This past weekend my Junior Girl Scout completed her Simple Meals badge. One of the requirements for this 21st-century version of the Cooking badge was to tour a kitchen with a knowledgeable adult. Since she’s already spent a lot of time helping out in the kitchen, I had HER give ME a tour. She correctly identified what belongs where throughout the kitchen. But I quickly realized that she took for granted all of the kitchen organization hacks we’ve implemented over time to make this center-of-our-home more functional.
Lucky her, she gets to take these things for granted! A functional, well-organized kitchen is so much nicer to spend time in than one that’s not well-set-up. Having a workable kitchen is a must if you’re going to save money and keep your family healthy by cooking meals from scratch at home, rather than relying on processed foods and takeout for the bulk of your meals.
But even if the layout of your kitchen is less-than-ideal, there are things you can do to make it more functional and well-organized. Best of all, many of my favorite kitchen organizational hacks cost little to nothing to set up!
So take a peek at some of my favorite kitchen organization hacks and see if one or more might help make your kitchen work better for you!
Our Favorite Kitchen Organization Hacks
1. Double your storage with shelf risers
When we bought our current home almost a decade ago, we soon realized that our deep cupboards came with only half-shelves inside. On many levels, this works well. But on others, it’s a recipe for disaster.
So one of the first things we did was add some shelf risers. This makes it easier to keep (for example) the baking sheets on the very top of this photo accessible, but still leave room for the lids that are underneath them. We use the lids less often than the baking sheets, but without that riser, we’d constantly have to be digging the baking sheets out from UNDER the lids. Or else, have everything come crashing down on us all the time, if we tried to balance the baking sheets on top.
If you’ve never purchased shelf risers, they’re generally inexpensive and easy to find; try thrift stores if you want to save even more on them. In our case, we already had a bunch from our previous homes, so were able to repurpose them into our current home.
2. Or with under-shelf baskets
We had a similar problem with lids in our upper cupboards, until I found this hanging under-shelf basket at a thrift store. It keeps the lids contained, so they don’t slide all over the place. It also keeps them separate from the baking dishes underneath, so it’s easier to grab one or the other without having to take everything out.
Hanging under-shelf baskets are a little harder to find than shelf risers, but kitchen and storage stores often carry them (or you can buy them online, of course). I’ve found most of mine at thrift stores.
3. Limit food containers, and make sure they stack
Do you have a problem with what my husband calls RPC (Random Plastic Crap)? Laugh if you want, but this was one of the first kitchen challenges we had to overcome in our marriage: the merging of the RPC. We each had our favorite containers for toting our lunches to work, storing leftovers in the refrigerator, and freezing excess food for future use.
But as we quickly learned, having too many types of containers cluttering the cupboard makes a mess. It also slows you down when you’re trying to find a matching lid, for example.
So I streamlined our container collection to just a few types of containers. Each set is stacked directly in front of a flat sandwich box that holds the corresponding lids, standing up on end. All the odd pieces, I matched up with their lids and then donated to thrift stores.
Now, not only is our cupboard neater, but everything stacks better in the refrigerator and freezer, too.
4. Hang it up
Did you ever watch Julia Child’s cooking shows? My husband and I both spent time watching them on public TV while growing up. And as soon as we bought our current house, he began talking about setting up a pegboard to hang our larger skillets on, like Julia had.
I was skeptical at first, but have grown to love this pegboard that takes up a wall across from our appliances and island. It now provides hooks not only for pots and pans, but also for the girls’ jackets, schoolbags, lunch boxes, water bottles, headbands, hair clips, and hair ties. All those things we want to have easy access to on busy school mornings, but don’t want cluttering up a horizontal surface or taking up drawer space.
Notice (just below the black pan) that we also have a rack for some of our pot lids hanging on the wall. This is a genius solution that takes up almost no space. My in-laws have one hanging in a space only a few inches wide between their refrigerator and the wall, and it saves them precious cabinet space to have those lids stored vertically, out of the way.
