weight so it won’t warp or bend. Third, consider hand size – I have small hands and some forks definitely “fit” my hand better! Your hands might be large – in which case, you’d probably prefer a different flatware!
It Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive
Check out places like Homegoods, Marshalls, and Target for inexpensive yet stylish dishes. Don’t forget yard sales, estate sales, and e-Bay.
You Don’t Need A Whole Set
Many items can be purchased individually, which is often better than buying a big box that has more than you need.
Especially if you are single or eat many of your meals alone (maybe your partner travels, or you work a different shift), it makes sense to eat your food from dishes that make you happy. Keep your tasteful white ones, but purchase one plate, one bowl, one cup, one glass, one flatware setting that you REALLY like. Dining alone can sometimes be a bit – well, lonely! We must always remember to show ourselves the same love and care we would show to another person.
Or perhaps you’re a two person household – lovers, or single parent and child. Just get two place settings that make you happy.
You’ll find yourself washing up more. That could be a good thing (less clutter, fewer dishes piled in the sink).
Or Do You?
On the other hand, perhaps you DO need a whole set.
Maybe you collected a lot of odds and ends in college, but now you’re ready for a matching set of grown-up dishes.
Or – maybe not matching. Maybe you like the shabby chic look. Mismatched dishes are charming but tricky to pull off. The key is to use similar colors. You can, for instance, go to yard sales and thrift shops and accumulate an assortment of white china in different patterns, or blue and white, or pink and white. As long as the colors are the same, it will work. Don’t try mixing colors unless you’re Rachel Ashwell; otherwise you may look more shabby than chic.
For Pete’s Sake, Use The Good China
What are you waiting for? It flat-out amazes me we have beautiful things we never use for ourselves or our families but only for “company,” which rarely comes. (And when it does, we’re usually pulling out the paper plates and plastic forks for faster cleanup!)
Why not make these your “special occasion” plates instead of “company” plates? Use them for a romantic dinner with your partner. Or use them to serve veggie burgers and fries to the whole family when one of the kids brings home an “A” on their report card.
Worried about a plate chipping or breaking? For Pete’s sake, IT’S JUST A PLATE! On your deathbed, do you prefer to think, “I had some good times and good dinners with my family,” or “I had a bunch of pretty plates in a china cabinet collecting dust.” The choice is yours.
Vegans should be aware some china is porcelain and some is “bone china” – meaning it is porcelain mixed with bone ash. (Turn the dish over – bone china is always proudly stamped “bone china” because it is more expensive and considered more desirable – unless you are vegan.)
If you are a more sensitive vegan, you may feel uncomfortable eating from bone china plates. In that case, give them away to someone who could actually use them or donate them to a charity. Or sell them and donate the money to animal charity.
If you are a more practical vegan? If these are a family heirloom or something you bought second-hand, I think it’s ok to use them. You didn’t contribute to the demand by supporting the company with your dollars. And it’s highly unlikely you will be influencing your dinner guests to rush out and buy bone china. Unless, of course, you keep referencing your “Royal Doulton with the hand-painted periwinkles” during your candlelight suppers. (And even Hyacinth Bucket wasn’t the trend-setter and influencer she thought she was.)
Now you should have clean cabinets and organized dishes! Perhaps a box of items to donate or sale. And a few fun homework assignments – looking up ideas on Pinterest; going to thrift stores and yard sales. I’ve even given you a good reason to go to Homegoods or Target (not that most of us need a reason to go there).
Or, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who discovered they are happy with dishes and organization they have! It’s still a winning situation – often you don’t appreciate what you have and how well something is working for you until you take the time to mindfully consider it.
Part V of Organizing Your Kitchen will be fun, too! Until then, please feel free to share your thoughts on your favorite dishes and organization techniques!