Updated 11/9/16 from an article originally published 2/19/2012.
“Everything in its place and a place for everything” isn’t just a saying Grandma cross-stitched on a pillow. It’s also the best way to keep the heart of your home clear of clutter. For most people, though, an organized kitchen is a dream to be achieved someday after retirement when the kids have moved out and life is less hectic. Reversing years of bad organization habits seems like too daunting a task to ever really tackle.
But you can take back your kitchen without spending weeks on boring cleaning projects. It’s time to stop procrastinating, be honest about what you really need and reclaim the space you use to cook meals and enjoy time with family and friends.
1. Think like a minimalist.
Your first step toward kitchen freedom is to give the whole space an objective assessment. Forget about any sentimentality attached to the items you’ve kept all these years, and give serious thought to what you actually use on a regular basis.
Take a cue from minimalists, people who do their best not to acquire more than they need and to get rid of anything lacking a clear purpose. Apply this logic to your kitchen by:
- Setting aside your most-used tools and appliances
- Identifying duplicates
- Determining which single-function items can be replaced or gotten rid of
- Throwing out old, broken, rusty or hopelessly dirty items
This gives you a starting point to work from as you create a plan of attack to organize your kitchen space.
2. Break organization down into manageable tasks.
Looking at the entire kitchen and all its accumulated clutter can make you feel like giving up and raiding the freezer for a pint of your favorite ice cream. Although messes gathered over many years are going to take time to address, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming to the point where you can’t even get started.
If organizing your kitchen seems like an insurmountable challenge, why not break up the task into short spurts of activity? Pick one job or area to focus on per day, and set aside time to complete it. Even if you only clear out one cabinet or clean one section of the refrigerator, it’s more than you had done before and will make a noticeable difference in the way your kitchen looks.
3. Emphasize ease of use.
Every kitchen has a few key items used to prepare and eat meals on a regular basis. Put the items you use most in easy-to-reach places to keep from tossing everything out of the way to get to that one bowl you need. Remember the old rule: “Like goes with like,” a key philosophy when it comes to storage solutions.
Make it as easy as possible to find your favorite items by storing dishes in one place and cups in another, and putting similar preparation tools together. This not only speeds up meal prep and table setting but also streamlines the appearance of your kitchen.
4. De-Clutter drawer space.
As you’re rearranging the items you use most to keep the kitchen organized, you’ll inevitably run across clutter in drawers, including the ubiquitous “junk drawer.” Take the opportunity to clear out the messes you find as part of your overall cleaning strategy.
If you need to pop out to the store to grab some inexpensive drawer organizers, do it. These simple plastic or wooden inserts can turn even the messiest drawer into a neat and tidy space. Get one for silverware and another for everyday items such as tape, twisters, and rubber bands.
Some utensils take up too much space when stored in drawers. Big items such as ladles and potato mashers are better kept on a mounted wall rack or simple suction hangers stuck to the side of a cabinet.
5. Categorize cabinets for better kitchen organization.
Keeping with the “like goes with like” rule, move on from the drawers to the cabinets. Pick logical spots for plates, glasses, and mugs, and place all the similar items together. Organizing in this way will unearth some things you haven’t seen in years. If you find something you have little or no memory of using, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you really need or even want promotional items from companies you rarely do business with?
- Will you ever use “kiddie” dishes and cups again?
- Is there any reason to keep lids with no matching pots?
- Which items can be donated or given away to clear out more cabinet space?
This keeps you in the minimalist mindset and allows you to let go of items you have no reason to keep without the nagging feeling that you might use them at some unforeseeable time in the future.
6. Power up your shelving.
Now that you’ve sorted through most of the overwhelming volume of stuff in the kitchen, you should have a good idea of what items you’re going to keep. It’s time to turn your attention to the shelves and see how best to organize this space in your kitchen.
Open shelving creates a sense of light and space and gives you a place to showcase your everyday dishes when not in use. Mix in decorative, functional items like cookbooks, gourmet olive oils, and flowers for an attractive display. Make sure you give these shelves a good wipe-down at least once a month to address dust, grease or grime issues.
If you don’t have the space for an open shelf unit, make an effort to empty space on the shelves you do have. Use decorative plates, potted plants or small appliances to break up larger groups of items and improve the appearance.
7. Make the most of your storage.
Resist the urge to buy or build additional storage while organizing your kitchen. The point is to downsize, not make more space to hold what you don’t really need. Consider which common kitchen items are cluttering your cabinets and drawers, and come up with better ways to store them.
