kitchen cabinet and drawer organization
cleaning,  decorating

5 Kitchen Organization Strategies I Use Wherever We Move

Let’s just all admit that we are curious about how other people live.

Even if it is highly curated or grossly exaggerated, that’s why reality TV, HGTV, social media and magazines stay in business.

I once had a job that required me to really consider how other people might live in order to help design homes that would function well for them. I even became certified as a focus group moderator so that I could conduct some of this primary research myself.

People opened up and shared all sorts of interesting things during these focus groups and a hot topic was always kitchen design. Just because a kitchen looks pretty doesn’t mean it functions well. There are some drawer sizes and cabinet designs that are real head scratchers if you actually use your kitchen on a daily basis.

Since most of us do not have the opportunity to design a kitchen from scratch, we are left to try and make the drawers and cabinets that we do have work for us. Thank goodness we are an adaptable bunch!

That brings me to today’s topic. Do you want to see a real life, ‘resisted the urge to wipe away the crumbs’ look at how I organize my kitchen drawers and cabinets?

You do?

Well, thank goodness! Otherwise, this was going to get awkward.

Actually, there’s still plenty of opportunity for that.

I don’t have matching containers with color-coordinated labels. There is nothing Pinterest-worthy about my kitchen drawers. And if you look hard enough, you really can spot some crumbs.

I am pretty organized though. At least when it comes to my kitchen. Cooking isn’t my favorite thing in the world to do, but I do it everyday. Being able to find the things I need in my kitchen is my way of making this chore a little more bearable. And since we’ve moved a lot, I’ve learned how to apply the principles that keep me organized no matter the size or layout of my kitchen.

Here are five of my kitchen organization strategies.

Please note that I like calling them “strategies” since it makes things sound super official as opposed to the trial-and-error that happens over time. Better late than never with these “strategies,” right?!? Also, I realize my ideas won’t work for everyone and that’s not my goal here. However, I included a bonus “tip” at the very bottom that I think will resonate with 99.7% of us.

Kitchen Organization Strategy #1: Put dishes where the kids (and you!) can reach them.

This particular kitchen has two deep drawers that are probably for pots and pans. I only use one of them for pots and pans. The other we use for plates and bowls.

The reason is simply so that my kids can reach these items and help themselves! I’ve realized there are some perks to my kids being older and becoming increasingly self-sufficient. If my kids can make their own breakfast, I can stay in bed longer! If my kids learn how to make ramen noodles and pizza bagels, they can survive college!

Also, I had an elderly person tell me once that she had switched to lighter-weight dishes because she had lost arm strength and suffered from arthritis. It was too hard or risky for her to lift the heavier ceramic plates up into a cupboard. Keeping dishes at a lower level, if given the opportunity, might have been another solution for her.

My plates and bowls don’t break or slide around in these drawers even without dish pegs, but the reason for this is that the drawers have the soft close feature and I don’t stack them very high.

Also, you may notice that only salad plates and cereal bowls are in this drawer (and some are in the dishwasher when I took this picture!). That’s because we don’t eat on our dinner plates and we haven’t for years – unless guests come over. Then I think, “We should pretend to be normal! Get out the dinner plates!”

kitchen drawer organization strategy


Our reliance on salad plates is partly because when I make salad, I plate the salads individually. I don’t like to eat salad leftovers. And often, if Handy Husband is working late, his salad goes in the fridge and then he’ll warm up whatever else we had for dinner on a separate plate. That’s real life!

It’s also because when I was trying to lose the baby weight after my son was born I read that eating dinner on a salad plate helps control portion size. I’m convinced it does!

Kitchen Organization Strategy #2: Pare down! Keep only the utensils you use the most in an easy-to-reach location.

I have definitely pared down what utensils I use and keep on hand in the last few years.

I learned that I don’t need five spatulas. I really only had one favorite one anyway. Being an adult is super glamorous. I have to watch portion size. I have a favorite spatula. And I fall asleep watching any tv show that starts after 9 p.m. Try not to be jealous.

I keep all the utensils I use on an almost daily basis in an easy-to-reach location. In this particular kitchen, it is in a drawer by the stove. In other homes, I’ve used a utensil caddy on the counter or in a deep drawer.

The utensils I don’t use on a regular basis (e.g. carrot peeler and ice cream scoop) go in a different spot.

kitchen drawer organization


I know this strategy works for our family because last weekend Handy Husband was unloading the dishwasher and he said, “I’m going to to put this utensil in the drawer by the stove because I’m going to be using it a lot this weekend.”

I don’t remember what the utensil was, but if Handy Husband is going to help out in the kitchen I’m not going to complain!

Kitchen Organization Strategy #3: Save your sanity! Use drawer dividers, shallow trays or other containers to group similar items together.

Kitchen drawers and cabinets are, relatively speaking, much larger than the tiny items they are designed to hold.

If I don’t want my drawers or cabinets to become a jumbled mess, then I have to divide like items into shallow trays or use drawer dividers. I even use bowls or baskets to hold things like small lids or measuring spoons.

Anything is fair game to help me corral small items! Case in point – I have a shadowbox-type shelf turned on its side in this deep drawer to corral medium-sized lids.

kitchen drawer organization

Don’t send me messages about not storing my knives correctly. I know there are better ways, but I sharpen my knives when I need to and food seems to get sliced and diced.

