How to Organize A Kitchen

In 5 1/2 years of marriage, we’ve had 6 kitchens, all very different from one another.  Amidst all these moves and various (but consistently imperfect) kitchen setups, I’ve learned quite a bit about how to organize a kitchen to make it as efficient and easy to maintain as possible.  Here are my top 12 organization tips:

1. Set up stations for common tasks. Think through which tasks you do most often and what tools you need to perform them. If you drink coffee, consider making a “coffee station” with mugs, coffee, filters, and the coffee maker all stored in the same location. I have one section of my counter that works especially well for baking, so I keep my Kitchenaid stand mixer, baking ingredients, measuring cups, and mixing spoons near there.  Recently, I realized I was keeping my knife block too far away from where my cutting boards are, so moved the knives to a different part of the counter. Since I grab a knife and cutting board every time I feed Beach Baby, I’m glad to save the few extra steps. That’s valuable time when I’m feeding a girl who screams loudly as soon as she’s in her high chair without food!

2. Store items where you’ll use them. I keep my baking dishes, pots, pans, and pot holders near the oven.  My glasses are, ideally, near my refrigerator. My kitchen towels are near the sink.  I don’t want to walk back and forth across my kitchen just to complete a simple task like taking something out of the oven or drying my dishes.

3. Throw rules out the window. I used to store all my Ziplock bags, aluminum foil, and other food storage wraps in the same place until, in one house, there wasn’t room to keep it all together.  By necessity, I split them up to put them where I most often use them and it makes so much more sense! Now, I keep the crockpot liner bags inside the crockpot and the parchment paper and muffin liners under the oven with the cookie sheets and muffin tins. Having these paper goods where I need them when I need them (rather than in some central and arbitrary location) makes me that much more efficient in the kitchen. Similarly, small appliances or serving dishes that don’t get used very often don’t even need to live in the kitchen.  In one house, where we had an especially small kitchen and an oversized bedroom closet, I stored some of these seldom-used items in the closet.

4. Plan for doing dishes.  Like it or not, I have to wash my dishes and put them away. Why not make it as easy as possible?  I put things like plates and cups as close to the dishwasher as I can and use cabinets that are further away to store food.  In our current kitchen, I can put almost all our daily dishes away without taking more than a step or two away from the dishwasher. I can’t believe how much time this saves me!

5. Don’t keep what you don’t use.  This seems obvious, but I was surprised at how many things I was keeping just because I thought I “should” have them.  No one in my house drinks coffee, but we stored an unused coffee maker for 3 years, because we figured we should have one in case guests ever wanted coffee.  Any coffee-drinking guests went to Starbucks, though, because we didn’t ever have coffee in the house (go figure!).

6. Do keep what you do use.  On the other hand, I’ve tried to clean out my drawer of small cooking utensils many times without much luck.  Many unitaskers really are just clutter and contribute to kitchen chaos. But, only you can decide what is clutter and what is actually a useful tool in your kitchen.  Once you’ve done that, you don’t need to feel badly about keeping what you use.  While things like an apple corer/slicer and a cookie dough scoop could be clutter in some houses, they’re essentials in mine.  Make your decisions to keep or get rid of things based off of what you actually use, not what you think you should have/not have.

7. Decide how much you need.  There are many categories in the kitchen – like storage containers and cookware – where it can be tough to figure out how much you should have.  To decide how much cookware I need, I picture the biggest meal I cook all year (probably Christmas dinner) and how many pots and pans I will use.  Generally, I’ve found my ideal amount to be the number of burners I have (4), plus maybe one or two extras to allow for different sized pots and pans.  If I’m making such a big meal, I’d rather wash a pot or two between cooking different courses than have to wash 8 pots at the end of cooking a huge meal anyway! Same thing for tupperware – what’s the most I would ever, reasonably, want to use at once? Making sure they are all in good enough condition with matching lids, that’s the amount I keep.  The “correct” amount of each will vary from person to person, but the important thing is figuring out an amount that works for your space and your actual usage.

8. Treat your counter space as valuable real estate.  I used to keep my spice rack and candles on the counter.  They look nice and I figured it’d be useful to have them out.  Then, I realized that the more intentionally placed things I have on the counter, the more junk I start to leave on the counter.  When my counters are clear, I want to keep them that way and things that don’t belong don’t end up landing there as easily.  I do, however, reserve space on my counter for high-use items like my blender and toaster.  My goal is utility over aesthetics.

10. Make it child-friendly. I spend so much time in the kitchen and my kids want to be near me and to help me. For all of our sakes, I want to have the drawers and cabinets below the counter child-safe and welcoming for them to explore.  One of Beach Baby’s favorite things to do while I’m cooking is to pull out all the plastic storage containers and I’ve learned to stop worrying about neatly organizing them as I put them away.  I care more about giving my children freedom to play in the cabinets than about how organized my containers are.

11. Give up on perfection.  I have the tendency to be organized to a fault.  Yes, I do have my scrapbook paper organized in rainbow order. That warms my heart.  But, when I share the space with others and they don’t care as much about my freakish organizing, I need to let it go.  If I want my husband to help put away the dishes, I need to be okay with the fact that my glasses may not all be facing the same direction. I used to divide our small utensil drawer between “things that cut” and “things that don’t” (which must have been just for the sake of organizing something because that doesn’t even make sense to me anymore!).  After reading this post at Small Notebook, I realized that the only function that system served was to annoy me when it wasn’t right and to waste my time and effort.  My small utensils are not organized at all anymore, and we’ve all made out just fine.

12. Be realistic.  I haven’t had one kitchen where all of these tips worked within the same space.  Unless you have a huge, dream kitchen (like this one), I’d bet the same is true for you.  So, don’t expect to have it all organized exactly the way you’d like it.  Instead, strive to organize it in a way that works for you and your family. The details of how that plays out, even for our one family, has looked completely different in each of our 6 kitchens.

What’s your #1 tip for kitchen organization? What would your ideal kitchen look like?

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