If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the cabinets and drawers are the arteries that keep it pumping. And if you want an efficient, robust kitchen, you must keep its arteries unclogged. (Am I taking this analogy too far?)
Here’s what I’m getting at: Your kitchen should function like a well-oiled machine. When you’re in the middle of frying, stirring, flipping, and trying to keep the kids away from the hot grease, you don’t have time to be searching for utensils. An organized kitchen saves both time and children.
So, where to begin? I’ve streamlined The Kitchen Overhaul into three simple steps:
This kitchen project will be separated into three different posts, each focused on one step. Today, we will tackle the planning stage.
Step 1: Make a Thorough Plan.
Since I love a dramatic, top-to-bottom makeover–maybe that explains my brief addiction to Botched–a kitchen redesign would be my ideal starting point.
And no, this doesn’t involve any power tools or sledgehammers.
Simply sit down with a pencil and paper, and sketch out a rough floorplan of your kitchen (including all the cabinets/drawers). Or if you really want to get precise, use floorplanner.com to create a free, digital floorplan.
Now, I want you to pretend like those cabinets and drawers are empty. A blank slate. It’s move-in day, and you’re starting fresh.
Next, brainstorm some categories for your kitchen supplies. Go as broad or specific as you please. For example, I have one cabinet for my porcelain plates and bowls…
A cabinet for cups/mugs…
Even one for my baking sheets and muffin tins (I store them upright to maximize space.)…
The important thing is that your categories cover all of your kitchen items. Be thorough; you don’t want to rework your plan later to squeeze in something you forgot.
Once you have a list of categories, it’s time to start on your cabinet designations. When figuring out where to place items, don’t make haphazard decisions. Consider the cabinet’s location, and what makes the most sense for your lifestyle. Coffee mugs/accessories in the cabinet above the Keurig? The kids’ dishes in a lower, more accessible cabinet? Utensils in a drawer next to the dishwasher for easy transfer?
Another strategy is to divide your kitchen into work stations. Assign one area for baking, another for prep work, etc. Place everything needed for a particular task in cabinets within arm’s reach of that station.
Consider placing rarely used items in upper cabinets or the top shelf of your pantry. Save the valuable real estate for the tools and dishes you need regularly.
However you decide to approach it, pencil in each cabinet’s contents on your kitchen sketch. Try grouping similar categories (e.g. my baking sheets and muffin tins or pie pans and Pyrex dishes) into the same cabinet. This may require a little erasing and rearranging until your plan comes together.
Let me show you an example from my kitchen:
Here’s some of the thinking behind my storage decisions: I keep my porcelain dinnerware near the dishwasher so I don’t have to travel far with them. Pots and pans are kept in a lower cabinet to avoid heavy lifting. Dish towels are folded in a drawer by the sink for ease of access.
Basically, anything that avoids any unnecessary movement on my part is a win. When it comes to cooking, I don’t like to linger. I’m not a “pour a glass of wine and make an event of it” kind of chef. I’m more of a “let’s slap something edible together and get to eating” type.
Now, it seems every organizer has a different opinion about the “right way” to set up a kitchen. Some insist on storing drinking glasses by the dishwasher since you put them up one-by-one (rather than stack them like plates). Others maintain that the most convenient spot for cups is by the refrigerator.
Go with what feels right for you. I break plenty of “cardinal rules” in my kitchen. For example, many professionals recommend storing spatulas and slotted spoons in a container next to the stove. Well, my stovetop is in the center of my kitchen island, which means my utensils would likely be knocked over by a stray backpack or bags of groceries or library books or stacks of toys. (Yes, everything lands on that island for some reason). So, I keep my spatulas on a different counter, and it works just fine for me.
But there are a few rules that aren’t so subjective:
- Don’t store spices near the stove, dishwasher, or refrigerator. Heat, light, humidity, and air can degrade the quality of your spices. Instead, keep them in cool, dark, and dry areas such as a pantry or even the freezer (in an airtight container). Here’s a comprehensive article about storing spices.
- If nesting nonstick pans, take care to avoid any scratches in the coating. (Pans with chips or flakes have the potential to release toxic compounds). You might even consider placing a folded paper towel or square of nonslip grip between each pan.
- And I know I’m stating the obvious, but if you have young children, store anything dangerous or breakable out of the kids’ reach (or install baby proof latches).
Next, take stock of any organizers you own. Rather than dropping a ton of money at the Container Store, try to use things already in your home to separate categories within each cabinet/drawer.
If you come up empty-handed, don’t despair. Consider it an opportunity to let your creative juices flow. Look past an item’s intended purpose. For example, give new life to your recyclables: Cut boxes down to the correct height to group spices (the ends of cereal boxes work well for this) or cooking utensils. Another idea for a cereal box: cut it at an angle (like a magazine holder) and store Tupperware lids inside. Extra credit: Cover the boxes in giftwrap, contact paper, washi tape, or scrapbook paper to pretty them up.
But…if you do have some extra cash and want to invest in a few nifty gadgets, I’ll offer some suggestions:
- Take advance of your vertical space with stack shelves.
- Use the backs of cabinet doors for extra storage or add a layer of corkboard and post recipes or baking conversions. Command Hooks work well for hanging oven mitts or pot lids (place one beneath and another on one side of each lid). Also, there’s a plethora of over-the-cabinet door organizers on the market, such as this basket from the Container Store:
Or if you don’t mind drilling into the door (though you could probably use Command Hooks on this as well), here’s a handy rack for only $4.87 at Walmart:
- Use a Lazy Susan to group small items and allow for ease of access. If you want even more bang for your buck, try a tiered turntable to add storage space.
- Invest in a cutlery drawer tray. You won’t regret it. I found mine at Costco and haven’t looked back since:
In case you’re wondering, those slender, white organizers are cheapies made by Mainstay. I use them everywhere–in my desk for pens and pencils, in the bathroom for toothpaste and floss, and in the kitchen for my overflow cutlery.
So, that’s it for the planning stage. Simple enough, right? To make things even easier, I’ll end with a quick recap:
Check out the next step in The Kitchen Overhaul series: 31 Kitchen Items to Purge Right Now