How To Survive A Kitchen Remodel

Congratulations! You have, finally, made the big decision to remodel your kitchen. Did you know that it takes people, on the average, two years to make that decision? Even though most people would like to remodel their kitchen first (as soon as they buy their home) they put it off because it is such a huge undertaking and they are intimidated by the size/scope/cost of the project. That's understandable. Most people will only remodel a kitchen once in their lifetime - if they're lucky. So very few people have the experience of a kitchen remodel under their belt and oftentimes don't even know where to start.

Friends, family and neighbors who have completed this undertaking is a good place to start. Talk to them and ask them what they did right and what they might do differently if they could. Ask for referrals on kitchen designers and contractors. Do they like the materials that they selected? Did it turn out the way that they expected? How long did it take? What did they do that helped them to make it through the construction phase of the job? Was the project completed on schedule?

If you don't know anyone who has recently remodeled their kitchen, here are a few tips to help you to survive the ordeal:

  • RUNNING WATER: The first thing to be removed is the kitchen sink and faucet, and then the appliances. If you think this sounds like camping, you're right. And on top of that, the kitchen sink and faucet are the last thing to be re-installed. That means that you need to find another local source of water for cooking and washing dishes for the duration of the project. The first choice would be to set up your temporary kitchen in the laundry room and use the laundry sink. If you don't have a laundry sink, then you'll have to work out of a downstairs bathroom or powder room and use a substantially smaller sink. Think about trying to wash a frying pan in a lavatory sink. That's how chips happen and you will be frustrated. Many people resort to doing dishes in the bath tub for that reason. Doesn't that sound like fun? If you live in a two-story house and don't have downstairs plumbing, you have my sympathy. It's tough to be without running water. And you will really appreciate your kitchen when it is finished!
  • BUY YOURSELF a kitchen sink-size rectangular plastic dishpan. You can collect dirty dishes in this and carry them back and forth from wherever you are eating to wherever you temporary kitchen is located. A flat surface with your dish pan and a dish drainer will suffice, unless you need a second dish pan for rinsing dishes. This might be necessary if you don't have a large enough sink to work out of. You might also want to pick up one of those scrub brushes used to clean dishes that you can fill with dish soap. Even if you don't normally use a dish drainer, if your space is limited, you might want to invest in a small one to use on a temporary basis.
  • PAPER GOODS: Even though I consider myself a die-hard environmentalist and shun paper products, this is one situation where they really are a necessity. Buy a variety of sizes of plates and even some bowls and you may want to consider plastic silverware. You can't buy disposable pots and pans, so you will be washing those on a regular basis. If you really don't want to go the paper route and have a good temporary set-up, then put aside some plastic bowls, picnic or beach or camping dishes in a box with the paper towels, napkins and plastic utensils. You will be packing up your china, silver, everyday dishes and probably your wine glasses and stemware (except maybe one or two).
  • SPEAKING OF PACKING, start early and collect more boxes than you think you will need. If you know anyone who has recently moved or works for a company where they might be able to collect boxes for you, great! You will also need bubble wrap or newspaper or dish towels or something to wrap the breakables in. I would suggest that you start a month before your demolition/start date and spend one day per weekend packing. That way you won't be stressed when the job begins and you won't run out of time or boxes (something most people tell me happens).
  • SET ASIDE 3 GOOD BOXES: One you will use for paper or plastic dishes, cups bowls and silverware. Anything else you think you will use on a daily basis for serving will go in this box. I would include a few cooking utensils, dish towels and cloths, a hot pad or two, whatever you use for storing leftovers in the refrigerator and maybe a plastic mixing bowl a cutting board and a few good knives. Box number two is for the food that you will be using while you're "camping". Things like breakfast cereals, energy bars, peanut butter, popcorn, salad dressings, snacks, extra condiments, prepared foods like instant rice, hamburger helper, etc. Breakfast won't be that difficult to manage. You may not even have to worry about lunches, but if you do, sandwiches and soups are relatively easy to prepare. It's the big meal of the day that will be a challenge. Box number three is for the items you haven't used in the past 20 years, the ones you forgot you even had and the duplicates that you bought because you couldn't find the original. You might also want to include the wedding gifts that have never been opened or used, anything broken or that doesn't work and gifts that you just will never use. This box(es) will be going to Good Will or Salvation Army or the Thrift Store of your choice. Don't even take it to your garage. It is going straight into your car to be recycled. This is a prime opportunity to clear out the clutter - don't waste it! If you don't do it now, it may not get done. You will be so excited when your new kitchen is done that you won't take the time to de-clutter when it comes time to move back in. So, do it now!
