Mise en place beyond the kitchen

Thomas Keller is one of the most respected chefs around; his restaurants Per Se and The French Laundry have won numerous awards. So when Keller gives advice, as he did in his book Ad Hoc at Home, it’s worth listening. Greg Baugues points to the following excerpt:

Being organized — as we say in our kitchen, ‘working clean’ — is a skill to develop. We call it mise-en-place, French for, literally, ‘put in place.’ The term can be very specific, referring to ingredients needed to complete a recipe, measured out and ready to use, or it can be more general: are you organized, do you have everything you need to accomplish the task at hand?

Good organization is all about setting yourself up to succeed. It means getting rid of anything that would interfere with the process of making a recipe or preparing an entire meal.

On Unclutterer, we’ve written about mise en place before, but this quote got me thinking (as it did for Bauges) about how we can extend the concept beyond the kitchen.

For example, my mise en place for going anywhere in the car involves having the following items with me:

  • My wallet with my credit cards, ATM card, driver’s license, medical and auto insurance cards, auto club card and a set amount of cash
  • My keys
  • My smartphone, charged up, with interesting podcasts loaded and with driving instructions (if needed) ready to go
  • A full water bottle and some energy bars
  • If shopping is involved: some reusable tote bags and any coupons I plan to use
  • At least a half tank of gas (because if there’s an earthquake, getting gas might be difficult)

All of these items have their specific places, too, so that they’re readily available when I need them.

Having once had a minor accident in a parking lot, and discovering to my horror that the insurance card in my wallet was out of date, I know how important it is to make sure I do indeed have everything in order. And I know how discombobulated I feel if I forget my water bottle, even for a short trip.

But the “getting rid of things” part applies, too. It’s easier to listen to new podcasts if I’ve deleted the ones I’ve already listened to. And my car will be better prepared for future trips if I’ve made sure to remove everything that doesn’t need to be there: purchases from prior trips, the wrapper from an energy bar eaten on the last long drive, etc. If I’m making an emergency run to the doctor with a neighbor, as I did recently, I need to ensure the passenger seat and floor space are clean, not loaded with stuff that shouldn’t be in the car.

Another example: Any home improvement or repair project (assembling furniture, fixing a leak, and so on) will go much easier with an appropriate mise en place. Having all the necessary tools right at hand and having a clean workspace for using them will avoid all sorts of problems.

Do you use a mise en place equivalent for tasks beyond cooking? If so, please share in the comments.

9 Comments for “Mise en place beyond the kitchen”

  1. posted by JC on

    The only area in my home that is truly organized is my sewing/craft area. All patterns are sorted and in drawers. The reference books are shelved by topic. Thread is sorted by type/color, and fabric is sorted by intended garment and then by type- each piece is labeled as to yardage, fiber, weave and care instructions. Coordinated fabrics are together. Within easy reach of my machine are the tools I use most, scissors, needles, bodkins, etc.
    I gather everything needed for a project before starting.
    I think I am able to do this because there is plenty of appropriate storage that works in the space.

  2. posted by Andrea on

    The bathroom is an important place for me to have mise en place. I want to sleep in as much as possible so everything in it’s place makes it possible to get ready quickly.

  3. posted by Brian on

    My jacket has mise en place; wallet and phone in left pocket, keys in right pocket, pen in inside pocket.

  4. posted by Brian on

    Wallet too, everything has an assigned space.

  5. posted by Bette on

    Great ideas. I recently moved to a new apt and ordered furniture that came in boxes, to be put together by … me! It was a little daunting, but what helped was to lay out every tiny bit of hardware — screws, bolts, knobs, special tools — in an orderly manner so I didn’t have to stop mid-construction to figure out what “screw #8” looked liked or whether what I thought was screw #8 was actually “bolt #6.” LOL.

  6. posted by in2themystery on

    My cleaning supplies fit into a cheap plastic caddy; I stuff rags between the spray bottles.
    If I have to replace a hard drive or memory stick, I have every tool I need adjacent the laptop, plus one: a roll of cheap transparent tape. When I remove a screw, I tape it next to its hole. This has saved me infinite amounts of frustration.
    For more complex tasks, I keep one el-cheapo tablet, loaded with a manual and with the appropriate instructional video, all available in off-line mode.
    Mise en place shines in canning season. If you have a range full of kettles, huge quantities of produce, and a food processor operating in fast sequences, with everything to be done in one hectic day, you want everything where you can find it immediately.

  7. posted by gail stroinski on

    My gym bag is always packed to go with a water bottle in the pocket, extra hair ties, deoderant, skin cream, shoes and sox, membership card – and they all have their spot in the bag….that way no excuses for not getting out the door on time and thus not working out

  8. posted by Amy on

    I have a rent-paying folder. It’s the only bill I still have to pay the old school way, which made it somehow harder. Now, I keep the checkbook, envelopes, stamps, and current lease all together in a bright yellow folder in a spot accessible to both me and my husband.

  9. posted by Peter on

    Mise en PLace certainly applies to any shop work. I do a lot of woodwork and the first thing I do in each step of refinishing old pieces or new things is design the piece. Laying it out is like understanding the recipe – what is the writer/cook trying to accomplish, taste, presentation, etc. After the layout, I consider the way to actually do the step. That forces me to organize the type of clamping, hardware, wood size and type, cuts, and cost. This applies to my office space too.

    I have places for the computer, writing/layout space, filing area, things to be filed, bills to be paid, close area for the printer, entertainment devices. You get the idea. There’s an economy of motion that goes along with the old saying – a place for everything and everything in its… Its similar to the magic triangle of the kitchen – sink, stove, fridge or is it counter space? Maybe its a quadrangle. There are certain tasks that are repetitive (hence the entertainment devices), so keep the materials close at hand. I’m organized by computer, working area, printer, office misc like pens, paperclips, labels, notepads, etc. My working files are close by but not in the way.

    Wahtever your organization is, it helps to get things done easily. It also helps get items that are not needed or just in the way (am I really truly going to read that professional journal?).

    Just thinking out loud.

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