Ah, the kitchen. It is the quintessential multipurpose room of every household. It is where families and friends spend some of their most valuable daylight hours sharing meals together. It is where you work, play, create, and bond. It is where traditions are made. It is truly, in every sense, the heart of the home! And, yet, your kitchen may be underserving you simply because it just doesn’t flow.
Organizing your kitchen is a big job. There are two ways to go about it. For one, you can target one cabinet at a time, which is great if the idea of the whole kitchen overwhelms you. If you are brave, however, and are ready to dramatically improve your space, you can do it all in one go. For the best experience, block out a good chunk of time (maybe an afternoon, or a day or two, depending on the size and condition of your kitchen) to clean and organize your space. Be prepared with your favorite snack, music, and comfy clothes to make it fun for yourself!
Before you begin, gather 3 empty boxes, garbage bags, or laundry baskets for:
- Things to pass on or sell (subscribe for your FREE decluttering guide to help you know what to get rid of!)
- Things to relocate within your home
- Things you’re still finding a home for within the kitchen
When you’re ready, eliminate distractions (put on a movie for the kids & turn off your phone!) so you can gitter done!
The 3 Zones
To truly maximize the effectiveness of your kitchen, create three main zones: 1) food storage, 2) food preparation, and 3) serving and eating. With these zones, you will be able to create a kitchen flow that will help you be a kitchen ninja whenever it’s time to cook. Just imagine baking with your feet planted in one spot with everything you need within arm’s reach. You could be like one of those old cartoons with your arms flying speedily in every direction, and then miraculously turn around with a beautiful batch of freshly-baked cookies. Sounds pretty sweet (literally!), right? It’s possible, I promise – and I’ve gotta say it feels awesome!
As you decide where things go, try using post-it-notes to help! The past few times I have moved, I’ve written my main kitchen categories on post-it-notes (e.g. “silverware,” “dishes,” “pots & pans,” etc.), then shifted them around until my flow was just right. It really helps to visualize where things should go without having to rearrange them a gazillion times! To make it even easier on yourself, use the bulleted items in this post as your guide for your post-its. (Note: you may have a couple of post-its’ worth of stuff within a single drawer or cabinet.)
Be sure to also subscribe to download my free decluttering guide to help you decide what things to keep or pass on as you go through your kitchen. (It is so helpful, I promise!) If you are feeling especially stuffed into your space, a heavy kitchen purge may be in order to get the breathing room and efficiency you crave. If you have already purged and just need more storage, check out this post for storage space that may be hiding right under your nose!
Now, onto the zones every kitchen needs!
The “eating zone” will be the first to organize, since it is the most obvious. This zone needs to be close to your eating area and dishwasher since it is made up of your most-frequently-used items.
In this zone, designate a cupboard, shelf, or drawer for each of the following:
- Glasses, plates, and bowls
- Silverware and serving utensils
- Every day serving dishes
- Storage containers for leftovers (e.g. tupperware, plastic bags, etc.)
By having these things closest to your eating area and dishwasher, you are minimizing the number of steps you have to take when setting the table or cleaning up. It’s a beautiful thing!
We like to keep our glasses, plates, and bowls in the upper cupboard closest to the table since they are out of reach of our little ones. Lighter-weight items (such as plastic water bottles) are kept on the top, with the most frequently accessed things on bottom. The next cupboard over houses our corningware serving dishes. In the top drawer closest to the kitchen, we store our silverware, since we access this most frequently. Then, our tupperware is in the lower cupboard beneath that so that cleaning up from dinner is a breeze. If you have babies or kids, keep in mind that you will want to keep the fragile items out of their reach. Tupperware is the perfect thing that little hands can safely access.
Food Preparation Zone
Your food prep zone may be on the other end of the kitchen in a place where you have outlets for appliances and space to work. It is ideal to have this zone near your food storage zone, since you will need access to it while cooking. Our food prep zone includes the several cupboards and drawers closest to our pantry. We also store our KitchenAid on the counter in this area which makes things extra easy! There are a lot of items in this zone, so just focus on one area at a time.
