Complete Guide to Kitchen Storage For Avoiding Cleaning Up Mess

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Maybe the last kitchen you cooked in was a mess. Maybe you feel like you can do better with the space you’re given, but don’t know where to start.

Whether your problem is a kitchen where nothing seems to be where it’s supposed to be, or it’s that you’re not sure what kind of kitchen cabinets or storage installations are the right fit for you, you’ll get your answers in this complete guide on all things kitchen storage related. 

Let’s dig in. 

How Kitchens Have Changed – and the Rules of Kitchen Storage 

kitchen storage

In older homes, kitchens used to be closed off and secluded – it was only in the 1900s that dining inside the kitchen became a thing, but even then the washing machine was more at home in the kitchen than a dining table was. It wasn’t before the 1950s that the open plan kitchen was even an idea, but fast forward to about seven decades, and open plan kitchens are now the norm. 

These kitchens need to be roomy and match the decor of the rest of the house. In addition, they changed a lot of rules about kitchen storage, and kitchens today are as much about functionality as they are about decor. 

Kitchen cabinet styles, too, are evolving. With the introduction of the dishwasher, a lot of people opted out of having a dish rack next to their sink. Newer models for kitchen cabinets and fittings have built-in compartments for the chopper and the blender and the toaster, all of which are normally kept out of sight but can be brought to the surface with just the pull of a drawer. 

What Goes Where 

If you’re new to kitchen storage, you might be wondering whether there are any rules for kitchen storage that would make your life easier. Well, there are, but there aren’t. The thing about kitchens is that every one of them is different and unique, and no two kitchens will actually have the same kind of stuff in it. 

You might need to use the chopper or blender more often than the rest, which means that placing it out of sight wouldn’t be a smart choice. A few days ago I was reading a blog by a mom about how she organizes her kitchen, and she had taken to keeping a sack of potatoes right under the kitchen island. Why? Because she used them for one thing or the other almost every day, and it was more convenient than having to take them out of a cupboard. 

Just like her, you’ll have to think about whether you value looks or functionality more in a lot of cases, and then work accordingly. That said, here are some useful tips on what goes where in a kitchen. 

Keep the Things You Need Close 

The main goals in organizing your kitchen are to help you work efficiently and make sure everything looks neat and organized. If you’re cooking, everything you’d need for it should be in arm’s reach so you aren’t running around in a frenzy everyday. If you’re washing the dishes, the paper towels need to be close by, and the same goes for knives and the cutting board, and the mixing bowls when you’re prepping for food. 

Instead of going into complicated organizing options and stuff like that, you can just consider what should be nearest to certain areas in your kitchen and then watch the magic happen as everything gradually falls into place in your kitchen. 

Here is a table that lists the items that need to be closest to areas like the dishwasher/sink and the stove, plus what usually goes in the lower cabinets and what goes on the counter. 

Things that go near the sink

Things that go near the stove

Things that go on the counter 

Things that go near the counter 

Things that go in the bottom cabinets 

Things that go in the top cabinets 

Drying rack Spices and seasonings  Cutting board  Mixing bowls  Heavy utensils like a pestle and mortar if you have one  Serving trays and bowls 
Paper towels or a dishrag  Mixing spoons and spatulas  Knife block  Measuring cups and spoons  Stacking pots  Light machinery like mixers 
Storage bowls and Tupperware  Condiments like oil and vinegar  Everyday appliances – these may vary from person to person, but commonly coffee makers and toasters Baking utensils like your spatula and beater Lids (lids for Tupperware and spare lids that are somehow a staple in every kitchen) Cake pans, trays, bowls, glasses, big Tupperware, and any light items you don’t use too often but are important.
All cleaning supplies Oven mitts  Knife block Eating utensils like forks, chopsticks, and spoons Baking dishes  Baking ingredients 
Glasses and mugs   Fruit and vegetable bowls   Heavy appliances you rarely use  Less commonly used pantry items

Care About How Containers Look 

One of the biggest woes for anyone who has a small kitchen is how stuffy they can get. Small things like spatulas and condiment bottles can Take up a lot of space in your kitchen cabinets – space that would be better spent on other things, especially when you take those things out everyday to cook. 

