How to Declutter and Organize Your Kitchen
Your kitchen is the Grand Central Station of your home, where everyone passes through multiple times daily, usually leaving behind a trail of clutter. It’s also where your family hangs out and talks, does homework, and prepares and consumes meals. If you’re like most of us, you have dozens of excess coffee mugs, expired condiments, stale spices, overflowing junk drawers and way too many cleaning supplies — and that’s just the beginning.
If your countertops are jammed with appliances, mail, books, magazines and random odds and ends that seem to have no home, you’re not alone. Research has shown that cluttered spaces can create stress, plus encourage overeating and impulse buying. Making your kitchen a more efficient, comfortable place is a new year’s resolution that’s easy to keep — and one you’ll benefit from in multiple ways.
A Resolution for Your Kitchen: Declutter and Organize
To get ready for the new year (and healthy eating), here are some tips for how to declutter and organize your kitchen.
Make a Plan Before You Start
While it might be tempting to start rifling through drawers and cabinets looking for things you no longer use, you’ll likely give up because you’ll feel overwhelmed or end up with piles of objects that have nowhere to go. Be sure you have plenty of time before tackling this project. Get some boxes and garbage bags ready. Label the boxes and bags for things to donate, items to pack away and things to toss.
You might have heard of the “work triangle” configuration, where your fridge, sink and stovetop are organized in a triangular pattern. Unless you plan to do some serious remodeling, another way to organize your kitchen is by activity — create zones for cooking, baking, cleaning and prepping. Then have the things you need for each task stored and arranged in ways to streamline it. Now, decide which area to tackle first, such as drawers, countertops, cabinets, pantry or fridge.
Pretend You’re Moving
If you’re hesitant to donate things you don’t really need but hate to part with, one way to look at it is to pretend you’re moving. Ask yourself if you’d spend the time and effort to drag an item to a new kitchen. You can also ask yourself if you’d rebuy it. To soften the blow of giving away something you’re struggling to part with, do you have a family member, close friend or helpful neighbor who could use it? If you have any college students or recent grads in your life, they might welcome the chance to stock their apartment kitchens with your unused items. Church kitchens, office break rooms, teacher lounges and nonprofits are also good places to donate kitchen items.
First, look around your kitchen and think about which things you use the most and which drawer houses them. Do you have to walk across the kitchen from where you usually work to grab a spoon? How far is your dishwasher from your silverware drawer? Do you find yourself continually bending down to the bottom drawer for something that you could store in a top drawer? Now is the time to switch things around to make your kitchen more efficient. If you’re OK with where things are, then move on to the next step.
One of the most helpful ways to declutter a drawer is to remove everything from it. If you don’t use them already, it’s well worth it to invest in drawer organizers such as this eight-piece interlocking bin pack of drawer organizers or this bamboo expandable drawer organizer. For larger drawers that hold pots, pans or even dishes, check out this customizable wood pegboard system.
Before you start putting things back, check for duplicates — you probably don’t need six beer bottle openers, four wine openers, 11 cheese knives or three sets of measuring spoons. Now that you’re using F.N. Sharp knives, it’s time to ditch the old, dull ones lurking around in the back of a drawer. Pick the items you use most and donate the rest. Place things you use most often in the top drawers.
Don’t have F.N. Sharp knives? Do yourself a favor and get the 6-knife essential set, along with our magnetic knife block which gives you some extra storage for those utensils that now have nowhere to go!
Tackle your cabinets the same way you did your drawers. Again, consider which things you use most often and their proximity to your work area, dishwasher and sink. If you can barely reach the dishes you use most, place them on a lower shelf or into a drawer (and organize them with the wood pegboard system we mentioned earlier). If you don’t have pullout shelves in your cabinets, consider installing some like this under-the-kitchen sink one or these chrome pullout drawers.
Speaking of under the sink, pull everything out and discard extra cleaning supplies — and anything you haven’t touched in more than a year. If you have multiple open containers of the same cleaning product, merge them into one.
Now read on for tips on organizing specific items!
Reusable Plastic Bags, Totes and Containers
Even when we use reusable totes to cart groceries home, we still end up with plastic bags. Figuring out how to store them quickly and conveniently can bring on a migraine. Fortunately, you have some simple options such as this three-pack of waterproof wall mount grocery dispenser bags that hold any size plastic bags.
If your reusable shopping totes are in a jumbled mess, time to go through them and toss the old or ripped ones. Fold all but one in half and place them inside an unfolded one. You can hang the full one on a hook or door handle so they’re ready to go when you head to the store. Remember that customizable wooden pegboard organizer we mentioned earlier — you can also use it to organize your food storage containers and lids. Another handy way to store food storage containers is to use adjustable drawer dividers like these attractive bamboo ones from Amazon.
Warped or Unused Pots and Pans
As you’re going through your drawers and cabinets, is there any reason why a warped or peeling nonstick pan is in there gathering dust? And do you really need three small saucepans? If you’ve upgraded your pots and pans to an awesome All-Clad or Swiss Diamond cookware set, it’s time to donate those old pots and pans.
If you stack your pots and pans, think about installing a sliding organizer like this one from Wayfair. If you don’t want to drill holes in your cabinets, check out this kitchenware divider that can be used horizontally or vertically to organize pans. Lids can go on the cabinet door with this cabinet door organizer.
