13 Kitchen Organizing Mistakes — And the Easy Way to Fix 'Em

These small but clever tweaks could totally change your kitchen routine for the better.

By: Brooke Kosofsky Glassberg

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Lucy Schaeffer

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Lucy Schaeffer

Photo By: Lucy Schaeffer

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Little Changes, Big Results

So much of what goes on in your kitchen takes place on autopilot. After unpacking on move-in day, most of us never give another minute’s thought to where we stash the silverware or how we arrange the spices. But of course, often it’s the smallest tweaks that can make the biggest improvements. We asked professional organizers for their easiest yet most brilliant kitchen habits and hacks to make your space work harder.

Store Spices Smarter

The mistake: The spice jars are stacked, stuffed and spun every which way, making it impossible to find what you’re looking for fast. And how long they’ve been languishing in the cabinet is anyone’s guess.

The fix: Skip the cabinet altogether, says Amelia Meena of Appleshine Organization + Design. Instead, stand up spices in a drawer and label the tops of the lids, making it a snap to look down and find the oregano. Bonus points for dating the bottom of the jars too; take a peek every few uses, and toss and replace spices after about a year for optimal flavor.

Leverage Leftovers

The mistake: It’s always a bit dodgy to eat the leftovers in the fridge because no one can remember how old they are.

The fix: Use a dry-erase marker to write the date on your clear glass leftover containers — you don't even need tape. The marker washes right off in the dishwasher, and you can get a magnetic marker that sticks to the fridge. "Our family has been writing on clear glass leftover containers for the last year, and it’s been great," says MaryJo Monroe of Portland, Oregon-based reSPACEd. "The dry, cold atmosphere of the fridge sets the ink, making it harder to smear without deliberate force." And glass containers are also handy because they save you the step of transferring leftovers onto a plate for reheating.

Keep 'Em Separated

The mistake: You store your rimmed baking sheets with your baking equipment.

The fix: "Baking sheets aren’t really for baking — they’re for roasting veggies, toasting nuts, baking fish and chicken — and you probably use them a lot," says Emily Fleischaker, founder of KitchenFly, an in-home kitchen organization service. "But they’re often stored with cake pans, muffin tins, pie plates, and other things you use less frequently that come in tons of specialty sizes and shapes. This is the definition of clutter! Liberate your rimmed baking sheets and give them better real estate than all your other baking equipment. Stacked is fine. On their side is fine. What’s important is to give them their own dedicated space." To make them easy to access, Fleischaker likes to keep them in a waist-height cabinet or even a drawer near the stove. If you've got the space, a basic sturdy rack (like this one) can help keep things even tidier, and your sheet pans can slide easily next to your other weeknight workhorses like skillets and cutting boards.

Try to Improvise

The mistake: You assume that you need a fancy organizing system to start getting your kitchen in order.

The fix: You likely already have the tools to start straightening up (and keeping your cookware in lasting condition). Even ordinary household items can make for greater organization. File separators (from an office supply store) or thin metal bookends work well in a pantry or deep drawer. And you can spare your pots and pans from scratches by slipping paper plates between the larger ones and coffee filters or paper dessert plates between the smaller ones.

Organize Your Oils

The mistake: Oils and vinegars drip into your cupboards, making shelves a slippery, sticky mess.

The fix: A shallow plastic tray, plate or cutting board inside your cabinet can hold all those messy bottles, and you can easily run it through the dishwasher when things get too greasy, says Monroe. Just be sure to set it up away from the stove or the top of the refrigerator — the warmth radiating from your appliances can quickly turn oils rancid.

Shelve Staples

The mistake: Your favorite kitchen shelf is working overtime. It’s overcrowded, messy-looking, and even a little bit of a safety hazard.

The fix: Take the guesswork out of finding your most-often-used items by corralling them together within the tiny walls of a tray, suggests organizing coach Maeve Richmond. Trays are handy because you can pick them up and move them around the kitchen, from shelf to countertop to table: "I have a tray under my tea supplies up on a shelf," Richmond says. "It’s light enough that I can easily pull it down, and it frees up lower shelves for heavier, more often used items. I also place a tray under all my mugs because it creates a divider between them and the plates on the other half of the shelf."

