7 Smart Ways to Organize Your Kitchen So It Works for You

Whether you’re moving or it just needs a reshuffle.

October 12, 2020
Photo by Mark Weinberg

Even if you’re not big on home cooking, the kitchen is one of the most important places in your home to keep organized—especially if there are other people in the house. It’s inevitably a hub of activity, because our lives at home tend to revolve around eating. Says organizing expert of 13+ years, Rachel Rosenthal: “It’s not about pretty bins—it’s about saving time grabbing breakfast in the morning, cutting down on food waste, and aiding in accurate grocery shopping.”

The pictures on Pinterest and Instagram are always staged, she stresses, so it’s important not to get hung up on getting your own space to look just like the ultra-minimalist photos you see, and instead focus on what works for you and your family. Here, Rachel walks us through the best way to organize your kitchen, whether you’ve just moved into a new home, or want to take a fresh approach in a long-time residence—minus the pressures of perfection.

Unpack Right Away

If you’re tackling an existing kitchen, consider this similar to the Marie Kondo method of getting everything out of storage and into the light, so you can see what you have. If you’re moving to a new home, try to avoid the temptation to only unpack what you immediately need. With her clients, Rachel finds it becomes easy to live among boxes for weeks, and before they know it, they’ve been in a house for six months without really unpacking.

The bedroom and kitchen are vital to unpack first, Rachel says, since they’re the places you do the most important things: sleep and eat. Get everything out of the moving boxes and within sight (we know, it sounds terrifying), so you can really take stock of what you have. When things sit in boxes for prolonged periods, people tend to forget what they actually have, end up buying multiples, or don’t account for how to store what they already own.

Assess What You Have & Determine Gaps

Now that everything is out of the cabinets (or boxes), it’s time to assess what you already have. You might rediscover some perfectly good organizing products, or find that you’ve acquired more lids than you have pots. If you’re able to see your 15 coffee mugs out on the counter, you can better visualize which place they fit in best. This step is also helpful if you’re moving in with another person for the first time—you'll get to see what items are missing from your combined kitchen sets, for instance, a toaster. Onto the shopping list it goes!

Think About How You Use Your Kitchen

Rachel encourages her clients to think critically about their biggest needs for a space: Are you a cook? Do you need to access your spices more easily? Are there plugs for all the appliances or do they need to be put away when not in use? The turkey pan can go way up in the cabinets since it’s likely only used once a year, right?

Get Your Family Involved

When it comes to addressing everyone else’s needs, Rachel suggests allowing family members or roommates to organize things that are most important to them. If your partner is super particular about their coffee, or your kid is a burgeoning baker, let them tackle those areas they use the most. If you’re able to compromise on the way things are stored, and give more agency to the people you live with, keeping things neat and organized becomes easier down the road.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“And unless I know my water to rice proportion by heart....I need the box recipe and the expiration date of the product. Who’s with me”
— Patricia D.

Alternatively, you can incorporate family and roommates into the process even as you’re running the show. Talk through what will work best for everyone, ask kids what they want most accessible, and see if there are any specific concerns that bother people (storage containers falling on their heads, unreachable pans, etc.). This also gets those around you to buy into the benefits of organization, and keeps it top of mind for everyone going forward.

Create Categories

When it comes to food products, Rachel emphasizes the golden rule that many other organizers preach again and again: take things out of original packaging and put them into containers that work for you. Flour, apple sauce packets, rice, granola bars—they should all have a designated home.

Only Use Organizing Products that Work for You

Use what’s on the market to your advantage: by that, Rachel means taking measurements of the spaces, and finding things that can really maximize your storage space. For example, a shelf riser is a great option in a tall cabinet with room for two sets of dishes, but might not work for a shorter cabinet. In the same vein, turntables are great for those with a pared-down set of spices, but might not work for someone with a vast collection. She stresses that organization is by no means a one-size-fits-all situation, and everyone’s needs and storage space vary greatly.

Rachel also warns against products that are super-specific and good for one thing only. You’re likely to get much better use out of something more general, because it can adapt to home or life changes. Rachel says drawer dividers are a great example, as they can organize kitchen utensils, but they’re also able to be used in bedroom dressers and bathroom vanities.

Feel it Out for a Week

Live in this newly organized kitchen for a week, and see if it works for you. If you find yourself stretching out of reach for a spatula, consider moving the cooking tools closer to the stove. If your kids are accessing the fruit snacks too easily, it might be time to move them up higher.

Generally speaking, Rachel encourages her clients to give themselves flexibility, and know that it’s an ongoing process. Organization works best when it takes your evolving needs into account, so lean into the process.

