My #1 Kitchen Organizing Tip (Plus, the no-holds-barred, open-cabinets TOUR)

I loved this kitchen. It was huge, bright, open… the granite countertops let me put hot things down on them or cut directly on them without worrying for their safety.

There was plenty of room for my kids to pull step stools over to help me with food prep, or they could work on activities on the other side of the counter while I cooked. Or, I could watch them play in the living room while I bustled around …

Oh, Maryland kitchen, I miss you.

Maryland Kitchen Tour 6

There were some weird things too though… there was no pantry, so we made do with our “jar shelves” we added, a stand-alone pantry cabinet in the dining room, and (as you’ll see) some kind of random storage of things we buy in bulk.

The cabinets, though pretty from far away, were definitely “economy”… some of the doors just randomly fell off at inopportune times. And the large wide drawers couldn’t hold very much weight because the tracks weren’t intended for much load-bearing. The tracks were bent, too, so sometimes the drawers would just fall as we opened them. It made me kind of nervous every time.

And since it was an ADA house, the sink was awkwardly low (since we aren’t in wheel chairs), and the garbage disposal switch was right at toddler-height, which was …fun.

Anyway, want to see inside all of my drawers and cabinets? I’m guessing you do… because I LOVE looking at other people’s “no holds barred” tours. I want to see the nitty gritty! I want to see the real-life. So…here’s mine.

My absolute number one kitchen organizational tip:

Maybe I knew this already, because it SEEMS like common sense… or maybe not. But I didn’t have the “aha” moment and put it into practice until I read my friend Andrew Mellen‘s book “Unstuff Your Life.”

Store like with like, together in one place.

Before, I had some most-used utensils on a crock on the counter. Others were in a drawer or two. Sure, knives were all together, but the apple corer-slicer and egg slicer were “gadgets” to me, so they were in a different area.

Now? Cooking utensils – which I define as anything I would typically use at the stove/oven, with heat – are all stored together. If I use them “less often” I typically just get rid of them. (top left photo, below).

“Cutting things” is another category. If it cuts, pierces, grates, slices, shreds, or peels, it’s together in one place. Beside my cutting tools, I stored my serving utensils, then eating utensils. (top right, below)

Before, I would have of course stored food storage containers together, but foils/wraps/baggies and the like may have been separate from those. Now, all food storage containers and tools are in one place together. (middle right, below) Though, extra boxes of ziplock bags and my foodsaver vacuum sealer “overflowed” into the drawer right below it.

In the bottom drawer of my super-wide-but-not-strong drawers, I kept my things-to-make-the-table-pretty all together. My favorite vases for flowers were here along with the serving trays and platters I typically only use when taking something to a party to share. Before I decluttered my place mats, they were in here too. (bottom right, below)

My prep utensils and gadgets all went together in another drawer, too. To me, this was anything I would use when preparing (not serving) foods – not including things I generally used with heat at the stove/oven (my cooking utensils) OR things that cut in any way (“cutting things”). (bottom left, below)

These categories might not work for you…maybe you have other specialized categories, or ways of thinking about your kitchen. Maybe you’d prefer to put all measuring/weighing/portioning things together, for example. But categorizing, and then storing entire categories together in one place, makes a huge difference in the organization and functionality of the kitchen. I promise you won’t be disappointed when you try this.

Maryland Kitchen Tour 4

The cabinet to the left of our stove housed our serving dishes, and on the top shelf, vitamins and supplements. (top left, below)

Above the stove, I stored my extra oils/vinegars/sauces. We buy two different kinds of organic coconut oil in bulk, so having somewhere for a lot of “extra” is necessary in our home. (top right, below)

The drawer to the left of our stove held all of my spices and seasonings. It wasn’t deep enough for them all to stand up in the drawer, so the larger ones were lying down.

I’ve tried to do the whole matching-jars thing before, but if you can’t buy spices in bulk (by which I mean exactly how much you want, package-free, not tons at a time bulk), you’ll inevitably end up with a bunch of half full “leftovers” of spices in the containers from the store… and have to find a place to store those, and remember what you have and what you need more of, and so on. I know some people who will just pitch any extra that doesn’t fit into their spice jar into the trash, but I don’t think I could do that. So until we live somewhere with a bulk spice section (and will live there for a long time), I’m all mismatched and okay with it. Unless you have a better idea.

