How To Organize Your Kitchen Cabinets, According To Experts

Kick clutter to the curb with these smart tips.

how to organize kitchen cabinets

Molly Culver Photography

When it comes to your kitchen cabinets, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. While trendy-yet-timeless fronts, a beautiful color, and an assortment of thoughtful hardware can make your cabinets shine, a well-established organization system inside is arguably the backbone of the room that truly does it all. (After all, it’s safe to say that nobody wants to open their cabinets and have an avalanche of cookware, glassware, and spices come crashing down onto the floor.) 

But herein lies the problem: With so many items lurking in your cabinets—pots, pans, and non-perishables, just to name a few—keeping your cabinets in tip-top shape can sometimes seem more difficult than making crème brûlée from scratch. However, in reality, organizing your kitchen cabinets doesn’t have to be a tidying task of Herculean proportions. That’s exactly why we tapped three Southern organizing experts to break down their tips for tackling these culinary corners. Think of this as your comprehensive (and definitive) guide for organizing your kitchen cabinets once and for all.

Classic Finishes
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

Declutter and Define Your Daily Routine

Just because cabinets hide plates, glasses, and those broken-in pots and pans doesn’t mean you should think of their contents as “out of sight, out of mind.” “Keeping your cabinets organized takes the stress out of cooking,” explains Catie Kelly, founder of Atlanta-based Sistamatic Organizing. “The last thing you want to do when you’re about to whip up some biscuits or pot roast is to have to spend 10 extra minutes looking for the pans and tools you need.” Another perk? If you have all of your cooking essentials on full display, you won’t accidentally buy duplicates of items you already have. “It’s not fun to get home from the store and realize you just bought a third jar of onion powder,” she adds.  

The first step, according to Kelly, is to remove everything (yes, everything) from your cabinets so you can determine what you keep, donate, or discard. Though it’s a generally good idea to group your belongings by category—wine glasses go here, bowls go there—Kelly says it’s important to think about your habits and place things accordingly. “If you really only bake around the holidays, there’s no need for your cake pans to stay in an easy-to-reach lower cabinet with the sheet pans you use several times a week,” she explains. “They can go on an upper shelf instead.” 

The same thing goes for your dinnerware and glassware: Instead of Grandma’s precious china or those coupe glasses you never use taking up precious real-estate in that prime cabinet, consider storing them somewhere you won’t frequent as much. 

Focus on Flow

Okay, you’ve separated those everyday essentials from those once-in-a-while what? Specifically, where does everything go? For the Neat Boutique’s Jen Van Buskirk, it’s all about flow. “Pay attention to your zones, such as the oven, food prep area, and sink area, and try to keep all your essentials within one to two steps of that area,” the Charleston-based organizer shares. In other words: Instead of traipsing your entire kitchen just to find that dish soap, keep all of your essentials well within reach. 

That said, it’s worth noting that the cabinets underneath your sink may not have enough room for all of your extra, unopened soaps and sponges. The solution, according to Shannon Johnson of Situate Your Space, is to create a special spot for those spare excess essentials. 

“Designating a basket for backstock items will save you time and help your system maintain itself,” the Houston-based organizer explains. “If a decanted item won't all fit into its container, storing the remainder in a designated basket gives it a home until it is needed to refill.” 

Measuring Is a Must

Whether you’re creating a makeshift pantry or dedicating an entire cabinet to your baking ingredients, you’ll always want to measure the area you’re working with. (You wouldn’t buy a sofa without measuring your living room, so why should your kitchen cabinets be any different?) 

“One of the biggest mistakes people make when organizing kitchen cabinets is not fully utilizing vertical space and depth,” Johnson shares. “Kitchen cabinets are often deep, so we tend to utilize it that way while forgetting all the vertical space left unused—or we over utilize the depth and create clutter.” 

By knowing your space’s width, depth, and height, you can figure out how to let your dimensions work in your favor. Have tall, narrow cabinets? Pick up some slim bins or drawers and stack them on top of each other. Long baskets can be perfect for stowing bags of chips, cookies, or nuts in deep spaces. Or, if you didn’t score the dimension jackpot, get a little creative with the space you do have. Johnson says that utilizing the back of a door is a sneaky way to maximize your cabinet’s potential.

Built-In Display
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

Show Off Your Stuff 

Of course, making the most of your cabinet space is just one part of the organization process; you’ll also want to make sure you merchandize your belongings just right so you can physically see where everything is. Instead of pillaging through your entire cabinet to find that one bag of chips, create well-defined zones for your belongings. For example, if you’re turning a spare cabinet into a pantry, pour dry goods like pasta and flour into clear containers or store those sweet treats in a woven basket.

“Turntables give you effortless access to corners and hard-to-reach areas,” Johnson adds. “From sauces and condiments to canned goods, [they’ll] easily level-up your pantry's function.”

Though labels can be your cabinets’ secret weapon, Kelly encourages budding organizers to keep their categories as broad as possible. “A couple of bins labeled ‘snacks’ are more versatile than several labeled ‘nuts,’ ‘chips,’ and ‘crackers’ since you may not always have those things on hand,” she notes.

Keep It Cohesive

Once you have an organization system for a specific zone or category, go with it! Not only will two different setups create a lot of confusion, but it’ll also create visual clutter, which has no place in a kempt cabinet. Take your spice collection, for example. “If you want the gorgeous spices in alphabetical order, do it,” Van Buskirk shares. “My favorites are the glass jars with the bamboo lid.  If you're not much of a cook, consider organizing them into two simple categories: Frequently used and rarely used. Don't overcomplicate if it's not helpful!” Once you’ve committed to an organization that works with your routine, maintaining it will be a breeze.

Prioritize Practicality

Scroll through your social media feed and you’ll likely spot a bunch of cabinet organization ideas that are nothing short of stunning. Though we love an aesthetically-pleasing space as much as the next person, our pros say those picturesque cabinets aren’t always as practical as they seem. 

“I like to tell my clients that the perfectly organized, color-coordinated spaces shown off on social media are nice for inspiration, but they aren’t necessarily realistic for most people to maintain,” Kelly says. “Focus on functionality first, then aesthetics, and try not to compare your home to the meticulously staged closets and kitchens you see on the internet.” 

Form over function? That’s an organization trick that will never go out of style.

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