Of all of the rooms in our home, we spend a good majority of our time in the kitchen. This is always true, but particularly so during a pandemic. Since we can’t dine indoors in many cities and takeout options may be limited, more people are trying their own chef skills. However, with cooking comes cleaning, and with groceries comes organizing.
Rather than allowing your kitchen to become a place of contention, you can keep it tidy and structured with some super-simple hacks, from hanging items instead of storing them to investing in clear containers and labels. Below, we spoke with experts to find the easiest, no-brainer ways to make your kitchen spotless.
Let things hang
If you’re in a pint-size city apartment, counter space may be more of a dream than a reality. And even in larger abodes, storage in kitchen cabinets is limited. That’s why it’s essential to maximize the walls of your kitchen, dining and pantry area as much as possible, suggests Rob Truglia, a senior brand marketing manager at storage company MakeSpace. Think: hanging your fruits and vegetables, adding a chic floating shelf to display prettier appliances and so on. Or, if you’re up for the challenge, those Instagrammable wire displays for pots and pans are trendy and practical too.
“You can also get a magnetic strip for your knives and position it above the counter where you tend to food prep. This also works for spices, but you’ll want to keep those just above the stove,” Truglia continues. “This will make it more convenient when cooking in the kitchen without having to take away from any precious space.”
Try these: Smart Design Over-the-Door Adjustable Pantry Organizer (starting at $29.97; amazon.com)
Modern Innovations 10-Inch Stainless Steel Magnetic Knife Bar ($15.99, originally $19.99; amazon.com)
Designate a prep station/drawer
No matter if you’re whipping up dinner for the night or meal prepping lunches for the week ahead, cooking takes a lot of equipment. Not only do you need a cutting board and set of knives, but also pots, pans, storage containers, perhaps an air fryer, spices, mixing bowls…and the list goes on. Many times this requires opening a handful of drawers and cabinets, digging to find what you need and then cleaning and putting it all back in its place. Woof.
Cut out some elbow grease and clutter by designating a prep station with the essentials, suggests Sarah Nina Hayon, the owner and partner at DwellWell Lifestyle management firm. This should include measuring spoons, a can opener, a garlic press, cooking utensils and so on. This is when bins and baskets come in handy since they can ensure drawers are maintained and not messy.
Try these: Whitmor Rattique Java Storage Baskets, 3-Pack ($29.98, originally $32.55; amazon.com)
FishSunday Extensible Bamboo Cutting Board Set ($68.99; amazon.com)
Divide your utensils out
On one side of your stove, do you have a dreaded utensil free-for-all? Or maybe in a drawer? There’s a pasta drainer, a wooden spoon, the spatula and many other random items you use from time to time. A good way to keep utensils streamlined is to think like a chef, says Hayon.
“Rather than lumping utensils into one huge category, divide them by their phase of the cooking process,” she explains. “You can cut down your stash to include only one of each item you will use and keep them in order with a drawer organizer. Extras can be stowed away to pull out when you’re preparing a larger meal.”
Try this: Royal Craft Wood Bamboo Kitchen Drawer Organizer ($29.97; amazon.com)
Create space under the sink
Since it’s unlikely you’ll add a whole new room to your kitchen or pantry, Truglia says whenever you’re organizing, it’s always a good idea to start with any existing “storage spaces” that are already in your home. And one spot you’re probably not getting much use out of is the space under your sink. Most people make this a hodgepodge of cleaning supplies, but it can easily be repurposed to create a storage compartment.
To begin, Truglia says to use a small tension rod and place it on the inside of the cabinet so that you can hang spray bottles, rags and dishwashing gloves on it. “Now all your go-to items will be more easily accessible and won’t be so hard to find,” he says. You can also use a shower caddy or sliding organizer to keep your go-to products in one place, making them easier to transport when you clean.
Try these: Rev-A-Shelf Wire Basket Pullout Shelf (starting at $109.98; amazon.com)
HoldNStorage Pullout Cabinet Drawer Organizer (starting at $45.89; amazon.com)
Think about size and color when organizing
When you’re organizing your kitchen or pantry, personal stylist and closet organizer Lora LaPratt says to keep two aspects in mind: size and color. This helps you to stack and store appropriately, and by grouping by hue, you create a more polished, luxury-looking aesthetic for your kitchen. Here’s what she recommends, by section:
- Spices: Alphabetical order
- Teas and snacks: Color coded
- Pots, pans and mixing bowls: Largest to smallest resting inside one another
- Dishes and refrigerator: Color-code and face your items (psst: Facing items simply means to have them all pointed in the same direction, with the front of the item or product facing you when you open the door)
Try these: SimpleHouseware 2-Tier Sliding Cabinet Basket Organizer (starting at $23.87; amazon.com)
Chef’s Path Airtight Extra-Large Food Storage Containers, 4-Pack ($39.97; amazon.com)
Develop a dish strategy
No matter if you live by yourself, with your partner or in a house full of roommates or children, you’ll probably wash at least one dish a day. A sink full of plates, bowls, pans and more can take a clean kitchen and make it look significantly messier in an instant. That’s why it’s vital to have a dish strategy and regimen that you follow so the task doesn’t become overwhelming, suggests professional organizer Danielle Heinrichs.
