How to Organize Every Space in Your Kitchen
Words Audrey Brashich
Wondering where to store this and stash that? We’ve got you covered with these clever hacks for keeping order in the kitchen.
An organized kitchen allows you to store things more easily, cook more efficiently and can even save you the money and hassle of trying to find ingredients and appliances buried beneath the mess.
Before you launch into kitchen reorganizing, keep in mind these two fundamental tips: High-rotation essentials (like your favorite grill pan and the seasonings you love the most) need to be easily accessible; meanwhile, storage of less-used items must be orderly or you’ll lose track of what you have.
If you’re wondering exactly how to put these principles to work, these suggestions will help you organize your kitchen so that it’s ultra-functional and seriously stylish.
Cabinets are great for both items you use daily as well as those that aren’t needed as often. But in order to determine where to store everything, it’s important to curate your inventory and prep the space.
Step 1: Take everything out. That’s right. Everything. This is the moment to weed out items and ingredients that you don’t use. Sure, they might have sounded enticing when you purchased them. But if you haven’t used a cooking- or baking-related ingredient in six months, toss it to make space for things you really need. While everything is on the countertop, clean your cabinets thoroughly. Scrub deeply, because crumbs and residue accumulate in cabinet corners and on the surfaces of shelves and can attract pests.
Step 2: Size up your storage needs. Take stock of what you have and what needs to be transferred to a better container. Now is the time to move dry foods like pasta, beans and rice, and baking staples like flour into air-tight, transparent, stackable containers. Small condiments like coconut flakes or dried chili peppers can go into tightly-sealed mini containers to keep them fresh and make them easy to identify. (Put removable labels on your containers to avoid grabbing the ground cumin instead of coriander while seasoning your meal.) And attach an expiration tracker to your POP containers to keep track of expiration dates of your staples.
Good to note: Spices don’t stay fresh forever. That’s why preserving them—and keeping them easily accessible—is so important. Store your dried herbs and spices in air tight mini containers that you can stack in a cabinet or place on a turntable for easy access. If you’ve got a shallow drawer, you can also place them there.
Step 3: Group similar items together. When placing containers back into the cabinets, put the items you use least often on the highest shelf. Group comparable foods together to make them easier to locate. Pasta, rice and other grains get to be shelf buddies, as do cereals and oats.
Step 4: Use your space wisely. Cabinets with tall shelves can easily accommodate large rectangular and square containers. Corner cabinets are perfect for a turntable, which can display spices or other small ingredients, and round canisters that are an awkward fit in traditional cabinet spaces.
Start with drawers that aren’t super deep. These are best for flat items. Think cutlery, plus specialty gadgets like reusable straws, egg slicers and pie servers. Shallow drawers can also accommodate small tools such as measuring spoons and cups.
Too many utensils jostling around in a drawer can cause it to get jammed and damage your kitchen tools. Keep things tidy by using a tray organizer wherever you can. Another strategy: Relocate bulkier items to an upright container, and try hanging lighter items (like potholders) that could impede the drawer’s movement.
Deeper drawers are ideal for storing pots and pans (more on that below), as well as bakeware, mixing bowls, food storage containers and equipment such as vegetable steamers, strainers and colanders—even appliances like pressure cookers and their accessories. And consider dedicating one drawer to snacks like potato chips and crackers, holding open bags closed with a clip or cinch.
Keeping Kitchen Counters Tidy
When it comes to countertops, the key is deciding how many items to leave out in the open versus storing them away. Placing too much on your counters will rob you of valuable prep space and create a cluttered vibe. On the other hand, nothing is more annoying than having to dig out items you use daily. Consider keeping these frequently used favorites on your counter:
- A coffee maker and sugar dispenser.
- Cooking utensils and knives so that you’re not rooting around for them in a drawer while cooking.
- A paper towel holder and compost bin, which make it easier to keep the kitchen clean as you cook.
- A spoon rest or a place to put down utensils and pot tops to keep your food prep area clean while cooking.
- A napkin holder so anyone who needs a napkin can grab one.
- A set of matching cannisters or classic old-fashioned candy jars to store any items that you might need easy access to.
