Kitchen organization... help
June 16, 2021 12:12 AM   Subscribe

I feel completely incapable of organizing my kitchen. How can I get a handle on this?

We just moved into a bigger apartment and I’m desperate that the new kitchen not be as dismal and frustrating to use as the old one, which was chock full of junk. I think there is a chance I’ll need to declutter and get rid of things but I’ve literally never decluttered a kitchen and I feel so attached to most of it. I tend to have phases, so I haven’t used my soymilk maker in about a year... but I will again, I know for sure.

I opened Pinterest hoping to find kitchen organization inspiration but it didn’t occur to me that most visual “inspo” will show a lovely kitchen with all the cupboards shut so you can’t really tell how they managed it. Are there actual useful maybe visual and textual guides to kitchen... management?
posted by stoneandstar to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Can you find pictures of working kitchens before HGTV and think about how they’re laid out? Julia Child’s, for instance. And I have gotten good ideas from tiny restaurants with the whole kitchen visible from the dining area - zoned fridge, sink, stove, plates, with tools for each right there. Lots of mixing bowls but in only two or three sizes, a stack of each.

I put stuff I use together close together and make it look okay afterwards.

Can your sometimes tools go into go-together boxes? Big Summer Party, Paris Baker Fantasy, etc?
posted by clew at 12:45 AM on June 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Before you declutter or buy anything I'd spend a few weeks just doing research and coming up with a considered plan.

If you have access to old - like 1960s - cooking books - a lot of them actually had guides on how to organize your kitchen and what kit you need. They were basically aimed at newly married women moving into their own homes for the first time. Clearly, technology, preferred cuisines and life styles have changed somewhat since then. But the general concepts still hold and it may help with de-cluttering to see essential kit recommendations, that pre-date a lot of 'must have' gadgets.

I have also found it useful to search for terms like 'kitchen storage' on Amazon and walk round kitchen sections of large shops, NOT with a view of buying anything but with a view or learning what storage solutions exist.

Likewise, IKEA's homepage and specifically kitchen section. In fact if there's an IKEA near you, go there and see their storage solutions and cupboard arrangements and suggestions for organization.

Looking at these things helps me think through what I have and what I'd like and how I can get there. Only once you have a concrete plan are you allowed to acquire any new storage solutions that will help you implement the plan.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:37 AM on June 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Make notes on what you actually do in the kitchen. Like, tasks, not so much specific recipes. Then stand in the kitchen and mime the actions. Where do you naturally assume items will be? When you follow through, you will catch disparities. Like, don’t keep spices near the stove, the heat will age them. Where are you chopping things, and is it too far from the stove, or too close? Are the knives stored near where you will be prepping? What about the spatulas and big spoons and tongs, are they near the stove? Are heavy and large things too high or too low to be easy to extract? Is the compost, trash and recycling accessible or in the way or too far away? Do you need a station for breakfast making, with a coffee maker or kettle, cereals, fruit bowl, etc? Should it be near the silverware?

As you work through this process, use sticky notes. Write item names on them and maybe extra notes like “canned goods - not soup” or “mixing bowls - finger bowls don’t count” or “liquor - avoid sunlight, pair w/ bar stuff”. Slap the sticky notes on your cabinetry. Rearrange until there is a spot for most things.

What you don’t have spots for will be what you cull first. As you start putting things away, there won’t be perfect fits. You will continue to adjust. As you begin to use the kitchen, you will find new things that don’t flow. Make a note. Take ten minutes after doing the dishes or while making tea to address the issues on your notes, one at a time.

