01 of 05
Organizing Kitchen Cabinets in 5 Steps
The amount of items that home cooks need to store in their kitchen cabinets is mind boggling. The sheer number of different types of items makes cabinets harder to organize than any other space in your kitchen and that is why sticking to a simple organization strategy is key. Namely, group like items with like items.
On the next few pages we will quickly go over the process of organizing your kitchen cabinets, and I will offer some more in-depth resources to help you organize your kitchen cabinets.
Don't try to tackle this project until you're motivated to see it through. This is a fairly big undertaking (on the level of organizing the garage and your clothes closets), so it's important to be motivated to keep going, no matter how much of a mess you may create halfway through (see my article Help Me Organize to read about why messes can be a good thing).
If you're lacking motivation, here's why it's important to get this space organized.
It will save you money because you will no longer buy duplicates.
You'll know what you have on hand and you'll have a vague idea of how many items you have in storage.
It will save time because you'll have a better understanding where everything is.
You will no longer need to hunt through cabinets to find the rice cooker(s). You will be able to easily reach for the cutting board because you've taken the time to store it appropriately in the space you most often need it.
Organized kitchen cabinets will make meal planning and grocery shopping easier.
When you know what you have, on hand, it's a lot easier to plan meals and shop for ingredients. You'll have a good idea what you use most often and what items you can move out of your prime real estate.
It will make cooking much easier.
Moving the right tools, measuring cups and mixing bowls into the most efficient spaces means less time wasted running around the kitchen trying to locate the right sized pot lid.
Organized kitchen cabinets are easier for family members and guests.
It will make it easier for family members and guests to find what they need in the kitchen.
It will make cleaning easier.
When everyone in the household is used to items being in the same spot all the time, they will be more likely to put it back into its proper storage space.Continue to 2 of 5 below.
02 of 05
Declutter Your Kitchen Cabinets
Decluttering your kitchen cabinets is the absolute must-do first step to organizing your cabinets.
Before you do any re-arranging of items, or purchasing of storage solutions, you have got to do a serious decluttering of the kitchen cabinets. The more stuff you can trash or donate (yes, you can donate appliances and small kitchen wares) the smaller the amount of stuff you will need to organize and store.
Continue to 3 of 5 below.
03 of 05
Sort and Arrange Items Back into Your Cabinets
Once you've gone through the kitchen cabinet decluttering process, it is time to organize the contents of your kitchen cabinets in a way that makes sense to how you cook and use your kitchen in general. At its basic level, organizing kitchen cabinets means arranging your foodstuffs, appliances, pots and pans and kitchen tools in ways that make a lot of sense to you and your family.
Do not get caught up in appearances; no one is Martha except Martha. The watch word to organizing kitchen cabinets is: make everything you use regularly as accessible as possible.
Look for kitchen cabinet organizers that separate by type of item (boxed, canned, etc)
Place items where you use them.
If you always stand in front of the stove while cooking, you want everything you use when preparing meals to be as close as possible to the stove. Don’t put your spices in a cabinet all the way on the other side of the kitchen and out of your reach, place them as close to the stove as you can. If you want your small kids to get their own snacks or dishes, place the items they’ll need in the cabinets they can reach.
Separate food from dishes.
In any kitchen, remembering where you put something away starts with reserving some cabinets for anything that’s edible and others for anything that’s not. Preferably, the separation will have some logic to it – food to the left and tableware to the right, or food in the upper cabinets and everything else in the lower ones. If you have a tiny little kitchen with only one cabinet (and I’ve had plenty of these) just create separate sections in that one cabinet.
Categorize as much as you can.
Maximize storage by sorting items into categories. Even within the separation above, you can break items down into categories that will make it easier to use your kitchen. For example, say you move all of your edible items to your two left-hand cabinets. You can then decide that one of these is for cans, and one for other types of packaging. Or that one is for frequently used foods and one for the stuff you reach for less often. Or that one is for healthy meal staples and the other for fun snacks.
The specifics are up to you, but the goal is to think “raisins” and know exactly which door to open and where to reach to find them. Similarly, create one section of a cabinet for plates, one for bowls, one for wine glasses, one for other glasses, and so on. The more you adhere to these categories, the less you (or others in your household) will ask “Where’s that blue cup?” once a week.
Give frequently used items priority.