Organizing Your Kitchen Pantry
A little organization can go a long way in any pantry space. Cookbook author Julia Turshen suggests giving some thought to what you really need, what should be removed from its original packaging and which items should be grouped together. Just like your cabinets, your pantry works best when less-used items are placed on high shelves or toward the back of deeper shelves. Items you use regularly should be at eye level.
Above all, well-sealed, air-tight containers are crucial in the pantry to keep staples fresher longer and keep out pests. Don’t forget to label food removed from its original packaging, otherwise there will come a day when you mistake the salt for sugar.
Even without a pantry, it’s still possible to have a dedicated and organized zone for your staples. Do this by using a freestanding shelving unit or a moveable cart, both of which can make setting up your mise en place easier because everything is within reach.
Cleaning Out Your Refrigerator and Freezer
There’s an art to organizing your refrigerator and freezer. To preserve freshness and reduce waste, store herbs, fruits and vegetables in special containers that control for humidity and airflow: They’ll last longer. Meanwhile, empty your refrigerator and toss any expired condiments. (Pro tip: If you have small portions of condiments that are still fresh, transfer them to OXO’s Baby Blocks, which are freezer-safe and keep air out).
For leftovers made with pungent sauces, glass containers are ideal because they don’t retain odors and plastic. They can also go into the oven and microwave, which eliminates the hassle of transferring food. Stack containers of the same shape on top of each other in your refrigerator, keeping in mind that often two smaller containers can fit on top of one larger container.
Keeping the Kitchen Sink Tidy
Part of staying organized is keeping things clean, and that means tackling your kitchen sink. There are several sink organization hacks that can help you with this mission, but first, you’ll need to give the actual basin a good scrubbing.
Your kitchen sink is one of the dirtiest zones in the house, but the good news is you probably already have everything you need to clean it naturally, like baking soda and the juice from a lemon. Start by gently scrubbing the surface with a brush and getting into any crevices with a smaller tool. Once you rinse everything off, consider placing a silicone mat in the basin to prevent scratches on the sink surface and minimize the risk of chipping plates and glasses. Using a drain strainer edged with silicone can also help.
To keep the sink organized, you only need a few fundamentals, like a brush with a handle or one you can hold in the palm of your hand. Next to the sink, your basics should include a caddy for specialty brushes, a sponge holder and a dispenser for dish soap. If you prefer to stash your sponge in the sink or have limited space, a sponge holder that attaches to the side of the sink wall will ensure that it dries out.
Organize Under the Kitchen Sink
Place extra sponges, a dustpan and other cleaning supplies under your sink alongside any dishwasher cubes and garbage bags. Household necessities like a bucket and brushes for cleaning grout or countertops are also helpful to keep on hand here.
How to Organize Pots and Pans
Some folks like to hang their pots and pans from a rack above the island or the stove top. Another option is to place them on open shelving or in a large drawer. Whatever you choose, do a thorough cleaning to remove any burned bits of food so that they don’t scratch each other when nesting. This is also a great time to clean your oven to get rid of splatters and drips that can generate smoke and contaminate the flavor of what you’re cooking.
Small Kitchen Organization
A small kitchen can still be well organized. In fact, it has to be in order to keep things functioning smoothly. Follow these steps to ensure your smaller kitchen space is optimized so you can use it easily and find everything you need, when you need it.
- Consolidate into containers. A jigsaw puzzle of packages wastes precious cabinet space. Instead, transfer food into containers that stack on top of one another and fit into corners. Maximize drawer space with utensil trays, adjustable bins and drawer separators.
- Hang things on a wall. No utility closet? No problem! Store cleaning items by hanging them on the wall. Attach oven mitts and pot holders with hooks or magnetic clips to keep them out of the way when not in use.
- Clear the counter. Remove as much clutter as you can from your prep surface to create an airy, spacious vibe. Do this by installing your paper towel holder under your cabinet and eliminating accessories near your sink by storing sponges and brushes on a sink caddy that attaches to the sink wall.
- Organize kitchen extras. Every kitchen has them: Rubber bands, push pins, grocery store loyalty cards. Items that tend to run wild in drawers or desk areas desperately need a home base. Separate them into clear containers and stack them in an area away from edible ingredients and cookware.