Home Hacks

12 Handy Organization Ideas for Small Kitchens

A+ ideas to make the most of your layout.

Photo by Rocky Luten

My first apartment in San Francisco was a well-lit 1920s studio on California Street that had a kitchen with capacity for roughly three-fourths of one person at a time. The storage space was virtually nonexistent: I had a single, tiny wall of cabinets abutting the stove (rendering one section of shelf inaccessible), and just one cabinet next to the kitchen sink.

But a decade later, comprising a stint at Williams-Sonoma HQ, a wedding, and two increasingly larger apartments, I’d officially amassed enough kitchen gear to stock a boutique.

When my husband and I downsized to a smaller place in Los Angeles last September, we became reacquainted with the problem of space. Our previous apartment had featured an open kitchen, generous countertops, and three walls of cabinets. The new one is fully functional, but can be swept clean with three strokes of a broom. I got rid of a lot before the move to Southern California, but even my “must-haves” proved to be a tight fit for our cozy new kitchen.

Here are some of the handy tips I’ve learned to optimize our kitchen space, no matter what size.


1. Hang what you can

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Kitchen wall space can be used for hanging rails with hooks for utensils, additional shelving, or a magnetic knife strip, which can help free up drawer and counter space. If you have high ceilings, consider installing a pot rack—this makes cookware easy to access and creates an impressive looking display.


2. Toss the single-function gadgets

While packing for the move, I discovered that I owned some very specialized items. During my pie-making phase, I’d purchased a cherry pitter and apple corer. Since I can pit cherries and core apples with a knife, these kinds of items had to go. The lesson learned? Sort through your gadgets and make sure any single-task items you keep are truly necessary. (Looking at you, Hario V60.)


3. Make good use of the space within cabinets

Stacking bins and shelf risers can help optimize available space within cabinets. There's also a surprising amount of usable real estate inside all of your cabinet doors: Consider mounting vertical racks to store everything from pot lids to cleaning supplies.


4. Use magnetized everything

The front and sides of your refrigerator are a perfect spot to store items that you might reach for often, like kitchen timers, measuring spoons, bottle openers, and wine keys. This magnetic rack is designed to store spices, and this one sticks to the fridge to hold paper towels, a dishcloth, oven mitts, and other odds and ends.


5. Add counter space with a kitchen cart

A kitchen cart on wheels with a butcher block top can act as a cutting board while you cook, and the shelves underneath can provide additional storage for small appliances. Use it to store dry pantry items in acrylic canisters, or any items that don’t fit in your existing cabinets and drawers.


6. Re-evaluate large kitchen appliances

Do you actually need a juicer or stand mixer? How many times a week do you actually use your microwave? If you do use them, make sure they’re the right size for you and take up the least amount of space possible. For items that only get occasional use, store them out of sight, or consider selling or donating them.


7. Store items by how often they’re used

If you don’t use your blender or food processor often, stow them away under a cabinet or atop your refrigerator. Lesser-used specialty cookware and kitchen utensils should go in lower cabinets and shelves, leaving the top drawers and counters for things you reach for every day.


8. Opt for items that stack and nest

Invest in items like nesting bowls and cookware sets, designed to maximize storage space. For dry goods, a matching set of stackable storage containers will ensure you get the most out of every square inch, instead of playing Tetris with an assortment of odd-sized bags and boxes in your pantry.


9. Optimize vertical space

Tops of cabinets can provide more storage for lesser-used items, like large serving platters and baking pans (just make sure to wipe them down regularly). We use the top of our refrigerator to house cutting boards when they aren’t in use!


10. Make your sink double duty

If a kitchen cart is not an option, the space where your sink sits can also act as more counter space with the right addition—try an over-the-sink drying rack or cutting board.


11. Let your kitchen expand to another room

One of the best things we ever did for our small kitchen was to look to adjoining spaces for more storage. We have a dining area next to the kitchen that we set up with two matching bookshelves with drawers on the bottom which now house kitchen linens, tea, and serving trivets. Part of our laundry room also serves as an extension of our pantry, holding extra canned goods, pasta, and other shelf-stable goods.


12. Declutter Regularly

It’s really easy to make a mess in a small kitchen, so it’s important to constantly edit. Every few months, do an inventory of your kitchenware and get rid of anything you find to be unnecessary.


What's your best space-saving trick for a tiny kitchen? Let us know in the comments.
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22 Comments

christine D. January 23, 2021
It appears that you have outgrown your lazy Susan. Why not contact the Container Store for some kind of container that would accommodate your spices in clear bottles with a label on each.
 
MCM S. January 23, 2021
That’s probably the reality of it!
 
