Have you ever had something cooking, say, some pan-fried chicken—it’s time to flip it over, or it’s going to burn, so you rush to grab the tongs, open the drawer, and… Where is it? There’s knives, ladles, skewers, everything but the tongs. Meanwhile, your skillet has begun to smoke, and if you don’t do something soon, you’ll be hearing from your smoke detector.
In other words, have you ever had a problem finding things in your kitchen when you need them? Well, I have. My kitchen used to be a disaster. If you’re in the same boat, it’s time to show you how to organize your kitchen. So, let’s get started!
Step 1: Start By Decluttering Your Kitchen
The problem is, where to start? Before you can even begin to organize your kitchen, you’re going to have to deal with the clutter. Here are some tips to help you.
Only Buy What You Need
It may sound obvious, but it’s true. If you don’t need something, then don’t buy it. I can’t tell you how many bread/pasta makers I’ve seen collecting dust in people’s kitchens. Please think twice.
The same goes for food. Although buying in bulk can be a great way to save money, it can also add a lot of clutter to your kitchen. And if you’re not careful, this can be a real problem, especially if your kitchen is small. For example, buying ten pounds of coffee might make sense if you drink a lot of coffee, but fifty pounds of rice takes up a lot of space. Do you really need a five year supply of rice?
Get Rid of Things You Don’t Use
Similar to only buying what you need, you should only keep the things that you use. The general rule is, if you haven’t used something in a year, then it’s time to get rid of it. Do you plan on using those hard-boiled egg cups? I didn’t think so. Get rid of them!
Of course, it’s okay to keep things you only use occasionally, as long as you use them. You might only make cheesecake once a year, but when you do, you’ll be happy you kept that springform pan around.
When you do decide you no longer need something, it’s always nice to let friends and family know what you’re giving away so that they can claim them if they want. If that doesn’t work, you can always run a box by Goodwill or another thrift store. However, don’t give them your trash. If something is beyond repair, it’s okay to throw it away.
Step 2: Organize Your Kitchen Into Zones
With the clutter out of the way, it’s time to get organized. Start thinking about where things should go and how you’d like them arranged. Ideally, your kitchen will have a ‘work triangle’ to make it easy for you to move about the kitchen while cooking. The three areas being the oven, the sink, and the fridge.
Even if your kitchen does not have this setup, it’s essential to organize it into zones based on how you use each area. Although you’re free to decide the zones that work best for you, I use five.
Consumables and Non-Consumables
Save the cabinets furthest away from the cooking area for consumables and non-consumables, in separate sections. In the consumables section, I put nonperishable ingredients such as:
The non-consumable space is for:
Cleaning and Preparation
The next two zones are cleaning and preparation. The cleaning zone is the sink, the dishwasher, a couple of cabinets for supplies, and some counter space. This is where you store:
- Dish Towels
- Pot scrubbers
On the other hand, the prep zone is for cutting boards and other tools I use to prepare food before I turn on the heat and begin cooking. It is also where I keep:
- Paper towels, aluminum foil and wax paper
- Storage containers and Ziploc bags
- Processing tools such as peelers, graters, food processor, scissors
- Measuring cups and spoons
Lastly, we have the cooking zone. It consists of the oven, stove, and storage cabinets for cooking supplies. It’s where I store:
- Pots and pans
- Utensils like spatulas and spoons.
Of course, if you have a large kitchen or there’s something, in particular, you like to do in the kitchen, you can add more zones as you see fit. If you cook with someone else, for example, then you might want two different prep zones. You can also have specialty areas, like a baking zone or even a sushi zone, if that’s something you do frequently.
Step 3: Organize Your Cabinets
Now that you have your zones in place, you have a general idea of where things go. Next, it’s time to get those cabinets organized. When doing so, always be thinking about how much and how often you use each item, making sure that those you use frequently are within easy reach.
For top cabinets, you’ll want to store things like serving platters and bowls. It is also a good place for non-essential appliances that you only use occasionally. As far as consumables are concerned, it’s best to put things like flour, sugar, oil, and cocoa in a top cabinet for storage while still accessible.
The bottom cabinets, on the other hand, are where your heavy items should be stored. Put baking pans, casserole dishes, and heavy skillets in a bottom cabinet. You can also use this space for your heavier or bulkier appliances, such as your pressure cooker.
If you’re having trouble trying to find a place for something, don’t be afraid to invest in a solution. There are trays, bins, and other such things available for everything you can think of. For instance, you may want to consider getting a lid organizer that you can put in a bottom cabinet. Here’s a few products and ideas that can help:
- Nest bowls, pots and pans to save space
- Use baskets and see-through bins to organize similar items
- Use tension rods or wire racks to store items such as cutting boards or lids vertically
- Spice racks
- Stacking shelves for use space more efficiently
- Lazy Susans
Step 4: Organize Your Drawers
For drawers, I’m a big fan of organizers, with slots and cubbies for everything. After all, a drawer organizer isn’t just for utensils. You can also use them for your other kitchen tools.