“The trick is to rinse them right after you are done eating and place them directly into the dishwasher,” she says. “The same applies to hand-washing things like pots. They are easiest to clean right away, plus they don’t get piled in the sink if you take care of them immediately.”
Set a time when you unload the dishwasher, like first thing in the morning, or designate specific dish duty days to household members. A quality drying rack that doesn’t take up too much space will also help.
Try these: Simplehuman Kitchen Compact Dish Rack ($49.97; amazon.com)
iSpecle Dish Drying Rack ($39.99, originally $54.99; amazon.com)
Put dry goods in clear containers
It can be tough to find enough space for everything to stay in a cabinet or drawer, so if you need to leave some items out in the open, Truglia says putting them in clear containers gives things a more uniform and clean look. “This is great for dry goods like spices or pastas and grains since it keeps them fresh but gives them a more appealing look,” he suggests.
Before you start unpacking everything into social media-worthy bins, make sure to take time to label them! You don’t want to mix up your kinds of pasta or kinds of rice, after all! “To take it a step further, you can also organize them alphabetically so that you never have an issue finding one again,” Truglia adds.
Try this: Chef’s Path Airtight Food Storage Containers, Set of 14 ($38.22, originally $44.97; amazon.com)
Organize your kitchen for use
One of the most effective strategies for making your kitchen a place that’s inspiring instead of stressful is organizing it for use. It seems simple enough, but as Heinrichs reminds us, knives should be near the counter where you chop. Water glasses should be near the water source. Pots and pans should be near the stove and cooking utensils should be on your dominant side. “Appliances you use every day can be on the counter, but all others that get minimal use should be out of the way in a cabinet or pantry, which gives you more usable counter space,” she adds.
The next time you’re cooking up a storm, pay attention to when you have to take additional — and maybe unnecessary — steps to finish a dish, then you can map out your strategy. Bonus: Add lighting so you can actually see what you’re doing (and all crumbs) rather than relying on that stove light.
Try these: Philips Hue Bluetooth Lightstrip ($66.47, originally $79.99; amazon.com)
SimpleHouseware Pan and Pot Lid Organizer Rack Holder ($16.97, originally $24.99; amazon.com)
Finally organize those spices
We know everyone has that jam-packed cabinet of endless spices that you hope and pray won’t fall out when you open the door. Spices are typically cumbersome for most households, but they don’t have to be, says interior designer and principal Jarret Yoshida. Instead of forcing them into a crowded drawer or cabinet, he recommends investing in a slide-out spice rack.
“See all of your spices at once without turning them round and round trying to find the nutmeg you know has to be there because you only use it in the winter for your spiced mochas,” he explains.
Try this: Lynk Professional Slide-Out Spice Rack (starting at $23.40; amazon.com)
Label and organize everything in your fridge and freezer
Raise your hand if you’ve bought another bag of lettuce because you didn’t see lettuce in the fridge, only to empty it out and find a month-old, moldy bag? Our fridges and freezers can be a crystal-clear, clean area where our perishables thrive…or a smelly mess. Instead of wondering how old something is, Yoshida says to label everything. “Tape and a pen to label your freezer containers mean your meals will taste as you intended: less guessing game and more certainty for you and your dinner guests,” he explains.
Plastic, ceramic or glass containers that fit in fridges are also an easy way to create a snack box, a lunch box, a veggie box, a meat box and so on. You can simply pull out what you need rather than trying to carefully maneuver around everything that could fall out of your fridge.
Try this: Vtopmart Refrigerator Organizer Bins, 4-Pack (starting at $14.44; amazon.com)
Make everything in the pantry visible
When it comes to your pantry, if you don’t see it, you won’t use it, and thus you’ll lose it, says Heinrichs. “Pullout shelves, clear bins and tiered shelving are a few examples that help with the visibility of items,” she explains.
“If you have to store things like cans far below eye level, it can help to use a permanent marker and quickly write what is in the can, on the top lid. If space is limited, like items can be stacked on each other or lined up behind each other.”
And one last tip: Placing like items together makes them easier to find so you don’t over-purchase.
Try these: Smart Design Cabinet Storage Shelf Rack ($29.97; amazon.com)
Che’mar Stackable Can Rack Organizer ($39.31; amazon.com)