A few months ago, we had the blessing of re-modeling the kitchen unexpectedly. We’re huge Ikea fans, so it felt natural to visit our favorite store for inspiration.
Now, I know what you might be tempted to think. Oh, yeah. Sure. Of course it’s easy to have an organized kitchen when yours is huge and freshly remodeled with oodles of cabinet space!
Mmmm, perhaps. But if there’s one thing Ikea has taught us, it’s that the smaller the space, the more important it is to be intentional about organization.
So here are 8 quick and fast organization tips that you can use on your current kitchen TODAY … no fancy remodel needed. 😉
And are you ready for the humorous part of this story? Just 7 months after finishing our remodel, we are moving. My next kitchen is half the size of my current one. You can bet I’ll be employing these techniques in the weeks to come!
1. Create Functional Work Zones
Right after WWII in the 1940s, there was a big push to create kitchens with the famous “kitchen work triangle.” The idea is that the stove, fridge, and sink all need to be in a triangular shape from each other – and that “no leg of the triangle should be less than 4 feet or more than 9 feet.” There’s all sorts of other fun “rules,” too, and you can check them out on Wikipedia.
So if you find yourself in the position of re-designing a kitchen from scratch, you’ll probably want to visit these triangular-kitchen principles. But I’m not here to help you organize your kitchen someday. I want to help your kitchen TODAY!
Grab a piece of paper and think through all the tasks you do in the kitchen. Make the tasks as broad or as narrow as you want. (You may be surprised that some tasks, like sorting mail, have nothing to do with cooking. Don’t forget them, though!)
As you go through your tasks, see if you can visualize them as different zones in your kitchen.
Here’s my list:
- cleaning zone (sink, dishwasher, dish rack, place for dirty dishes)
- cooking zone (stove, toaster oven)
- food storage zone (fridge, pantry if it’s in your kitchen)
- preparation zone (where I do all my chopping, mixing, measuring)
- blender zone (hey, it’s a top priority in my house!) 🙂
- planning zone (where I do all my organization, calendar inputting, mail sorting, menu planning, and keep my daily launch pad)
Now, analyze your actual kitchen in its current state with these tasks.
- Have you allowed yourself enough space for these tasks?
- Is everything you need for a specific task in the same zone?
- Are your mixing bowls close to where you do your prep work… or are they just stashed in a random cabinet because that’s where you put them five years ago?
- Do you have tools for baking in three different places in your kitchen, forcing you to walk in circles? Or is everything in one spot?
Which leads me to tip #2…
2. Put Supplies for Like-Tasks Near Each Other
Keep your mixing bowls, measuring spoons and cups, whisks, spatulas, etc in the same area of your kitchen – ideally, the same cabinet. If you have the space, keep your spices nearby. (Because odds are you will be using a measuring spoon with your spices anyway.) And try to get all these items near your prep zone.
Make sure your large spoons are within arms-reach of the stove – as well as your oven mitts and pot holders/trivets.
I finally got smart and put my 8×8 and 9×13 pans next to all my baking/prepping supplies instead of on the opposite side of the kitchen. So now everything I need to make my favorite fruit custard is in one handy place. This simple organization has streamlined my time in the kitchen and made things faster.
Now, before you start protesting that it’s impossible to put your mixing bowls near your baking pans because of lack of space, let’s tackle that issue.
3. Label All Your Kitchen Tools with The Date
Grab a dry erase marker and put today’s date on your pots and pans. For things you can’t write on, grab some baggies (bonus points if they are one’s you’ve reused), write today’s date on the outside, and slip in some of your smaller tools — like carrot peelers, cheese slicers, spatulas, and other small tools that lurk in your drawers.
I used this trick to help determine which pots and pans I used the most and which ones were gathering dust in my pantry.
Whenever you use the tool, the date washes off. If you want, you can re-write the new date when you are done.
Be sure to go back and look at your dates. When was the last time you used that nifty gadget or 12-quart pot? Take note of which tools you use daily – and which ones are used weekly (or maybe just monthly). Got any tools you haven’t used in 6 months? Consider selling them in your next garage sale.
I know it seems obvious, but keep your daily tools in the easiest-to-reach places. Once-a-week tools, like a strainer for making kefir, can get tucked a little farther out of the way. Just be sure to keep it in your food-prep zone. 🙂
(And I’ve got more ways that labeling can rock your world. Check it out!)
4. Get All Once-A-Month, Specialty Tools, and Duplicates Out Of Your Kitchen
I used to think that the kitchen was the place to house ALL of my cooking tools and gadgets. But there are some things – like a gravy boat or cupcake stand – that I only use for holidays or birthdays.
I also took stock of how many spatulas I had crammed in my drawers. I got 4 or 5 for my wedding… but in reality, I only need two in my drawer (because I’m a big fan of cooking with kids). I also had an abundance of cooking spoons. So I boxed up the extras, so they were out of the way – but still accessible in case I needed tons of utensils.