MCM S. January 22, 2021
I have a wall-cabinet lazy Susan I use for my spices. With quarantine & COVID I have been cooking up a storm and my spices have multiplied. Alpha order isn’t enough for organization. I can’t find them easily. How can you help?
 
Karen K. January 23, 2021
I have a corner spice cabinet that has a lazy Susan in it as well. I have recently put a small metal spice rack on the inside of the cabinet door. Most often used spices are kept here for easy access.
 
Author Comment
Bernadette M. January 24, 2021
Hi MCM! I recently started using magnetized spice containers attached to my fridge for spices that I reach for often, but not *too* often - cardamom, Szechuan peppercorns, dried chilies, etc). My most-used spices (garlic powder, thyme, pepper flakes, paprika, etc) are next to my stove, and my least used spices are in two baskets on a top shelf in my pantry - I only bring them down when I need them. Everything is labeled on its lid so I can see it easily!
 
MCM S. January 25, 2021
Love the label on the lid.
 
christine D. January 20, 2021
How about including some ideas for senior citizens and short people who are vertically challenged!
 
[email protected] January 20, 2021
I agree! Many seniors have limited arm lifting ability
 
Ruth January 20, 2021
I also agree, though many of the suggestions in this article are smart and practical. We have a tiny kitchen, and the only real solution for extra space is vertical, but I'm 5'2". I'm rigorous about storing supplies by frequency of use, and those that come out only occasionally go up high. But if I have to climb on a step stool to retrieve something, I'm just not going to use it that often.
 
Karen K. January 19, 2021
I keep a small marble lazy susan on the butcher block next to my stove top. It holds a myriad of items including a terracotta container with commonly used kitchen utensils centered in the middle. Around the bottom of the container I keep my pepper grinder, salt cellar, hot sauces, sugar jar and soy sauce, all of which get frequent use in my house. A tiny spin reveals what I need and the whole bit is not bigger than a dinner plate.
 
Author Comment
Bernadette M. January 24, 2021
This is genius, and I may have to add this to my next kitchen re-organization to-do list!
 
GigiR January 19, 2021
I finally solved a small storage problem. I have a lovely brown bean pot with lid. Its has 2 holes in it to allow steam to escape. The frequency of my oven browned bean making is zero. I cook a lot of other things, tho’. Storing onions has always been problematic here. If they end up in a cupboard, they get forgotten and turn to mush. So, I discovered that a 3 lb. sack of cooking onions will fit very nicely inside the bean pot that I had nowhere to store. I get to keep this lovely lidded ceramic pot and the onions keep well inside. I line the pot first with a paper towel to catch onions skins that break away. I switch it out each time I add a new batch of onion.
 
Author Comment
Bernadette M. January 24, 2021
This is a wonderful idea. It's also along the lines of KonMari's "use what you have for storage bins" philosophy, so you don't inadvertently add more clutter!
 
Marcie January 19, 2021
Over the years kitchen appliances like toaster ovens have gotten larger. I've not replaced my beat-up 30+ year old toaster oven for this reason. Also never succumbed to the lure of single purpose appliances.
 
lynn January 19, 2021
I have 2 East Indian stainless tiffin type containers—one for Indian spices and the other one for everyday. They stack ie there is a lid.
Each one has room for seven spices inside.
I also converted a closet to a butlers pantry/-food processor, juicer, blender, garbage bags. No ladder required!!!!
 
GigiR January 19, 2021
Thank you for reminding me to use my stainless (tiffin) spice canister. I’ve started to accumulate bagged spices that spill over in the cupboard especially if you’re in a hurry. The little stainless cans inside are purpose made to hold loose spices.
 
Jennifer D. January 19, 2021
Lots of great suggestions here. We have a large square kitchen but a similar issue because the back quadrant of it is dead space (occupied by our back door on one wall and a window on the other wall). I bought a kitchen island to divide the space. That back quadrant is where the vacuum, mop and spare supplies live.

One thing I would add is to edit your storage container situation regularly. I tend to hoard the nicer plastic takeaway containers. They nest together and they are handy. But there's no need for them if you also have a set of storage containers.
 
Connieg January 19, 2021
I just turned my useless coat closet into another pantry. I ordered metal shelving to fit the closet and a new pantry was born. I have five extra shelves and floor space for bigger appliances. I love it!
 
Author Comment
Bernadette M. January 24, 2021
Oh, I am so jealous that you have that extra closet. A girl can dream!
 
Pam R. August 21, 2019
When I put in my email it tells me that it’s Not Valid. Don’t know why this happens with some online vendors/companies!
 
christine D. January 23, 2021
creative recycling!
 
Sylvia July 9, 2019
That kitchen cart is just what I am looking for..where is it available..thnx