House & HomeMom's LifeThe KitchenWork and Passions

Sometimes the little things are really big things.

by Meagan Francis on February 5, 2014

photo (27)

This is how my spice drawer looked a few hours ago. 

Ugh, right? When we moved into this house, I immediately claimed the drawer right next to the stove for my bottled spices and seasonings. I already had those little IKEA drawer inserts, after all; and the location seemed perfect. 

The “drawer full of seasonings” method worked for a little while. Until it stopped working, for several reasons. First, I bought more spices, including a few not-so-frequently used items like turmeric and whole cloves, and tossed them right in there with the ones I use a few times a week, like cinnamon, black pepper, and cumin. 

Then I picked up some adorable vintage spice bottles at an antique store, before realizing that they were too small to transfer all of the spices from the larger bottles into. I tossed them in the drawer anyway.

The result, as you can see, was messy. But it’s not just the lack of aesthetics that have been driving me crazy.

First, I keep forgetting what I had in there, and whether I’m looking for ground oregano or chili powder, there was a good chance it would be buried way in the back under three layers of bottles.

Second, the drawer wound up over-stuffed, so about half the time it would get stuck when I tried to open it, which I do several times per day. Then I’d have to pull out a spatula and wiggle it between the bottle and the cabinet, and do all kinds of fancy jiggling to try to force the bottle back down so I can open the drawer. 

Ten or fifteen times per week.

Now, you might ask why I hadn’t reorganized my mess of a drawer if it was such a pain. Why, indeed? Probably because it felt like such a little thing. After all, it’s no big deal to go searching for the allspice. Once. Or to have to MacGyver the drawer back open. A few times.

Added up, though, over the course of a year, the big picture looks a little different. If I don’t make a change, I realized, I’ll spend a couple of hours this year noodling around in frustration with my spice drawer.

So I decided to take a half hour today to come up with a new solution. Interestingly enough, including cleaning out the drawer and washing off the plastic organizers, it took me less than 15 minutes. And in the process of dismantling a flawed system and re-building from scratch, I realized a few things. 

vintage spice bottles

1. No matter how adorable those vintage spice bottles are, I had to admit they just weren’t working for the system I currently have set up. The bottles I’d filled were almost all doubles of spices I already had a larger bottle of, and the vast majority were just rattling around empty at the back of the drawer.

Some, in fact, had me thoroughly perplexed. Just what sort of spices go into “roastmeat seasoning”? 

roastmeat

At some point, I’d love to have a rack that fits the vintage bottles on the wall. But for now, it just made sense to consolidate most of them back into the larger bottle and put the empty little bottles away until I have a dedicated space for them.

2. Not all spices have to be stored in the primo right-next-to-the-stove spot. If it’s something we only use once in a while, like grill seasoning, it’s fine to store it across the room in a cupboard – after all, we don’t usually grill on the stovetop anyway!

Bottom line: my spice drawer’s location is only really handy if it allows me to quickly find what I need on a regular basis, and preferably with one hand. 

3. This didn’t become evident until I put everything back in, but I sure have a lot of different sizes and shapes of bottles going on in there, don’t I?

spice drawer

In the past I’ve always bought spices and seasonings a few at a time, and generally reach for whatever is on sale. I also love collecting little bottles and like the different shapes and sizes and labels of these. But when they’re all in one place, I find myself wanting a little more uniformity. I guess I should choose a brand and stick to it. (Do you have a spice/seasoning brand you’re loyal to, and why?)

Still, imperfect as it is, there’s no doubt that my drawer is about a hundred times more functional than it was when I woke up this morning, and it took me hardly any time at all to go from a total mess to neat and tidy.

It may not be a big thing, but sometimes it’s just nice to know I’ll be able to find the cinnamon when I need it for the French toast first thing in the morning. Or to be certain I won’t have to deal with a stuck drawer while I’m reaching for the onion powder with one hand and stirring with the other. 

I’m all about letting small things go when they truly don’t matter. But sometimes, those little things add up to a lot of wasted time or unnecessary frustration. And the wonderful thing is, when you can identify one and come up with a quick fix, you’ve just made your home life a bit more happy with hardly any effort at all. 

What “small thing” has been causing you frustration lately? Is there a quick fix you can put into effect today?

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Maureen February 5, 2014 at 10:42 am

I use Tupperware spice containers — I love them because I can avoid the mishmash of differently sized spice jars. They come in big and small, so what we use regularly can go in the big version. In fact, I just got a couple more small ones for Christmas and was overjoyed.