More on Cookware: Essential Pots and Pans
Are you ever going to use the cute coffee mug your kindergartner painted years ago or the seven mugs you received at work events? Keep only the dishes you use regularly. If you’re saying, “No, I might need them for a party or houseguests,” ask yourself when you last used them. If you genuinely use them but only occasionally, pack the extras into a storage box like this one from Home Depot and store them in the attic or basement. Pull them out for the occasion and then put them back into storage. Another way to free up some cabinet space is to use a rotating mug tree for the coffee mugs you use most often.
Survey your small appliances — when was the last time you used that popcorn popper, ice cream maker, quesadilla maker or bread machine? Dust them off and donate them. The kids next door might love to have them. Again, look for duplicates. If you’ve upgraded your coffee maker, blender, food processor or stand mixer, but kept the old one, it’s time to send it to a new home.
Now think about which appliances you use most often. You probably use your coffee or espresso maker daily, but not your blender or juicer. Keep only the appliances you use daily on your counter. Arrange all others in the order you use them, with the most frequently used in the front of a cabinet or pantry shelf.
Did you know that most ground spices lose their aroma and ability to fully season foods after about two or three years? Ground and leafy herbs last even less, about one to three years. We’ve all bought specific spices for a dish and then never used them again. Or we didn’t realize we already had a spice and purchased another one.
Go through your spices and herbs and discard the ones that have sell-by dates that date back to when President Obama was first elected. Organizers like this one that fits into a cabinet or pantry shelf can make finding spices much easier. Another option is a cabinet door spice rack like this one. Many specialty shops also sell spices in very small quantities instead of the full-size ones you find in supermarkets. The next time you need an unusual spice you won’t likely use often, you’ll save yourself space (and money) by buying it in tiny quantities from somewhere like Savory Spice.
Meal Prep 101: Tips for Cooking With Herbs and Spices
Reusable Water and Coffee Bottles
If you’re like most of us, you now have a collection of plastic or stainless-steel reusable water bottles and coffee mugs. These seem to have replaced ceramic coffee mugs as the free swag you receive at trade shows and other events. Most of them you probably don’t use. Time to purge! Keep only the ones you use and when you receive a new one, eliminate an old one. These items take up a lot of shelf space too, so you can organize them with a plastic, stackable container like this one.
Miscellaneous Food Storage
How many times have you bought a can or jar of food for a recipe and then realized you already had three unopened ones lurking in the back of your cabinet or pantry shelf? Yep, we’ve all been there. Or you threw your back out rooting around in the back of your cabinet searching for that elusive can. For less than $20 you can store 36 cans with this chrome stackable can rack organizer.
If you have piles of food packets (or whole drawerfuls) such as spices, rice mixes, hot chocolate, tuna, condiment packets, sweeteners, squeezable fruit. etc., this handy little two-pack caddy will have them organized neatly in no time.
Countertops seem to contain invisible magnets that automatically attract clutter. Now is the time to get serious about purging. Look around your kitchen and identify things you use most. First, now that you’ve neatly organized your kitchen drawers and cabinets, see if you can store items in one — just be sure you can still easily reach them.
Next, try to reduce the amount of paper mail that ends up in your house. Switch to online bill paying and paperless statements to cut back on paper mail. Unsubscribe from all paper catalogs — you can find things faster on retailers’ websites. Ditto for mailed coupons — most retailers offer the same, if not more, coupons on their websites. If you still end up with bills, catalogs, coupons and other paper items cluttering up your counter, the Container Store has some great suggestions for creating a designated area for organizing and storing mail.
Just like your clothing closet, finding things inside your pantry might be a lesson in patience and perseverance! If that’s the case, you’ll want to include your pantry in your detox and declutter endeavor. And just as with clothing closets, you can find plenty of options for organizing your pantry. The first thing to do is empty it out. Have your trash and recycle bins ready because you’ll surely find food items that expired years ago or have been open for so long, stale doesn’t even begin to describe how they’d taste.
If you’re lucky enough to have a walk-in pantry, you have plenty of space, which makes storage more manageable. If yours is more of a large cabinet or two, you’ll need to maximize your space. Mesh, plastic or wire stacking bins can do wonders for organizing pantry shelves. Arrange items by category, such as pasta in one bin, rice and other grains in another, kid snacks in a kid-friendly bin, and so on. The Container Store has some helpful tips on how to organize a pantry, with links to products.
How to Make Your Resolution to Declutter Your Kitchen Less Painful
As you can see, this project might seem daunting, depending on how disorganized your kitchen is. One way is to enlist some help — your best friend, sister, kids or your spouse. Just be sure that whoever you ask to help with actually help and not thwart your efforts. If your spouse is a packrat who hates to throw anything away, do this project when he or she is out of the house. Turn on some tunes or download an interesting podcast or juicy novel to listen to as you work, and the time will fly by. Pour a glass of wine (or two!), as long as you won’t be tempted to give up and just enjoy the wine. If you’re donating items, look forward to the natural high you’ll get from knowing you’re doing something that will help others. And best of all, know how much you and your family will enjoy your kitchen when you’re done!