A woman in a red plaid shirt holds open the doors to a cluttered kitchen cabinet in a messy kitchen full of random stuff

Organizing Kitchen Cabinets: Use What You Have to Make a Great Space

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You don’t need to buy fancy baskets or install roll out shelves to make more storage space in your kitchen. The key to organizing your kitchen cabinets is decluttering then arranging your stuff in activity zones so everything is convenient to get out and also put away.

Now, before we dive in, take a moment to think about how you want to accomplish on this. There are pros and cons to each approach:

All at once: Dive in and do it all in one day, but your kitchen will look like a disaster zone while you work. When you’re finished, you’ll have a completely transformed space.

One area at a time: Organize a few kitchen cabinets over several days. Think things through first, so you don’t play musical chairs with your stuff. But watch out — if you give up, your kitchen might be worse off than before.

The Decluttering Process

No amount of organizing things will help if you’ve got too much to fit in your kitchen cabinets. So the decluttering process is when you need to carefully look at what you have and decide whether it’s worth making room for.

  1. Empty the space: If you’re doing it all in one go, pull everything out of every cabinet. Otherwise, work on the area you’ve chosen.
  2. Sort: Decide for each thing whether to keep, donate/sell, or trash it. Be ruthless, or you’ll wind up with cabinets that are still too full.
  3. Review: Look over the items you intend to keep. Have you used them all within the past year? That’s enough to cover every season and holiday.

Whenever I organize my cabinets, I find things I’ve outgrown. For instance, my lockdown love of baking sourdough gave way to low carb meal prepping. So the sourdough stuff needs to get out of my kitchen. That’s just how life goes.

Pro Tip

Can’t decide whether to get rid of something? Put it in a box and write the date on it, then store it somewhere besides your kitchen. If you don’t need it within a year, let it go.

Cleaning the Space

With your cabinets empty, it’s the perfect time for a thorough clean. Dust the tops, vacuum crumbs, and tackle shelf support holes to ward off pantry moths

Use baking soda for tough spills or scuffs. Give everything, including hinges and inside doors, a good wipe down. If you have open shelving, wipe the brackets, too.

Organize Kitchen Cabinets by Zones

How do you really use your kitchen? Instead of seeing your cabinets as just shelves waiting to be filled, treat them as zones for your different kitchen activities.

Food storage zone

Ready to cook? Think about where you grab your dry goods and canned stuff. Ideally, store these near your fridge and freezer.

Food prep zone

Here’s where you chop, mix, and measure. Keep knives, cutting boards, and mixing bowls handy. Small appliances? Store them here if there’s space, but keep them off the counter to avoid clutter.

Cooking zone

Head to the area around your oven and cooktop for actual cooking. Store utensils, oven mitts, pots, and pans here. Spices and seasonings should be within reach too.

Container zone

Time to serve or store your meal? This zone is all about plates, bowls, silverware, and food storage containers. Keep aluminum foil and cling film here for easy wrapping and covering.

Cleaning zone

Now for cleanup. Around and under your sink, store dish rags, towels, sponges, and detergents. If you have a dishwasher, it’s part of this zone.  I keep a caddy full of cleaning supplies stashed my sink, plus a spare roll of paper towels and kitchen garbage bags.

Other zones

Got other regular kitchen activities? Whether it’s caring for houseplants or a spot for the kids’ homework, organize the essentials for these activities in their own zones. This makes life a little easier every day.

Keep It Convenient

Now that you’ve planned your zones, the next step in organizing your kitchen cabinets is putting things away while keeping them convenient. 

Keep in mind, the space between your waist and eye level is prime real estate. Reserve these spots for your most used items to ensure they’re always handy!

  • Frequently used items: Keep toward the front of cabinets or in waist-level drawers.
  • Less often used items: Put in the back of cabinets or lower drawers.
  • Seldom used stuff: Stash on the highest shelves, in that awkward blind cabinet that’s so hard to use, or in another part of your home.

Pro Tip

Make it easy to reach what you need. Use lazy Susans, tiered shelves, or group items in clear bins for quick access. The less you have to move, the easier it is to grab and go.

Maximize Space

As you organize your kitchen cabinets and drawers within each zone, look for ways to make use of wasted space—this is especially helpful if you don’t have adjustable shelving or you’re short on cabinet space altogether.

• Add levels: Use vertical stackers or shelf risers. For example, a riser can let you store a stack of bowls above your plates, doubling the storage in that space.

• Use the inside of doors: Adhesive hooks inside cabinet doors can hold cooking utensils or measuring cups and spoons, freeing up cabinet space.

• Tension rods: A pair of tension rods in your cabinet creates a vertical slot for baking sheets and cutting boards, so they take up less room. 

• Under shelf hooks: Use small mug or eye hooks installed under shelves to hold mugs and cups.

• Cabinet tops: If you have a space above cabinets, use it to hold seldom used things in baskets or shallow bins.

• The sides of your cabinets: Attach adhesive hooks to the blank space at the end of a run of cabinets to hold mugs, cutting boards, or hanging baskets full of rolled dishcloths and kitchen towels.

Label with Care

Labeled shelves appeal to my inner librarian. They also help my family know where to put things away. But I’ve also learned the hard way not to jump into labeling things.

Wait a week or two after you’ve finished organizing your kitchen cabinets to label your shelves and containers. That way, you can be certain you’re happy with where you’ve stored things. 

When you do break out the label maker, resist getting too specific. Instead of labeling a shelf “Cheerios and granola” go with “Cereals.” Not “pistachios and almonds” but “nuts.” Getting too specific makes putting things away a hassle.

Pro Tip

Change the shelf height to keep items easily reachable. For bulky items, transfer a portion into smaller containers to keep in your food storage zone. Then put the rest in a separate cabinet to serve as back stock—just don’t forget it’s there. 

Establish a Decluttering Routine

Keeping kitchen cabinets organized is an ongoing process. I tidy things up now and then when I’m putting dishes away, or doing my weekly kitchen cleaning.

But also, if we start leaving stuff sitting out on the kitchen counter, it’s a sign that I need to set aside time to declutter and organize the kitchen cabinets again.

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