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How to Stay Organized in a Small Kitchen

Updated on October 28, 2012

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Our family of five lives in a home approximately 1200 square feet. Add some furniture, a dog, and two cats- and you have a constant battle to stay organized. The most frequently used room in most homes is the kitchen, and ours is no exception. Measuring a measly 11ft long by 8ft wide, I've become the master at keeping a small kitchen organized and functional. What are some easy and low cost ways to keep the busiest room in the house humming along?

Check out these circular kitchens!

Rule Number One

Take inventory of your kitchen. Everything- all the way down to the utensils needs to be rated on a scale of 1-7 based on daily use. Take this list and jot a number down according to how frequently you touch it. If it's something you reach for every single day, put a 7. Otherwise rate it 1-6. No cheating.

Small Appliances

  • Microwave
  • Blender
  • Bread machine
  • Coffee pot
  • Kitchen Aid
  • Toaster oven
  • Crockpot

Dishes

  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Cups
  • Wine glasses
  • Coffee mugs
  • Pots
  • Pans
  • Serving platters/dishes

Utensils

  • Knife block
  • Serving spoons
  • Cooking utensils
  • Rubbermaid (ugh!)

Cooking aids

  • Aprons
  • Cookbooks
  • Drying rack
  • Towels
  • Paper towel holder
  • Jars of flour, sugar, etc.
  • Salt/pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Hotplates
  • Baskets
  • Foil, baggies, etc.

Miscellaneous items

  • Phone
  • Papers
  • Medicines
  • Reusable shopping bags
  • Broom
  • Coupons
  • Animal dishes
  • Mobile device chargers

Rule Number Two

Now that you've done that, you can begin to organize your kitchen. Everything rated a number 7 will have to be accessible and in a convenient location. Only items that are listed as a 7 can even be considered for prime real estate such as counter space- and even still, only precious few will make the cut. If it's 6 or below, it cannot be put on the counter. See why I said you can't cheat?

A kitchen will only stay organized if it's arranged well. If you make it too difficult to access something you use regularly, invariably it'll end up on the counter to sit there because no one wants to stick it back in its place.

Assess Your Space

These are the types of space available in every kitchen. Obviously much larger kitchens have pantries, warming drawers, and all sorts of other fancy contraptions that a smaller kitchen does not.

  • Counter space
  • Cabinets above waist level
  • Cabinets below waist level
  • Wall space
  • Drawers
  • Shelves

All of your utensils, dishes, appliances, and FOOD must fit into these spaces. To maximize your options, let's look at some common mistakes people make when organizing.

A ceiling pot rack and great use of wall space
A ceiling pot rack and great use of wall space

Stop Using the Counter and Use the Wall!

  1. The microwave sits on the counter. Why not put it on top of your fridge or even better- mount it above the stove on the wall and underneath a cabinet?
  2. Paper towel holder sits on the counter. Instead, mount it underneath a cabinet.
  3. Phone sits on the counter. Mount it to the wall!
  4. Utensil jar sits on the counter next to the stove. Buy a wall hanging rack to hang those utensils.
  5. Salt, pepper, and oil sit near the stove. Can you put them up on the back of your stove?
  6. Small appliances used only once or twice a week sit on the counter. Find a space in a closet.
  7. Jars of flour, sugar, etc. sit on the counter. Realistically, how often do you use them? Why not store them in a cabinet or on a shelf?
  8. Cookbooks sit on the counter. Find a bookshelf or put them in a cabinet.
  9. Toaster ovens sit on the counter. There are fixtures that allow you to mount it underneath a cabinet or find an open shelf to put your toaster on.
  10. Papers sit on the counter. Here's a tip- papers should not be in a kitchen when it's a tiny kitchen!

Realistically, the only items that really need to stay on the counter are a coffee pot, knife block, and perhaps a kitchenaid mixer if you use it often enough. That's it! Otherwise, find some untapped space elsewhere.