I understand your dilemma though. We can’t just all leave our spices and cooking supplies lying around. Well, the easiest fix to this problem is to get some decorative spice jars, or jars made out of glass. When you store things in matching sets and decorative jars, they become part of the decor just as much as the spice storage. 

If you incorporate this rule in more of your kitchen, you’ll have more room to work with than ever before. 

A great idea would be to display your flat metal pans on stands on the wall against exposed brick walls, some pretty hard on open shelves or the sink, making the fruit and vegetable baskets part of the decor, and to use pretty cutting boards as art pieces on the walls until you need them. 

Divide Your Kitchen into Sections 

 Like I said before, one of the reasons you’re organizing your kitchen is to make it easier to work in it. This means there should be as little walking involved in the cooking process as possible, and everything should be within arm’s reach.  

A lot of times, this can be achieved just by dividing the kitchen into sections and then storing things accordingly. Here are the sections and what to put in them: 

Consumables

This is the section where you store all the food and eatables in your kitchen. It may contain a pantry closet and the fridge, and even the fruit and vegetable bowls. 

Non-consumables

The non-consumables section goes right next to the consumable section, and this is where all the plates, bowls, forks, spoons, pots, and pans go. 

Cleaning Area

This area includes the sink and the dishwasher, and it should also contain other cleaning equipment like the dish soap and the washcloths. If you do the dishes by hand often, you should also have a dish rack. 

Prepping Area

It’s next to impossible to not have a prepping area in the kitchen, and it’s important to keep it close to but separate from the cooking area. Anyone who can cook knows how different both these things are, and if you’re making certain things like a cake or anything cold, you’ll spend more time prepping than cooking it.

I prefer to have next to nothing in my prepping area because bottles or condiments and spices only get in the way when I’m making flatbread, but the same counter becomes an absolute mess with half the baking cabinet spread over it when I’m baking a cake or making cookies. All in all, I like to keep the surface of my prepping area bare and clean, with everything I’d need within arm’s reach. 

Cooking Area

The cooking area contains the stove and the oven, and all the condiments you’d need to get your hands on while you’re making curries or pretty  much anything else. This includes sauces, salts and spices, oil, and anything else you’d need while cooking on the stove.

Both the prepping and cooking sections need to be right next to each other. Remember the flatbread I mentioned I make? As soon as I’m done kneading it into the desired shape, I need to instantly put it over the stove in a flat pan to “bake”. This means it wouldn’t be very easy for me if the preparation area and the cooking station are close by. 

The Kitchen Work Triangle 

This is a pretty interesting theory, and even though it has more to do with kitchen planning than kitchen storage, knowing about it can shift your perspective on how to store and organize tools in your own kitchen. 

All the main workstations in your kitchen – the sink, the fridge and pantry, and the preparation/cooking stations should form a triangle that the chef can easily move between. Every “corner” is supposed to be about three steps away from one another. 

Look around your own kitchen and see if it follows this rule – it probably does, but does the way you store things get in the way of you navigating this triangle with ease? 

There are a lot of arguments both for and against the kitchen work triangle, but at the end of the day it is one of the many kitchen organization philosophies that can be a framework for you to base your kitchen storage around. 

Kinds of Kitchen Cabinets 

If you’re trying to renovate your kitchen or want to replace the cabinets, knowing custom cabinets from the premade ones can really help. I’m going to break down different kitchen cabinets and installation styles in this section, and talk about the pros and cons of each one in terms of kitchen storage. 

Material 

Kitchen cabinets are usually made from materials like

Hardwood

Kitchen cabinets can be made out of wood, which are called hardwood kitchen cabinets. Wooden cabinets are most long-lasting and can be made from either hard or softwood varieties. Cabinets made from hardwood might cost a pretty penny because of the high quality and durability they have to offer, and they come in many styles and forms. 