This is pretty much what I did when I moved and it worked out fairly well, although I would die for a walk in pantry and better pan storage.
posted by Mizu at 1:50 AM on June 16, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: koahiatamadl's and Mizu's suggestions are great. I'd like to add that one should keep heavy stuff in lower cupboards if they are stored away. That could be kitchen machines and cast-iron pots and pans.
Things I'm not currently using are in my storage room. This changes according to the seasons. I always use my stand mixer, so it's on the counter. My food processors (one small and one tiny) are on a shelf nearby. My juicer and air fryer are in the storage room, but I use them when the whole family are here, and then the small food processor may move over into storage, because it isn't useful when cooking for 10. I have a very big cast iron pot that I only use once a year. It is in storage and I put other stuff I rarely use in it, so they all take up less space. I enjoy the little drama of going over to get the big pot for the once-yearly lobster-boil.
I have one enameled cast iron pan I use almost every day, and I keep that on the stovetop.
Almost all of my pantry stuff are in one cabinet that is 60x60x100 cm. The exceptions are olive oil, flour, sugar, salt and pepper that I keep closer to the stove in airtight containers because I use them every day, several times a day. My brother calls my pantry "the general store", and it can feed a big family for two weeks because we can snow in, so what I am saying is that if you use more space than that (+ fridge and freezer) for foodstuffs, you are a prepper, and shouldn't be in an apartment ;-)
When I have people over, I like to serve a variety of foods, family style. So I have a lot of serving dishes and bowls for that. But they can be at the backs of the cabinets, because it doesn't happen every day. The everyday stuff goes in front.
posted by mumimor at 2:21 AM on June 16, 2021

Best answer: I’m tackling the same mission for the same reason. If you can believe it, there are actually entire Facebook groups devoted to organisation projects just like this! I’ve just joined one called ‘Mums who organise’ (though I’m almost certain you don’t have to be a mother to join!) and asked this question.

The very helpful people there have not only given me many photos of their pantry storage solutions so I can see how they’ve laid them out but also the names of where to buy their containers and who had them on sale!

Repeat this process for any other home organisation project you have in mind and they also cover it off here. So if this is the kind of thing you have in mind, consider joining a likeminded group or maybe look for that as a search term for photos etc on Pinterest or Google. They’re great for ideas.
posted by Jubey at 2:23 AM on June 16, 2021

We spent way too much money on proper containers for things like flour that would normally be in a bag.

Organize by use. Cutlery, dinnerware are central. Wine glasses aren’t used as much so they’re in a separate area. Mugs should probably be by the coffee pot, but we have too many for that.

Keep spices close to the stove. Same with pots and pans and bakeware if you do a lot of baking. Same with your frequently used cooking oils.

Pantry is organized by use. There’s a snack section, a baking section, breakfast foods, canned vegetables and fruit, grains, etc.

We use a vertical rack for our cutting boards.

If you can add task lighting (if you don’t have it) - it’s quite handy.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:10 AM on June 16, 2021

There are a million kitchen organisation videos on YouTube! Kristen McGowen is the least annoying of these YouTubers and her Organization playlist has at least three kitchen videos.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:19 AM on June 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nuclear option. I gave nearly all of my kitchen stuff to my son setting up his grown up place, and then went and bought two sets (pots & crockery with cutlery). Then, slowly I added some stuff. Not much, and not unless I pondered it for a while. It's like staying in a holiday apartment where you have everything you need, and can wing the rest.
posted by b33j at 4:01 AM on June 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: so I haven’t used my soymilk maker in about a year... but I will again, I know for sure.

I have a pretty small kitchen so when I moved last year I took 100% of my small weird appliances and put them directly into basement storage. I can get them when I need them but I don't have to live with them. Now the only small appliances in my kitchen are the ones I use at least 1x a week or more. The ice cream maker stays below decks.

If you're in an apartment you likely don't have the luxury of hiding all your problems in a basement, but you probably have some storage space somewhere. Pare your kitchen stuff down to the absolute basic items you need to prepare and serve a simple meal and put those in your kitchen. Take the other stuff out of storage as you need to use it and put that away in the kitchen, too. In 6 months, whatever is left in your storage space should be considered for a purge.

And then there's the stuff you have multiples of, for company. Unless you're having company over for big meals all the time, maybe half your plates and glasses can stay in a box and free up some cabinet space for stuff you use every day.
posted by phunniemee at 4:38 AM on June 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I just wanted to say for the feeling overwhelmed part - you can set a date for 4 months from now to *re*organize your kitchen and that might give you the breathing space you need.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:48 AM on June 16, 2021

What kind of wall space do you have? What does your ceiling look like? Are you willing to hang pots and pans and utensils?
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:26 AM on June 16, 2021

Best answer: I like a lot of the suggestions here for kitchens specifically, but I'd like to add a few principles that have helped me immensely in my own decluttering and organizing.

