I live in New York City, where the buildings are tall but the rooms are small. New York is especially legendary for its small kitchens. Through a lifetime of living in here – and in 15 years of working with clients as a Professional Organizer – I have developed techniques for utilizing small kitchen storage ideas so that your kitchens are organized even with little space.
Questions to ask yourself when organizing your kitchen
When organizing a kitchen (or any room), start by getting clear what you plan to do in that space, and how often do you cook, or will you mostly be bringing in takeout meals? Do you enjoy elaborate recipes with a lot of ingredients, or do you keep it simple? What are the things you create frequently, and what do you use only occasionally? Are you the only one who uses your kitchen, or do others use it as well?
Getting clear on these questions will give you the blueprint for creating an organized kitchen.
Kitchen Organization Tips
How To Organize Your Countertops
Small kitchens have very little counter space. I recommend leaving your counters as clear as possible to maximize the little space you have. If you have appliances that you use several times a week – such as a coffee maker or toaster – then those should go on the countertop. Appliances you use less frequently should go into lower cabinets if they are heavy, or on the top shelf of upper cabinets if they are lighter.
Before stashing away your appliances, consider whether you really need them. I’m very suspicious of any appliance that takes up a lot of room but is only good for one function. Is there some other way you can accomplish this function using something else you already own? Small kitchens do not easily support redundancy!
If you need a dish drainer (either because you don’t have a dishwasher or you like to wash some items manually), make sure you get one that still leaves you with counterspace. When I lived in a tiny apartment, I had a folding dish drainer like this Better Houseware Metallic Folding Dish Rack that can be folded up and stood against the wall when you need the space.
Kitchen Cabinets For Storage
With the small space you have, you must ensure you are utilizing it effectively. Use these small kitchen storage ideas for your kitchen cabinets and kitchen storage.
Let’s start by talking about dishes and cups. If you’re like most people, you have more than you need. First, review all of your plates, bowls, and cups. Identify the ones that you don’t use anymore (such as baby dishes that your kids have outgrown) or that you aren’t particularly attached to (such as coffee mugs with company names on them). Put them aside for donation, recycling, or trash.
Now identify the dishes and cups that you use every day. You’ll want to put those in the most easily accessed place. Find a cabinet shelf that is right at eye level, or one shelf above eye level. Stack the dishes in such a way that you can just remove one from the top of the stack without having to remove something else first. This is best accomplished by having your shelves fairly close together. If your shelves are too far apart and you can’t adjust them, consider purchasing some helper shelves, such as this Medium Cabinet Shelf. It will enable you add a second level of plates so that you don’t have to stack things on top of each other. Do the same with glasses, coffee cups, and mugs.
Now that you’ve situated the items you use every day, let’s talk about the rest of your dishware. You may have plates that are only used on holidays, or pitchers that only come out when you have guests. Those can go on higher shelves that require more effort to access.
Flatware and Utensils
It’s a cruel trick of small kitchens that sometimes they don’t have any drawers. If your kitchen has a drawer for flatware, measure it carefully and buy a drawer divider such as this Expandable Bamboo Silverware Tray. Using a drawer divider to keep your flatware in place will be the best use of your limited space.
If you have a very narrow silverware drawer, one of these Joseph Joseph DrawerStore Cutlery Organizers might be just what you need. If you don’t have any silverware drawer at all, consider a standing silverware caddy that can sit on the counter or on your dining table. The InterDesign® Forma Utensil and Silverware Holder is a good choice because it has a small footprint.
If you are lucky enough to have two drawers in your small kitchen, get a second drawer divider for cooking utensils and other frequently used kitchen tools. If you can’t fit all of your utensils in the drawer, carefully evaluate what you have and get rid of duplicates and anything you really don’t use. Some less-used utensils can also be stored in an open container in a lower cabinet.
Another one of my favorite small kitchen storage ideas is to take utensils you use all the time – such as spatulas, stirrers, slotted spoons – and hang them on the wall. Command™ Utensil Hooks are great for this purpose because they can be easily mounted (and removed) without damaging the wall.
Pots and Pans
Lower cabinets are a great place for pots and pans. Once again, I am going to take a guess that you have more pots and pans than you really need. Take them all out and sort them by type and size. Do you really use them all? If you get rid of some, will you still be able to manage with the ones you have left? One of the keys to small kitchen storage is having exactly what you need but not more than that.
Once you’ve reduced your pots and pans to the ones that you really use, pick out the ones you use the most. If your cabinets are deep, put the less frequently-used ones in the back and the more frequently-used ones in the front. If your cabinets are shallow, arrange them so that the more frequently-used ones are easier to see.
Rather than stacking narrow items like pans and lids, you might consider standing them up for easy access. I recommend the YouCopia Storemore Adjustable Pan and Lid Rack, which has worked wonders in my lower cabinet.
Another trick is to hang pans on the wall. In my kitchen, I used Command™ Medium Hooks to hang up my griddle and two of my frying pans. Those are three items that get used all the time in my small kitchen, and it’s great to have them so handy.
In a tiny kitchen, you’re not likely to have a pantry closet. Instead, you will have to devote cabinet space to food storage. As with your dishes, keep the most frequently-used food items at eye level. Small items like spices can be easily accessed using a turntable like this Copco Cabinet Lazy Susan. Be sure to measure the depth of your cabinet before buying a turntable, as many will be too deep for you.
When you have multiples of the same item, store them from front to back, with the one that expires soonest in the front. If your items are stackable – like soup cans – you can store them in multiple levels to save space. If your food items come in packages that don’t stand up easily, consider a product like the iDesign Linus Packet Organizer to keep them upright.
Your Shopping Habits and Kitchen Organization
It’s great to apply small kitchen storage ideas to make your kitchen more manageable, but it’s important to keep in mind that you may need to adjust your shopping habits to keep your small kitchen organized. Once you know how much your kitchen can comfortably hold, don’t buy more than that. Avoid buying in bulk. It may save you money per ounce, but it costs you in terms of comfort and peace of mind. If the item you are buying comes in multiple sizes, buy the smaller size.
In New York City, we walk from our supermarkets back to our homes, so most of us buy only what we can carry. meori has some helpful products to enable you to get your groceries home easily. The meori Medium Essential Tote has a structured bottom to support what you buy, but folds up easily when it’s not in use. It also comes in small and large sizes. I also like the meori Pocket Shoppers, which fit into a purse or a pocket until you are ready to do your shopping.
I hope these small kitchen storage ideas will help you get comfortable with your limited space. Small space is a challenge that can be overcome with the right mindset and tools.
Thank you to our guest blogger, Sharon, who is currently the Treasurer on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO). When she is not organizing or volunteering, she enjoys performing and directing with a community theatre group in New York City.
Which kitchen organization tip is your favorite?