Plywood

You could say that Plywood cabinets, too, are made from solid wood but the making is a little different. Plywood is glued and laminated wood with a top layer of hardwood, and it comes in many different types of qualities and price ranges. Type AA is the best, while there are types A, B, C, D, and E. They get cheaper as you move down the grades, and their appearance isn’t great either. 

Fiberboard

This cabinet material is made from recycled fibers, resin, and wax all melted together. If you got your kitchen cabinets from IKEA or a similar store, chances are they’re made of this stuff. It’s hard and smooth on the surface and can be painted very easily, but it isn’t as strong as hardwood and gets ruined from the damp more easily than any wood would be. 

Particleboard

Particleboard is made of recycled wood and is even lighter than fiberboard. A lot of people will give cabinets made of particleboard and fibreboard a wood veneer finish which looks really good but doesn’t do much to improve the quality or durability of any cabinets made this way. 

What material for kitchen cabinets suits you depends on your burdet, the style of cabinets you want, where you’re getting them, and even how much time you want to invest in them. 

Style 

kitchen cabinets

Cabinet styles and decor changes through time, and even though I’m not going to go into too much detail about kitchen cabinet styles, I’m going to give you a run-down before I talk about some of my favorite styles and cabinet ideas. 

Shaker Style

Shaker style cabinets are a common installation in most traditional kitchens. These cabinets are easy to spot, and consist of four panels making a frame with a single piece of material in the middle. Think about the front of a photo frame, only in this case both the frame and the glass part of the frame are both made of hardwood or plywood or whatever the material of choice here is. That would be what the door to a shaker style cabinet looks like. 

Louvered Cabinets

Louvered cabinets have the kind of paneling that reminds you of window blinds or shades. These cabinets are usually pretty expensive but can be an awesome look if you’re looking for something different. I personally think they’re not worth it, to be honest. Can you imagine having to dust in between those panels? Proceed with caution! 

Flat paneled Cabinets

Flat panel cabinets look like they’re part of the walls themselves, and they’re simple and minimalist. These cabinets are all about the material they’re made with and the contrast it provides against the rest of the kitchen interior. 

If you hate distressed clothing, you might not be a fan of new furniture that’s made to look old, but if you’re going for a rustic and antique look around the house distressed cabinets are a really good option. These cabinets are fairly expensive though, so maybe a non-distressed style would suit you more if you’re on a budget. 

Apart from these styles, there are countless others popping up almost everyday. Not to mention how you can have custom cabinets made just for you if you have anything particular in mind. The latest trend is towards cabinets made out of imitation wood or plastic like substances, and modern types are more like giant drawers that you can pull out. 

Here are some of my favorite style suggestions for kitchen cabinets

  • Golden cabinet holders and kitchen fittings look absolutely beautiful against dark colors like navy blue, olive green, brown, and even black. 
  • Stainless steel cabinets are a great idea if you want something that are easy to clean and gives a modern feel, though these cabinets can suck the coziness right out of the kitchen. 
  • Sometimes if you have a small kitchen, it might be better to opt-out of wall-mounted kitchen cabinets and use open shelves for storage instead. Not only will this give you more room but it’ll also help you throw away anything you don’t need instead of just throwing it inside a cabinet and forgetting about it. I’ll give you more tips on how to handle open shelves later! 
  • If you want to get something that looks fancy but isn’t too expensive, try getting shaker-style cabinets with a glass panel in the middle. Glass cabinets can look really beautiful on a wooden frame, though they’ll be easy to break. 

How to Choose a Kitchen Storage Option

If you’re feeling lost between all your options, consider the size of your kitchen, the amount of wear you suspect your kitchen cabinets are going to get, and whether you value quality, practicality, or aesthetic value more. Here are some of the things to keep in mind when choosing between different storage options: 

How Big is Your Kitchen? 