If you drink coffee from a mug every day, and drink wine from a wine glass once a month, your coffee mugs should go in the part of your cabinet that’s most easy to get at, and your wine glasses can go have a less desirable bit of cabinet real estate. If you keep certain foods or serving platters around because you use them on rare occasions, put them in the cabinets that are least convenient.
This might seem obvious, especially on a site about personal organizing. But it’s worth repeating because it’s so easy to let yourself get messy, and it really does help to stop yourself! Your cabinets don’t have to look like a high-end boutique display, but try to keep labels facing out, boxes lined up, and bowls stacked in order of size. Turning a jumble into an organized set-up makes everything in your cabinets easy to see and to access.
Realize that some things shouldn’t go in your cabinets at all.
If your cabinets are small, few in number, and/or hard to reach, there’s no reason everything you own has to go in them. See a checklist list: What Not to Store in Kitchen Cabinets
Maybe some of what you’ve been trying to fit into your cabinets would be better placed on your kitchen counter, on top of your fridge, in a rack on the wall, or somewhere else. Taking the items that don’t work in your cabinets out will free up cabinet space for other things and let you, not whoever designed your house or apartment, dictate how you use your space.Continue to 4 of 5 below.
04 of 05
Store Items in Kitchen Cabinets
The trick here is to install as many kitchen cabinet organizers as you need and then no more. A few tips for purchasing storage solutions:
The key to organizing your kitchen cabinets is to group similar items together and then organize the groups into zones. When you are putting things away into their zones, keep function in mind over form.
Example: If you use a certain cutting board more than another one, even if it is not as pretty, move it to the front. Unless your kitchen is about to be photographed for a blog or magazine, the goal of organizing your kitchen cabinets is to make them useable, not photogenic. Use our advice as a guide to create a space that works best for you.
What to Store in Your Upper Cabinets
Storing food in the kitchen cabinets is recommended only for those kitchens that do not have a pantry. If you do have a pantry, first, try to store as much food as possible in the pantry leaving the cabinets for tools, pots and pans, and appliances.
Group food including spices, bottles and food storage containers in the cabinets just above your kitchen workstation (the counter space you use to chop, knead, and mix).
This way they can be easily accessed while prepping, chopping, and mixing.
Glasses and Dishes
Group and store glasses and dishes directly over either your dishwasher or the drying rack for quicker cleanup and storage.
Store cookbooks in your non-prime real estate areas because you will not be reaching for them as often as food and dishes.
TIP: I like a separate shelf for cookbooks--especially the ones you use to actually cook and not just page through (does anyone else find this to be a very soothing activity? Because I totally do.)--so if you have the extra wall space, consider installing a small shelf for cookbooks.
Store your plastic and glass storage containers right above the counter space you use to store and containerize food like leftovers or bulk purchases like flour, salt, sugar and grains.
What to Store in Your Bottom Cabinets
Store kitchen appliances in the bottom cabinets just below your main work area for easy access during food prep. If you use an appliance daily, consider moving it to your countertop. (Read more about Appliance Organization and Storage).
Pots, Pans and Baking Sheets
Store your kitchen pots and pans in the bottom cabinet, pans on their side to maximize space and pots nesting together. Lids should also be stored vertically. I like to rest mine vertically in a large, square Tupperware container.
See How to Store Everything in the Kitchen for a visual of this storage solution.
Mixing Bowls, Cutting Boards and Salad Spinners
Store mixing bowls, cutting boards, and salad spinners (which can be a real pain) as close to the drying rack or dishwasher as possible for easy cleanup and storage.
Never store cleaning supplies on a top shelf. In an event they leak, at best you have to take everything out of the kitchen cabinets and scrub them, at worst someone could not notice the spill and eat or cook something with cleaning supplies on them. Lower cabinets are better, just use a lock. Store your kitchen cleaning supplies in the bottom cabinet under the sink. The space under the sink tends to be such an awkward space, it makes most sense to store bottles and sprays, which take up little room, in this tight spot.
TIP: If you have small children or pets, consider a child-proof lock.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Maintain Kitchen Cabinet Organization
Plan to go through your cabinets and do a complete overhaul once or twice a year, depending on what type of cook you are.
- For helpful reminders, following my Be Organized Month-to-Month Plan, which will prompt you to reorganize your cabinets 2-3 times a year.
- Or, you could begin doing quick, 30-minute clutter sweeps more often: How to Declutter Kitchen Cabinets in 30 Minutes a Week