We’ve all been there. You walk into your kitchen to complete a simple task: unload the dishwasher, pour a glass of sweet tea, put away groceries. Several hours later, you emerge victorious, having just won an unexpected battle with the disorganization that threatened your culinary sanctuary. Your family asks what in the world you’ve been doing. All you can do is throw up your hands and say, “It started with a Tupperware lid.”
As I prepare to spend autumn whipping up a profusion of pumpkin-flavored delights, kitchen organization is top of my mind, and I suspect I’m not alone. Our kitchens are organic, multipurpose spaces ready for whatever comes their way: Sunday supper, after-school snacks, dinner parties and, lest we forget, Taco Tuesday. We must be thoughtful with our aesthetic choices and, above all else, ensure functionality reigns supreme.
Before you decide how to organize, you have to know what you’re organizing. I love ramekins in assorted colors as much as the next girl, but do you really need 25? What about casserole dishes and cookie sheets, spatulas and kitchen towels—maybe a few are ready for retirement? As you take inventory, think about what you need and use, and purge the excess. Now, the real fun begins.
Commit to adaptive reuse
When it comes to straightening up and organizing our kitchen—particularly countertops—sometimes our items just need a fresh presentation, and many times we already have the organizational tools at our disposal to do just that. Remember that precious vase your grandmother gave you? Instead of flowers, try a bouquet of wooden spoons. What about your spare cake stand? Place it on the counter to create another layer of storage space. What about the cut-glass punch bowl you rarely use? Fill it with two parts apples and one part oranges for a pop of color and ample storage. And remember that repurposing is a useful technique well beyond countertops. For an instant pantry, look to a bookshelf, armoire, or even an antique wooden ladder to store food, cookbooks, appliances, serving platters, dish towels … you name it.
If you exhaust your resources at home, stop by your local craft or office supply store. That’s right, I said office supply store. Never underestimate the power of a magazine file. Mount it on the inside of a roomy cabinet, like the one below the sink, to stow aluminum foil and plastic wrap. Put it on a pantry shelf to hold water bottles, canned goods, or vegetables like potatoes and onions. Likewise, a file divider transforms into an organizer for cutting boards, cookie sheets, or casserole dishes. All it takes is a little imagination for an everyday item to find new life.
Find the ideal vessel
If there’s one thing I come by honestly from my mother, it’s a love of “things to put things in,” as we like to say. This passion is especially helpful in the kitchen. Sometimes organization is as simple as uniformity. A shelf bursting with mismatched packages of pasta, rice, flour and sugar is aesthetically unappealing and difficult to sift through. Take those same items and decant them into unassuming clear jars (make sure they have an air-tight seal for optimal freshness) and you’ve instantly elevated the look of your space.
The crème de la crème of “things to put things in” is, of course, a basket. In a pantry, baskets are the gold standard. Large baskets can be categorized in any number of ways—kid-friendly snacks, baking supplies, special treats, breakfast foods. Small baskets can hold extra spices, jars of peanut butter and Nutella, and seasoning packets. On the countertop, baskets are ideal for dish towels beside the sink or small accessories in a drawer—think peelers, zesters, paring knives, meat thermometers. Whatever item you have, I assure you there’s a basket the right size and shape.
Call it what it is
My kindred Southern spirit Reese Witherspoon once proclaimed, “If it’s not moving–monogram it.” Just as you’ll never see me pass up a monogram moment, I follow my own, similar rule when I’m in organizational overdrive: “If it’s not moving—label it.” Remember those quaint jars filled with flour and sugar? They were already cute, but stick a label on them and now they’re cute and incredibly functional. Your chances of grabbing a cup of sugar instead of flour just got a lot slimmer. The same is true of baskets. A label on the front goes a long way in quickly alerting you to what’s in it. For jars, sticky-back labels are available at most local craft stores, and you can always print your own at home. For baskets, a chalkboard tag adds a cozy and informative touch.
Grab your tool belt
If you are handy with tools and love a good DIY project, you can create some extra storage on your own. Whether we realize it or not, we all have dead spaces in our kitchen. If you have empty space between two studs, cut into the wall and create built-in shelves. Does one side of your refrigerator have nothing on it? Construct a slender rolling shelf (perfect for spices!) that slides inconspicuously beside it.
The outer sides and doors of cabinets are wellsprings of potential. Mount a magazine rack on the side for cookbook storage, or place nails to hang cutting boards or oven mitts. On the inside of the door, hang rows of mug hooks for measuring cups and spoons. Bonus points if you place a label with the size above each one! For a little fun and flair, attach a mason jar lid to the underside of your cabinet, fill the jar with items like pasta and rice and then screw onto the lid—instant floating jars. Take a hard look at your kitchen and I bet you’ll find lots of underused spaces. I know I did!
The kitchen is where memories are made, so let’s start the next season neat and tidy. Every space is different, but the end goal is always the same: convenience and organization. So unlock your creativity, contemplate opportunities to repurpose or construct, and let the games begin.