In this zone, designate a space for each of the following in a cooking area:
- Cook Books (I have consistently stored ours above the microwave in every apartment or home we’ve lived in!)
- Hot Pads (in a drawer or hung in a cupboard within reach of the stove)
- Pots & Pans (stored right next to the stove)
Then, you’ll want to designate a cupboard, shelf, or drawer for all of your baking items:
- Baking Supplies (e.g. spices, flour, sugar, oil, etc. – I like having these in the cupboard above our mixer)
- Baking Utensils (spatulas, spoons, whisks, measuring cups, etc. – in a drawer closest to the mixer or in a storage container on the counter if space is short)
- Mixing Bowls & Baking Pans (cookie sheets, glass & metal pans – if you are limited on space, these can be in a slightly less accessible area)
- Cutting Boards & Knives (stored near each other within the food preparation zone)
Of course, if you have small children, it is best to store anything messy, dangerous, or fragile up high or under a cabinet lock, with things that are toddler-friendly on their level.
Food Storage Zone
Now that you have proper storage spaces for your cooking and serving ware, it’s time to figure out where to put your food. There are a few points to consider when setting up this zone:
- Set up zones within this zone (e.g. one shelf for canned goods, snacks, or condiments and dressings).
- Set up zones within zones! (Sounding a little like Inception?) For example, within my canned goods, I have both a “bean” and “fruit” section.
- Clear storage is best. Reuse clear glass jars or invest in clear containers so you can easily identify what everything is.
- Use baskets to keep like-things contained. For example, have baskets for condiments, salad dressings, or pasta.
- Label containers and baskets so that you can keep things straight (see my label guide).
- Store larger, light-weight items up high with heavier items on the bottom. Then, if something falls, you won’t be at risk for injury or damage to your floor. You are also less likely to lose little items up there due to poor visibility.
Make sure that you have a good system in place for rotating food to avoid spoilage. For example, whenever you buy more cans, pull all of your current cans forward and put the new ones in the back to help make sure you are rotating through your food.
Rotation is also essential for dry food products, such as flours or dried beans. If you’re not careful, you may get pests, which is not fun! In our home, I have:
- A container of flour in my baking zone cupboard
- A 5 gallon bucket at the bottom of my pantry
- A gamma bin in my longer-term storage with even more flour
When I run out of flour, I fill my baking zone cupboard with my pantry flour, then my pantry flour with my long-term gamma flour. The first place a new bag of flour goes is always into the gamma bin to be sure that I am using up the oldest flour first.
I also keep oxygen absorber packets in all of my dry food containers (rice, oatmeal, flour, etc.) to prevent pests (weavils, I’m looking at you!). Of course, you need to be careful not to bake those puppies into a batch of cookies, but I am always happy knowing I won’t have to deal with a disgusting infestation!
We all have random items that may not fit perfectly into our zones. In general, store less-frequently used items in less-accessible places and more-frequently used items in more-accessible places. For example, I have a lot of our cake decorating items kept in the cupboard high above our microwave and paper products above our refrigerator, since we only use those on certain occasions.
As for large, miscellaneous appliances, be sure to purge as needed. A few years ago, my husband and I decided to donate a panini maker when we realized we could use our larger George Foreman grill to make four paninis at a time! It was a single-use item that was taking up space and we had something else that could serve the same function, so we got rid of it.
Of course, towels, rags, and cleaning supplies are a part of every kitchen. Utilize the space under the sink by investing in effective storage products. We store an all-purpose cleaning caddy and our stockpile of dishwashing soap beneath our sink (under a child-lock, of course!). Then, if you are able, store your towels and rags in a drawer closest to your sink. It makes cleaning up after meals so much easier.
If you’ve cleaned, purged, and organized your kitchen into zones, I commend you. It may take some shifting overtime to get your kitchen just right for you, but, you have begun, and that is worth celebrating! I hope that you can fall in love with your kitchen and find the joy and delight that are waiting for you and your family.