Even a few extra hooks here and there can help. Consider hooks under a cabinet to store your coffee mugs, freeing up cupboard space. Or a fruit basket hanging from the ceiling. My personal must-have extra hook is the 3M Command hook I hung on the side of my husband’s espresso maker to hold our two tiny cutting boards. I use those boards every morning, right in that spot, to prep the girls’ breakfasts and lunches. Having them right there makes my life so much easier.
5. Need more storage or counter space? Add some!
There’s no reason to let a poor floor design or insufficient cabinet space stop you from having a functional kitchen:
- Instead of having barstools at our overhang counter, we’ve added a long, low bookcase to hold our cookbook collection.
- Need more cabinet space? Look for a hutch at a flea market or secondhand furniture store. Ours is an antique that I bought secondhand at a flea market and refinished.
- Or check out your nearest Habitat Restore for odd pieces of cabinetry that complement your existing decor. As I recently wrote elsewhere, I scored two like-new cabinets for the girls’ homework station at our nearest Restore for a total of $20. Never installed your own cabinets before? There are plenty of DIY guides online – for example, here, here, and here.
For more counter space, consider adding a table (and risers, if needed to get it to a comfortable work height). Several apartments ago, a tall wooden table (secondhand, $15) added crucial work space to my kitchen. A few apartments later, I bought a lightweight 8-foot folding table from Costco for the same purpose, and added bed risers to make it a comfortable work-height. Though they’re no longer in my kitchen, I still have and use them both as workspace elsewhere in our home.
- If you need more storage AND more workspace, consider adding a large rolling cart, butcher’s block, or kitchen workstation,. If not for the island that our new house came with, we totally would have done this.
6. Don’t overlook otherwise “wasted” space
Just like the shelf risers and under-shelf baskets, or that unused hunk of wall, there’s always space to add a shelf or hook to make your life easier. As I’ve noted before, high spaces are a great place to tuck extra shelves. Or maybe a little shelf under the edge of your counter would make sense, like this shelf I installed awhile back for my morning oatmeal supplies. They are still at hand this way, but otherwise out of sight and off the countertop.
And what about those things that are just plain hard to store? See if you can find a small place to tuck them where they’re easy to get at, but out of the way. For example, our step stool lives in the three-inch-wide space between our refrigerator and our pantry cupboard. My husband’s pizza stone lives underneath the hutch. Some inside-the-door racks under our sink corral extra cleaning supplies. And our little electric broom, aka the vacuum my girls most often use to clean up their messes, lives in a small space between our hutch and the wall.
The space inside your cupboard doors is an often-overlooked space where you can squeeze in extra storage without too much difficulty. When we bought this house, the large main door of our pantry cupboard surrounding the refrigerator had a four-inch-deep door unit with adjustable shelves. But the three top cupboards did not.
So I had my husband build a similar unit for inside the door over the main pantry cupboard. And I acquired three Ikea spice racks from thrift stores and online, stained them to match our cupboards, then installed them inside the cabinets over the refrigerator. Boom! – tons of extra storage space that was otherwise being wasted.
6. Clear containers make it easy to find things
There’s a reason why our leftovers containers (see #3, above) are clear: this decreases the chances that our leftovers will get lost in the fridge. Since we like to cook healthy foods from scratch, we also have a lot of whole grains, nuts, dried fruits, etc. around the house. Whenever possible, we store these in clear containers so it’s easy to see what is where. (For the grains, I’ve also labeled the jars for easy reference.)
Yes, you COULD spend a lot of money on matching clear containers. But you don’t have to:
- Our nuts, dried fruits, etc. on the top two shelves of the pantry-cupboard door are in bulk food containers from our local grocery store. We buy refills of many of these (raisins, walnuts, almonds, etc.) in bulk from Costco or at wholesale, and refill the smaller containers on the door as needed.
- Our grains and the like are in clear glass and plastic containers, many of which are displayed in our hutch. Some of them are the canisters the products came in (or similar products came in) from the store. Others are from thrift stores and yard sales. The smaller ones are recycled glass condiment jars.
- And I’m particularly fond of a certain brand of dry-roasted salted peanut not only because we think they are yummy, but because their 16-oz jars are wrapped in cellophane sleeves that are easy to remove. Thus I can easily repurpose the jars as storage containers for snacks, instant coffee (which my mama prefers to brewing coffee when she visits), etc.
