How do you organize your tiny kitchen?
January 13, 2020 9:47 AM   Subscribe

I am helping my parents clear out and reorganize their kitchen and need your help to decide how to put it all back together! It's a small galley-style kitchen, no pantry, and I am not going to be adding any new cabinetry or shelves. How do you store your stuff?

There is one large corner cabinet with a blind corner that I'm thinking of updating with a lazy susan, but basically I would like to not spend money on this project. I am willing to spend a good amount of time sorting and reorganizing. I'm also going to be thinning out their collection of 1000 strainers, quarter cup measures, etc. but what remains still all needs new homes, including canned and dry goods which are currently in base-level cabinets scattered all over the place.

The biggest problems are: how do you store your pots and baking vessels that can't be hung up from the pot rack? What the heck do you do with all the silicone stuff that doesn't really stack? What am I supposed to do with all these LIDS?!
posted by assenav to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I have a small kitchen, and if the cupboards or shelves are tall enough, putting in risers (like these from Ikea) can be really helpful to maximize space, (I know you don't want to spend any/much $$$, these can also typically be purchased for very cheap at a local dollar store).

This might help free up other cupboard space to store items.
posted by devonia at 9:55 AM on January 13, 2020

Can you share a photo? I store pots and some other containers in my oven, since I only rarely bake, and some stay on top of the stove even when they're clean. I know you don't want to buy anything, but if you are near a Daiso store (Japanese dollar store), they have a lot of useful containers/risers for organizing cans and other things like that.
posted by pinochiette at 9:59 AM on January 13, 2020

When I had a tiny kitchen I moved everything I wasn't sure I'd use every week to the basement. I also moved the microwave to the basement, even though I used it weekly, the basement was off the kitchen and it wasn't that bad. My friend moved his fridge to the basement to make more space for a pantry etc, and is very happy with that. Agree photos will help, as with a description of what the kitchen connects to.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:03 AM on January 13, 2020

There are magnetic shelves you can attach to the side of the fridge to take lighter items.

You can also add Command hooks to the walls (or roll your own with hooks and Sugrue).

There are also racks specifically for corraling lids, including ones that will hang on the back of the cabinet door.

I know you don't want to spend any money, but the main way to create space is to make use of dead space on the wall, the doors, or above things. All doable, but requiring physical items to make possible.
posted by praemunire at 10:06 AM on January 13, 2020

Depending on what the rest of the home is like, don't be afraid to not store kitchen things in the kitchen. I lived in a condo with a small kitchen that was open concept to a living/dining area, and I did a couple of storage things that took kitchen things out of the kitchen.

The first was that in near the table in the dining area, I had an IKEA dresser I used as a sideboard. In the drawers I kept a variety of lesser used kitchen items -- things like the rolling pin and apple peeler/corer/slicer that I used occasionally to make pie but didn't need every day. I also kept more dining roomy things like linens and the good china in that cabinet. I also used a couple of drawers to store bottles of wine, which fit quite nicely in there, along with the cork screw and a few other bar accessories. Then on top of the dresser, I kept the actual bar -- glassware, liquor, etc.

The other thing is that there was a coat closet by the front door, just across from the kitchen and since I've never been terribly good at hanging up coats anyway, I put some shelves in there and used it as a pantry. I added one of those overdoor hook things for guests to hang their coats on and mostly continued to drop mine over a chair which is what I would have done anyway.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:10 AM on January 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Tossing as much as you can will be the biggest, most important step. Also, move everything you don't absolutely need to store in the kitchen out of the kitchen. But if you can add extra storage for really cheap, that will help a lot. Putting 3M hooks on the inside of a cabinet door for the measuring cups/spoons and hanging hooks on the wall for potholders. You can mount cheap plastic drop shelves under your cabinets. Lastly, don't be afraid to use your counter-tops. I have workspace that I always keep clear, but the back area of my counterspace is full of the items that I use most frequently, these items don't have a space in the cabinets; they go on the counter.

