The holidays are around the corner. You know what that means. Despite the lovely decorations above the fireplace and the well-vacuumed living room, everyone will be ... in the kitchen.
"The days of kitchens in the back of the house are over," says Melissa Birdsong, vice president of trend, design and brand at Lowe's. "It's more social. Family structures are different. People are putting sofas in kitchens for a sitting room. People want to be there."
The first thing you need to do is make a plan, says organizing expert Julie Morgenstern of Julie Morgenstern Enterprises in New York City. Sit down for a half hour and think about what you want to do for the holidays, she suggests. Do you love to bake? Host large parties? Take inventory of what you have and what you need for the season.
"Go on the hunt for serving pieces, bowls, roasters. Did the gravy boat break last year?" she says.
You'll see what you have and, best of all, you won't waste money, and time, buying duplicates.
"People wait until the last minute and spend more money than needed," she says. Plus the stress level goes up and things take twice as long to do, she adds.
One way to reduce the chaos is to create "activity zones," Morgenstern says.
For a food prep zone, choose the longest counter and stock cabinets above and below with food and supplies. Keep roasting pans, cookie sheets and molds in the cooking zone. Morgenstern's "all-time favorite thing" is Diamond Cabinets' flip-down acrylic cookbook holder that disappears under a cabinet. (In 2005 Diamond Cabinets remodeled her kitchen.)
"It doesn't take up counter space and it inspires me. It's so much fun to use. You're not wrestling with a cookbook," she says.
Create a serving area -- in the kitchen or dining room or wherever -- for linens and serving dishes. A wrapping zone, in a closet or drawer, streamlines paper, tape and ribbons. Stock it now, Morgenstern says.
Once you've determined your zones, make your space efficient, says Sara Ann Busby, of Sara Busby Designs in Elk Rapids, Mich., and vice president of the National Kitchen & Bath Association.
In other words, dive inside the deep, dark recesses of your cabinets, where 10-year-old oregano and stale cookie sprinkles lurk.
"Get everything [inside] organized. It's the reverse of spring cleaning," she says. "Now's a great time to take a look at the spice cabinet and add a pullout spice drawer or rack."
Look for vertical dividers to organize platters, baking sheets and other oversize pieces.
Hanging stemware racks inside cabinets is a do-it-yourself project, she says.
Busby recommends a pullout "towel" bar inside a cabinet for hanging linens, a nice alternative to stacking tablecloths and runners. The do-it-yourself project costs about $100, she says. Some other organizing tools: canisters for bulk food that drop into drawers, a drawer rack for knives and mixer appliance lifts inside cabinets that save you the effort of hauling up the heavy appliance to the counter.
A rolling cart you can tuck into a closet makes for ideal mobile storage, Busby says.
A table with wheels works too, Birdsong says.
Birdsong also recommends retrofitting pullout drawers -- for everything from cabinets to trash receptacles. Turntables (lazy Susans) keep items such as condiments in plain sight.
Following the old rule of thumb of storing things close to where you work keeps things efficient, Birdsong says.
The upside to having all your guests crowding the kitchen? Maybe there will be more people to help clean up. For those conscientious types, take advantage of one last tip.
"Label shelves in your cupboards and pantries so that family members [and guests] can help to put away dishes and groceries," says Donna Smallin, an organization expert and author of several organization books, in Mesa, Arizona.
And if your guests happen to help out with those chores, be sure to write their names. You'll want to invite them to the next party you host.