The other drawer there used to have spices too, but when I decluttered that category, I ended up with an empty drawer… which was great for the potatoes and garlic that typically sat on my counter in a bowl (bottom right, below)

And one of the best things ever? Deciding to hang my cutting boards! I’ve previously had them in a cabinet, or leaning against the wall, but they slide around and fall over, and make cleaning the counter more of a task than it needs to be. So in this kitchen, we just put a couple of screws into the wall, painted them white, and voila! Cutting boards were always at the ready, and never in the way. (bottom left, below)

Check out this reveal-all kitchen tour! I love looking in other people's cabinets. Don't you?

On to the lower cabinets around the oven…

I think everyone kind of despises those corner cabinets for storage… I mean, what do you DO with them? Lazy susan? Hide stuff back there? What? Thankfully, one of ours had a corner cabinet door that let me see and reach all the way in. I thought about different ways to use it, but finally just settled on having it be the “small appliances” cabinet. Not too many separate items to get jumbled and disorganized, and storing these things allowed me to keep my counter clear. And YES, you CAN store small appliances even if you use them daily. My vitamix is used multiple times a day in my kitchen, and taking it out of a cabinet and returning it once I’m finished is not a chore.

If I’m going to use the Kitchen Aid mixer to make something delicious, I’ll consider the two weighted squats (one to get it out, one to put it back) my workout for the moment. It’s really not a big deal. Plus, the appliances stay dust-free, and my counter is much cleaner, effortlessly (because I don’t have to move 10 things to spray and wipe it down). (top left, below)

The next one over (directly to the left of my oven) held all of the pots and pans, plus the mixing bowls and sieves on that awkward half-shelf. This was the year we finally phased out non-stick cookware, and I have got to say, I LOVE my pots and pans. These professional quality stainless steel ones we got are WAY cheaper than all-clad, and nearly identical in quality and build. I bought individual pieces, not a set, so that I only have the sizes and shapes I actually use. This is my enameled cast-iron dutch oven which is again, WAY cheaper than the Le Creuset options, and I have no complaints. And we LOVE our cast iron skillets, too. (top right, below)

The other corner didn’t have the corner cabinet door to let me see the whole area, so it was divided into a cabinet with a hard-to-access cave + a skinny weird one. In the larger one, I kept all of my baking dishes, and mainly just tried to not let stuff get shoved into the unreachable corner. (bottom right, below)

In the skinny one, we kept our grilling things along with the cast iron griddle we replaced our nonstick electric one with. LOVE that griddle. And looking at this photo, I’m wondering why we didn’t put the grill things in the garage…since we didn’t own a grill the entire time we lived in Maryland. And some more bulk stuff randomly stored… we were out of grass-fed gelatin, so I ordered more, but accidentally bought the non-gelling kind which we also use in smoothies and such… but had plenty of… so I kinda shoved it in here until we used up what we already had. Not the best, organizationally, but it was out of the way and I didn’t forget that we had it. (bottom left, below)

Maryland Kitchen Tour 3And now for the upper cabinets to the right of the stove.

Various nut/seed butters on one shelf, vinegars and room-temperature sauces/condiments on the next, and opened/in-use oils and fats on the bottom. Also, hanging the pot holders is awesome for the same reasons hanging cutting boards is awesome. SO nice to have them ready to grab, versus tucked into a drawer, but also out of the way and off of the counter. (top left, below)

This time, for the awkward kitchen cabinet, they made it into a weird sort of corner-cut-off deal… I don’t even know what to call it. But with some baskets, we were able to make it into a usable space where things wouldn’t get lost. I would just pull down the entire basket to get what I needed from that category. This is where my gelatin molds and little baking tools (muffin liners, skewers, frosting tips, etc) went. And we shoved our empty mason jars into the excess space around the baskets, sorted by size. (top right, below)

See what I mean about the corner cut off cabinet? Does it have a name? (bottom right, below)

And in the skinny weird one next to the sink, we stored our immersion blender on the top shelf, funnels, birthday candles, and lighter/matches on the second, and liquid measuring cups on the bottom. I don’t know why, but this makes sense to me. And it’s how our weird super-skinny upper cabinet is arranged in our new home, too. (bottom left, below)

Maryland Kitchen Tour

Moving on to the sink area, and the cabinets to the right of it…

The sink. Scrubby brush and straw brushes were in the former utensil crock. Happy plants on my windowsill. Vintage aprons as curtains. It was a happy place to wash fruits and veggies and work. (top left, below)

