If your family is like most, your kitchen is the nerve center of your home, and therefore prone to excess mess and clutter. Since it’s the hub of your family’s day-to-day operations, it’s a good idea to take the time to periodically de-clutter and reorder plus develop some long-term organizational habits. Here’s a step-by-step guide to keeping your kitchen neat and orderly, which can in turn help keep your busy family on track.
Begin by purging
It’s KonMari time. “Don’t start organizing until you’ve emptied all of your cabinets and drawers. Yes, all of them,” says Karen Kellams, owner/organizer of Yellow Door Organization in Evanston, Illinois. Kellams sets up extra folding tables to help sort.
“As you take whole sections out, group like things together by category,” say professional organizers Abby Provus and Stacy Bankier of H.O.M.E – Home Organization Made Easy. “For example, take everything out of your drawers and put all of your measuring cups together, all of your spatulas together, etc.”
Provus and Bankier discard items that are broken and make a giveaway pile for things that are in good working order but that are no longer used or needed. Discard any expired food, donate any food you won’t eat, and get rid of any kitchen items you haven’t used in the past year.
If it’s sentimental or something you use for special occasions, Kellams places those items in a storage tub with a label and puts them in the attic/closet/basement for long-term storage. They don’t need to take up valuable space in your kitchen.
Clean it up
While they’re empty, Provus and Bankier suggest wiping out drawers and shelves that rarely get a cleaning.
Determine where items will go and what kinds of containers you’ll need to help organize. Jen Robin, pro organizer and founder of Life in Jeneral (who also has a crazy addictive Instagram page), labels sticky notes to plan out the flow of the kitchen before moving things around. “It helps to envision and create the most efficient flow depending on your lifestyle,” says Robin.
Provus and Bankier customize the space by moving shelves when possible. Robins favors stackable shelves to make items easier to grab and put back. “Utilize shelf depth by using deep bins to store all like items together,” says Robin. “You can easily pull the whole bin out and see everything, then put the bin back.”
Keep things in arm’s reach that you use all the time. Place essential cooking utensils, olive oils, and spices near the stove, and drinkware near the fridge.
Drawer dividers keep things separated and visible. Consider using them for drawers that hold utensils or Tupperware.
If you have tall vases or pitchers, give yourself room to store them. If you only make soup twice a year, put that huge soup pot up high and just use a step stool to grab it when you need it.
Placemats can be stored in a thin drawer or shelf.
“Minimize the items being stored on the kitchen countertop to create a peaceful and clutter-free space,” says Robin. “When all of your things have a specific home, members of the household are encouraged to put them back where they belong.” Likewise, Kellams recommends only keeping your most-used appliances out and storing the rest. Another headache for her clients? Paper! “Try your best to not bring it into your kitchen, so it won’t pile up on your countertops,” Kellams says.
Take it out of the box and label it
Once you’ve determined homes for your items, start making the actual items easier to see in their spaces. Just about every organizer can attest to labeling everything. Bin clip labels are perfect to snap onto larger pantry bins, while sticker labels adhere to clear canisters, fridge bins, or jars.
Items that often go stale fast, like cereal, stay fresher (and look prettier) in clear canisters. These are also ideal for storing baking ingredients like flour and sugar. Smaller foods like chocolate chips and nuts fit perfectly in glass bell jars.
Tackle the fridge
“An organized fridge will make everything more visible, save money (less wasted food and overbuying), and save time (no more sifting through overstocked shelves looking for that one condiment),” says Robin. Like the rest of your kitchen, it helps to remove all refrigerator items first to see what you have and wipe down shelves.
Clear Fridge Binz can be used in both your fridge and freezer to keep everything visible but separated.
Robins creates sections and recommends consistently keeping similar items in the same location (however you choose to categorize) within the fridge to ensure that everyone in the household knows where items belong, how much of each category is in stock, and if anything needs to be replenished.
Sandra Schustack, chief organizer of Clear Your Space, recommends having a separate container to store raw meat. It helps prevent leaks or drips from contaminating the rest of your food. Schustack also uses a Lazy Susan to hold small jars or excess condiments that tend to get lost in the back of the fridge.
If you keep takeout condiment packets (like soy sauce, ketchup, etc.), store them all together in a small jar or Tupperware.
“Velcro a dry erase marker to the inside of your fridge,” recommends Schustack. “Use the marker to add dates and/or contents of food on Tupperware, newly opened jars/sauces, etc. That way you’ll never question what’s in a sealed container or how old the milk is.”
Display what you love
If you have display space in your kitchen, Provus and Bankier believe in putting out the things that make you smile. “If it’s a family photo, a loved cookbook, or a special note, put it where you’ll see it and it can bring you joy. We all are inundated with pictures of unattainable images on Pinterest and Instagram, but we believe that no matter how big or small your space is, it can be beautiful and functional for you and your family.”
Maintain after organizing and don’t forget to donate
Kellams advises clients to use the “do I love it or use it?” rule as they sort and declutter any room. Continue to ask yourself that question as you shop. “Try not to be impulsive and buy items simply because they are on sale,” she explains. “I also follow a ‘one-for-one’ rule. If I buy new coffee mugs, I donate the same number of older mugs. It’s a useful rule no matter how big your home is, and it’s the key to staying organized.”
Kellams also recommends keeping a donation bin on the floor of a closet and taking it to a donation center when the bin is full.
Our home organizers’ favorite kitchen organizing tools
Karen Kellams’ picks:
This cabinet space-saver is great for stacking plates.
I love using these for grab-and-go snacks. Empty boxes of snack bars, fruit snacks, etc. into these bins to avoid the clutter of half-empty boxes in your cabinets.
These are great for keeping items off your countertops. Use them for produce, vitamins/supplements, snacks, coffee/teas, anything you use regularly that clutters your countertops.
This is by far my favorite product to organize spices (though it also works great in a bathroom cabinet to organize medicine). It fits almost any cabinet and makes everything easy to see and access.
Lower cabinets are where many items go to get lost. Pull-out shelves and baskets are easy to install and make spaces in hard-to-access cabinets much more usable.
These are great for grouping like items (yogurts, condiments, seasoning packets, opened pasta bags) in your refrigerator or pantry. I also use them to store tops of food storage containers and water bottles.
Pot lids are a headache for many. This IKEA organizer is my favorite as it expands to fit your cabinet.
Jen Robin’s picks:
The Expandable Bamboo Cutlery Tray, Expandable Bamboo Utensil Tray, and Expandable Bamboo Drawer Organizers
Both pretty and functional. Plus, they’re made of environmentally friendly material, which is always a plus!
Refrigerator and pantry go-tos for easy organization.
Where to donate kitchen utensils, dishes, silverware, and more
Getting rid of excess clutter? Keep it out of the landfill and find it a good home.
They’ll come to your home and donate your items to a military family in need.
Happily accepting housewares and small appliances for those in need.
They’ll pick-up and sell your donated items with the proceeds benefitting veterans.
Jenny Muslin has been writing for Make It Better for eight years. She has also written for publications such as Chicago Parent, NS Modern Luxury, Red Tricycle, and Stroller Traffic. When she isn’t writing or researching the latest beauty innovations, she’s having a dance party with her husband and two kids. Jenny proudly supports Moms Demand Action and The Chicago Lighthouse.