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5 Techniques to Streamline and Organize Your Kitchen

Sorting, decluttering drawers and pantry can help cooks make the most of small spaces

spinner image hands organizing cutlery in a kitchen drawer
Getty Images


Like many people spending more time cooking and testing new recipes during the pandemic, you may have found your kitchen wanting in certain ways.

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Maybe you realized you're missing some useful gadgets, or you can never find the tool you need in that cluttered drawer, or you spend precious time hunting through the pantry for the cinnamon or the salt.

“The kitchen being the heart of the home where the most time is spent, people want things to work better and make their lives easier,” says Alan Regala, owner of ShelfGenie of Seattle, which provides custom organization solutions.

Making the kitchen more efficient and functional saves time, decreases stress while cooking and “helps people age in place and is easier on the body if they don’t have to bend awkwardly to get into a space,” he adds.

Many people want to simply want to be able to find or reach items in their kitchen and maximize storage, especially in small spaces.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Jade Zygner, a professional organizer and owner of O.C. Declutter Solutions in Eagan, Minnesota. “What might work for one person may not work for another.”

Follow these five steps to make your kitchen or pantry more functional and efficient:

1. Evaluate the space

First, think about how you want to use your kitchen, what you have versus what you need and where items should go. Open your drawers and cabinets to take stock of what’s there.

2. Declutter

“Clutter tends to be worse on counters, where you simply put things as you walk into a room,” says Zygner, so "clear your counters of stuff that doesn’t belong in the kitchen."

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She suggests first tackling low-hanging fruit, such as getting rid of extra grocery store bags, old cooking magazines or outdated cookbooks that are now available online. Consider photographing your favorite family recipes, such as the index card with instructions for Aunt May’s fudge, or making a recipe book.

spinner image left a drawer full of container lids right a drawer full of containers with lids
Get rid of extra plastic containers and organize for more drawer space.
Courtesy of Jade Zygner

3. Sort and purge

Remove everything from its place, put everything on the floor or a table, and group like items together. Get rid of duplicates, such as two blenders or multiple wooden spoons, especially if you have a limited amount of space. “Start with what you’re least attached to — you might find it easier to [purge the contents of] a junk drawer than grandma’s china,” Zygner advises.

Caretaking for her husband, who is disabled, and her late mother meant Cindy Abair’s tiny kitchen in her St. Paul, Minnesota, townhouse became cluttered with dirty dishes on counters and partially unpacked grocery bags on the floor. Earlier this year, she began by tossing take-out containers and then sorting everything else into what needed to be washed, put away or thrown out.

“I threw out a lot of stuff, like spices I used once and expired food products,” says Abair, 64. “I found there was a lot more cabinet space than I thought.”

This process may take awhile and occupy a lot of space. If you don’t have a whole weekend to devote to the project, tackle one section of the kitchen at a time. This also may be the perfect time to deep clean the insides of drawers, cabinets and refrigerator.

spinner image left an unorganized kitchen pantry right a pantry organized with containers and baskets
Toss out expired pantry items and put often-used items in more accessible places.
Courtesy ShelfGenie of Seattle

4. Create zones

Organize your kitchen by activity zones. If you’re standing at the oven, everything you need — from pots and pans to spices — should be within easy reach.

Lisa Stefani, 57, of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, put all of the coffee-related items in one cupboard next to the coffee pot on the counter, which freed up space to store all of the bread near the toaster. All of her cookbooks are in one place, all baking items are together, and spices were moved to a drawer where they are easier to see and reach.

spinner image left a messy kitchen drawer right that same drawer organized with baskets
Discard duplicate items and group similar tools together.
Courtesy of Jade Zygner

5. Organize

People can gain storage space by reorganizing in a more efficient way. Frequently used items should be easy to reach and rarely used products should be in the least convenient spots. Here are some organizing ideas for your kitchen or pantry, especially if you have limited space:

  • Use space savers: Some inexpensive products can be added to cabinets, drawers and shelves to create more storage space. Consider hanging mugs, stemware, and pots and pans or adding shelf risers or under-shelf racks. Think about hanging an over-the-pantry-door organizer for spices, snacks or cleaning supplies, or attaching knives to a wall-mounted magnetic strip. If you have extra wall space, consider installing shelves. Abair added a riser — a small stand that creates a second shelf — and a couple of lazy Susan turntables to her cupboards to make spices and other goods more accessible.
  • Install pullout shelves: These shelves improve access to items in deep cabinets, especially lower ones, eliminating the need to bend. Costs can range from $30 DIY to about $5,000.
  • Use storage bins: Store bulk items in open bins or clear glass or plastic reusable food containers in your kitchen or pantry. It’s tidier and eliminates multiple packages as you consolidate items like nuts and rice. Get stackable square containers.
  • Install a mixer lift: A stand mixer may be the heaviest and largest item in your kitchen, which makes it hard to store. A spring-loaded shelf that typically sits in a cabinet underneath the counter and comes out as needed does the heavy lifting for you, but it can cost over $100 — and you need the space to install it.
  • Add an island: If you have the floor space, consider adding an island or rolling cart for extra counter and storage space.

The amount of time needed to reorganize your kitchen depends on its size, how much stuff you have and how quickly you make decisions. The cost depends on whether you do it yourself, hire a professional or do a bit of both.

Small changes can make a big difference.

“Now, I go into the kitchen and it’s like, Wow!” Stefani says. “It’s much more pleasant to be in.

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Sheryl Jean is a contributing writer who covers aging, business, technology, travel, health and human-interest stories. A former reporter for several daily metropolitan newspapers, her work also has appeared in the 
Chicago Tribune and The Dallas Morning News and on the American Heart Association's website.

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