What's the best kitchen organizing advice you've received? Tell us in the comments below!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Caroline Mullen

Written by: Caroline Mullen


Melissa M. March 4, 2023
I like organizing everything in categories: utensils-sharp, wooden, metal, rubber
Spices-herbs, salts, peppers, oils, vinegars
Dinnerware - plates, bowls
Serve-ware - platters, trays, bowls
Glassware - water, wine, beer, champagne, coffee, cocktail
Cookware - fry pans and lids, pots and lids
Paper Products - napkins (lunch, dinner, cocktail),
Food wraps (foil, plastic, parchment)
Food Storage - glass, plastic, rubber
Small appliances - hand mixer, Emerson blender, frother, etc.
Large appliances - kitchen aide, food processor, toaster, popcorn, juicer, blender, instapot, etc

Susan G. January 20, 2021
I keep a masking tape dispenser in the pantry and use small tape "labels" on storage jar lids to record BB dates or other important details.
dianarollo October 27, 2020
Years ago, I read a paper on a different way to organize the flow in a kitchen. I’ve not been able to find the article again—forgive me if I paraphrase—but I have found it to be incredibly effective as I plan my own kitchen storage and traffic patterns. Essentially, you map the flow of food in the home. Car to pantry and refrig; to counter and stovetop for preparation; to serving area and table; to leftover storage, waste, and washing up. Ideally, none of the flows backs up or crosses, and whatever is needed at that point in the flow (the utensils, spices, serving dishes, graters, plastic bags, wooden spoons, pans, lids, etc.) is stored at that point in the flow. The most important part for me is that dishes, glasses and flatware be stored in immediate proximity of the dishwasher, so that all those things can be unloaded without any steps—that will be the end point. I try to have those things where non-cooks can reach them easily, both to help (“What can I do?” “Set the table for me, please.”) and to serve themselves (“Mom, I’m thirsty!” “You know where the cups are...”). I work backwards from there. Only a few things get stored out of the flow, like canning kettles, holiday tableware, ironed tablecloths that hang in a closet, and bulky, seldom-used appliances. This makes the whole process very, very efficient. If anyone can point me to the source for this idea, I would greatly appreciate it.
Katherine April 28, 2021
In process design there is a tool called a spaghetti diagram. Your comment describes the ideal process flow
SALLY C. October 18, 2020
If I need the instructions on the box, I cut the panel out and store it in the container with the product. That way I can take advantage of space saving and/or pretty containers but always have the recipe.
Caroline M. October 20, 2020
I do the same thing!!
Beth B. October 18, 2020
Okay where do i get that sponge holder?
Patricia D. October 17, 2020
I don’t understand decanting. What about FIFO-first in, first out. What happens to the bottom of the barrel? And unless I know my water to rice proportion by heart....I need the box recipe and the expiration date of the product. Who’s with me
[email protected] October 18, 2020
Agreed. What happens when the box contains more volume than your canister? A second canister or a canister plus the original box? Cylindrical canisters use more space than boxes place so the side is visible along the the product name. I also like the visual of different typefaces and colors of the boxes. I do keep my flours, sugar in glass canisters on the counter. But then I have to boldly mark plain flour from pastry flour.
Beth B. October 13, 2020
These would not have helped me. I believe in the triangle, with Fridge, Stove, Countertop all in close proximity. The only way I can work in the kitchen.
Liz S. October 12, 2020
I can't come up with a "best advice" thought, but I do look at kitchen setups on Food52 and other places as well as storage product reviews and take bits that I think will work for me ... some have, some have not. FWIW, I have lived in my current home for just over 14 years and have probably re-organized the entire kitchen 3x and mini re-orgs at least once a year :) Some of the changes are as my cooking/baking evolves, some where as I replaced broken/worn out plastic and replaced with glass and some are along the line of: "I am always shuffling stuff to get to whatever so why don't I think about what is where!!", i.e. the most used stuff up front or in a different cupboard.
Arati M. October 12, 2020
This is so helpful, Liz. I really do believe our needs, and kitchen setups evolve as we evolve as cooks/eaters. While I don't often take out everything at a time, I do aim to (deep) clean out one cabinet/drawer every few weeks, and that often gives me the occasion to take stock and reshuffle (which invariably leads me to other cabinets and shelves)...
Liz S. October 12, 2020
"which invariably leads me to other cabinets and shelves" ... HA!!! I call it "can of worms clean out" :)

Your comment about deep cleaning one cabinet/drawer every few weeks is great. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when thinking about the entire kitchen: cleaning or organizing.

And it reminds me of an exercise from another website: a week long kitchen clean, one area/thing at a time. It was a guided "zen" kind of thing where you start with thinking about the space (and see Caroline's "think" paragraph). It sounds goofy, but I was following the first 2 days, then joined in and it was both fun and productive. The 5 minutes just sitting and thinking about how a spot/cupboard/frig/oven was used and if there was anything I would like to change was amazingly helpful [to me].
Arati M. October 12, 2020
Love that idea!
Nan R. April 1, 2021
I do the same, but in the reshuffling, I often end up organizing/cleaning something totally different than the spot I started! Recently I was organizing a shelf in my living room but ended up deep cleaning the dining room (chairs, windows, crown molding) after moving a chair. Sigh....