My current big little thing is our DVD collection. It takes up too much space. Currently we have the kid DVDs out, but the adult movies are packed away, meaning we never “bother” to dig any out to watch. Today I ordered sleeves to reduce the storage size. Pricey but I hope worth it in the long run.

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Meagan Francis February 5, 2014 at 2:47 pm

We loved our DVD sleeves. I had a hard time giving up the cases at first, but finally realized how much simpler it made the whole thing. Of course, we wound up eventually going entirely digital and now all our movies are on a hard drive. Sometimes I’m glad to have a techy husband that pushes me to streamline!

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Michele C. February 5, 2014 at 11:34 am

YES. We are moving in 6 weeks, and the disaster that is the spice shelf in my pantry closet is just SCREAMING to be organized. I though I had solutions with those little step thingies, but nope. Some bottles fit, some push others off. I don’t have enough drawers to go with that method. So, in the new place, I am going magnetic. I’m going to get tins for all of the spices, and create my own spice rack on the side of the fridge. No drawer or cabinet space required!!!!!!!!!!

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Meagan Francis February 5, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Michele, I love those magnetic spice tins! My fridge is built into the cabinets so that won’t work for me, but if I had a side available, it would be Spice City :)

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christine w. February 5, 2014 at 11:45 am

My little thing that is a big thing = sorting through too much e-mail I don’t actually want to see everyday. I think, “Oh, its no biggie just to delete as I go” but the time does add up. Need to get under control. Look into THE SPICE HOUSE – beyond fabulous!! They will ship right too you. Their bottles are great, and when you need more, you just order a refill pack:
http://www.thespicehouse.com/

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Meagan Francis February 5, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Christine, this is the one in Evanston, right? We used to LOVE that place when we lived in Chicago, but I didn’t realize they shipped. Great to know!

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Jewlz February 5, 2014 at 12:49 pm

We finally decided to let the small jars sit double on a rotating lazy Suzan in the pantry and then we have a counter top holder for others. Then we used the Ikea spice solutions for everything else. But eventually I would like a little shelf built into our wall (which we are doing during renovations) to use the Ikea jars. They are SO cute and functional. Plus, then you can keep buying whatever you like to fill them. Same with the counter top organizer. I’ve actually been considering getting rid of some spices we never use, or putting them in smaller jars to open up the space for more frequent users. We store our refills in our downstairs walk-in so that they don’t take up kitchen space, but there are still times I think we have too much. Guess we will see if I ever get to it. LOL

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Meagan Francis February 5, 2014 at 3:59 pm

When I went through the spices I found quite a few doubles and some that were WAY past the expiration date. Whoops!

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Ana February 5, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Oh goodness….the plasticware cabinet. Its…frightening, and I can never find what I need without dumping the entire contents onto the floor. And then I can’t find the lid. And so I have to start all over. And somehow stuff it all back in there at the end. I need to get on that.

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Meagan Francis February 5, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Ana, I wrote about my “plasticware problem” a couple of years ago. I’ve scaled the plastic way, way back and still find that I have plenty of dishes for storage. My solution has been buying some pretty Pyrex serving/storage dishes from the 60s that I just love – I keep them out where they can be seen, which means I never have to dig and don’t get trapped under plastic avalanches. http://www.thehappiesthome.com/back-to-you-get-rid-of-something-you-think-you-need-but-really-dont/

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Ana February 5, 2014 at 4:47 pm

We do a ton of make-ahead and freezer cooking, and also all 4 of us take multiple containers of things for lunch each day, so I do need to keep some around, but yes, we have way way too much. I need to pare down considerably.

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Anita February 5, 2014 at 1:50 pm

I love Penzey’s spices. They are just across the “pond” from you in WI. They have some shops, but also an excellent mail order business.

Once you get the jar you want for a particular spice, you can order a bag and refill yourself. I find that works quite well for me.

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Maureen February 5, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Love Penzey’s! And they have a great mail-order business.

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Meagan Francis February 5, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Thanks for the tip, Anita!

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Maria February 5, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Ladies, I think Meagan has already solved her spice problem :) I found the shoe cupboard (or lack thereof) was wasting me lots of time finding matching shoes for everyone. I ‘ve invested in a system which has got us part way there. Just need to up the routine (not my stength) to ensure everyone puts there shoes in there. S

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Meagan Francis February 5, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Thanks Maria :) It is figured out for now, but I did ask for suggestions if anyone’s loyal to certain spice brands because I want to know why people wind up with what they have in their cupboards!

