An expert organizer shares clever tips that will help you maximize storage space.

By Michelle Preli
May 22, 2020
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Credit: Lisa Romerein

Are your kitchen cabinets working for you? Now's the perfect time to look at them with fresh eyes. Storing pots, pans, and small appliances in an organized way can help save time while cooking, as well as streamline the clean up process. Plus, keeping the kitchen clutter-free helps make one of the most-used rooms in the home a more peaceful communal space.

Think About Placement and Purpose

Start with a strategy. A free-form approach is probably not going to lead to success. Professional home organizing company, Horderly, uses an eleven-step process for every organizing project. It includes some over-arching principles, including knowing what items you actually have and how you use them. "Always make sure you start with a full pull-out of every single item in your kitchen," says Horderly founder Jamie Hord. "Next, sort those items into categories. Once items are pulled-out and sorted, edit those items to determine what you'd like to keep, toss, or donate. Once you know what you want to keep, decide what items you're using daily or weekly versus not so often or once a year. Create zones in your kitchen and determine what areas in your kitchen are prime real estate versus not prime real estate. Once you have proper placement of everything, purchase any organizing products that can help in your organization, and most importantly, label."

Remember that no product is going to magically cure the clutter. "We see some people purchasing organizing products and thinking that will be the solution to getting them organized when they don't even know where exactly to use the product or what its purpose will be," Horderly says.

Listen to Your Layout

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to organizing your kitchen cabinets and the essential that live inside each one. "Strategy of placement is super important in a kitchen," says Hord. "For kitchens, try to think about how you 'dance' around during your daily routine—does it make sense for you to keep drinking glasses near the refrigerator or the sink? Your kitchen layout is key in determining the placement of items that work best for your lifestyle."

Eunice Byun, co-founder of online kitchenware company Material Kitchen, thinks a lot about pots and pans professionally, but has also grappled with kitchen organization on a personal level after moving recently. "It depends on three things: the layout of your kitchen and what and how often you cook," she says. "Our kitchen has a lot of cabinets, but not all of them are conveniently placed. Some are super high up and require a step stool, so we put things we don't need often. Then, I organized by category (pans in one drawer, pots in another, and so on) and thought about how we move in the kitchen when cooking. Things we need for prep were placed closer to our countertop space where we do a lot of the chopping, which happens to be near our sink which makes it easier for washing and chopping seamlessly."

Taking a hard look at what should be placed in each cabinet, including uppers and lowers, is key. "Prime real estate—the most easily accessible areas of your kitchen—should be home to all the items you're using most often," says Hord. "What areas are too high and too low for you that would be inconvenient to reach on a daily basis? Put your lesser-used items in those areas." And don't forget that others use the area, too. "Perhaps it would make your life easier if the kids were able to reach what they can have access to on their own," she suggests.

There's no rule that says only certain types of things go in cabinets or drawers. "Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box," says Hord. "Does your kitchen have all drawers and one cabinet? Perhaps you could put plates and bowls in a drawer instead of a cabinet. Once you've determined placement— don’t forget to label. You can label the inside of the cabinet shelves, drawers, or any bins you use for containment with bin clip labels."

Go Sideways

Some simple organizing racks can help keep cookware in place inside your cabinets. "If your cabinet space allows, we love storing pots and pans side-by-side,” says Hord. She recommends an adjustable cookware rack ($69.95, williams-sonoma.com) that makes each pan accessible without lifting a pile on top of it. "This is great for cutting boards and baking sheets, too." The adjustable dividers allow deeper pots as well. "If your space can't accommodate that, we suggest nesting pots within each other, and then storing lids side-by-side with a cabinet lid and pan organizer ($40, crateandbarrel.com)."

Certain types of pans also come with special considerations. "One thing to make sure is that you aren't stacking a lot of things on top of your non-stick pans," recommends Byun. "While the coating should be strong enough to withstand it, it's just not worth it if you end up with a huge scratch across the surface."

Wrangle the Lids

Lids are a frequent source of chaos. "We love to organize pot lids separately from the pot or pan that it goes with if possible because you don't always use a lid with the pot or pan." She advises creating a drawer specifically for pot lids or utilizing the cabinet door by using an adhesive lid organizer or a cabinet door lid organizer ($22.99, wayfair.com). If you have a deep drawer that you can store these items, try using expandable drawer dividers to stand your lids upright.

Meal prep and food storage containers (and their lids) can be especially hard to store. "Consider if you want to store your containers with the matching lid or if you want them separate," says Hord. "Usually, the amount of space allowed makes this answer for you. We love using a drawer for food storage containers when possible and use expandable drawer dividers ($14.99, containerstore.com) to create structure."

Organizing Mixing Bowls, Pie Plates, Small Appliances

Most pie plates and mixing bowls are easily nested, saving space, but Hord recommends spreading them out if you have larger cabinets. "This way, it’s one less step when you need a certain size bowl," she says. Appliances such as mixers or coffee grinders, along with their various attachments such as blades, can live together for better efficiency. "Keep likes with likes and we suggest keeping countertops clean," says Hord. "Try to keep appliances together either in a cabinet or drawer, so you're not running around your kitchen searching for different appliances in different places."

The main priority is to make sure the items you need most are stored conveniently for easy use. Larger items like crock pots, roasting pans, or other kitchen items that you only use seasonally or once a year can be stored up high or in a storage area like a basement or garage.

Organize Tools and Dishes

Beyond pots and pans, look for ways to maximize space for other kitchen items. "We love using adhesive pan lid holders, hooks, and adhesive organizer bins (from $7.99, containerstore.com) to store everything from sponges to cleaning products to potholders or tiny cooking tools," says Hord. For stacking dishes inside a cabinet, Hord likes cabinet shelves ($15, wayfair.com). "Remember, you want everything to be super easy and accessible. No one wants to lift a pile of small plates to get to a big plate," she says.

What Not to Store in the Cabinets

Try not to store anything unstable in an upper cabinet. "The last thing we'd want is for items to come crashing down on your head," says Hord. "For smaller items or higher cabinets, consider adding bins inside the cabinets so you can safely and easily carry a bin down to countertop-level, retrieve what you need, and place the bin back where it belongs."

Small Cabinet Solutions

If you're short on cabinet space, remember that there are alternative storage solutions. "Do you have a closet near the kitchen that you can use for kitchen items? Can you fit an additional rack of shelves in your kitchen?" asks Hord. "If so, add baskets and utilize them like additional cabinet space or drawers."

Looking up can help, too. "Hanging racks are great because they are easy to see what you need and it also forces you to edit down what you need," says Byun. "It frees up having to put everything away and serves as a bit of kitchen deéor, too."

This Story Originally Appeared On msl