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How to Organize Kitchen Cabinets and Drawers for Good

First, empty your cabinets and lose what you don’t use. Then follow these steps to keep your kitchen organized

By Annie Thornton

Getting your kitchen storage organized and working well is very satisfying, but it can be hard to know where to begin — especially if you’ve been using your kitchen for a while and are used to its quirks. To help, here’s a quick guide to the best ways to organize your kitchen cabinets and drawers by grouping items by type, storing them near where you use them, and getting rid of what you’re not using.

How to Organize Kitchen Cabinets and Drawers

These are the basic steps to organizing your kitchen storage. We’ll go into each one in more detail:

  • Empty cabinets and drawers, including pantry food items.
  • Sort the cabinet contents by what you want to keep, what to throw away or recycle and what to donate.
  • Thoroughly clean all the surfaces of your cabinets and drawers.
  • Group all the items you’re going to store in your kitchen by category.
  • Plan to place items near where they’ll be used.
  • Add baskets, shelf inserts, cabinet racks and any new storage solutions you want to use to keep your kitchen cabinets organized.
  • Return everything to cabinets and drawers, prioritizing items by use.
  • Enjoy your clean, organized kitchen.

1. Empty Kitchen Cabinets and Drawers

Take everything out of your cabinets at once, or go cabinet by cabinet, and place the contents on a table or countertop.

“Physically handling each item forces you to make decisions about keeping, donating or discarding,” says Karen Duncan, a certified professional organizer out of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

2. Decide What to Keep and What to Part With

The contents of your kitchen cabinets, like many storage cabinets around the house, are likely filled with items that you use often, but they’re also likely filled with even more items that you use rarely, if ever.

Give yourself permission to let go of those unused items. Donate or give away what you can, recycling or throwing out anything you can’t, such as expired pantry items.

3. Clean Cabinets and Drawers

Now that your cabinets are empty, spend some time getting them really clean before you fill them back up. Wash all surfaces thoroughly with gentle soap and water and allow them to dry completely before restocking. For an extra level of polish, and to make future cleaning easier, you can also add shelf or drawer liners, or replace old ones.

4. Group Items by Use

“Think of your kitchen as functional zones: washing, prepping, cooking on stovetop and baking,” Duncan says.

Group the items or tools you use for each of those tasks together for efficiency. In the pantry, this means grouping food types by category: cooking, baking, snacks and breakfast,or whichever grouping technique works best for your lifestyle.

5. Place Things Near Where They’re Used

Once you’ve grouped your items, plan to place them in cabinets or drawers close to where their function is performed.

In the panty, place the foods that you use most often in the easiest-to-reach places. (One possible exception: “If you think you eat too many snacks, put those up high so you don’t see them as often, and it’s more of a to-do to get them,” says Tori Cohen, an organizing and decluttering specialist in New York City.)

While you’re working out what to store in each cabinet or drawer, Duncan suggests placing temporary labels made of blue painter’s tape on the cabinet or drawer where each group is going. This will help you get a sense of how your storage plan is shaping up and simplify making adjustments as you go.

6. Consider New Kitchen Cabinet Organizers

Once you have determined where you’d like to store everything, look for places where your kitchen cabinets and drawers could benefit from additional organization and storage tools. Some ideas to consider:

Roll-out shelves. 
Extra-deep lower cabinets benefit from roll-out shelves, either custom-made or purchased from a kitchen or organizing store. The shelves will allow you to easily see the cabinet’s entire contents — even what’s at the very back.

Baskets and storage containers. Storage containers and open-topped baskets can be a great way to group like items, especially food.

Drawer pegboard. Pegboard systems, which feature adjustable screw-in dowels to keep plates in place, can be purchased for existing drawers.

The dowels can be moved to accommodate the size of whatever you want to store in the drawer. (Depending on your drawer’s construction, the bottom may need to be reinforced for heavy dishes.)

Cabinet risers and drop-downs. Freestanding cabinet shelves can double your storage by adding another shelf for storage without losing any accessibility.

Drawer dividers for kitchen tools. Standard drawer tray inserts work great for silverware, but kitchen tools can be a little more challenging to corral; they’re not uniform in size and not everyone has the same kind. “My best suggestion is [a set of] drawer dividers, and not a tray. That way you can create the sizes of spaces you need,” Cohen says.

Look for adjustable dividers, which can be expanded to fit your kitchen drawers. As you have done with the rest of your organizing, group kitchen tools by type before placing them in drawers.

Pan organizer racks. Consider a pan organizer rack, which can be added into an existing cabinet. “That way none of the pans need to sit in one another, and they’re easily accessible,” Cohen says.

7. Put Everything Away

Put the contents of your kitchen cabinets and drawers in their new homes, prioritizing what you plan to use most in the most accessible spots and placing rarely used items, such as seasonal platters, out of the way. “This is what the top shelves are for,” Cohen says.

8. Maintain Organized Cabinets

To maintain the organizing system, and to help you or guests quickly identify what is stored where, consider putting a label on the inside of each cabinet indicating the cabinet’s contents. “When you’re running around the kitchen trying to figure out where your roasting pan is, all you should need to do is read these labels,” Cohen says.

Other Considerations for Organizing Kitchen Cabinets and Drawers

Cabinets versus drawers.

“Shelves are great for taller and odd-shaped items, since shelves tend to be adjustable,” Duncan says. Drawers can be useful for everyday items, including kitchen tools and cutlery. Deep drawers can also be used for baking supplies and pots and pans.

Glass-front cabinets and open shelves. Glass-front cabinets and open shelves provide an opportunity to create an attractive kitchen display. Store your most attractive plates, cups and pots where they can be seen, and try not to stuff the cabinets too full.

If you’d rather not display your kitchenware, peel-and-stick window film can turn transparent cabinet doors translucent. Decorative bins can sit on open shelves, with items stored inside.

Corner cabinets. In areas where items always get pushed to the back and are hard to reach, install turntables, which make it easier to see and access the cabinet’s entire contents.

Alternatively, Cohen suggests using these blind corners for rarely used items, like holiday serveware, or for storing bulk items, like paper towels, that you don’t necessarily need to see in order to grab.

Small kitchens. Duncan and Cohen shared their tips for keeping a small kitchen organized:

  • Buy only what you really need.
  • Declutter frequently.
  • Purchase multi-use items, rather than specialty tools.
  • Designate an alternate closet for overflow items.
  • Consider a portable prep cart with storage underneath.