How to Organize Kitchen Cabinets—So You Can Actually Find Everything You Need

A professional organizer shares her top tips.

How to Organize Kitchen Cabinets, tidy kitchen cabinet with glasses and plates

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Ever feel like your kitchen cabinets go from color coded to crazy in about a week flat? One minute you’re living in a glass container dreamland and the next you’re pulling pieces of dried pasta out of the corners and feeding your family rice from a container that’s clearly labeled brown sugar. Without regular cleaning and maintenance, it’s a jungle in there. A thorough and proper purge and organizing session helps keep clutter and messes at bay. We spoke with Ashley Hines, a professional organizer and owner of Thee Tailored Life, about some step-by-step strategies for how to organize kitchen cabinets, so they stay tidy for as long as possible.

Start With a Clean Slate

If you’re wondering if you have to pull everything out of your cabinets, the answer is yes. But stick with us. We get it! This part sounds like a lot of work but it’s worth it in the end. “Organizing your space is also an opportunity to clean your space. Take everything out and wipe down those cabinets!" Hines says. "Additionally, this is a chance to get your eyes on and make decisions about everything living in your cabinets; there is so much we don’t see because it’s piled in and hidden,” she explains. “Finally, after you determine your organizing system, the original cabinet an item was in may not be its final home. So yes, it’s easier to take it all out.”

Declutter Kitchen Cabinets

While every cabinet and home are different, here are some things to keep in mind as you declutter:

  • Trash or donate. Get rid of any empty containers, garbage, or expired items. You’ll be shocked by how much is no longer good and what was buried in the back of your cabinets. Donate anything you know you won’t use that is unopened and in good condition.
  • Get rid of the items that are damaged, broken, or have missing pieces. “Food storage containers with heat damage, the non-stick pan that’s no longer non-stick, or the small appliance with the power cord that disappeared,” Hines says. “It’s okay to let it go!”
  • Let’s talk about mugs. According to Hines, most people have way more mugs than they could ever use. Now's the time to donate the ones you never use. Pass them along to someone that might really love them.

Plan the Layout

Again, every kitchen layout is different. Think about your needs first and then decide where to put things.

  • Keep things that you use all the time close, then store less frequently used dishes and appliances out of the way. “Place items where you’ll use them. For example, coffee/tea and all the trimmings should be close to the coffee machine, spices and oils should go near the oven (but not so close they get impacted by heat), and your most used dishes should be in the cabinets nearest the sink or dishwasher,” Hines says.
  • Stick small appliances in the corner turntable and lesser-used items like serving platters in those high awkward cabinets above the oven or fridge.
  • Don’t forget that kids and pets need an area too! Keeping things accessible for little ones empowers them to help themselves get a snack or prepare a meal. So, keep things that are OK for them to eat and use at an appropriate height.

Add Organizers

Don’t get bogged down by feeling like you need more stuff to get organized. Pulling everything out of a cabinet helps you assess what your organizing needs are. Figure out what you need to store first, then shop for containers. Here are some incredible cabinet organizers:

  • Turntables are ideal for bottles and condiments. Group them by category to make finding the right sauce, oil, or vinegar really easy.
  • Pan & lid organizers are game changers! “They instantly bring order to your cabinets and make accessing your cooking equipment a breeze,” Hines explains. They’re also incredibly handy if you have no existing internal cabinet organization.
  • Small, shallow bins work wonders to corral things like sauce and rice packets and small items.
  • Pull out shelves/drawers gives you instant access to items, even if they’re toward the back of the cabinet. Think about using labels so you can tell what's stored near the back.
  • Expandable spice racks and shelf risers are ideal for canned goods. “They allow you to use all your vertical space and see all your items at once, helping to eliminate overbuying and minimizing expired goods,” says Hines.

To Label or Not to Label...

It depends on the space and the client. “I traditionally label a lot in the pantry or cabinets that serve as a pantry, and whenever I’m putting items in a bin or basket in kitchens. I’ve gone as far as to label the shelves in a kitchen depending on my client’s needs,” says Hines. “Simply put, labels remind you of your intentions for the space and uphold the organizing system. I’ve heard some organizers refer to labels as maintenance instructions, and I agree! In addition, they allow for others in the home to support the organizing system or even transient people, such as family or friends or babysitters.”

Keep Ingredients in Packaging vs. Decanting

Sure, this tip isn’t for everyone. But we’ve all seen those Pinterest-worthy pantries where everything is decanted. It looks gorgeous, but how realistic is it? “Like everything with organizing, it's not for everyone, but I do typically decant high-use items for my clients and in my own home,” Hines says. “It's convenient to access and makes it easier to tell when you're running low. If you decant, make sure you take some painter's tape and add cooking instructions and an expiration date to the back or bottom of the jar. This is especially important when decanting spices.”

Keep Kitchen Cabinets Organized

If only there was some magic secret! But really, it’s all about regular maintenance. Take the time to wipe down bottles before you put them back in the cabinet. Recycle food containers when they’re empty. Make sure you wipe down the shelves as needed and go through old items when you put new items in after grocery shopping. Taking ten minutes a week prevents a larger cleanup later on!

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