Also, since this was a real-life attempt at photographing how our kitchen drawers look at any given time, I had to REALLY resist the urge to fix the couple of lids that escaped their container and to put the spoon straws all facing the same direction.

Kitchen Organization Strategy #4: Don’t give prominent space to items you rarely use. Or get rid of them!

If you notice, there is a gallon-sized bag of cookie cutters on the top shelf of one of my cabinets. I can barely reach this shelf by standing on my tiptoes and I’m tall.

But here’s the thing, I only use cookie cutters once or twice a year. I don’t need these things taking up prominent drawer space when I hardly ever use them. I’m not ready to cull them completely out of my life because my kids do still make tree-shaped cookies for Santa. Instead, I just put them someplace where they aren’t in my way.

The other items in many kitchens that takes up space are small appliances and gadgets that don’t get used regularly.

When we moved to Ireland I had to get rid of anything that plugged in because they use different outlets in Europe. Yes, this purge was PAINFUL. We didn’t know how long we were going to be in Ireland, so I was hesitant to buy a bunch of kitchen stuff. Once I realized I could use a whisk to mix pancake batter, well, I decided I could always wait another week to purchase a handheld mixer. Another week eventually turned into two years!

Before you stop reading in protest, I’m not saying you should get rid of your small appliances. Quite the contrary! They can make life so much easier and your pancake batter less lumpy. If having an Instant Pot (or whatever else) means you’re cooking at home more often for your family, that’s a win!

However, if you never use that food processor, get rid of it! You won’t miss it, but you will love the extra space. Plus, there’s probably something else in your kitchen that can do the same thing. Like a knife.

Since we’ve been back in the States for a year, we have purchased this Ninja Coffee Maker, this Capresso coffee bean grinder, a toaster, and this Mueller immersion blender. I would have purchased a slow cooker by now, but my current oven has a slow cook function. In the future I can see myself buying another blender because the immersion blender isn’t the best with frozen fruit. As for a lot of the other electric gadgets…I haven’t missed them or I’ve found a decent work-around.

Kitchen Organization Strategy #5: Don’t be afraid to switch things around.

The first place you put something in your kitchen might not be the best place.

It takes awhile to understand how you are going to use any space, but especially a kitchen. Adjustments to how things are placed or stored might need to occur.

Also, your needs might change over time and so should your organization strategies.

If you’re in the phase of life where you are making school lunches, you might be grouping all the lunch items next to each other.

If you’re in the phase of life with babies and toddlers, you might not be keeping cleaners under your kitchen sink.

If you’re in the phase of life where you are on a first name basis with the Chinese food delivery person, I am SO jealous.

These kitchen organization strategies are all fine and good, but I feel the need to point out the obvious. Besides the fact that I just posted a picture of my kitchen from Christmas…in May.

First, I’m not Marie Kondo. I’ve just figured out what works for me in this season of life. Maybe some of the ideas on how I organize my kitchen drawers and cabinets will work for you, maybe they won’t. We all have different spaces and habits, so find your own groove and a system you can stick with!

Second, organizing your kitchen does not have to cost an arm and a leg. For the most part, I’m using leftover containers and Dollar Store trays to organize mine. I can’t tell you how many pantry makeovers I’ve seen where the person spent more money on containers than they did on actual food for their pantry. It’s crazy.

Now if that investment works, that’s fantastic! I like pretty things too, but just because you have pretty containers or labels does not mean your space will stay organized. Being organized is a pretty subjective concept that differs from person to person. We all know that person with a “messy” desk, but they know exactly where everything is located. Bottom line – do what works for you.

If you’re continually frustrated or wasting time because of how your kitchen is organized (or not organized), then change it. This is what kicked me in the rear to make some changes because I do not need more frustration in my life! Rearrange your kitchen so items are placed where you intuitively will know where they are when you need them.

Finally, and here’s my real life bonus tip, when all else fails CLOSE THE DARN CUPBOARD DOORS and let it be until you’re ready to tackle the issue. That’s why kitchen cabinets have doors, right?!?

Happy organizing!

P.S. If you are disappointed I didn’t show you the juiciest parts of my kitchen like the junk drawer or the pantry or inside my fridge, I get it. How many scandals does the internet need today?!? But if enough of you ask, I might show you.

P.S. Focus group moderating was not my calling. Focus group moderators have to have intense focus and excellent listening skills in order to continue prompting the conversation. As it turns out, my mind has a tendency to wander. Shocker.

Now where were we? Oh yeah…

If your mind has a tendency to wander too, you may enjoy one of these posts. 

My One Touch Cleaning Rule

Wrap Basket Handles with Leather Cording

Travel: Blarney Castle in Ireland

Would I Make it Again: Cranberry Sweet Potato Doughnuts


*affiliate links in this post*

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  • Dawn Olsson

    I know you really wanted picture of my old junk drawer included in this post. Sorry I couldn’t help you with that. 😉

  • Sandy Smith

    Thanks for your hints. I’d like to know how you organized food items that comes in bags such as rice and beans and pasta and maybe your junk drawer. Ha!

    • annisa

      I take everything out of bags! Well, not everything. I take cereal out of bags and put it in containers. I put rice in a container too. And lentils. It all comes out of the bags. You’re twisting my arm…maybe I’ll take more pictures.

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