Hook It Up

The mistake: You overlook cabinet doors as potential storage space.

The fix: Reclaim that unused space with hooks! Lisa Zaslow of Gotham Organizers swears by 3M Command Hooks to hold oven mitts, potholders, dish towels, measuring spoons, cutting boards, mixer attachments and other frequently-used items that can clutter a drawer infuriatingly.

Test Your Tools

The mistake: You've got a drawer or crock crammed full of utensils, from those used once a year to those used every day.

The fix: "I have my clients put an empty shoe box or coffee can on the kitchen counter," says organizer Cheryl Smith of Consider It Done. "After they’ve used and washed a utensil, they place it in the box. In a few weeks, you’ve collected the utensils that serve your needs on a regular basis." All the rest can be stored away for special-occasion use. So you'll always have what you need within easy reach, and clutter won't block your access — and you'll eliminate time spent rummaging through three different places looking for the peeler.

Put Lazy Susans to Work

The mistake: You routinely lose condiments in the depths of your refrigerator. There are too many containers in the way, hindering your efforts to access what you need — or even to know what you have.

The fix: Who says you can’t organize the fridge like any other cabinet? Add a lazy Susan to the rear of a lower shelf where infrequently-used items dwell, suggests organizer Deb Baida of Liberated Spaces. Even if you store more frequently used items in front of the spinner, moving one thing and rotating your way through all that’s behind it is a snap. You’re less likely to forget about that gourmet chutney or lose a tiny tube of almond paste this way, too.

Streamline That Pantry

The mistake: You keep snacks in their original cardboard boxes, even when there’s only one left.

The fix: Dump all prepackaged snacks into open-top bins, says Meena. Ideally, multiple boxes of the same size would be most helpful — one for bars, one for snack packs, one for fruit cups, etc. When space is limited, however, one larger box for all snacks may have to do. For aesthetics, choose pretty containers or wrap each box in nice paper and label them. Keep replenishing your system and recycling the store packages.

Add Height

The mistake: You don't utilize the full height of your cabinet shelves.

The fix: Double up on dish and glassware capacity by placing a simple wire shelf inside your cabinet to max out the space you've got, suggests Clutter Cowgirl Jeni Aron. These lightweight, moveable shelves keep your storage system flexible, but leave no spot under-used. Use the shelves in your pantry, too, to create more usable space while avoiding precarious stacking. And don’t forget that cabinet shelves themselves may be adjustable; customize to your height needs by repositioning the pegs (call the manufacturer for more if necessary).

End Paperwork Pile-Ups

The mistake: Somehow all the mail always ends up in the kitchen, whether or not there’s a desk in there.

The fix: "As the kitchen is the heart of the home, it can also be the place where clutter gathers," says organizer Mary Carlomagno. "Maintain kitchen space for cooking and dining at all costs. Designate a separate space in your home for bill-paying, mail and kid-related work so that your kitchen can stay tidy."

Don't have an office space? Don't worry — you'll be surprised how much of a difference even a single mail organizer can make. Regular sorting is the only way to prevent a backlog. "Think of it like brushing your teeth or any other routine: It has to be done daily," says Carlomagno. "I like to do it immediately when the mail comes in. Adopting this habit will make you more familiar with your items and more likely to act on them because they’re front-of-mind." Clutter comes from delaying decisions, so the minute the mail comes inside, decide what to keep. If you know you’re not going to need certain things like newspapers, ads and catalogs, let them go lickety-split.

Contain Yourself

The mistake: You can never find the right lids for your plastic storage containers because you’ve got a plethora of random pieces scattered in a drawer or cabinet.

The fix: Stick to one brand of storage containers — in fact, treat yourself to a nice, new matching set. Lids and containers by the same brand will neatly stack within one another — a sanity-saving maneuver totally worth the investment. Go a step further and store all those matching lids in a magazine holder, says small space expert Sarah Karakaian of Nestrs — they have a thin profile and stand upright, streamlining and maximizing cabinet space.