Real Food Tips: How To Organize Your Kitchen

This is a guest post by Andrew Mellen, author of Unstuff Your Life!: Kick the Clutter Habit and Completely Organize Your Life for Good. I met Andrew at a blogging conference and thought it would be fun to hear some of his ideas that relate to our kitchen (because we all know that’s where we spend most of our time at home!). – Lisa

Whether you love to cook or do it out of duty, a well organized kitchen will make the task easier and faster and more pleasant for everyone.

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you already know what a functional, zoned kitchen looks and feels like. If you haven’t had that experience, these tips and suggestions will bring you up to speed.

 Likewise, if you’ve ever been in a workshop, similar activities are grouped together near the machines needed for each activity.

So as pretty as you want your kitchen to be, first and foremost you need to think of it as a food shop. These tips will help you organize your kitchen like a pro.

How To Organize Your Kitchen on 100 Days of #RealFood

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  1. Think zones.
    Before you do anything else, think about the kinds of food preparation you do in the kitchen. There’s prepping, assembling, cooking, baking, serving, freezing, storing, and cleaning. Each of these zones should be identified in your kitchen, and all like items needed for each kind of activity should “live” in those zones. Even if you have a tiny galley kitchen, it can be arranged in zones. A zone might be as small as a drawer or a shelf in a cabinet or as large as an island or peninsula. Do this, and you’ll find anything you need in 30 seconds or less. That means that:

    • all your baking supplies should live together.
    • all your cooking supplies should be grouped together.
    • all your containers, bags, and wraps for storing food live together. (The storage zone should be near the fridge.)
    • the cleaning zone is near the sink (and trash/recycling).
    • the cooking zone should be as close to the range or oven as possible.
  2. If cabinet space is tight and your kitchen allows, you could always hang pots and pans from a rack on the wall or ceiling.
    You don’t need a ginormous kitchen to manage the chaos of pot storage. And here’s an extra trick: Instead of using towel bars, use handrails and some S-hooks. They support more weight. You can find them at home stores or specialty places like surgical supply stores.
  3. If the kitchen is a food shop, the pantry is a library.

    Organize your pantry shelves as you would a library, with food items grouped by category. Canned vegetables all together, canned fruit together, nuts together, grains together, etc.
  4. Use mise en place whenever you cook.
    The concept of mise en place comes from the kitchens of France and means literally “putting in place.” It refers to the advance preparation of a dish’s ingredients, so that before you begin any cooking, all the needed ingredients should already be measured, chopped, diced, or sliced according to the recipe. Do you want to save time and never again end up running out for nutmeg 20 minutes before company arrives? Use this technique, and you’ll learn immediately what you DON’T have before you start cooking.
  5. Clear your counters of anything you don’t use on a daily basis.

    If you are not eating toast every day, consider putting the toaster in a cabinet or a pantry. Don’t make shakes or smoothies? Lose the blender from that prime spot on the counter. Declutter all your counters by mounting some of the basic non-food tools to the walls. Things like a calendar, phone, notepads, and pens should all be on a wall or in a drawer.
  6. Ditto for knives.
Particularly if you have small children, in-the-drawer knife blocks are a great way to keep knives safe and sharp. If you don’t have to worry about who might be grabbing one, a magnetic strip on the wall is another way to keep them handy and safe.
  7. Contain messes in your pantry by housing sticky or spillable products on an easy-to-clean lazy Susan with a lip.
    A spare baking tray or lasagna pan is a close second. While you won’t have the revolving convenience of the lazy Susan, the pan will catch drips and corral like items, speeding cleanup. This is also a great idea in your laundry room for any spot cleaners and other drippy solutions.
  8. Repurpose a cake stand for everyday items on your counter.
    Clear the clutter and maximize your countertops by using a cake stand to hold olive oil, your favorite vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and other frequently used seasonings. The stand gets everything up and off the counter in one place while making it easy to find and use these ingredients when you cook.
  9. The next best thing to drawers in the kitchen are sliding shelf organizers.
    I love drawers in the kitchen. Wouldn’t you rather pull out a drawer than get down on your hands and knees, open a cabinet, and then have to reach to the back of a bottom shelf to find something? 

Sliding shelf organizers and other after-market conversion kits make frequently used items easy to access in any cabinet.
  10. Divide large drawers with dividers or organizers.
    Do you really need every utensil sliding around in that deep, wide drawer? Keep tools neatly separated by category so you’ll never waste another minute rummaging around for what you need.
  11. Keep open shelves organized by storing like items in clear or wire mesh baskets or other containers.
Being able to see the contents of a container is even better than reading a label on an opaque box or tub. Help yourself and your family find anything they need by corralling all like kinds of items together in an easy to see through basket or bin.
  12. Make it easy for kids to grab snacks on the go with over-the-door organizers.

Pre-portion out snacks like nuts and dried fruit and store the baggies in the clear pouches so anyone can find a healthy and quick snack without tearing apart the pantry and leaving a mess in their wake. This is also a great way to store pantry items to cut down on search time.

Bonus Tips

Use glass-front cabinets to showcase your china, decorative bowls, or canisters.
    If you have glass-front cabinets, instead of cluttering them up with everyday items that don’t look that great, consider showing off your good china, any antiques, or even canisters filled with different colored beans, pasta, or other dried foods.
  2. Repaint the pantry door with chalkboard paint to bring some fun and function into your kitchen.
The pantry door is a perfect place to keep a running shopping list, your meal plan for the week, and other top of mind to-do items in sight. 

If you’re concerned about getting sloppy, limit the paint to the inside panels. If you’re open to some self expression, paint the outside panels and hang a cup with colored chalk from the doorknob and have at it. There’s no need to wait for “someday” to let your creativity out!