Spices, for examples, can eat up a ton of shelf space and be difficult to access. Try moving them into a drawer with the labels facing outward or onto a shelf over the stove. Move canned goods to the basement, or dedicate one cabinet to your staple items. Transfer bagged or boxed foods into airtight containers designed to stand next to each other or stack neatly.
Sometimes you do everything you can to maximize storage and still don’t have enough room. In this situation, a storage unit could be the right solution. You can keep appliances, dish sets, and other large items in storage until you need them so that they’re not taking up the space necessary for what you use on a regular basis.
8. Consider the countertops.
Your countertop can make a big difference in the way you feel about your kitchen. Clutter-free counters make preparing food and cooking meals easier, and they reduce the possibility of accidents. They also improve the visual appeal of the space.
These tips can help you organize kitchen counter space:
• Clean up the sink and counter as soon as possible after preparing food.
• Store containers of flour, sugar, and other dry goods in cabinets.
• Consider moving knives out of large wooden blocks and into drawers.
• Put away small appliances, such as the toaster, when not in use.
If you don’t have the option of putting everything out of sight, consider mounting as many things off the counter as you can. By mounting things off the counter, the area still appears less cluttered and gives you more space to work when cooking.
9. Sort out your edibles.
Food is essential, but storing it improperly or holding on to aging items can create a mess and make it harder to find what you want. Approach the fridge and pantry with the same mindset you used when cleaning out cabinets and drawers. Make it your goal to create an uncluttered food storage space containing only items you’ll use.
Check labels and expiration dates on all foods, and throw away anything outdated, fuzzy or smelly. Ditch things you tried once and don’t like or don’t intend to cook with again or give them to someone who can use them. Plan meals to use up small amounts of ingredients lingering in the bottoms of jars, bottles, and bags, and take the opportunity to replace processed foods with healthier alternatives.
And if you’re ready to give your fridge a complete overhaul, check out this complete guide to storing food in the fridge.
10. Have a cleaning routine.
Creating a daily routine for kitchen organization is key. Letting small messes sit only leads to bigger messes and a more overwhelming cleaning job later on.
A few simple changes in habit can make a big difference:
• Clean out the sink before food debris piles up.
• Empty the dishwasher as soon as the cycle finishes.
• Go through your mail immediately rather than tossing it on the kitchen table.
• Consolidate duplicate ingredients into one container.
• Wipe down all surfaces after preparing meals or snacks.
The refrigerator can be a particularly scary place to clean if you haven’t been giving it as much attention as you should. You don’t want the fridge in your home to turn into a mirror image of the shared fridge at the office, full of unidentifiable spills and expired food. Set aside time every two weeks to really clean your refrigerator, including the drawers and shelves. Discard old food, repackage anything leaky and make an effort to organize items as you put them back after cleaning.
11. Make a seasonal storage plan.
You don’t need the cookie jar you only use for one month around Christmas cluttering your in-home storage space all year long. Get it out of the kitchen along with those holiday dish towels and fancy serving platters and into a shed or self-storage unit. Keep an eye out for other holiday-specific items, such as cookie presses or candy molds, and store them somewhere else until you actually need them.
When the holidays roll around, get what you need out of storage and wash it thoroughly. Find a good temporary spot for it in the kitchen, and put it back into storage as soon as you no longer need it. Leaving seasonal items out for too long can start the cycle of clutter all over again.
12. Let it go.
When you like to cook, it’s not unusual for your countertops to become cluttered with novelty appliances and tools you thought you were going to use and never did. Unless you’re suddenly going to start hosting your own cooking show, it’s time to let it all go.
Offload your unused appliances in the quickest and most convenient way possible. Sell new and like-new items on Craigslist, eBay or LetGo. Give the rest away to your foodie friends, or donate your tools to a local business in need of equipment.
13. Keep up the good work.
Your kitchen won’t stay organized all by itself. It’s up to you to give it the care and attention it needs to remain functional and attractive. Remember all the principles you used during your big cleaning job, and put them into practice on a daily basis.
Are you having trouble staying on top of small daily tasks? Make a list and hang it up on the refrigerator or on the door of a prominent cabinet. If mobile devices are more your thing, download a “to-do list” app and create a list just for kitchen organization. Set reminders so that you never forget a task. It may seem tedious at first, but you’ll thank yourself every time you look around the kitchen.
Following these principles makes maintaining an organized kitchen easy and even a bit fun. Once you have your cooking and eating space sorted out, you’ll feel as though a weight has lifted off your shoulders. Instead of wading through endless clutter, you can focus on cooking great food and spending time with the people you love.
Have an additional tip that helps you keep your kitchen organized? Share with us in the comments below. We’d love to feature your tip on social media!