5 Steps to Organization

No matter what kind of kitchen you have, getting organized can save you time, space, and money while adding welcomed simplicity to your life. Here's how to get started.
Consider dedicating a drawer like this for flour, sugar, rolling pin, and other essentials.

Note the current location of each item in your cabinets and drawers, where it is used, and how often it is used. Consider what you like and don't like about the present setup, and ask other kitchen users for their input. Ponder your lifestyle and what you like to cook and bake. Even when visiting someone else's kitchen, consider traffic and storage. When you see someone using a drawer or cabinet differently than you do, ask why and determine whether your reasoning is founded on efficiency or old habit.

After you've deciphered what works well, what drives you crazy, and why, start dreaming about your ideal kitchen situation. Ask yourself, "What do I want to store here and how do I make it happen?" This may mean you have to measure your shelves, drawers, pots, and pans to make sure you can give your stuff the perfect fit.

Proper planning and accurate measuring allow you to make the most of every inch.

Label three boxes: "to keep," "to give away," and "not sure." Then, empty out all cabinets, drawers, and shelves. Assign each item to a box, keeping only what you need, love, or think is beautiful. The items you need are those you use often and that contribute to efficiency in the kitchen. The "unsure" box is a way to determine over time whether certain items are valuable to you. Sally Allen, a professional organizer from Golden, Colorado, says that if you're having trouble deciding whether to toss certain things, you should "store those items in a box, seal the box, date it, and put it in the garage or the basement. If you don't go back to that box within the next four months, then that's your decision."

Parting with items can sometimes be difficult for cost or sentimental reasons. Jan Limpach, a professional organizer in Omaha, says it's much easier to get rid of something if you realize that it will be useful to someone else. Items in your "to give away" box that are still in working condition can be sold in a garage sale or donated to a charity.

Storing utensils sideways maximizes this drawer's dimensions.

The inventory you took before you emptied your cabinets will give you a better idea of where to put the belongings that survive the purging and sorting process.

Proper organization keeps the items you need visible, saving space and time -- and money: Being able to quickly and easily locate items will keep money in your wallet because you won't have to run out to buy a replacement when an item ends up missing. Consider these suggestions for reassigning space:

A shallow drawer in a toe-kick provides easy access to long, low items like serving platters.
  • Measure the length, width, and height of your most frequently used pots, pans, bowls, appliances, and utensils. Pay close attention to how measurements change when particular items are grouped or stacked for storage. This will help gauge what you can store cozily without cramming kitchen cabinets, drawers, and shelves.
  • Designate a specific place for each and every thing. Once you've done so, you'll be more likely to put things back where they belong and less likely to lose or unknowingly duplicate items.
  • Think logically. Group like items together for easy retrieval.
  • Save steps. Place items closest to their point of use. Store cups and glasses near the sink or refrigerator. Place pots and pans near the stove, and put spices and oils in proximity to the prep area. For easy retrieval, plates are generally stored in the upper cabinets nearest the sink or dishwasher; but to help youngsters set the table, consider drawer storage.
  • Assign everything else a space based on frequency of use. Store extra place settings used only for special occasions in the dining room or elsewhere to avoid taking up valuable kitchen space. Put holiday or entertaining items in the back of cabinets, selecting an upper or lower cabinet location based on each item's weight.
  • Keep only kitchen items in the kitchen. Don't let other household items clutter your kitchen space.
These under-the-cooktop pullout shelves store pots and pans perfectly.

There's no doubt you'll buy new items for your kitchen in the days to come. If you already have plans to purchase a large appliance, prepare for its arrival during the organization, construction, or remodeling process. If you'll be buying a large mixer, realize that it may not fit in a standard appliance garage.

Ramona Creel, an organizer from Atlanta, recommends keeping 15 percent of the kitchen free so new arrivals can be easily placed. To keep some space free, pitch useless items regularly and keep nonkitchen items out of the kitchen. "Be aware of what you're doing and why you're doing it rather than going around on autopilot, not even thinking about what you're putting where. That's how things get stuck in the kitchen," Creel says. But if you don't have much space to share, follow the rule of "One new thing in, one old thing out."

Having a place for everything means everything can be in its place.

Once you've put all your belongings back into the cabinets, you'll have to work to keep the new system in place. Monica Silver, a professional organizer from Tuscon, says identifying a good reason for maintaining order is the best way to ensure you'll do it. "An attractive, pleasing surrounding, and convenience and ease are good reasons for keeping things in order," she says.

Susan Lund, an organizer from Fairfax, California, recommends committing to a regular maintenance schedule that will help keep the new system in place. Based on the accumulation of clutter in your kitchen, decide whether your cleanup routine needs to be a daily or weekly activity. She also encourages reevaluating the functionality of your organization systems on a regular basis. "If they are no longer suiting your needs," Lund says, "it may be time to implement a change or two."

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