Learning how to organize a kitchen so that it is clutter-free, with everything in its place, can seem like a daunting task—especially when we all have so many other things on our to-do lists.
But having a space that is in order can bring so much satisfaction. And it has other benefits too—an organized kitchen makes it easier to cook, bake or clean your kitchen, and can speed up the time it takes to put things away after a big food shop as well. It also means being more aware of what you have, and exactly where to find it. However, the big task of organizing is not one that most of us want to take on more than once every few months, or even every few years. And, ideally, we’d like to declutter once and have it stay that way. But is that possible? To find out, w&h spoke to experts Lesley Spellman and Ingrid Jansen, who run home organization business The Declutter Hub.
“Increasingly, the kitchen is the hub of the family home, so it needs to function like a well-oiled machine,” says Lesley. “But decluttering once and for all is not something many people can achieve easily. Long-term organizing involves a change in mindset when shopping, getting a grip on your aspirational habits, shopping intentionally, and constantly reviewing your lifestyle to make sure your kitchen and the things in it reflect your current self. For example, if you are a simple cook that relies heavily on convenience, don’t fall into the trap of buying all the latest gizmos and gadgets.” However, that doesn’t mean that working out how to organize a kitchen for the long-term can’t be done—you just need a foolproof plan in place.
Organize a kitchen in 4 steps
With this advice in mind, we’ve put together all the tips you need to turn your own dream of a tidy, organized kitchen into a reality. Many of these tips will come in handy when organizing a pantry, too.
There a few steps to take to organize a kitchen. We’ll take you through each step of the process—from planning your process to decluttering, through to the actual organizing, and then the maintenance of your newly organized kitchen. Though it might sound daunting, if you follow this step-by-step guide you can learn how to organize a kitchen methodically and properly—so that with a bit of effort, you can make sure the big declutter really is a one-time-only event.
Step 1: plan your dream kitchen
Do some research
To gather motivation before the big declutter, and to help with the ongoing effort of maintaining an organized kitchen, it’s worth getting some visual inspiration. Having points of reference will make the organization process quicker. And this can be found in all sorts of places—from TV to social media, or even other books.
Follow a few organization influencers on Instagram, watch Get Organized with The Home Edit on Netflix, or join a Facebook group dedicated to decluttering, where members share advice about decluttering and share their best organization ideas. These will also help you to work out your favorite tips when the time comes to organize a kitchen.
Here are a few of our favorite organization resources:
Designate kitchen zones
Before you start to organize the kitchen, it can be helpful to divide your kitchen into ‘zones’—depending on how you use it. This will help you to compartmentalize the process or organizing, and to help you really focus on what you need and where.
The first principle to consider when dividing your kitchen into zones is the ‘work triangle. Katherine Blackler, a certified professional organizer and President of APDO Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers, explained, “Most kitchens have the traditional ‘work triangle’ with minimal distance between the three key areas of the cooktop, the sink, and the refrigerator, helping the user flow between these as effortlessly as possible. Similar ‘ease of use’ principles apply when planning out the surrounding storage and organization.
She suggested that when planning, “Consider the lowest shelves of any wall mounted cupboards, your countertop and the upper shelves of under-counter cupboards as “prime property”—essentially, all the areas you don’t have to crouch down or overstretch to reach. Use the areas farthest from your ‘work triangle’ to store any produce and items that are either used occasionally or are food items that are deployed and not returned to storage.”
You can divide the kitchen into zones however you’d like, but it might also help to look at it this way:
- Zone 1: Utility areas—sink, under the sink cleaning cabinet, any space around the sink
- Zone 2: Countertops—everything that is already on your counters
- Zone 3: Upper storage—perhaps the biggest zone of all, this zone includes all of the cupboards and everything in them—pots, pans, cutlery, glassware, the lot
- Zone 4: Lower storage—this might be where you keep all of your miscellaneous kitchen gear, for example, appliances, your best cookbooks, any special glasses or plates, etc
- Zone 5: Pantry—if you don’t have an actual pantry or a pantry space, this is where you keep your dried kitchen goods, such as spices, baking ingredients, etc
- Zone 6: Fridge—this might not strictly be a zone, but it can be helpful to consider this space when organizing your kitchen. Lots of the below tips can be applied when organizing your fridge
Step 2: decluttering your space
Get rid of surplus food ASAP
In order to organize a kitchen, you can’t have too many excess items. If your food cupboards are bursting at the seams, take time to go through everything in them and get rid of what you don’t use. This is one easy way to get organized quickly—as it’ll likely reduce the number of items in your kitchen by a third quickly and easily! Throw away anything that’s out of date, donate in-date, unopened food that you won’t use to a food bank, or give it away using the Olio food sharing app. Don’t ignore opened foods that you’re simply not likely to eat—either pass them on, compost them or bin them.