Start with the items you use frequently and choose a drawer that will give you easy access while you’re cooking. You can then use a drawer organizer to separate important items. Think about placing spatulas in one slot, spoons in another, and peelers beside that. You can also use the cubby areas for things like cheese graters, wine openers, and such, although you may choose to place these types of items in less-conspicuous drawers.
The spatula and spoon drawer is best if it’s in the cooking area. It’s also crucial to find places for things like oven mitts and anything else you might need to get quickly in the middle of cooking.
Step 5: Organize Your Countertops
Next up is your countertops. While it’s okay to keep some things on them, you want to make sure they don’t look cluttered and provide plenty of space for meal prep. One of the most frustrating things to come up against while cooking is not having the counter space you need.
Reserve your countertops for appliances you use all of the time. Things like a toaster oven and a coffee maker are all essential items that get daily use. Even so, don’t go overboard. We’re trying to declutter the kitchen, and you may have to make some decisions about what to put on your counter and what to put away in a drawer.
Think about it: if you’re one of those who make smoothies all of the time, then having a blender on the counter might be a good idea. If you’re not, then it’s probably best to put the blender away in a bottom cabinet until you plan to use it.
Other countertop items can include salt, pepper, and cooking oils. For items such as these, it’s best to get a rack to put them in or something that holds them and gives them a perfect place.
Stacking shelves are another great way to keep your countertops organized. They provide mini shelves where you can place a few commonly used coffee mugs, awkward items like sauce boats, and mason jars with spices or cereal. In this way, you can make your kitchen items part of the decor of your kitchen. If you have space, you can even get a rack or hooks installed to hang some pots and pans.
If your drawer space is limited, glass jars are great to store cooking utensils like whisks, spatulas and the like.
Step 6: Organize Your Pantry
Personally, the pantry was one of my biggest problems. Things were stacked about at random so that I didn’t even know what I had. I found myself buying something that I didn’t have to because it was up high on some shelf and buried behind other boxes and cans.
An organized pantry is essential. The fundamental rule here is to keep everything within reach and visible. Anything that’s hard to get to or placed up too high is likely to be ignored long past its expiration date.
When placing items on shelves, make sure the labels are all facing forward. That way, you’ll be able to identify everything with a glance. It also helps to calm the OCD in all of us. Put whatever you use the most on the center shelves at eye level. From there, reserve the bottom shelves for more substantial items and the top shelves for things you don’t need very often.
You may also have to be careful what you put on the lower and bottom shelves, at least if you’re like me and have small children and dogs. Anything within reach of the kids can be spilled and misplaced, and food on the bottom shelves might be tempting for a dog to rip open.
Step 7: Organize Your Refrigerator and Freezer
At last, we come to the refrigerator. Not only is it hard to organize but equally challenging to keep from becoming a cluttered mess. How many times have you had to throw something away simply because you forgot it was there or shoved into the back of the fridge? If you don’t have a gameplan, it won’t take long for your refrigerator to become a disaster zone.
Your refrigerator is so tricky to keep organized because its contents are constantly changing and shifting. For this reason, it’s best to embrace the change. In other words, keep things simple.
Most refrigerators have plenty of drawers that you can assign to various roles. I keep the meat in one drawer and cheeses in another. I’m also careful to keep everything separated to avoid contamination. Eggs go on a shelf dedicated just for them, and vegetables and greens go in the produce crisper. And if you run out of space, you can get a separate bin to keep additional veggies.
As far as condiments are concerned, it’s a challenge to keep them from getting cluttered. Of course, you can start by checking their expiration dates and tossing any that are no longer good or nearly empty. You may also want to get rid of any that you aren’t ever going to use. It’s okay. Beyond that, use storage bins to keep them from shifting around every time the refrigerator door opens. Check out this helpful chart.
You can organize your freezer in much the same way. The trick here is to label anything you freeze with a date before you put it in cold storage. It helps to have a date to keep track of leftovers and use older meats before more recently purchased ones. Although your freezer may not have as many drawers and visible spots for things, you can always use bins and storage containers to keep things separated and organized.
If your kitchen is a disaster like mine used to be, it’s time to get organized. But don’t worry—it’s not as hard as you think. Once you remove the clutter, organizing your kitchen is a matter of assigning separate zones based on how each part is used and then going through everything from your countertops to the refrigerator. Once you have everything in place, cooking will be a pleasure.