7. So do labels
Can’t tell your cornmeal from your polenta at first glance? Or your basmati rice from your jasmine from your long-grain white rice? (Thanks to my hubby, we have all five of these, and he uses all five on a semi-regular basis in his cooking.)
Labeling things is such a simple step and only takes a few minutes, but makes it a LOT easier to tell what’s what – especially for, say, little helpers or guests who are unfamiliar with your kitchen.
Labeling can also help you more easily store things in spaces that otherwise wouldn’t work. For example, our large collection of spices lives, roughly alphabetized, in a drawer. Labeling the lids was an essential first step to making this a workable system. The spices take up less space in this deep drawer than they would anywhere else in the house, but they’re all easily accessible.
When we first set these systems up, I just used sticky labels and a pen or marker. But since then, I’ve acquired my Brother P-Touch label maker. My mama insisted that I needed one of these in my life, so gave me one for Christmas a few years ago. I was skeptical until I tried it. It’s been great for labeling everything from the girls’ school supplies to their camping gear. So if I ever felt like redoing all these systems, I’d be using my label-maker instead.
8. Make your open displays pretty AND functional
Most of our kitchen has soffits connecting the cabinet tops to the ceilings. This annoys me, because you can’t store/display things up there. So I’ve made use of the space I have as best I can:
- Besides the jars of grains out on the middle shelf of our hutch, I’ve stored a few extra supplies and our spare jars on the top of the hutch. That way, they’re easy to find if I need them, but otherwise serving a decorative function, too.
Likewise, I’ve grouped some jars and containers that are too big to fit anywhere else on top of the girls’ homework station cabinets.
- On some of the soffits around the kitchen, I’ve hung star- and heart-shaped baskets I found at thrift stores. Most days of the year, they hang there as decoration. But when we’re entertaining, I take them down and put them to use.
9. Use magnets
Magnets are useful for so much more than tacking things to your refrigerator:
- We always keep at least one magnet on the vent over the stovetop, to keep printed recipe cards at eye level and easy to find when we’re cooking.
- In the summer, the exterior door on one end of the kitchen has a large magnetic hook on it. The hook holds a woven hanging basket (another thrift-store find!) with bug repellent and sunblock. The basket lives on the door partly as a reminder to the girls to put them on before heading outside, partly so they’re always handy. (In the winter, the same basket holds everyone’s mittens and gloves.)
- Although we use a wooden knife block instead, many people love using magnetic strips to store their knives on the wall, out of reach of little ones. We’ve used hanging magnetic strips in the past to hold the girls’ art supplies.
And finally, the kitchen upgrade that has been the biggest investment we’ve made – but worth every penny – is this:
10. Reclaim deep cabinets with roll-outs
When Dear Husband and I were hunting for our current house, I fell in love with one house’s kitchen because of the pantry cupboard. Every single shelf had a custom-installed roll-out shelf.
When we instead bought our current home, we were faced with a 30-inch-deep pantry cabinet. Even if you subtract the four-inch-deep shelving unit mounted inside the door, that’s still about two-foot-deep shelves. Deep enough for things to easily get lost in the back, and for the stuff stored in back to be inaccessible unless you take everything in front out.
So the first thing I did was start researching roll-out shelves. I finally settled on Slide-a-Shelf’s custom units. They take 1-2 weeks to arrive from when you order them, and they are not cheap. But they’re sturdy, custom-made to your existing cabinet’s measurements, and worth every penny.
Over time, we’ve installed nine custom Slide-a-Shelf units, all in the pantry cupboard cabinets surrounding our refrigerator. Having these roll-outs has helped us reclaim this otherwise barely-usable storage space. Comparing our use of these deep cupboards before the slide-out shelves to now, it’s like night and day. Things no longer get lost in the back, and everything is within easy reach.
So there you have it – ten easy kitchen organization hacks that can potentially make your space oh-so-much-more functional. Which of these do you already use? And which might give your kitchen a much-needed upgrade? What’s YOUR favorite kitchen organizational hack? Let us know in the comments!
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