Think about what you actually use
As a general rule, if you haven’t used something for a year, get rid of it—this will really help you to organize a kitchen. There may be one or two exceptions, but there’s usually no point in keeping an appliance or utensil that you very rarely use—especially if you want to organize a kitchen. After all, sometimes even the very best food processor can’t convince you to make that complex, 8-layer cake you’ve been eyeing up online…
If you really can’t bring yourself to get rid of something and you’re convinced you will use it again, consider making a donation countdown box—set a date six months or one year in the future, put the box away, and if you haven’t needed or missed those items by the time that date arrives, take them to charity.
Start to declutter by category
When you do an initial declutter, you’ll need to take everything out so you can see what you have and clean your cupboards and drawers before putting anything back in. To make this stage less overwhelming, focus on one category of items at a time (eg. dishware, baking equipment, cutlery) before moving onto the next. For every item, ask yourself if you use it and if you’d buy it again today—this will help you decide which items to keep and which to lose, and in turn, create a more organized kitchen.
Tackle your junk drawer – and be ruthless
If you want to organize a kitchen, the junk drawer is a key thing to tackle. There are a few kitchen essentials every home should definitely have, while the rest of our stuff—let’s face it—is probably simply clutter we’ve accumulated over the years. Most things kept in the junk drawer, for example, could be rehomed and kept in a more suitable place: candles, tools, or stationery, for example. If you do need some of these items in the kitchen, consider using a kitchen drawer organizer to separate items by category so it doesn’t become a free-for-all.
Step 3: organizing your kitchen
Have a place for everything based on ease of access
Whether you’re looking at your cleaning zone, your pantry zone, or your cupboards, be sure to put the items that you use most often—which will vary for everyone—in the easiest spots to reach. This rule is key to leading a clutter-free, organized life— as Katherine Blackler said, ‘ease of access’ is one of the key rules when organizing a kitchen. Items or produce you use regularly should be within easy reach for you and the relevant household members.
For example, if you’re a regular smoothie maker, don’t stuff your best blender at the back of one of your cupboards far away from the fridge. Or, if you use a wooden spoon for cooking every day, make sure it is within easy reach.
To do this, you should make an inventory list of all of the things in the kitchen—which yes, unfortunately, might mean pulling everything out (sorry, mess is necessary to organize a kitchen!) Write every single thing down, grouping it into utensils, food, appliances, crockery, cutlery, and miscellaneous, and any other categories you think apply. Then, begin to consider where each item is best placed—and this may be different from where it currently lives.
Katherine shared her examples, explaining:
- Keep oils and seasoning near the cooker and hob, so you can apply a dash of it to your food and return to its home in one maneuver
- Have tea and coffee supplies home near the kettle and cups
- Put table mats or napkins in a drawer near the dining table
- It also makes sense to ensure your food prep station is close to your bin, to ensure you’re not walking around with a chopping board and knife to get to the bin
- Fresh food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated should always be as far away from the cooker/hob as possible, to avoid it decaying too quickly
Use baskets for longer, deeper cupboards
Investing in the right organization tools—such as baskets, jars, or bins—could help you to make better use of space and organize a kitchen. There are many options on the market for both drawers and cupboards, but we’d suggest using baskets for long deep cupboards that can sometimes feel like a never-ending pit of darkness.
Use baskets—either wire or plastic—to put in either foodstuffs or kitchen appliances. By having your items in a basket, you can easily pull it out to grab what it is you are searching for, instead of rooting around for it with your entire arm in the cupboard. This can also help you organize your items—perhaps put all of your baking equipment in one basket and your tea towels in another, for example.
Use clear containers for items you use the most
Clear containers such as mason jars and glass Tupperware have surged in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. Keeping the food items you use the most, such as pasta, potatoes, or cereals, in clear containers —be it a jar or a clear basket—is an easy way to source an item simply when you need it. It can also be a real space-saver, allowing you to get rid of bulky cardboard boxes.