Our shoes go through periods of being an absolute wreck, and then I manage to pull them together for a while, repeat cycle. I guess it just supports my idea that cleaning is a process, not something you’ll ever be done with.

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Lindsey February 5, 2014 at 2:18 pm

This is so great. Several years ago I ditched all of my tupperware and replaced it with 8 glass containers with snap-on lids. I swear that even now, years later, opening my tupperware drawer to see clean options, only a few of them, and easily available makes me so happy. xox

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Meagan Francis February 5, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Yup, similar to my solution to the plastic avalanche!

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Heather Novak February 5, 2014 at 4:21 pm

GREAT POST!!!!
Less is my problem! I need LESS of everything. I’m paring down my wardrobe, the kid’s wardrobes….if we only have a little more than we actually NEED for a two week period, A) I am more dutiful about laundry, B) Someone who NEEDS clothes can have what we ignore in our drawer and C) no constant struggle to close an overflowing drawer.

I also am solving my clean laundry unfolded in a basket or folded clean laundry living in the basket for 3-5 days…it only takes 5-10 minutes to put it away, instead of dreading it every time I see it for DAYS on end! (Like your 15 minutes with the spice drawer…aha!)

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Meagan Francis February 6, 2014 at 9:07 am

Here’s a confession, Heather – I have been basically dressing Clara out of the clean laundry pile for the last month. Her bedroom is wayyyyy upstairs and by the time I am getting her dressed in the morning, it’s just been easier to grab whatever clean dress and leggings are in the laundry basket waiting to be folded. So she’s basically worn the same five outfits over and over…and – gasp – it’s been totally fine! Maybe she never needed more than that to begin with, eh?

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Tragic Sandwich February 5, 2014 at 6:06 pm

I’m doing this with the OTC/personal care shelf in our hallway closet on Friday. It’s my birthday present to me (my birthday is actually tomorrow, but I’m taking Friday off).

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Meagan Francis February 6, 2014 at 9:09 am

I love love love getting all my personal care/medicine chest stuff organized. I also always find a shocking amount of really old medicine I don’t remember buying.

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Sarah @ Beauty School Dropout February 5, 2014 at 7:07 pm

I buy almost all my spices at the health food store in the bulk section. They are shockingly cheap — like less than 50 cents to fill almost any spice jar. I’ve been slowly migrating to uniformly sized glass jars, but I still have a mishmash of different glass & plastic spices jars/bottles.

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Meagan Francis February 6, 2014 at 9:09 am

Good tip! Maybe I could use bulk spices to fill up my cute little bottles :)

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Sarah Powers February 5, 2014 at 9:50 pm

We have a two-car garage, and we park both cars in it … about half of the time. When we’re organized and life is normal, we fit both cars in. But then something will happen – I’ll get out the handmedown bins, or we’ll have a bunch of empty Amazon boxes that need to be broken down, or whatever – and then Bryan’s side of the garage ends up as a junky storage area and he parks in the driveway. Once it’s that way, it’s so “hard” to get back to the way it was before. I start parking the stroller and bikes on that side, and using the space as minivan-spillover. He gets used to parking in the driveway. It takes us about 30 minutes MAX to get everything back to where it belongs so Bryan can park in the garage again … and yet, it makes a big difference.

And now I know what we’re doing this weekend. :) Great post, loved it.

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Meagan Francis February 6, 2014 at 9:10 am

Sarah, we have a 2.5 car garage and we can almost never get more than one vehicle in. It’s a problem. I guess, in our defense, we do a HUGE Halloween display every year, so we have to use some of the space for that stuff. Basically I have a lot of skeletons in my garage.

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Jennifer L.W. Fink (@jlwf) February 5, 2014 at 10:38 pm

Coincidentally, I tackled the kitchen cupboard that contained all the *#($ plastic grocery bags and other random stuff. I returned A TON of plastic bags to the store for recycling, reclaimed space and finally decided to give away some stuff I never use. I mean, the cute little glass Christmas stocking plate is cute and all, but it’s still in the box I got it in many, many years ago. I think I used it once. Out with the “never use,” and in with space for life!

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Meagan Francis February 6, 2014 at 9:16 am

I have gotten much better about remembering my reusable bags when I go to the grocery store lately, but when I forget I totally kick myself over all. those. plastic. bags. They take over so quickly! And now that I don’t have kids in diapers, I don’t have as many ways to get rid of them, either. I only have so many small trash cans to line!

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