I’ve been inside more kitchens than the average person, so I am intimately familiar with the method (and often the madness) of where to put things in your kitchen cabinets.
At one point, my work as a private chef and culinary instructor meant I was stepping through the thresholds of at least five strangers’ kitchens a month.
The first thing I do when I arrive to teach a private cooking class is rummage through my clients cabinets, acquainting myself with the layout and equipment at hand.
Usually the people who cook often, will have some sort of intuitive flow. I’ll open the top drawer next to the stove and there will be the oven mitts, spatulas or spices. The dish towels will be housed conveniently near the sink. And the most used pots and pans are stacked neatly at the front of a low-lying drawer.
But the majority of kitchens I enter make no fucking sense.
The vegetable peeler is lumped in with wooden spoons, in the same drawer as uncovered, abused knives. Heavy appliances live where water glasses should go. And good luck finding any oven mitts.
I’ve been in palatial kitchens and closet kitchens, and having lived in both myself, I can say that storage space is not an excuse for being disorganized and not knowing where to put things in kitchen cabinets. In other words, having a lot of them doesn’t guarantee that your kitchen drawers will be any more streamlined.
By having to learn my way through many foreign countertops in a condensed amount of time, I’ve come away with some golden rules for how to organize kitchen cabinets so your tools flow logically. They’ll even can save you a surprisingly amount of time while cooking.
When I moved in March to my very large dream kitchen, I had the distinct type A pleasure of applying some of these lessons to my new space. It’s much easier to create good organization habits from the get-go, so I dragged out the unpacking process to make sure I got it right.
The first step came before I had even left my last apartment: when I was packing my things into boxes, I started keeping a stack of post-it notes with labels for each group of items: mixing bowls, spices, dish towels, Tupperware, baking papers and wraps, etc. Some of these are standard, and some will be unique to you. For example, I had so many tea boxes, and accessed them on a daily basis, that I created a separate pantry label for tea. Same goes for trivets, supplements, and empty mason jars.
Before I unpacked, I laid all of the sticky papers out on the counter and began placing them one by one on drawers and cabinets according to some of the best practices below. As I unpacked and put things in their rightful place, I had to do a little rejiggering. And I did some more in the weeks that followed once I had a chance to actually cook in the space.
Finally, once things were more or less set, I left the post-its up for an ENTIRE MONTH so that Charlie and I could remember where things go. After we were on dishwasher emptying autopilot, and friends gave us enough weird looks, we took them down.
If you’re in the Spring Cleaning spirit and ready for a full overhaul, I highly recommend this system, as well as employing some of the basic rules below. If you need recommendations on what pots and pans are actually worth your time to invest in for your new kitchen, click here.
Do you have any kitchen organization tips or tricks for your cabinets and pantry? Let me know in the comments!
With health and hedonism,
THE BEST KITCHEN ORGANIZATION IDEAS
Create a layout that matches an item’s function with where it will be used. One of the things I struggle with most about no longer having a small kitchen is that everything I need is not always within reach. But I’ve tried to design my kitchen so that there’s no added pacing or unnecessary movement. Believe it or not, I don’t have any more stuff than I did when I lived in a 400-foot studio. At the time, I just learned to store the non-essentials outside the kitchen.
Items that should be nearest the sink and/or dishwasher:
- Drying rack or mat
- Dish towels
- Paper towels (preferably stored on a rack under the sink)
- Tupperware and other storage vessels
- Wraps and foils
- Cleaning supplies (preferably in a bin under the sink)
- Plates and serving bowls
- Mugs (preferably also near the coffee maker)
Items that should be nearest the stove:
- Cooking utensils: spatulas, wooden spoons (preferably in a crock on the counter)
- Spices (either in a drawer, or on a riser in a cabinet/on the countertop)
- Oils, vinegars, and commonly used condiments (on a tray next to the stove, and/or on a lazy Susan in the cabinet)
- Spoon rest
- Oven mitts
Items that should live on your counter:
- Cutting boards (stack them against a wall with a book end or something heavy to hold in place)
- Knife block (you can also use a wall magnet to save space)
- Everyday appliances: coffee maker, toaster, blender. If you use it less than once a week, it gets put in a drawer or closet.
- Vegetable and fruit bowls (for room temp garlic, onions, potatoes, etc.)