Upper cabinet to the right of the sink – kind of the beverage station. Anything related to drinking went here. Different types of cups, glasses, mugs, bottles… The labels helped it stay exactly this tidy and organized, too. At first, we tried it without labels, and everything got jumbled as it was used/washed/put away. Labels are sometimes a miracle, because they reserve an empty spot for something so that nothing else scoots its way in. The yellow basket holds all of our tea. The only drink thing that wasn’t here was the coffee maker, which was stored with the other small appliances. It’s a myth that your coffee maker has to live on the counter. It doesn’t. It takes a minute to get it out and set it up, and a minute to put it away. If you use it for an hour every day, does it really need to be “out” for the other 23? It’s up to you to decide for your house, but for me, the answer is no. (top right)

Drawer full of kitchen towels to the right of the sink. We almost never use paper towels, so lots of kitchen towels are a must. We go through several every day, and put them directly into the washing machine as we finish with them, to wash with whatever is next. So they don’t sit around getting stinky, and we have a constant stream of clean ones coming out of the dryer, too. Yes, they are dingy and stained, but I don’t have them for display purposes. They’re workhorses. (middle right, below)

Under the sink was cleaning stuff, vinegar (for making homemade cleaning stuff and for splashing into a sink full of water to wash fruits and veggies), soap refills, garbage bags, and the rarely-used paper towels. (bottom right, below)

In the lower cabinet to the right of the sink, we collected our empty egg cartons for reuse, and would periodically deliver them to our friends who have chickens or take them to the Amish market to share. My rarely-used gigantic cutting board and roasting pan were here too. And because this is the same kind of not-very-accessed cabinet as the one with the grilling stuff? It was a good place to shove some extra GMO-free popping corn after a bulk order. Gotta be honest with y’all… this stuff happens. (bottom left, below)

Maryland Kitchen Tour 5

That’s a wrap! Did I miss anything?

Oh, the top cabinets over the fridge just hold my knife sharpener and my husband’s whiskey or whatever it is he occasionally drinks. Basically, stuff I don’t really need to reach ever.

And the jar shelf wall, which I LOVED? Just some pieces of wood, supported with brackets from the hardware store. Simple. Mason jars are usually cheap and available at grocery stores or Walmart, but Walmart was always out of stock of the half gallon size mason jars, so I ordered those from Amazon. The white lids are these storage lids, and they are FANTASTIC. The canning lids aren’t really intended for non-sealed storing, and it gets annoying to have to remove and replace two pieces every time you open a jar. Plus, the white looks pretty.

Maryland Kitchen Tour 7

If you only get one thing from this post,

…please remember the tip about storing things “like with like” and ALL together in one place, not divided up a bit here and a bit there. I can’t even begin to tell you how many glasses, cups, and water bottles we decluttered once we saw all of our “drinking things” together in one spot. It works like that for every category of “stuff,” too. Once you have it all together, it’s easy to see what you actually like, need, and use, and what can go.

This is also a key tip of Marie Kondo’s – decluttering by category is far more effective than doing it by cabinet or by room.

Our new kitchen is much smaller, and I really miss having it open to the rest of the house and having room for the kids to help more often, or to do crafts at the counter… BUT we still use the same organizing methods. And even in fewer drawers, totally different layout, etc, the categories thing WORKS.

So no excuses about how it would never work in your tiny / old / weird kitchen… it will. It does. You won’t know until you try!

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    It would be awesome if you did a post on what you put in all those mason jars! I love the idea but I’m stumped beyond sugar, flour, coffee, beans…

    • i keep meaning to do a post like that… haha. but think alternative flours (coconut, almond, arrowroot, tapioca, etc) , other types of sugar (coconut palm sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar), various nuts and seeds, dried fruits…

  2. I love the jars, where do you buy them? Love all of your organizing tips!

  3. I love the jars! I’ve been using a similar method to store my grains. I love that I can see what I have and how much is left. And some things, like split peas and red lentils, add color! Wall shelves seem like a perfect solution. As a renter, I have a small kitchen island on wheels that I store my jars in, so I don’t have to worry about getting my deposit back.

    Thanks for the tour!

  4. I loved this. I am going to rearrange 3 drawers right now .

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