  • CABINETS: Weekend #1) Start with the holiday dishes and the things you rarely use. The crystal and china won't be necessary while you are without your kitchen. You will appreciate it when you are unpacking in your new kitchen that all the holiday dishes are packed together. If you don't want to have to wash the newsprint off in the dishwasher, use your cloth napkins and dish towels to protect the breakables. Weekend #2) On the second weekend of packing, dig out the baking supplies. You can't bake without an oven. And unless you have a spare gas line or 220 outlet in your garage that you aren't using for a dryer, you probably won't have the use of your range either. If you have a wall oven, forget it. Cooktops will also not be available during your remodel. Weekend #3) Leave the everyday dishes and glassware until the next to the last weekend to pack. That will give you a week to practice without real dishes to see what you might be missing. Weekend #4) The week before you lose your kitchen you will be packing up the food items in the pantry as well as small appliances not included in the list below and anything that is left. Don't forget that you have a box of donations while you are cleaning out the cupboards. Make sure it's convenient so that it is used.
  • SMALL APPLIANCES: When you are digging through that corner cabinet that you haven't been into for 5 years, think about setting aside those small appliances that you want to be able to use while the big ones are out of commission. That would include items like an electric skillet, crock pot, George Foreman grill, rice cooker, coffee pot, toaster and toaster oven. You would be surprised what you can cook in a toaster oven. If there are only two or three of you, you can do just about anything you would do in a full-size oven. No turkey roasting, of course, but you can broil hamburgers, chicken, fish, or do baked potatoes or roasted veggies. And don't forget the microwave. You can plug that in and use it just about anywhere. The frozen dinners that many people take to work for lunch will work for dinner as well, as long as you have either a microwave or toaster oven.
  • PANTRY: If you are going to be storing the food in the garage, I suggest you get a few plastic bins to keep from attracting critters. The flour, sugar and anything that requires baking can be packed up for the duration. It's probably a good idea to keep out the salt and pepper and any favorite spice you think you might need. You will know what you will be using. It goes in box number two. Everything else goes into the plastic bins and will be stored until you move into your new kitchen. And don't forget to label the bins in case you goofed and need to find something. This will also make it much easier when it comes time to move into your new kitchen. If you are doing this by the book, you should have time to also check the dates on some of the products in your pantry as you pack up. If you have exceeded the "Use by" date, this is a good opportunity to get rid of it. Pay special attention to spices. Those little bottles are easy to lose in the pantry and you may have multiples. Either marry them into one bottle, or get rid of any that have expired dates.
  • RERIGERATOR/FREEZER: I would suggest that you start using up some of those items in the freezer that have been in there awhile. You are going to want to free up some space for some frozen dinners and things that can be cooked in your toaster oven or microwave oven. Another option is to tell your neighbors, friends and family ahead of time that you are going to be without your kitchen for a few weeks. If they will invite you over for dinner while you are "camping", then you can reciprocate when your new kitchen is complete. You will be looking forward to using your new kitchen and they will be looking forward to seeing your new kitchen. The more dinners you have with others, the less you have to eat out. Not only does it save money, it gives you a chance to spend some quality time with friends and takes the stress off by not having to camp - I mean cook.
  • YOUR TEMPORARY KITCHEN: We talked earlier about locating a space that can serve as a temporary kitchen for the duration of your remodel. Ideally this space will have a sink and running water, a countertop for small appliances, and room for the contractor to move your existing refrigerator into. If you don't have a countertop in your laundry room or bathroom or garage, then use a banquet table, card table or your kitchen table. EVERYTHING is going to be moved out of your kitchen, so the table has to go somewhere. Your three boxes can go under the table/counter and the microwave, toaster oven, etc. can go on the counter where you will have (hopefully) a small space for preparing easy meals. The seldom-used dining room is an ideal place to set up shop. You can cover the dining table with blankets or towels and there you have a prep counter. Or you can use your kitchen table for prep and actually eat at your dining room table. What a concept! A word of advice: don't be tempted to plug ALL your small appliances into a plug strip into one outlet in the dining room. There may not be enough power for them all to be plugged in at once in that room.
  • It's amazing how creative people can be when they take the time to get organized and think ahead of time how they can survive a kitchen remodel without stress. If you take the time in advance to prepare for this ordeal, it will reduce the stress considerably. I've had numerous people tell me that it wasn't as bad as they thought it was going to be. And after 25 years in the business, we didn't have any divorces. In fact ALL of our business was referrals from previous clients. So, it doesn't have to be all that bad.

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