My mother always used to use her stock pot (which she didn't use that often) for plastic lid storage. She was an army brat, and her lifelong mantra for packing was, if you see a big empty space, put something in it.
posted by backwards compatible at 10:12 AM on January 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all for contributions so far. I'm not comfortable sharing a photo of the current disaster, but the basic layout is this. Where the door is in that photo, they have a double oven. No wall space to speak of as they have wall cabinets on one side and cut a window out for a "bar" in the 90s. It opens up straight into a combination living/dining room. Excited by the idea of commandeering their linen closet for a pantry...the garage is right off of that room so maybe some pantry options out there, too.
posted by assenav at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2020

Large pots and pans go in the ovens. Baking trays and muffin tins go in the broiler drawer if there is one. If there is room on top of cabinets or fridge, appliances like the slow cooker, stand mixer, and juicer go there. If not, is there a hall closet they could live in?
posted by ananci at 10:19 AM on January 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

When I had a small kitchen:
-See if you can adjust the shelf height to maximize the vertical space. I just did that in my kitchen and it makes the higher shelves usable because now I can reach them with a stepstool - before I couldn't even reach them so they were useless.
-baking sheets/pans went in the drawer under the oven
-All of my pots/pans had to be stackable. Lids were stacked in reverse size order, assuming that won't cause them to spill.
-Pantry items all went in one location, with similar items in rows with the tallest at the back. Cans got stacked in 1-2 rows, first organizing by type. If they need to see everything to keep it organized, add something to the back to bring up the height. This doesn't need to be fancy - a spare cardboard box could be cut to fit.
-Measuring spoons went in measuring cups went in larger liquid measuring containers.
-Miscellaneous small items went in small drawer dividers or baskets, with similar type items together (for ex I have all my pie cutting tools in one area, and my wine key/stopper in another.
-Bakeware stacked in a higher cupboard, because I didn't use it as often.
-Tupperware had to stack, with lids stacked below each container type. If I had rogue items that didn't stack, they didn't stay.
-If needed, glasses can be stacked.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:47 AM on January 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you've got a pantry door or similar, these over-door racks can be installed without drilling into the door and can hold a ton of spice jars and other small items that'd otherwise take up space. Finding more efficient homes for smaller items can help make room for the larger ones.

I've got one of these racks on the inside of the pantry door, keeping all that stuff out of sight but accessible, and not taking up shelf space. It's held up well for seven years, and could be removed to go somewhere else if needed.
posted by asperity at 10:48 AM on January 13, 2020

Best answer: Double oven? use 1 oven to store baking sheets and pans that can be efficiently stacked and moved on the rare occasions that oven is needed.
I have Ikea cabinets, with lazy Susans(not anti-Susanist) in the top and bottom corner cupboards. They are very helpful.
I have stacks of 2 sizes of storage containers. Well, a few small containers and a couple very large, but I do not keep random plastic containers. They either stack, or get donated to a local food pantry that can use them.
Mugs are stacked. I'd get rid of some, but I like them.
Pot lids are stored in the roasting rack, which is worth having for that reason, but is also used for the occasional turkey.
posted by theora55 at 11:02 AM on January 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Seconding devonia on adding shelves into the cabinets. I got mine at the thrift store, the dollar store, and Ross, not Bed Bath and Beyond, but that link is for reference. I've also used an "under shelf" but find those can make it hard to fully close a cabinet door. I also got two lazy susans at Ross, to make sure the condiments/oils/etc are all accessible, since fitting everything into the cabinets was one issue, but actually being able to get to everything was another issue.