(The best part? My two spatulas are still in excellent condition. So I took the extras that have been in storage for a few years and gave them to friends. I’ve proved that I don’t need them, so there’s no more need to store them! Break yourself from the burden that you need to keep something because you can use it “someday”!)
Because kitchen cabinet space is so precious, consider boxing up these items (labeling them clearly!!) and keeping them in another place in your house.
If you’re an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person, consider writing all the contents of your box (and its storage location) on an index card and taping it inside a cabinet in your kitchen. Then, when you want to find that special pancake-mold-in-the-shape-of-a-dinosaur, you know right where to look.
If I don’t use a tool weekly, it gets stored out of the kitchen. This way when I’m hunting for my regularly-used tools, I’m not fighting over-crammed drawers.
5. Go Vertical With Your Pantry
Some houses have pantries built into the kitchen; some have pantries in a separate area. But whether your pantry is in the kitchen (or two rooms away, in my case), you can benefit from going vertical with your storage items.
Consider putting nuts, seeds, dried fruit, sugar, flour, oats, beans, rice, and other dried goods in glass jars. Not only will this help keep out pantry moths and other nefarious bugs, it will create a clean look and help keep bags from falling over and spilling. We keep all our dried goods in glass jars rather than flat, low bags or extra-wide storage containers.
Going vertical helps save precious horizontal space and will create more room in your cupboards.
6. Group Your Spices Together
Make sure ALL your spices are in one location. For YEARS I used to have some on the counter, some in a drawer, and some in a cabinet. Finally, I got smart and they are all in one location.
Be sure to label the TOPS of the jars, so you can find what you need quickly when you are looking down on them.
If you keep spices on a shelf, consider keeping them in a basket so you can pull out the whole thing out and not strain to reach what is in the back. Nothing is worse than playing Spice Jar Dominoes. You know we’ve all done it…
Remember, you can always write the month and year on your spices jars to prevent guessing which decade you last used that mustard powder. 🙂
7. Use Drawer Dividers and Containers
Cabinets – especially lower cabinets – can be a vast cavern of space that gets easily junked up.
To keep things neat and tidy (and give everything a place), use dividers and containers to help group your items.
We keep all of our sharp items in one drawer and use dividers to keep those items separate.
Use plastic containers to help group your measuring spoons. Put your scissors and carrot peelers in a bin together. Use a shoebox for larger tools, like ice cream scoops and small strainers.
And don’t forget bins for the “missing socks” of the kitchen – lids, mason jar rings, and storage container tops. Ugh. Seriously. How does this happen?
8. Radically Evaluate Everything In Your Kitchen
We weren’t expecting to replace our whole kitchen when it happened. It was an unexpected situation. We were without a functional kitchen from the first week of September until after Thanksgiving — and the sink and floor didn’t get finished until Christmas.
Obviously, our family needed to eat.
So as I packed up EVERYTHING in my kitchen, I kept out my bare-bones emergency supplies. One mixing bowl. One spatula. One tablespoon and one teaspoon measurer. One 8×8 pan. One carrot peeler. One cutting board. One knife.
These were some of the basics I knew I would need to make eating happen around our home.
And you know what it taught me?
I can get by with less than I think I need.
When we’re working in our kitchens, nothing is worse than unwanted (expensive!) clutter that is in the way. Rummaging around is a secret time-bandit in our lives. So in the effort of streamlining our workspaces, evaluate what is absolutely mission-critical to your needs.
Pretend you are going on a trip to a beautiful condo on an island for a month. What would you take with you? Consider putting those absolutely necessary things on your counter. Then, look at everything that is left.
- Do you really need it?
- Is it worth storing?
- Is it worth the time it takes to shuffle things around it?
- If you do need it (just not urgently), where can you move it to make space for the more important things?
If you answered “no” or “not sure” to any of these questions, consider tucking these items away in another location and see if you miss them. Again, keep only the MOST important things in the important places of your kitchen.
Organization vs. Maintenance
By the way, can I just say right now that there is a HUGE difference between organization and maintenance? These two skills NEED to go hand in hand. You can get as organized as you want, but if you don’t keep up with it, disaster can happen. So, even us organized types have days like this…
Plea from Katie: how do people figure out where to put NEW things they get that they never had before? For example, when I got my two huge tubs of Vital Proteins gelatin, not only did I want to make sure I integrated them into meals often and didn’t forget about them, but I also didn’t know WHERE to put them? How to figure out stuff like that without reorganizing the entire kitchen, or at least the shelf? I end up with so much on the counter on a daily basis, Bethany’s picture above looks like a good day at our house! Help!
My Future Kitchen
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, these 8 principles work for any size kitchen. In a few days (with God’s grace), this will be my new home base… and I’m beginning to get excited.
My smaller space just means I get to be more intentional with more organization. I’m brainstorming my zones and giving myself grace and time to figure it out. Hey, we get to do this organization journey together! So jump over to the comments and let us know which tip you plan to work on first. Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that the KS community loves to help inspire and encourage each other.
Disclosure: Vital Proteins is a KS sponsor receiving their complimentary mention.