- Salt, pepper, everyday cooking oils
Items that should live nearest your counters:
- Eating utensils (fork, knife, spoon)
- Prepping and baking utensils (peeler, whisk, grater, ice cream scoop, can opener)
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Mixing bowls
Items that should live in bottom cabinets or drawers:
- Heavy skillets and saucepans
- Stacking pots and Dutch ovens
- Baking pans and casserole dishes
- Heavy appliances you never use (so long as you have a way back, otherwise store in a closet)
Items that should live in top cabinets or drawers (or in a closet):
- Serving platters and bowls
- Light non-essential appliances or vessels (salad spinners, very large Tupperware, cake boxes)
- Bulk cans and cartons (especially when you have multiple)
- Baking ingredients and specialty pantry items (unsweetened cocoa, teff flour, maple sugar, pomegranate molasses)
Make everyday items/ the things you use most easy to reach. Per the above, appliances that you use once in a blue moon (egg beaters, mixers, spiralizers, mandolins, food processors, muffin pans) can be stored towards the way back of cabinets, or in another part of the house altogether.
Don’t put heavy things in high cabinets. It’s an accident waiting to happen! Bulky heavy appliances are best suited for a shelf in a storage closet, or in a lower cabinet with depth.
Invest in organization solutions for problem items. Lids are one of the most annoying kitchen items to organize. They don’t stack neatly, they’re bulky, and they can easily become unwieldy. If you have an oven with a warming drawer on the bottom, this is the most common place I find people use for lid storage. Others will dedicate a drawer to them. But since drawers tend to be prime real estate in New York City, I highly recommend that you invest in a lid organizer that can live in the same cabinet as the pots they go with. I use something similar to this or this.
Don’t buy too many mismatched pots and pans. While I am generally a big believer that most pot and pan sets include items that are unnecessary, when it comes to how to organize your kitchen cabinets, having some of your pots and pans fall into a uniform set can help you use space more efficiently. Even better: invest in a set that comes with its own storage solution! One of the many reasons I’m such a fan of these Caraway non-toxic nonstick pans is that they come with a magnetic rack that allows you to store the entire set in a small space, PLUS a really convenient canvas lid holder that you an attached to the inside of your cabinet door. It’s one of the best solutions I’ve found for lids.
Use bins, trays and containers to organize your pantry. The more you can compartmentalize by use, the better. For example, I have separate bins dedicated to: rice/grains, gluten-free flours, pastas, baking supplies, supplement powders, and supplement bottles. I even have one small tray that I use for the smoothie add-in’s I use most (maca powder, chia seeds, hemp seeds, brazil nuts, bee pollen, protein powder) since I reach for them as a group at least once a week.
Store your knives with respect! I am not a huge fan of buying knife block sets for quality reasons, and contrary to what most people think, there are other space efficient and affordable ways to store a la carte knives that you’ve thoughtfully purchased to be part of your own set. This in drawer cork system is great. I also love a wall magnetic block. If you’re curious about my favorite knife brands and more ideas on how to store them with respect, click here.
You don’t necessarily have to purchase plastic bins, though they are helpful. You can also use extra baking dishes, shallow or trimmed boxes (like the old Ball jar box I use for supplements above), serving bowls, or anything else that creates an enclosed container but you don’t necessarily use that often on its own.
For countertop items like salt, pepper and cooking oils, I like to use bamboo trays to keep those organized and make their appearance out in the open look intentional.
Use risers for extra room for tableware and glasses. If like me you’re someone who enjoys collecting a few different styles of serving plates and bowls, risers are a god sent for separating types and styles, and allowing you to avoid big heavy stacks. These also work well for shallow cups like mini espresso mugs, sauce boats, and mini mason jars.
Make your kitchen items part of your decor. If you’re wondering how I got away with having a ton of kitchen equipment in a tiny Manhattan space, it’s because I’ve always made my wares part of the living space. In my first apartment, I hung all my pots and pans from nails on an exposed brick wall next to my couch. In my studio, I used an entire shelf to display jars of nuts, seeds, grains and flours, and another one for alcohol, serving trays, and miscellaneous props that were attractive. Even with all the new space I’ve acquired, I still use my living room shelves for this purpose because I love the way it looks, it represents what I do, and these items are the perfect complement for styling my overgrown cookbook collection!