Once you’ve sorted the items you use most into clear containers, make sure to follow our earlier tip of placing them in the most easily reachable space, so you don’t waste time and effort searching for them.
Use clever insert accessories to display condiments and dry goods
Lazy susans and stacked kitchen cupboard inserts are a fantastic way to organize kitchen cabinets and cupboards, as they allow you to see everything you have easily, without rooting around. In fact, we wouldn’t be without these if you want to organize a kitchen. Lazy susans are a great place to put taller kitchen food items such as condiments—think soy sauce, salt and pepper grinders, etc—because they have a thin base that allows you to make the most of your cupboard space.
Kitchen inserts are also great for spices if you don’t want a spice rack out on your countertop (or don’t have a spices drawer or cabinet). They allow you to display twice the amount of spices in the same cupboard, so are a fantastic space-saver.
Put things you use multiple times a day out on the counter
While leaving lots of things out on your countertop isn’t advised when it comes to the best ways to organize a kitchen, having a few select items out can make life much easier.
Katherine explained, “To give you the best illusion of calm and space (and make cleaning easier!), countertops need to only home the items you use on a very regular basis. For each household, this varies.
“If you use certain kitchen gadgets frequently, whether that’s a toaster, juicer, bread maker, air fryer, etc (or you have issues lifting heavier objects) then you might justify them being out permanently on display.” For example, leaving your coffee machine out might make things much easier, and save space in a cupboard too.
“But,” Katherine says, “if countertop space is limited, there are a few hacks for making this tip work for you. Perhaps consider investing in boiling water taps to remove the need for a kettle. Or, if you’re really short on space, consider using the grill for toast. If you keep a fruit bowl out, ensure it’s only filled with fruit and not crammed up with medicines, keys, and a random assortment of bits. That’s what the junk drawer is for!”
Make use of wall space for extra storage
Yes, we really said wall space! If you’ve gone through your kitchen decluttering, have all your items in your kitchen cupboards well organized, your counters clean and streamlined—but still need some extra space for essential items, making use of your walls for storage is a fantastic option.
You could install a hanging rack for pots and pans, wall hooks for things like tea towels, a magnetic knife holder, or any number of things. The more creative the better.
Step 4: maintaining an organized kitchen
Follow the ‘one in, one out’ rule
In order to fully organize a kitchen, you need to be able to maintain the space easily too. Along with having a place for everything, it can be a good idea to follow the one in, one out rule, especially if clutter is overwhelming your otherwise organized kitchen. This means that when you buy something new (an appliance, or another addition to your induction pans collection, for example, rather than food), you must get rid of something else that you don’t use. It requires a lot of self-discipline, but once it’s a habit, it will lead you to shop more mindfully and think carefully about what you really need in your home.
Shop mindfully to avoid excess
This applies both to food and other kitchen items. When you shop, think about what you use and what you really need, as well as the space you have, to help your kitchen stay organized. For example, Lesley from The Declutter Hub suggests, “If you don’t have space, don’t bulk buy. If your shelves are not high enough for a 750g of cereal, buy a 500g bag instead.” These are examples, but the principle applies throughout—only buy what can reasonably fit in your space.
Use your notes app to stay on top of your food items
If you think you can commit to keeping it updated, create an inventory on your phone of all the basic store cupboard ingredients you have at home—including things like herbs and spices. Or, if you prefer a good old pen and paper, this is fine too. This can then be a helpful reference when you’re food shopping and will stop you from buying what you don’t need, to create a more organized and streamlined space.
Have a daily kitchen reset
According to The Declutter Hub experts, incorporating a regular reset into your day is the key to staying on top of clutter. Lesley says, “Basically, there will be one or two times a day where you ensure your kitchen is completely tidy and reset for the day.” So take a little bit of time after washing up—and maybe even clean your dishwasher – to put things away and find a home for any clutter that’s starting to take over a countertop or cupboard.
Add a regular organization day
To be able to organize a kitchen as little as possible, a regular day of organizing can really help. As with every room when it comes to decluttering your home, your kitchen will need fairly regular maintenance—but hopefully, after implementing all of the above tips, this should be quite speedy! Food cupboards and drawers can get out of control quickly, so you may also need to set aside a weekend morning each month where you throw out expired food and anything else you know you won’t use—either by donating or binning it. Turn this activity into a routine and pair it with your favorite music or podcast, so it doesn’t seem like such a chore.
And thank you to Katherine Blackler, a certified professional organizer and President of APDO Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers