To create a smooth-functioning kitchen, you’ll need to decide three things:
- Where to keep kitchen items
- What kitchen items to keep
- How to organize your kitchen items
You’ll know how to simply accomplish all three of these core organizing activities with the information we’re going to talk about next.
From culinary legends to today’s popular chefs to home organizers and remodelers, the art and science of kitchen organization has been tested and refined.
There is one simple guideline to remember that will help make a kitchen more efficient, comfortable and enjoyable. When you think about it, most kitchen organizing strategies really flow from this principle.
The golden rule of kitchen organization:
Minimize the movement needed to accomplish a task.
Movement here can mean stepping, reaching, bending, or even digging through a drawer. Taking a few steps across the kitchen every time you need to grab a pot or pan may not sound like much, but you’ll be amazed how much more organized you’ll feel when you don’t have to.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re supposed to stand in one place and not move while you’re making dinner! But the less unnecessary movement you need to make, the smoother your work in the kitchen will flow, and the easier it will be.
Here are some examples of this in action:
- Store everyday dinnerware and glasses close to the dishwasher for quick reshelving.
- Hang tools that you frequently use for easy access instead of needing to open a drawer or cabinet.
- Arrange drawers so you can reach in and immediately grab what you need, instead of digging to find something.
Keep this principle in mind as you organize your kitchen, and it will guide you in the right direction.
Establish Kitchen Zones
Kitchen Zones are about where to keep everything in your kitchen.
But why are we talking about where to store things if we haven’t decided what we want to store yet? Because the amount and location of your storage areas will have a lot to do with how you prioritize what you’ll be keeping in your kitchen.
Now small household hacks are great and useful, but your kitchen will only function at its best when its organized to support the way you use it. And this is what Kitchen Zones will help you do.
Don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of terrific kitchen hacks for you. But before we get to those, let’s talk about your organizing strategy. Don’t have one? You’re in luck.
Organizing strategies have evolved as home kitchens have evolved.
It all started with the Kitchen Work Triangle, a concept developed in the 1940s. This was the first standard in modern kitchen design and is still being used today. It provides a formula for arranging the three primary work areas (stove/oven, refrigerator, and sink) in the most efficient way.
But our kitchens have changed since the 1940s. They are larger, more multi-purpose, feature more appliances, and often need to accommodate multiple people at the same time.
So today, the concept of Kitchen Zones expands on the idea of the Kitchen Triangle. This method goes beyond the original three main work areas. Simply put, the goal is to store items as closely as possible to where they’ll be used. And it’s easy to see how much better your kitchen will function when you always have what you need nearby.
What are Kitchen Zones?
No matter the size or shape of your kitchen, dividing it into zones will help you get the most out of your space.
All kitchens need to provide for these 5 activities:
- Food Preparation
- Clean Up
- Food Storage
- Non-Food Storage
Depending on how you use your kitchen, there may be other zones you will also want to consider, such as:
- Homework zone
- Snacking zone
- Coffee/tea bar
- Family command center
An Example of Kitchen Zones
Here’s a helpful illustration of kitchen zones. Notice how they are located to support the five major kitchen tasks.
Many kitchens (including mine!) do not fall into such perfect zones, but that’s okay. The concept still works.
How to Create Zones in Your Kitchen
Do the best you can with your space and enjoy the results. It’s not about creating the ‘perfect’ zones. It’s about making progress.
1) Identify the five major task areas in your kitchen. These will be your zones.
- Food Preparation > Counterspace, top of a kitchen island
- Cooking > Stove, oven, and microwave
- Cleaning Up > Sink and dishwasher
- Food Storage > Refrigerator, freezer, pantry, cabinets, shelves
- Non-food Storage > Shelves, cabinets, drawers
Is there another zone that you want to have in your kitchen? Include it now.
2) Look at the storage space you have available.
Consider everything … cupboards, shelves, drawers, pantry, closets, a kitchen island. Some storage areas will be nicely located in a zone and others may not be. Don’t worry about that. You’ll make it work.
Keep an open mind about all of your storage. You’re going to rethink how you use this space, so be willing to change it all if it will make your kitchen run more smoothly. Some items may end up staying right where they are, but don’t make anything off limits.
You know better than anyone what is and isn’t working in your kitchen. Now’s the perfect time to use that information! You’ll probably decide to keep some things as they are, and you’ll identify things that need to change.
Do a little brainstorming and write down what comes to mind. And nothing is too small!
Ask yourself the following questions.
- What tasks are convenient to do in your kitchen?
- What tasks are inconvenient to do in your kitchen?
- What is most of your time spent doing in your kitchen?
Remember, your goal is to keep items as close to where you’ll use them as possible. It’s really about convenience and creating a streamlined work flow. That is what will make your time in the kitchen feel easier and less stressful.
By now you’ve thought through your zones and already have some good ideas.
So let’s look at guidelines for what to keep in each zone.
- Food Preparation Zone –
Mixing bowls, small appliances, storage containers, cutting boards, knives, measuring cups, etc. are at home in the food prep zone. Also, baking supplies, oils and vinegars, cling wrap, aluminum foil, etc. may work here.
- Cooking Zone –
Pots, pans, cooking utensils, bakeware, etc. will ideally be stored near the stove/oven.
- Clean Up Zone –
Dish detergent, sponges, bucket, cleaning supplies, dish towels, household gloves, etc.
- Food Storage Zone –
Perishable foods will be in the refrigerator/freezer. All foods that have a shelf life and don’t need to be refrigerated would also go in this zone.
- Non-Food Storage Zone –
Plates, bowls, cups, glasses, mugs, flatware, serving pieces, etc.
Kitchen Zone Pro Tips
“Work flow is as much about your physical presence as it is how you set stuff up. So, don’t set up your kitchen and then figure out the work flow. Set yourself and then put everything you need where you can reach it.” – Chef Barton Seaver
- Don’t begin moving things before you think through the whole kitchen. Odds are your plan will change several times before you settle on your zones.
- Think about how to use all the storage potential in a zone, including wallspace, vertical space, the underside of cabinets, and the inside of doors.
- Do a deep declutter before transitioning to your zones.
Do a Deep Declutter
Decluttering is about what you’re going to store in your kitchen.
Let’s talk about what you’ll want to accomplish when you declutter your kitchen. Seem obvious? Well, it’s good to get a little specific here so we have definite goals to aim for.
- Overall, reduce the amount of items being stored in your kitchen
- Discard items you don’t want or don’t use
- Remove unnecessary duplicate items
- Prioritize which items you use frequently or regularly
This doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of items in your kitchen, if that’s your style. After all, not everyone is a minimalist. But the idea is to make every item count.
You Need to Declutter Your Kitchen
How can I confidently say this even though I haven’t seen your kitchen? Because otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this article.
Do you know decluttering is a good idea, but really don’t want to actually do it? I get that.
My suggestion is to embrace the declutter. Imagine yourself feeling organized, less stressed, and in control every time you use your kitchen. Because you will.
If we just rearrange what we already have, without going through this process, we’ll lose out on the best version of our kitchen. But that’s not you. You’re in this for maximum benefit.
How to Declutter
If you can, take a block of time and declutter your entire kitchen at once. Not sure about that idea? Well, here are some definite advantages to going all in:
- You see everything you have, which makes it easier and faster to decide what to keep.
- You’ll get it done and over with in one day, instead of dragging it out and possibly never finishing.
- Having your storage areas empty makes it easy to put your new zones into action.
- Overall, you’ll spend less time on this task than if you do it gradually.
If you choose to tackle this in chunks, set a reasonable deadline on your calendar to have it done. Better yet, set aside times in your schedule to work on each section.
Completely empty whatever space you’re working on. Get every last item out.
Some items you know you want to keep. Others have reached the point where they should simply go directly into the trash or recycling. And still others have enough life left that someone else could benefit from using them.
Group similar keep items together. For example, plates together, glasses together, utensils together, baking sheets together, etc.
Some things we need multiples of, such as dinner plates and drinking glasses. But we probably don’t need ten spatulas or five gravy boats or three sets of measuring cups. You get the idea.
Just because you only use something once a year doesn’t mean you should get rid of it. You’ll need to make that call. But of the things you are keeping, decide which ones really need to live in your kitchen and which could maybe be stored somewhere else and retrieved when you need them.
There you go. That actually felt good, right?!
At this point your kitchen is a lot lighter and you’re being intentional about what you’re allowing to take up space in your home.
Decluttering Pro Tips
- Once you’ve made your mind up about keep/dispose/give, get the dispose and give items out of sight. It’s not unusual if you go through this cycle a few times and make some adjustments.
- Consider storing some infrequently-used kitchen items elsewhere in your home.
- Be strict with yourself about what items you let back into your kitchen. There’s got to be a really good reason if something is staying.
Organizing is about how you store everything in your kitchen.
Now we’re ready to turn every inch of your kitchen into the most efficient space that we can. You’ve already set up your kitchen zones and decluttered. What’s left are all the great kitchen hacks and organizing ideas.
Non-perishable food items use up a lot of storage space. The many different sizes and shapes of packaging can make keeping it all tidy a bit tricky. And once we’ve got it organized, it can be a challenge to keep it that way.
Here are some ideas to help you tame the chaos.
- Maximize your vertical shelf space with stackable bins.
- Label, label, label. It’s so helpful and can look great. Write your own pretty chalkboard labels or choose pre-printed labels with a choice of fonts.
- Create zones. You could organize by category … pastas, cereals, canned goods, etc. Or by use … breakfast foods, baking ingredients, grab-and-go snacks, etc.
- Easily see what you have, and how much, with clear, airtight containers.
Organize: Kitchen Counters
Tidy workspaces are practically an invitation to get busy in the kitchen. Cooking is far less enjoyable on a crowded counter where I have to take the time to make space to work. In fact, that can downright discourage me from cooking altogether.
- Designate at least some counter space to be totally empty. You’ll always have a cleared workspace without needing to navigate around appliances or decor.
- Limit what you keep on your countertops, and only items you frequently use.
- Hang items under a cabinet or on the back wall for easy access and to use that empty vertical space, such as:
- Group small items together on a decorative and functional tray.
- Use a catch-all, such as a basket, for keys, mail and other miscellaneous items that collect on your counters.
Organize: Kitchen Cabinets & Shelves
Kitchen cabinet space always seems to be in demand. No matter how much we have, it’s easy to fill it up! These tips will help you use every last inch of storage. Maybe even some you haven’t thought of.
- Keep the most-used items on lower shelves and lesser-used items on upper shelves. This is an example of the ‘golden rule of kitchen organization’ in action because it saves you movement for the items you use most often.
- Make the awkward space in deep corner cabinets accessible with the largest lazy susan that will fit.
- Add functionality to the inside of cabinet doors.
– Add a pin board
– Add a chalkboard
– Hang a door organizer for lids, bakeware, or supplies.
- Make low and deep cabinet storage space easy to use with pull out shelves.
Organize: Kitchen Sink
The sink area, including below sink storage, is prime real estate in any kitchen. It serves a lot of purposes and can easily become overwhelmed. Here are several ideas to maintain order as well as create more usable space.
- Keep your dishwashing items in one place and off the counter with a multi-purpose sink caddy.
- Use your sink for additional workspace with a multi-purpose over-the-sink roll up rack.
- Add vertical storage behind your sink with a countertop sink shelf.
- Create additional storage space below the sink with an over-the-door cabinet storage organizer.
- Use vertical and back-of-cabinet space with a two-tiered sliding shelf.
Organize: Kitchen Drawers
The number one way to keep drawers organized is to divide them into compartments. Keeping items in place and separate from each other prevents what can become a jumbled mess very quickly.
- Keep related items in the same drawer instead of having a mix that you have to sort through.
- Store extra long utensils in a diagonal divider.
- Use deep drawers to store bulky items, stack dinnerware or mixing bowls with a peg board system, store flatware vertically, or fill with small bins to hold non-perishable food.
So much wasted food … and money … results from a disorganized refrigerator and/or freezer. No matter how well-designed our appliance is, we still need strategies to keep us on top of our food storage and use.
- Create zones for produce, dairy, meats, condiments, snacks, drinks, etc.
- Place older items that need to be used first in front of fresher ones.
- Label and date frozen foods.
- Freeze foods flat in ziploc bags when possible so they’re stackable.
Whew! We’ve discussed a lot of great information. Are you ready to organize your kitchen?!
Let’s wrap up with a quick summary.
Kitchen organization involves deciding where to store things, what to store, and how to store them. You’ll accomplish all of this by applying the kitchen zone concept, doing a deep declutter, and then organizing all your storage spaces.
Can you do just one of these and get results? Yes. Will you get better results by doing all of them? Yes. Is it important to do what you can without trying to do it all? YES!
My goal in this article is to give you a framework to see the big picture of your kitchen organizing efforts.
Now that you have this, you’re much better equipped to set your own goals and know how to get there!