I've been using S-hooks on cabinet handles to hold bunches of bananas that would otherwise take up counter space. I'd love to figure out other uses for the hooks,
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:45 AM on January 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Get rid of more than you think is possible. Seriously, I cook a lot, canned gallons of jam this year, and made a ton of Christmas treats, and I have one mixing bowl plus a couple of serving bowls that get pressed into service as needed. I have a 3-qt pot, a 1-qt pot, a large cast iron skillet, and a small nonstick skillet and that is all of my stovetop cookware. I have four knives besides butter knives (serrated, paring, large chef's, smaller chef's). A little flexibility and creativity go a long way in replacing gadgets and things you only use a few times a year.

I have one cabinet for food, and dry goods go in mason jars for organization (I mostly buy from the bulk aisle to avoid giant containers). If the cabinet is getting full, it's time to eat from the pantry for a bit.

Lazy susans are obnoxious and stuff always falls off, put rarely used stuff back there (for me, teacups/saucers) and just dig it out when you need it.
posted by momus_window at 12:34 PM on January 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Pot lids can be stored vertically on something like this. It should be available in wood in dollar stores etc.

Think vertically - can you stack rarely-used appliances on top of wall cupboards? Can you pry off the toekick panels and slide shallow baskets under the bottom cabinets?
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:38 PM on January 13, 2020

In a small kitchen with no pantry you just don't get to have many pantry staples on hand, I find. I have had small kitchens for years and I just don't ever have more than like 5 cans and 4 boxes (enough to fit in one small shelf). When I use up my one can of tomatoes, I have to go to the store and buy one more can. I keep flour and other baking goods in the freezer and some additional pantry stuff like rice in the fridge, but really cutting down on staples on hand will free up a lot of space.
posted by EmilyFlew at 1:01 PM on January 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Since the garage is nearby, clear out some space right by the door to the house, and put up tall steel shelves for oversized pots, infrequently used appliances, and baking sheets. Use some of the shelves for canned goods and any cooking items that don't get used more than once a week.

It's a shame they have a useless opening to another room, thus losing wall space. At some point, if they're willing to spend some money, get that opening sheetrocked, and put open shelves there for daily dishes. Many galley kitchens have open shelves on at least one wall which minimizes the open-cabinet door problem. It's a trend--lovely shelves and matching daily dishes and glassware.

Use the second oven for storing big pots and pans.
posted by Elsie at 2:49 PM on January 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Mugs hang nicely on hooks. You can buy simple hooks that screw into the wood for very cheap. You can screw them either into the bottom of the cupboard, so they hang there in sight ready to be grabbed; or you can screw the hooks into the bottom of a cupboard shelf, so that cupboard's capacity becomes much greater (you've got, like, plates stacked on the shelf, and mugs hanging above them.) Onto an interior shelf is easier, as you can take the shelf out and work on its underside without having to screw upwards.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:17 PM on January 13, 2020

oh you asked about lids; I think hanging metal file baskets are generally sturdier and less prone to having junk fall out than the stuff that is marketed as pot lid hangers. Like this.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:41 PM on January 13, 2020

slow cooker, stand mixer, and juicer

Do they really use these items daily? If not, put them in another area of the house or get rid of them.

Seconding storing pots and pans and even plastic or silicone items in the oven, as long as everyone remembers to check first before turning the oven on.

Is there enough overhead space to hang a pot rack or some hooks from the ceiling?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:09 AM on January 14, 2020

Best answer: Ugh, I've tried this a couple of times, and it's hard. Be aware that they might get feelings, even if they have accepted it in advance. In a way, I get it. I have some weird old things that I know my daughters will throw away once they get the option, because they don't know why they are important to me. And it's layers and layers. I remember my grandmother crying once when I accidentally burnt a chopping board, long before the even worse minimization process began. She cried because it was her first own chopping board, she had kept since she was 16. Because of that, I still have her mother's knife that is even older, I felt after ruining the board, at least I could keep the knife.

