Staying Organized–the Kitchen

I didn’t post anything on Friday. I was feeling bored and mopey, and I figure you guys don’t drop by here just to hear me whine and mope.

[Note that if I’m wrong, and you do want to hear me whine and mope, you should definitely say so in the comments. Because if you do, one of two things will happen. Either I’ll be able to dash off half a dozen whiny, mopey posts, or my inspiration will dry up, leaving me nothing to whine and mope about. Either way, I figure it’s a win. ;)]

Fortunately, last week I started reading a story with a blind protagonist in one of my critique groups. As we corresponded, the author asked me how I organize my kitchen and identify ingredients.

Bingo! A blog post was born.

One of the first things I learned after I lost my eyesight is that there’s no one true way to be blind. There are websites and entire courses you can take on marking and organizing everything in your house from items in your pantry to make-up and toiletries. I’m sure there are tips and techniques out there I’ve never heard of or even thought of

A Variety of Techniques

Some things don’t really need to be marked. I can tell an apple from a potato from an onion just by shape and texture. Carrots are dead easy! Even cucumbers and zucchini have differences.

Weight and auditory cues can help, too. A box of baking mix is heavier than a box of crackers and sounds very different when you shake it.

Almost anything that can be felt can be used as a tactile marker. We use rubber bands and tabs of folded masking tape to distinguish decaf coffee crystals and creamy peanut butter from the regular and crunchy kinds.

Boiled eggs go in a cardboard carton we’ve saved just for that. When we buy crackers, my husband cuts a notch in the box top or clips off a corner of the flap so I know which are the ones I like.

Location helps, too. A box in the pantry is probably cereal, but a box in the cupboard over the counter is most likely baking mix.

Some people divide canned goods into different shoeboxes–one for vegetables, one for fruits, and one for soups. You can even use tactile markers for items in each box–one rubber band in the vegetables box means corn, but one band in the fruit box is fruit cocktail. This system breaks down a little if you have a large variety, like half a dozen different soups!

Braille is a much more efficient marking system, if you know it. So far, I only know uncontracted braille, the twenty-six letters and a few punctuation symbols, but that’s easily enough for some basic kitchen organization.

I’ve seen commercial labels, strips of plastic with a word such as “beans,” held on by elastic cords. There’s also adhesive braille tape, which can be marked with a hand-held labeler or a slate.

In Techniques of Daily Living, our teacher showed us some plastic tags she’d made from cut pieces of a plastic margarine tub, and can sleeves made from cutting the tops and bottoms off plastic water bottles and brailling the resultant roll of plastic.

Even index cards could be brailled and held on dry items such as cans or boxes with rubber bands.

Finally, there are electronic methods of labeling and reading labels.

I have a device called a Pen Friend, which ooks like a giant pen and can be used to record and read labels with an electronic chip inside. A nice characteristic of the Pen Friend is that you can record a new value over a label you’ve already used, so that “dill pickles” can become “grape jelly” if you happen to have a jar of that instead.

To me, the downside of the Pen Friend is that it’s a bit cumbersome and tends to shut itself off fairly quickly if you don’t use it for a time, and that it relies on batteries.

There are also apps for smart devices, such as bar code readers. I haven’t tried them, because my smartphone regularly outsmarts me, but I can see how useful they’d be with an extensive enough database!

What I Use

I’ll be honest and admit that I haven’t done a lot of labeling in my kitchen yet. So far, I’ve relied most often on tactile clues or asking family members to identify items.

This is in part because I haven’t settled on a method, in part because I haven’t gotten around to labeling, and in part because I live with three sighted family members who can locate or identify items. If I lived alone, I’d have to do it all myself–but I wouldn’t have nearly as much to organize, and there’d be no one but me to move things around.

As I mentioned above, I do use some rubber bands and masking tape tags to distinguish commonly-used items.

I had been keeping a freezer inventory, which didn’t help me identify items, but did help me remember what we had to work with. Unfortunately, I let it get behind and now I need to update it again.

I think my most urgent need is to mark and reorganize my spice cabinet. When I was sighted, I had spices arranged alphabetically on one of two tiers, depending on height, plus a few items that wouldn’t fit and had their own particular places. Alas, not everyone is as meticulous as I am, and a few items no longer come in their previous sizes, so the cabinets are in extreme need of a revamp.

It’s probably another afternoon’s work to pull out the dry goods such as flour, sugar, cornmeal and so on, return them to their proper places and mark anything in need of it.

Finally, I need to take everything out of the pantry, sort, organize and label, and put it all back in. Darn it, I used to have a system!

The REal Problem Areas

There are a few things I haven’t yet worked out a system for.

I had a freezer inventory, but I need to go beyond that and actually mark items so I can locate them. Problem is, I’m not 100% sure of the best way to do this. I’m thinking of hanging plastic tags, either on string or rubber bands. But what do I record on them?

Commonly used vegetables would be a good start, along with “chicken,” “beef” and “pork”. Maybe I could even add a second tag so that I knew whether I had hamburger or steak, ribs or Boston butt.

For now, maybe seperating meats and veggies will be enough.

My most intractable problem are leftovers in the refrigerator, because there are so many different kinds and they change so rapidly. Also, they go into containers, which all “look” the same to my fingers. I definitely need a labeling system here!

If not for the moisture inside the fridge, I could use Pen Friend labels–on cards, of course, so I could reuse them!

I could braille plastic tags with a series of letters or numbers, then write down what was in the container I put each tag on. Given the state of my freezer inventory, care to guess how long that would last? 😉

If I do come up with a system for the freezer and for leftovers, I’ll be sure to let you all know! And if you come up with something, by all means, share it in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Staying Organized–the Kitchen

  1. The tactile shortcuts are pretty brilliant. I guess need makes innovation. I can’t imagine this kind of frustration, though I’m sure having your family around does help. Then again, I’m still not sure how you manage this blog. So I think you’re doing pretty well!

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    1. It’s especially frustrating when things go bad that I would ahve used, if I’d only known they were there! I’m working harder at staying on top of that, but some days it seems like blindness means I have to work just a little harder at just about everything! That’s frustrating.

      The blog has gotten easier to manage as I’ve gotten used to navigating WordPress. The hardest part right now is writing enough posts–still haven’t quite mastered that! And pictures. I need to make some time and figure out how to post pictures! At least a profile pic…

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