1. Things need to have a home. Theoretically you can do this by giving, say, your vitamins a spot on the counter -- but it is much simpler on your brain if you give the vitamins a little basket to live in on the countertop. You can also easily tell if you have too many kinds of vitamins if the cans can no longer fit into the basket! That is an easy sign that you need to declutter.
1.5, a different way of looking at the same idea from tumblr: Wherever stuff accumulates, put a bin underneath it.

2. If you are using a container to store multiple things, sticking with the vitamins example, it is absolutely essential that you be able to see all of the vitamins without any effort / digging around. I no longer use lazy susans for this exact reason. If I can't see it, I don't know it's there, and I buy duplicates.

These are the key lessons I took from A Slob Comes Clean.

On the topic of having a lot of stuff: Marie Kondo's "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" is a quick read that clarifies the larger emotional reasons behind clutter. The Slob, aka Dana White, does a closer look at the immediate thought patterns that engender everyday clutter and messiness. Together, they've been really powerful at helping me understand why and how I do what I do. And of course, they're fantastic guides to making it better, a little at a time.

If you're in a part of the world where folks are vaccinated, ask some friends if you could tour their kitchen and understand why they put things where. If this seems like a weird ask, don't be afraid to be a little vulnerable and let 'em know you need help. "I'm struggling with organizing my kitchen and Pinterest isn't helping, I need to look at a real, functional kitchen and see how and why it works for a real person. I would love to learn from you."

Finally, as a sort of P.S., I think it would be great for you to keep in mind the sunken cost fallacy when you're decluttering. It suuuuuuucks to get rid of stuff you went to the trouble of moving, but, in my experience at least, I have found the open space and peace of mind to be worth the "sticker shock" of letting go of expensive items. You paid money for this item, and now you're paying for its rent with your emotional energy. Is the (insert gadget here) really worth the emotional toll of clutter you're dealing with? Is it worth it because you gain value from it, or because you've already spent money, and you can't bear to see that money "go to waste"?

Good luck, please let us know how you do <3
posted by snerson at 7:50 AM on June 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have obsessed over kitchen organization for many years. But when we had our kitchen remodeled, with a changed footprint, a few years ago the contractor made a point that just blew me away and altered my perspective forever.

He indicated the "zones" we were getting with our new kitchen and I must confess I had never thought of a kitchen as having different zones, each specialized for an activity. So we now have a cooking zone to the right of the cooktop, where all the cooking utensils, measuring devices, spices, pots & pans, hot pads, and the like are contained in the drawers and cabinets there. The serving zone is to the left of the cooktop, where the dishes, glasses, flatware, trivets, and serving utensils reside. From there, it was easy to assign and arrange the rest of the kitchen, although we're still tinkering with that a little bit as inspiration strikes. This organization approach makes our small kitchen so functional and efficient that my husband and I can both be working in there without being great sources of mutual irritation by being in each other's way.

A few other points:

Things that aren't used frequently, like appliances and pans that I may mostly use for entertaining, are stored elsewhere but are easily accessible, then put back in their place when I'm done using them.

I keep a carefully curated assortment of organizing bins, baskets, etc. I can draw on when I, for example, clean out and rearrange the pantry. That way I can get the project all done without having to make a trip to Container Store in the middle.

Very few things reside on the countertops, to maximize our workspace. Temporary residents, like a specific fruit for a recipe, sit in bowls which are washed and put away when empty.
posted by DrGail at 9:25 AM on June 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I used to have a huge kitchen, now I have a tiny one. I kept a few things that mean more to me now and I gave a lot of things away, many to friends. I tell myself the things are living a new life. Also, for those things I couldn't really bear to let go of completely, I "loaned" them to friends on the condition that one day I might want it back (I haven't).
posted by 10ch at 9:44 AM on June 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Can you get a friend to come help you declutter? It's so much easier when you have someone objective able to help you.

You might want to follow some professional organizers on Instagram or read their blogs. I like Horderly, their posts feel more realistic and less like design porn. I learned about them from an awesome episode of the podcast Ologies, which might help you as well.

