Organizing Kitchen Cupboards and Maximizing Storage

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Purge expired foods, organize things by function, put items where they belong, and keep your cupboards organized with routine tidying.

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

The thing about messy kitchen cabinets is that they lead to messes elsewhere in your kitchen, too. Sure, you can shut the cabinet doors to hide the clutter, but if there’s nowhere to put things away, the chaos expands. Then, cleaning your kitchen becomes a hassle, too.

Decluttering Kitchen Cabinets

If you’re ready to get your kitchen cabinets organized, you’ll need an afternoon to do it, but it’ll make you feel better every day. Before you can start organizing, you need to declutter so you aren’t trying to make room for things you don’t need or use. So, open up those cabinet doors and take out everything. Use a footstool if you need one, and feel free to spread things on the floor when you run out of counter space.

What to Throw Away

Expired canned goods. The date on a container doesn’t tell you when food is no longer safe to eat since food expiration dates are mostly meaningless. But definitely get rid of any bulging or leaking cans.

Old herbs and spices. If you can’t smell an herb or spice without burying your nose in the container, then you won’t be able to taste it in your food, either. Don’t stop at tossing out stale seasonings, though. Get rid of oils that smell “off,” too– they’re rancid and will ruin your meals.

Anything that’s broken. We’ve all got broken things we plan to fix one day. If you’ve meant to fix something for months but haven’t, it’s a sign you don’t need it.

Worn out stuff. You probably avoid using things that are no longer in good shape, from cracked wooden spoons to chipped glasses and ratty teatowels. Don’t let them take up room in your kitchen cupboards.

Please don’t donate broken or damaged items. Charity shops don’t have the time or resources to fix things. If you don’t want to throw it away, list it on eBay or Craigslist and disclose that it’s broken. Some people intentionally buy broken things so they can fix and resell them.

What to Give Away

Things that don’t fit your stage of life. For example, a 2-serving casserole dish might have been perfect when you first set up the house, but it’s too small to feed a family.

Specialty gadgets and uni-taskers. Were you really into making sourdough bread for a while but no longer have time for it? It’s okay to let go of that gear.

Anything that didn’t live up to its hype. From garlic peelers that didn’t speed up the work to an indoor grill that sets off your smoke alarm — if you hate using it, don’t keep it.

Gifts that make you feel guilty. Just because you didn’t pay for something doesn’t mean you have to keep it. If you don’t love seeing or using it, don’t give it space in your kitchen. Yes, that goes for the cute apron you got as a hostess gift from your best friend. She’ll understand. Really.

Duplicates. You only need so many glasses or mugs, and a good rule of thumb is to have one for everyone in your home who might use it and two extra in case you have guests.

Canned or boxed foods your family will not eat. Did you buy a can of lima beans that’s gathering dust? Maybe you stocked up on yeast but realize you’ll never use it all four containers before it goes bad. It’s okay to let go of things, but please don’t throw good food away. Please take it to a local food bank or neighbor.

Steps to Organize Kitchen Cabinets

Once you’ve purged the clutter, you’re in a much better position to see how much space you need for the things you plan to keep.

Step 1. Plan Storage Strategically

Give some thought to how you use your kitchen. What are the most accessible cupboards and drawers? You’ll want to store frequently-used things there. Which ones are challenging to use? That’s where stuff you rarely need belongs. (Pro tip: Those annoying half-cabinets above the fridge are a great place for the stash of candy you’re hiding from the kids. Or cooking utensils and serving ware that you only use for holidays. Your call.)

Step 2. Unbox Dry Goods

Putting your food into air-tight containers protects food from household pests like pantry moths and helps it stay fresh. Opt for square, flat-topped clear containers: they take up less space and are stackable, plus you can see what’s inside at a glance. (I use these, which come with reusable chalkboard labels.)

Step 3. Group by Function

Think about what you do most often in your kitchen and group together the things you use. For example, if you bake a lot of cookies, group your ingredients and decorations. If your kids take lunch to school every day, group their lunch bags, thermoses, and food containers.

Clear, unlidded bins are a great way to keep your groups tidy. Instead of going through several different cupboards searching for ingredients, liners, and decorations, you just have to grab the bin to bake a batch of cupcakes and start cooking.

Step 4. Put Things Where They Belong

Below are some guidelines about where to put things in kitchen cupboards. No law says you’ve got to store things this way — the entire point of organizing your kitchen cabinets is to make them useful to you. But it doesn’t hurt to understand why other people store things where they do.

Dishes and glassware: Storing these in a cupboard near the dishwasher or sink makes it easier to put away clean ones. To keep this cabinet from feeling cramped, don’t use it to hold holiday or special occasion glassware like Christmas mugs or fancy wine glasses for guests. Either move those to a higher, less-accessible cabinet or store them in a closet.

Utensils and gadgets: If you cook a lot, you may want to keep your favorite spoons and spatulas in a crock on the counter. More into take-out? Stash the cooking utensils in a drawer so they don’t sit there gathering dust.

Foods, seasonings, and other ingredients: Try to keep these near your stove. You’ll want them at eye level if you often cook, so they’re easy to find. Keep dry ingredients together on one shelf and canned items on another to group them. Use a turntable or bin to hold oils and seasonings you use often.

Food storage containers: Grabbing a food storage container isn’t usually urgent, so don’t give them prime real estate near the cooktop or sink. A lower cabinet is usually fine.

Towels and potholders: Unless you have many potholders and oven mitts, hanging them is a great way to free up space — just add hooks to the side of your fridge or inside a cabinet door. Towels can get out of control, too. You need a fresh one for every day of the week and a couple of spares, so try to keep your collection down if you’re short on space.

Keeping Them Tidy

Once you’ve decluttered and organized your kitchen cabinets, upkeep only takes a few minutes each week. Put away kitchen clutter as part of your daily tidy-up routine and straighten messes when you see them. If your kids are the ones who empty the dishwasher, you might consider labeling the shelves and drawers to help them know where things belong.

Ways to Make More Space in Cabinets

Have you purged clutter from your kitchen cabinets but still feel short on space? Here are some more ideas to maximize space in your cupboards.

Hang your pots and pans. If you’ve got a gap between cabinets above your kitchen sink, why not install a pot rack there? You’ll free up an entire cupboard and make them easy to reach, too. Plus, they can drip dry. It doesn’t have to be fancy, either. I use a half-round piece of lumber and heavy-duty mug hooks to make mine. Once I painted it, everyone thought it was an original part of the cabinets.

Reclaim wasted space. Put empty vertical space in your kitchen to work. 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.

Add extra shelving. If you can’t install additional shelves, a wire under-shelf basket is the next best thing. Use a cake stand or tiered basket on the counter to maximize vertical storage. They’re perfect for holding produce or linens. If the end of your cabinets isn’t adjacent to a doorway, use a few adhesive shelves or hooks to turn them into storage.

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