I hope you find Andrew’s tips as helpful as I do … I particularly liked #3 – such common sense, right?! Andrew also offers sound tips and advice in other areas including time management, those mountains of paper piling up everywhere and how to preserve and organize your photos, both digitally and prints. Readers can take 20% off of any of his offerings with our “100days” code.

If you’re eager to start 2015 off with less clutter and more focus, you should also check out his live webinar happening on January 20 — our code is good for that, too!

How to Organize your Kitchen on 100 Days of #RealFoodAndrew Mellen is an organizational expert, public speaker, and the #1 best-selling author of Unstuff Your Life! The media has dubbed Andrew “The Most Organized Man in America” with appearances including The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Real Simple, Oprah Magazine, America Now, The Lisa Oz Show, The Nate Berkus Show, Oprah & Friends, Martha Stewart Living Today, ABC, NBC, CBS, CW11, HGTV, DIY Network, LiveWell Network, KnowMoreTV, Better Homes & Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, USA Today, GQ, InStyle, All You, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Healthy UK, American Way, Numerous trade and travel publications, and NPR.

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24 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: How To Organize Your Kitchen”

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  1. I love these tips. I, for one, prefer to have all my pans right next to me while I’m cooking. I like your idea of knife organization – it’s so easy for little ones to get knives if they aren’t stowed away properly.

  2. If it helps (Tracy’s question), I organize my drawers by their use but I have small drawers. But you could put dividers into big drawers. I separated this way which has helped a lot… Sharp: knives, corn sticks, fondue sticks, pizza cutter (with small boxes for things without covers for safety reaching in); serving: anything I could serve with even if I cook with it like big spoons, ladles, spatulas; cooking: whisk, egg whitfe separator, rolling pin, all the weird gadgets; measuring cups, measuring spoons in box so not all over, and straws in other… Then I have a box in the cabinet for bigger gadgets like funnel, hand juicer, mixer parts, etc. Thanks for the ideas. Love the chalkboard idea.

  3. I’m curious re #10, the tip to separate kitchen tools into categories. Suggestions for categories? My drawers are a pain to look through (I have two w/things like the pizza cutter, lemon juicer, spatulas, etc.). Thanks!

  4. I always say the counters are a work space – not a shelf!

    I like my counters as bare as possible. Bare counters are a great enticement to bake and cook too.

  5. This is a great post! Always looking for tips on organizing and DECLUTTERING! I like the idea of the chalkboard paint but for the less crafty- I just have on ongoing list on the fridge or in my household planner. The best thing I’ve done though that you’ve mentioned is clearing the counter of things I don’t use daily- except the mixer because it’s so big!

  6. I respectfully disagree with the idea that the storage zone (food storage bags and containers for leftovers) should be near the fridge. I find it more helpful to have these containers near my cooking area, so that I can place leftovers into the containers without walking over to my fridge first. Just my two cents, of course everyone’s kitchen is organized differently, but for me it doesn’t make sense to put storage containers near the fridge.

  7. Loved the article. We just did the spice cupboard and my hubby built a tiered rack in there. What a huge difference. Found I had 3 of some spices and none of others LOL! :-)

  8. Excellent, Candi — BTW, there’s a chapter in my book that (almost) effortlessly walks you through the process of reorganizing your cabinets if you find you’re not getting as psyched as you’d like!

    So easy to transform how you work in your kitchen!

  9. Great tips. I love my kitchen. It’s my second favorite place to be- first is the garden of course. Thanks for the motivation – I need to do a little housekeeping in my cabinets. I’m getting myself psyched up for it.

  10. I love tip #2 and actually already utilise a rack on the wall for my most used utensils. It makes things so much easier. I am about to add another one for frequently used pots and pans. I would love to add a spice rack like you have in the photo. Where would I find one like it?

  11. I should really be using that “mise en place” rule more often. Not because I don’t have the ingredients (or can’t figure out a good substitute) but more because everything seems to need more attention or cook faster than I expect…. so chopping those veggies while the onions caramelize results in near burnt onions! Oops!

    1. Exactly Alley — “mise in place” is useful for more than just identifying if something is missing. It means that all prep is finished and cooking/assembling dishes runs smoothly and quickly! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Excellent tips. Plus your article makes me feel good because I’m already following many of these suggestions. :)

    A simple addition: I keep my herbs and spices in a wall rack where they are all in alphabetical order. So easy to find things! So obvious where they go when I’m finished using them.

    Thank you for sharing your ideas with us.

    best regards,


  13. I couldn’t agree with number five more! I recently renovated my kitchen and getting all of the stuff off of the counter has made such a huge difference. I use my VitaMix daily – multiple times actually! – and I still keep it under my counter. Love a long, empty beautiful countertop!

  14. We installed two storage racks on the inside of the pantry door to store all our small jars of seasonings. It really helps cut down clutter on the pantry shelves.

  15. I am convinced that my kitchen is beyond organization, or at least better organization than it is now.

    We don’t have enough storage in cabinets or drawers, and because of that, we have to use counters to store things such as knives and seldom-used small appliances. I would love to get either a magnetic knife strip or a in-drawer knife block. The problem, we don’t have the drawer space and the above-counter cabinets are only 10 inches above the cabinets–not long enough for my chef knife. The cabinets are only 10 inches deep so I can’t mount a knife strip on the side of the cabinet.

    1. Tim — thanks for your comment. I wonder if a freestanding storage unit along the lines of a baker’s rack or hoosier cabinet could be placed either in your kitchen or nearby to create some additional storage and relieve some of the burden on your counters?