Everything in Place: Kitchen Organization Tips

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Set up a prep area for the cutting board, knives, and measuring cups and spoons. Consider keeping a compost pail nearby for food scraps.

There’s something very calming and satisfying about having all your ingredients prepped before you begin cooking a big meal—little bowls of measured spices, chopped produce or whatever’s on the menu, neatly lined up and ready to go. The practice is known as mise en place, a French phrase that means “everything in place.” It ensures you won’t realize halfway through the recipe that you forgot to buy x, didn’t chop y, and now z is burning. It makes cooking easier and more enjoyable, and the same can be said of a well-organized kitchen. With everything in place, the kitchen becomes a high-functioning and pleasurable place to be. Keep your cool and get your kitchen in order with the following simple solutions. 

Get in the Zone

It may seem like common sense, but storing stuff where you use it streamlines mealtime, says Stacey Platt, a professional organizer in New York City and author of What’s a Disorganized Person to Do? Keep pots, pans and cooking utensils close to the stove. If you don’t have enough cabinet space, hang a pot rack overhead. Store dishes and silverware near the dishwasher and the colander next to the sink. Set up a prep area for the cutting board, knives, and measuring cups and spoons. Consider keeping a compost pail nearby for food scraps. 

Counter Attack

Clear counters create a calm, clean atmosphere in the kitchen and give you room to spread out while you’re cooking. Put away small appliances such as blenders, stand mixers or anything else you don’t use at least once a month. Consider corralling everyday cooking items—the pepper grinder, olive oil, salt, etc.—on a small tray instead of directly on the countertop. It looks tidy, contains drips and you can move everything at once when you need to wipe down the counter.  

Dish It Out

If your cups (and other dishes) runneth over, edit down the collection with these questions in mind: Is it broken, cracked or chipped? Do you love it? How many of these do you really need? Arrange the remaining dinnerware by frequency of use—everyday dishes on easy-to-reach shelves and rarely used items up higher. Stack same-sized plates and bowls together. Use metal risers so you don’t have to move one stack to get to another.

Take Stock

Approach organizing the pantry much like you would the fridge (see “Reclaim Your Refrigerator” at right): Remove everything; toss, compost or donate food accordingly; sort what’s left into groups of like items; and assign each category a spot. When it’s time to restock, buying from the bulk bin allows you to only buy quantities you need and eliminates bulky packaging. But all those twist-tied bags can quickly become a jumbled mess. Platt recommends decanting bulk staples into large, wide-mouth glass canning jars. They’re inexpensive, have an airtight seal and you can easily buy more to maintain a uniform, matching set. Store stray bags and packets in a basket. For more pantry storage solutions, check out the article Organize Your Pantry in 5 Steps

The Joy of Cooking

Pare down cookbooks to an essential, beloved collection. Scan your favorite recipes from the castoffs and save the digital files on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. If you crave a more tangible approach, photocopy (or scan and print) recipes and place them in a binder.

Climb the Walls

When storage space is limited, Platt recommends tapping into unused wall space. Hang open shelving to store attractive dinnerware. Mount a magnetic knife strip, and install a stainless-steel bar with S-hooks to hang utensils. If your kitchen cabinets don’t go all the way to the ceiling, use the extra space on top of the cabinets to store things you don’t use regularly. Large stockpots, Dutch ovens and mixing bowls look nice and can discreetly hold small, seldom-used items. 

Odds & Ends

There’s nothing wrong with a designated junk drawer, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be organized. Empty the entire drawer and throw away the actual “junk”—dried-up pens, expired coupons, empty matchbooks, etc. Relocate anything that belongs elsewhere: stray buttons to the sewing kit, miscellaneous hardware to the toolbox and so on. Next, measure the drawer and outfit it with an expandable organizer or different-sized containers that best utilize the space. Use a bit of putty or a piece of nonslip drawer liner under the containers to help them stay in place. Sort the remaining items into categories and assign each one a compartment.

One In, One Out

Once you have your kitchen in order, how do you keep it that way? Platt advises decluttering every six months and being conscious of what you buy. Living within your space means is just as important as living within your financial means, she says. Purchase only what you love, will use and have space to store. If you buy a new set of food-storage containers, collect the warped ones with missing lids and recycle them. Simplify, let go and enjoy the newfound freedom that comes with a clutter-free kitchen.

For a list of products that can help you organize your kitchen, see the article 5 Kitchen Organization Products.

Reclaim Your Refrigerator

A disorganized fridge makes mealtime harder than it needs to be, and even worse, it might make you sick if food is spoiled or contaminated. Refresh your refrigerator with these simple tips.

Do a quick purge once a week before you go grocery shopping. Toss expired items and take stock of what you have on hand to avoid repeat purchases. For a comprehensive list of safe food-storage times, check out StillTasty.com.

Once a month, do a deep clean. Remove everything, vacuum food crumbs and get rid of stuff you know you won’t eat even if it hasn’t expired. Add half a cup of baking soda to a bucket of hot water, and wipe down
all surfaces.

When it comes to condiments, follow the Noah’s Ark principle: Store no more than two of the same kind in your fridge.

Rescue hidden, hard-to-reach items in the back of your shelves with shallow bins that span the depth of the refrigerator. Organize each bin by type of food—for example, fresh meat in one, dairy in another. Pull out the whole bin to find what you need without rummaging through the entire fridge.  

Store leftovers in clear glass stackable containers. Opt for modular, space-saving square or rectangular shapes instead of round.

Fork It Over

Do you know where your 2006 tax returns are? How about an extension cord, safety pin or the receipt for your computer? Regardless of how much digging you’d have to do to find these things, you probably know exactly where to find a fork. Why? Because the system for organizing your flatware demonstrates four foolproof organizing principles:

1. Forks are kept with forks.

2. They have a single and consistent home.

3. Everyone in the household is in agreement about it.

4. Forks are put back there after being used (and washed!).

These principles can—and should—be applied to organizing anything in your kitchen—and your entire home for that matter. Keep like things together. Give everything a home. Get the whole household on board. Put things back when you’re done. It’s really that simple.

—Adapted from What’s A Disorganized Person to Do? by Stacey Platt, a New York City-based professional  organizer. Check out her website at dwellwellnyc.com.

Ginevra Holtkamp is a freelance writer and photo stylist who lives in a 900-square-foot house. She loves learning how to live with less and make the most of the space she has.