I Only Have One Kitchen Drawer—& I'm Determined to Make It Work

Creative storage solutions from a tiny apartment.

February  4, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

There are many quirks about the apartment that my boyfriend and I moved into exactly one year ago. For one thing, the building is so old that the floor on one side of the living room is seven-and-a-half inches lower than it is on the other (we measured). It literally feels like you’re strolling downhill when you walk from the couch to the table. And then there’s the shower in our kitchen. So sometimes I forget about a slightly less eccentric feature that, in any other house, might be a big deal, but for us seems pretty unremarkable compared to the fridge-adjacent shower and leaning living area. (Not to mention that we live in a city where tiny, funny apartments come with the territory.) Here’s what it is: We only have one kitchen drawer.

See? It doesn’t seem like a big deal. At least we have one! But, along with squeezing plates, bowls, pots, pans, cookie sheets, canned goods, dry goods, storage containers, and cleaning supplies into a handful of cabinets, this means we have to fit everything that would otherwise be separated into multiple drawers into one 18-by-22-inch pull-out. That includes forks, knives, spoons, spatulas, wine openers, cookie cutters, coasters, aluminum foil, parchment paper, can openers, chopsticks, and all kinds of other odds and ends.

Fortunately, over the course of a year, we’ve learned how to make it work. Come to think of it, the tips and tricks we’ve stuck to are helpful for efficient, tidy, hard-working kitchen drawers and for the kitchen as a whole, too.

So, whether you’ve got one measly drawer or a half dozen of them, here’s how to keep them orderly.

Just One of Each

It’s the Marie Kondo approach for your kitchen drawer: Take everything out, lay it out on the counter, and assess. You do not need two can openers. Donate any duplicates or unused tools—for me, that includes an extra pair of scissors. The exception, of course, is utensils, but be sure you don’t have too many: Etiquette Scholar recommends four to eight flatware sets for a couple or small family, more for a big family or frequent entertaining (or those who don’t like doing dishes every day).

Avoid Speciality Tools

Resist the urge to buy specialized tools that only work for one purpose or at one time of year. Avocado slicers and corn on the cob butter spreaders have no place here! For me, that means avoiding holiday-themed cookie cutters—I keep three cutters in simple, year-round shapes instead. And a single tool that serves multiple purposes is always a help for small spaces: An all-in-one corkscrew/bottle opener replaces two separate tools.

Use Containers and Trays

Once you’ve assessed everything in your drawer, you’ll need to assign a system to the madness. Since I don’t have a drawer for cutlery and another for knives and yet another for miscellaneous tools, this means creating some separation between different categories of stuff, all within one drawer. I’ve found that low trays and open boxes are best for this. Take a look through your house and consider what can be repurposed as storage dividers: An unused cake pan holds our measuring spoons and cups, and a low wooden box holds long spatulas, spoons, and scrapers. It’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle in there, but having separate compartments for each category prevents the drawer from becoming one huge jumble.

Avoid Disposables

Get into the habit of telling takeout restaurants you’re all set on the utensils front so you don’t accumulate more plastic flatware. In addition to their impact on the earth, single-use plastics are not worthy of your precious drawer space. Have a few disposable spoons and forks lying around already? Check your local recycling rules to see whether you can recycle them; the material is not always recyclable, and some towns don’t accept cutlery because it’s too small (more on that here). All the more reason to ban plastic utensils from your kitchen drawer once and for all.

Yes, there are days I have to rummage around a little, but most of the time, our tiny kitchen works efficiently, and I don’t even notice the one-drawer thing. The slanting floors, though, are another story.

How do you keep your kitchen drawers organized? Let us know in the comments!

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Annie Quigley

Written by: Annie Quigley



Claudia T. February 26, 2020
My host family has a massive kitchen, with multiple drawers, but theyre also a big family and this is grandma's house- she hosts a lot. Has a lot of flatware to keep up. The flatware drawer is a normal depth but has a sliding top portion so you can actually fit twice as much flatware in there!
When i lived in a little apartment with tiny drawers I hung up all my spatulas and stirring spoons. Everything was wood or black and had a hole at the bottom of the handle, so I hung it all up in a line on the wall.
Randy N. February 9, 2020
Wow, where do you come up with these ideas? Would never thought of using cake pans. My grandmother used to put spoons on the kitchen table in a pint jar back in the 1960s.
Kelly M. February 4, 2020
But where is the picture of your drawer??
M February 4, 2020
Take a cue from the cup of antique spoons story and have your cutlery in a cup where you eat. I'd also attached everything I could to the walls.
boulangere February 4, 2020
The size of the kitchen may be of less concern than the size of one's life. As is often the case, less is enough.
sheimoon February 4, 2020
Hello -- three words for you: magnetic knife strip! ;-)
tia February 5, 2020
I got two magnetic tool holders from the hardware store (much cheaper than the fancy knife version! but only one didn't hold the knives securely) and mounted them on the underside of my hanging cabinets so that the knives are parallel to the counter. It's perfect; the knives are out of the way, don't add to the visual clutter, and are within easy reach. It's so good, that I kept it when I moved to an apartment that had more storage in the kitchen.
Nancy February 4, 2020
Annie - great article! Generally, I don't hold with Marie Kondo method of casting off objects which carry both practical and emotional resonance. But in the case of drawers, kitchens, utensils, yes!
Also, using low trays or jars to organize things. This is where I relegate old loved jars or pots that have a hairline crack or some minor defect that prevents use with liquids. They still look good, and can become a SECTION for knives or thermometers or whatever....
Arati M. February 4, 2020
These are such great tips, Annie. I will never complain about having insufficient drawer space again...