If the image is representative, they have lots of storage space. They just need to learn to not have more stuff than they need. Actually, though my kitchen is large, I probably have less storage space than in that image because windows and doors take up a lot of space.
The thing is to get your priorities down, or theirs, of course. How do they cook, and what and when? Do they entertain? Do they cook from scratch or buy prepared food? Do they bake? It might depend on the type of food they make. After I've begun making more Asian food, I use little bowls and/or Tupperware containers more to keep the prepped items separate and ready. People who bake a lot may need many mixing bowls, and all those measuring spoons. And tins for cookies. Talking this through is important, and also might help your parents handle it.
Still, get rid off all the single-purpose stuff, unless they are very emotionally attached to it.

Think this through, and make lists: what is in use every day, every week, once a month, once a year, never. Everything on the never list goes out.
Everything in the once a year list goes into the least accessible spaces (back of top cupboard or bottom cupboard) or the garage.
Everything in the once a month list goes to second least accessible spaces (front of top or bottom cupboards).
Now we have the good spaces and the frequently used stuff. Again, prioritize: if in weekly use, put it at the back of a good space, if in daily use, at the front.
Any food should be in an accessible and visible space, otherwise they will forget that they have seven tins of beans and buy another ten when there's an offer.
The good spaces have different qualities. For instance, I have a deep bottom drawer, which would be irritating for pots or plates that are heavy, but is excellent for a pantry, because I get a good overview from above. Top drawers are good for many things, I have my daily-use silverware in jars on a shelf next to the plates and glassware, so I can use a drawer for all the different teas we have. My sister uses a drawer near the stovetop for spices and dried herbs, and my gran took her silverware out into a basket-thing (in a cupboard), so she could keep all the lids in a drawer.
Two people with a normal size fridge can keep a lot of things that are normally in a pantry in the fridge: condiments, vinegar, some fruits and veg, jams and marmalades, honey, peanut butter, dried herbs and spices, drinks. It's good for the food, and space saving.

What about the countertop? This is a very individual thing, since some people want a clean-looking kitchen, others like to display stuff they like, and others again want some stuff to be easy to access. If there is any risk of vermin or flies during summer, they need to be able to keep it completely clean and all the space shut off. If they are elderly, some stuff might need to be on the countertop. My gran kept her cast-iron pot on the stovetop in her last years, because she couldn't lift it out of the cupboard it had lived in before. The same might apply to a stand-mixer, if it's something they use frequently. I have the fruit that needs to be out of the fridge in my big mixing bowl, because it is unwieldy and irritating to get out of the drawer it used to live in, with tons of smaller bowls stacked into it.

Because I like to entertain, I have tons of tableware. Everything in that category except the stuff we use daily goes into the dining room, or in a plastic box under my bed.
If I had a garage, I'd put most of the cleaning stuff out there, and only keep the things I use to wipe off surfaces and for dishwashing in the kitchen.
posted by mumimor at 7:38 AM on January 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a tiny galley kitchen with no pantry and obnoxiously tiny drawers and cabinets and this is HARD.

1) get rid of stuff. No, more than that. More than that. If they have multiples of any item, only keep the best one.
2) get rid of as many single-purpose gadgets and countertop appliances as possible.
3) move as many of the big infrequently used stuff to the garage as possible. If it isn't getting used at least once a week it doesn't need to be in the main kitchen.
4) I eventually bought a pie safe that lives in the adjacent dining room space to use as a "pantry" and that helped a LOT. If that isn't an option they just have to pare down what they keep on hand and shop more often.
5) designate space for each type of item based on its importance and frequency of use. Fill the space with those items, IN ORDER OF HOW MUCH YOU LIKE EACH THING. When you run out of space, to put any other items in you have to take one back out. At the end, everything that didn't find a home goes in the "to donate" pile (preferred) or in the garage.
6) make copious use of organizing gadgets like in-cabinet hooks/shelving to maximize the utility of the storage space you do have.
posted by oblique red at 9:56 AM on January 15, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks all--I started this project and have taken a lot of your advice on the process. This is the first step in a whole house project so I really appreciate the guidance on getting it started off as smoothly as possible.
posted by assenav at 7:50 AM on January 21, 2020

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