Jenn Giacoppo

4 Tricks for an Organized Kitchen

Disorganized kitchens are the bane of cooks everywhere.

They cause that looming, stressed out feeling you get when you open the junk drawer (I have three rolls of Scotch tape?) and can’t even see the bottom. The little sigh you utter when your pantry (you just put everything in its place last week!) is once again in a state of chaos. Or, the mega-frustration of looking for a critical ingredient (where’s that tomato paste?) and having to scramble.

And forget about hating your messy kitchen in the moment. Sitting down and thinking about actually getting it in order turns the proposition into an unconquerable task. Who has the time?

Thankfully, there’s help.

I had a chance to sit down with Liz Jenkins, a certified professional organizer and member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Jenkins has worked in kitchens of all sizes for all sorts of families.

Here’s what she suggests for tackling your kitchen fiasco:

1. Take Stock

“I go to work in people’s kitchens, and they don’t have a clue about all the stuff they have,” Jenkins says. It’s not surprising: Kitchens are notorious for hiding duplicate tools or appliances you never use.

When she starts with a client, Jenkins empties the kitchen completely. It all gets turned out and grouped together to really see what’s lurking in drawers and cabinets.

If that method isn’t practical, Jenkins recommends evaluating each (and every) item that you own in smaller batches. Even if you only do one drawer at a time, empty that drawer, and honestly look at the contents.

“What is the purpose for each of the items that’s in there?” she asks. “Did you really need an avocado pitter or a pineapple slicer? If you use them, great, but there are some things that people end up with in their kitchen that they only thought they’d use.”

Pro Tip: Seek multi-use tools instead of one-hit-wonders for a more efficient kitchen!

If you don’t use tools regularly, decide whether or not you really need to keep them, or set them aside to be placed elsewhere. Which leads us to the next step…

2. Zone It

Make use of wall space when cabinets and drawers are limited. Photo: Flickr / everydaypants

Make use of wall space when cabinets and drawers are limited. Photo: Flickr / everydaypants

Forget trying to mimic what your best friend’s pantry looks like or where your mom keeps the silverware in her kitchen. How do you cook?

“One of the things I try to work with all my clients on is looking at actually how they use the kitchen,” said Jenkins, who often spends time observing her clients in action. Instead of focusing on what fits in certain areas in your kitchen, place utensils and appliances that you use regularly in front-and-center locations or in logical groups.

Jenkins explains: “So, the more you use it, the closer it should be to your workstation. The less frequently you use it, the farther away it should be.” As an example, her French press, tea kettle, grinder, and coffee are all in reach of each other and near the stovetop because she makes coffee every morning. But her muffin tin is in a higher, less convenient cabinet because she hardly ever uses it. She calls this practice “zoning.”

If you really enjoy baking, have all your standard baking items in one cabinet – flour, sugar, baking powder, etc. Or, try keeping ingredients for your daily smoothie near each other in the fridge. You’ll know right where to go!

3. Bin and Label ‘Em

Labels make it easy to put everything back in its place. Photo: Flickr / collinanderson

Labels make it easy to put everything back in its place. Photo: Flickr / collinanderson

As quaint as labeling sounds, “corralling” and then notating your pantry items is where the magic happens. “I’ll gather up like items, group them all together, put them in a bin, and put a label on it,” Jenkins says, noting that this is “hugely helpful” for two reasons:

1. You’re likely not the only person who uses your kitchen. If somebody takes something out, now they know exactly where it goes back.

2. You can easily assess how much you have of certain ingredients. “It could actually save you a bunch of money if you can see everything you’ve got,” she says. “Then you don’t end up buying things you already own, and wasting a lot of stuff that goes stale or bad.”

4. Make the Time, Get a Pal

This is the big enchilada. We’re all so busy!

“You have to make time to get organized so you can save time later,” says Jenkins, who’s a mom and knows how busy things get. But imagine your perfect kitchen when you’re done!

Having help also saves time. If you can swing it, Jenkins recommends hiring a professional who has worked in kitchens and understands what systems work to help you out. But if motivation or resources are tight (I hear ya!) use the buddy system.

“Having an outside perspective is really helpful,” she says. “Somebody to say ‘Hey, do you really use that?’ Someone you feel comfortable with and that you trust – you can help each other.”

Jenkins reminds us to make it enjoyable, too. “Put on some fun music, get in there on a day when you don’t have kids running around […] and really tackle it in one, big, clean sweep.”

Parting Words of Wisdom

No matter your situation, we could probably all use a little bit more time and a little less stress. Decluttering and optimizing will help with that immensely.

Follow Jenkins’ lead and use the brilliance of mise en place when you tackle your own projects. “That’s kind of my whole philosophy when it comes to the kitchen: Each thing in it’s place according to usage.”

And remember, you can’t go wrong. “There is no ‘perfect.’ It’s about what works for you.” We couldn’t have said it better!

Did you try any of the steps above? Let us know how it worked in the comments!

[Top photo via Flickr / ginnerobot]

5 Responses to “4 Tricks for an Organized Kitchen”

  1. Carol says:

    I believe that a kitchen unlike any other room is always a work in progress. Depending on the season, also what is happening in your life the kitchen is a reflection of that. For example, in the summer there are usually quick salads, and not much of cooking if you can avoid it. In the winter, there are more of the soups, the baking, and the kitchen changes. I have a very small closet kitchen. I change it as the seasons come and go. Certain items are front center, then they get moved to the back.

  2. Angie says:

    This article came at a perfect time. I’m a teacher who is home from work today because of cold temperatures. I plan to organize my disorganized kitchen today! I’m tired of not being able to find the utensils I need because I have 3 utensil drawers. I have them organized by type now and it’s not working:( Wish me luck.

  3. Jojo ferguson says:

    Please send Peter to my ranch house to organize my closets! I need help because I don’t want to throw anything away, my husband and I live in an old ranch house that was built in 1910. Closet space and cabinets thru out are limited! Please help me, Rachael!!!!

  4. Sue says:

    just a note, but the date is not right; what gives? That date doesn’t even exist!
    But I want to seriously say that I enjoyed reading the tips and believe that they are encouraging and will probably be helpful in my quest to get my kitchen under control. Thank you!

    This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 at 11:19 am and is filed under Blogroll, Cleaning, Friends, Home & Family, Inspiration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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