I will note that professional organizers LOVE bins, baskets, and other products. These things help, but I will note a couple things
1. You need to figure out your organizing plan before buying products. You can even temporarily organize with shoeboxes and such just to see where things would go.
2. Do not be fooled by Instagram, you do not have to decant every single snack and cereal into containers! it looks nice but is usually a waste of money.
3. Products can get pricey but can be a good investment. The Container Store, for example, is expensive, but their quality is really great. Also they tend to keep the same product lines for years, so if you need another of the same product, you'll usually be able to find it.
posted by radioamy at 10:15 AM on June 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

you do not have to decant every single snack and cereal into containers
Yes! I don't understand the trend of putting every dang thing in a new container. I put things like sugar and flour into a container because the original containers are not easily resealed and the food will be in the kitchen for months. There is no need to remove granola bars from their box and put them into another container. If there are only 2 left, I'll put them on the shelf alone. If you have a variety pack and multiple people grabbing the one flavor they like, an open bowl so they can see which one they want is the solution.

I loathe cupboards under the counter. To deal with them, I put sliding drawers in about half of ours and bins in the others so they can be pulled out like drawers. The challenge is finding a bin that will fit in the shelf without stealing too much space. I even put 2 wire bins in our freezer shelves.
posted by soelo at 10:42 AM on June 16, 2021

Best answer: I am currently making do with some inadequate cabinets in my kitchen while I'm planning the much needed remodel.

I think of the kitchen itself as the computer cache memory - anything frequently used will have to be in the kitchen. Then there's the stuff that can sit in an external hard disk, or in this case space outside the kitchen. So that's where the soy milk maker you haven't used in a year would go - some storage space outside the kitchen, or some space in the kitchen you designate for holding the not frequently used stuff.

An alternate approach, which is a variation of b33j's comment above, is to start with an empty kitchen, piling up all your kitchen stuff somewhere outside the kitchen. Then whatever you bring in to actually use, such as kitchen knives or cutting boards, stays in the kitchen. The stuff that stays outside after a couple of weeks are candidates for decluttering.
posted by needled at 10:49 AM on June 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes! I don't understand the trend of putting every dang thing in a new container.

The first time I got grain weevils is the last time anything not intended for consumption within a week or so didn't get dumped from a bag or box into an airtight container. They hit a top shelf first that I couldn't see at all and...whew.
posted by praemunire at 11:31 AM on June 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One thing that helps with decluttering is to pull out of your same function items and look at the collection and think: how many mixing bowls do I really need? how many spatulas? how many egg slicers? There are many things in my kitchen that I accumulated over time. It is helpful to see them together to help me realize that I don't need ALL of them.

Also, I would put the things that you use rarely (say less than once a month) or seasonally in their box(es) off to the side. After you set the kitchen, you can decide if you have enough space to put some in the kitchen. Then look at what is left over and think about whether you really have the space to keep them.

One thing I found helpful to think of storage space as something that you pay rent on. Before you put a box in storage, ask would I really pay $ every month to store this item?
Second question is not: will I ever use this? But if I want to use it and I don't have it, would I buy a new one or just shrug and do without?
posted by metahawk at 7:49 PM on June 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you! So many good answers. I’m marking them best as I work through them (and I jumped around a bit) but these are a lot of great ideas!
posted by stoneandstar at 12:59 AM on June 17, 2021

Quick add - although lots of good ideas already - save up some pots/jars/boxes/plastic trays from food and use those for organisers for a bit before buying a tonne of fancy stuff. Then you can see what works in a box and what doesn't, and it does help group things together (i.e. i have one with vitamins and daily medicine next to the coffee in a cupboard, and it used to hold tomatoes).

Eventually, if it's working, I might buy a prettier container, but usually just from the pound shop. I definitely get the temptation to go big buying containers, but makes sense to actually make sure you're using something first.

I do use glass jars with lids and rubber seals in the pantry though, and it felt like a big outlay but was worth it. Note, if it's dark and you are tired, it can be difficult to tell brown sugar and couscous apart :)
posted by sedimentary_deer at 11:07 PM on June 17, 2021

« Older Fostering a kitten   |   HTML5/Angularjs dates with PHP Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments