How to Organize Your Kitchen Cabinets

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Use the kitchen triangle rule to decide where to put things in your kitchen and know the times you should break the rule.

Rear view of woman leaning against sink as she tries to decide how to organize open kitchen cabinet

Before You Begin

Depending on the size of your kitchen, organizing your cabinets can take a couple of hours or an entire day. The process involves emptying all of your cabinets at once, picking through things to purge expired food and clutter, then grouping what’s left based on function. Once you’ve done that, you can begin putting things back into your cupboards by keeping your frequently used items in reach and using less-accessible cabinets for things you don’t need very often.

Steps to Organize Your Kitchen Cabinets

The best organizing session starts with a full clean-out, because that way you get a realistic picture of how much stuff you’re trying to store compared to how much space you actually have. Trying to reorganize just a few cabinets at a time won’t cure a chronically disorganized kitchen. So, if it’s at all possible, clear off your counters and table so you’ve got room to hold everything. Then, if you have the time, clean your cabinets before putting things back.

Step 1. Get Rid of Expired Food.

If your cabinets double as a pantry, this is a good chance to go through your stored foods. Wipe all containers with a warm, soapy cloth as you go to get rid of dust and drips that can attract pests. Although food expiration dates on packages are meaningless, the contents of opened packages go stale, dehydrate, or lose their flavor. Discard those, along with any items showing signs of pantry moths or other infestations. And consider donating food items your family won’t eat, like the can of lima beans that’s been on the shelf for months.

Step 2. Eliminate the Clutter.

The standard rules of deciding what’s clutter and what’s not apply in the kitchen, too. Discard broken or worn out gadgets, and donate things you don’t use, don’t like, or which don’t live up to their hype. Put these in separate piles or boxes, and consider labeling them so you don’t confuse the two.

Step 3. Group Things by Category and Function.

There are two ways to group things in your kitchen cabinets: by category and by function. The most practical way to organize your cabinets involves a mixture of both.

• Category: Almost everything gets stored in your kitchen cabinets by category. For instance, drinking glasses, coffee cups, eating utensils, cooking oils, spices, and kitchen towels are all categories of things. You’d store all the items in a category together.

Function: There may be some items best stored by function. For example, if you bake a lot, you might keep baking sheets, cookie cutters, a rolling pin, and standard ingredients all in one cabinet. Or, if your kids take lunch to school every day, stash their lunch bags, thermoses, and food containers together. Grouping frequently used items makes your kitchen serve you, which is the goal of organizing your home.

Step 4. Where Things Belong in Your Cabinets.

For a well-organized kitchen, put things you need while preparing or cooking meals within the kitchen triangle. The kitchen triangle is the working space between the three points of your refrigerator, sink, and stovetop. Everything else belongs outside the kitchen triangle, with the heavier things in lower cabinets and the least-often used items in the highest, most inaccessible spots.

What goes in the kitchen triangle: cooking utensils, measuring cups and spoons, mixing bowls, cutting boards, pots and pans, casserole dishes and bakeware, foods (dry and canned goods on separate shelves), oils, spices, towels and potholders.

What goes outside of the kitchen triangle: dishes and glasses, eating utensils, food storage containers and wraps, and seasonal items.

Step 5. Establish a Routine to Keep Things Tidy.

Old habits about where things go are hard to change, which is why so many home organization projects fail. To help your new layout stick, go through your cabinets daily at first to make sure everything is in its proper place. It might even be helpful to label the shelves and drawers temporarily until your family has the new system down.

Ways to Make More storage space

Have you purged clutter from your kitchen cabinets but still feel short on space? Here are some of my favorite tips to make use of every inch of potential storage in the kitchen.

• Use vertical space. For example, you can free up a shelf of spices by using magnetic containers to store them on the side of your fridge. Or add a knife bar to your backsplash and get rid of the bulky knife block. You don’t even have to drill holes—use a Command Strip or heavy-duty Velcro. Or hang wire fruit baskets beneath upper cabinets to hold produce.

Hang your pots and pans. If you’ve got a gap between cabinets above your kitchen sink, install a 2×4 on top and use heavy duty mug hooks to hang lightweight pots and pans. For cast iron or heavy cookware, attach the 2×4 to wall studs and hang your pans on the wall. Paint or stain it to match your decor.

Create extra shelving. Install a shelf above doorways to hold holiday or seldomly used items. Use adhesive shelves on the side of your refrigerator or the blank side at the end of the cabinet run. Mount hooks under the upper cabinets to hold coffee mugs or tea cups. And use wire under-shelf baskets to hold cloth napkins, seasoning packets, or other light things.

It may seem like an enormous project, but an afternoon spent emptying and reorganizing your cabinets can maximize storage space, eliminate clutter, and pay off daily by making your kitchen more enjoyable to use.

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