I cry at the beauty of this organized cabinet
I cry at the beauty of this organized cabinet

Below Waist Level Cabinets

These cabinets are perfect for food items that kids regularly access. It is slightly counter-intuitive to put food items in cabinets that are normally used for pots and pans, but consider this:

  • Get some sort of ceiling pot rack to hang the majority of your everyday pots. The only ones that will need to be stored in a cabinet will be the soup pot, 13x9 pans, pie plates, loaf pans, and cookie sheets. Many of these fit nicely in the handy drawer underneath the stove. The ones that don't fit can get one cabinet.
  • With that extra cabinet, store cereals, breads (for lunches), crackers, cookies, and other snacks. You will be so happy when your children don't need your help to reach for food that is too high.
  • If there is another lower cabinet that isn't as easy to get to, use that one for your baking goods. Flour, sugar, baking soda, oils, baking bowls, measuring cups, nuts, cornstarch, etc. can all go in one cabinet. Don't be afraid to mix dry goods and utensils in the same cabinet.

Use above waist level cabinets for dishes
Use above waist level cabinets for dishes

Above Waist Level Cabinets

These are prime real estate. Easy to access and reach, use these cabinets for things you use everyday. First items on the list? All your dishes. Plates, bowls, cups, and mugs go in there. Now don't shove 800 mugs in that cabinet. Keep as many as you use daily, and store the rest.

After dishes, use a cabinet to keep all your dinner prep materials. Salad dressing, croutons, sauce, pasta, rice, bread crumbs, etc. all can go in a cabinet. Do not store canned goods in an above waist level cabinet unless you use them everyday!!!

Drawers

These are meant for utensils, baggies, and other shallow items. If you can avoid it, don't use a drawer for hot plates, clothes, and pot holders. Clothes can go in a basket above the fridge and pot holders can easily be hung on the back wall near the stove.

Get rid of the junk drawer. I know it seems impossible, but it isn't. Think about the things that go in a junk drawer. Most of it is useless and the few things that are useful can be put elsewhere.

  • Batteries- Store in the fridge.
  • Scissors- Store with your knives.
  • Tacks- Mount a bulletin board and tack them in.
  • Pens- Instead of post its and pens near the phone, mount a dry erase board and pen to use to jot things down. You could also tie a pencil to a string and hang it on your bulletin board.

Everything else can go in a shoebox and be stored in a closet. No reason to give up prime drawer real estate with junk.

Shelves

Spaces that have no doors can easily look cluttered so use your shelves for things like:

  • Cookbooks
  • Spices
  • Canned goods
  • Toaster oven
  • Serving platters
  • Coffee pot perhaps?

Canned goods on a shelf add a burst of color in a kitchen
Canned goods on a shelf add a burst of color in a kitchen
Hanging fruit
Hanging fruit

Other Tips and Tricks

Ikea is your friend. There are all sorts of cute organizational items that can help with clutter. Here are some other tips:

  • Whenever possible, I use the wall. I use wall organizers for my measuring spoons, coupons, phone chargers, medicines, pot holders, etc.
  • Anything that only gets used twice a week, doesn't get stored in the kitchen. It is put in the utility closet or laundry room.
  • A wire basket can hang from the ceiling and hold potatoes, onions, garlic, apples, and other non-refrigerated fruits. Just no banana holder on the counter!!
  • Rubbermaid: The bane of most people's existence. Try to keep it cleaned out regularly and only store the pieces you use everyday in your kitchen.
  • Consider keeping everyday dish-ware, napkins, and utensils in the dining room. Try to keep the kitchen for food prep items.
  • Cleaning supplies should be limited to what can fit under the sink. Otherwise, find another home. I store dish soap, rags, sponges, handsoap, and lysol wipes. Other cleaners go elsewhere.

Who wishes their fridge looked like this?
Who wishes their fridge looked like this?

The Refrigerator

Unfortunately, our fridges become science experiments all too easily. The easiest way to eliminate this is to clean it out EVERY TIME you go to the store. Make it a ritual.

  • Clean out the fridge
  • Rinse out the rubbermaids and run the dishes through while you're making your list
  • When you come home from the store, your fridge is ready for the new food
  • Chop up veggies or fruits that will go directly into your clean rubbermaid containers for the week
  • Keep kid friendly snacks on the bottom and use the higher shelves for condiments

The Bottom Line

An organized kitchen will make food preparation and cleanup much easier. However, nothing is foolproof. The best way to stay on top of the mess is to make it part of your routine to clean up after each meal. An organized kitchen will make this process less cumbersome and hopefully, you'll enjoy a well-run room the way we have!

-Julie DeNeen
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    • MopHolder profile image

      MopHolder 2 years ago

      For the home cook a cluttered kitchen is a nightmare and proper storage in an organized manner will certainly mean much better management without leading to frustration.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      A good look at getting organized! Am getting ready to reorganize my kitchen so thanks!

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