Is your kitchen big enough for the cabinets you have in mind, or would you be better off with something less bulky? Maybe you need to opt out of cabinets and consider getting open shelving instead. Bigger kitchens, on the other hand, can probably accommodate a kitchen island with some extra storage too, if you need it. 

How Much Do Looks Matter? 

If you want something practical and cheap, anything from a furnishing store will do, but if you want your kitchen to be elaborate and intricate, maybe get distressed or custom cabinets instead. More modern styles that have fixtures for almost everything are taking the kitchen scene by the storm, and if you want to give your kitchen looking neat, sleek, and modern, you can get installations that not only have pull-out dustbins but pull-out food processing units, etc.

They have cool features like expandable kitchen islands and even cutting boards that deposit all the waste at the end of food prep to the dustbin underneath right as you collapse everything and put it back in the walls. If you won’t be using the kitchen too much and need it to look elaborate, you can get glass cabinets too. 

How Much Storage Do You Need? 

If you’re redoing your kitchen and want cabinets with less room than the ones you had before, for want of more counter space or to give it a less cramped look, you’ll either have to give away some stuff or make room for it outside the kitchen. 

Keep Your Interior Decor in Mind 

A lot of kitchens are now right next to the living and dining areas in homes, which is why it’s important to make sure whatever kitchen cabinets you choose to go with the interior design in the rest of the house. 

If you keep most of these things in mind plus any financial restrictions you have, you’ll find out that your options have been lowered down to maybe two styles of kitchen cabinets. From there it won’t be too hard to choose one. 

How to Organize on Open Shelves 

Open shelves are a great option for small kitchens, but if you’re not smart about what you put on them your kitchen will end up looking even more stuffy than it did before. Here are some tips on how to organize your stuff on open shelves successfully: 

Get Glass Storage Jars 

Storing spices and things like rice, flour, and pulses in glass storage jars will look pretty great in good quality storage jars, and glass is always one of the best options. As long as the jars match and look good, they should be fine. 

Only Keep the Essentials 

The thing about open shelves is that they leave very limited space for things in the kitchen. You need to make sure that you only have the absolute essentials in your kitchen and nothing more, otherwise things might get messy. You don’t want anything falling off the shelves because it was teetering on the edge! 

Vary the Heights 

If you let all the items on the shelves be the same size it’ll end up looking repetitive and boring. Vary heights by stacking your dishes and glasses, and organizing everything just a little randomly. 

Color Coding is Key 

Everything on your shelves is going to be in plain view. This is both a blessing and a curse. My suggestion? Carefully consider your choices for any jars, bowls, plates, and glasses that you make. Be very particular about what goes on the shelves, and what goes in your kitchen. 

This includes color coordinating all pieces of your kitchen utensils and storage pieces.

Decorate a Little 

Pots and pans can only go so far in making an arrangement look pretty, so if you have room, you need to make sure that your shelves are looking great, consider placing some simple but small decor on it. You can place succulents on the shelves. Plants are always a great decoration option and you can accompany them with painted stones and even some artfully placed twigs. 

Another idea is to place figurines and small paintings on the shelves, and you can use small vases too. 

Organizing a Messy Kitchen 

If you want to make your already messy kitchen organized, you can do so by following some of the tips I shared with you earlier. There are some things about messy kitchens that bother people more than they realize – let’s talk about them. 

List of What Things You Might Put Next to What In a Kitchen

One of the most annoying things in the kitchen are those tupperware lids you never know what to do with. You can’t stack them, you can’t place them flat in a cupboard, and putting them on top of other pots and pans never works. You could put them in drawers, but that’s a prime real estate I’m not ready to give up. What you can do is invest in lid organizers that help you keep those lids in place. 

One of the most obvious things you need to avoid is placing heavy items and machines in the top cupboards. In fact, there’s no need to keep heavy machinery or things you barely use in the kitchen just because they’re cooking-related. 

A lot of people think that sets of mixing bowls and other pots and pans are a waste, and while they may contain bits and pieces that aren’t that useful, the pros outweigh the cons. Sets of bowls and pans are easily stackable, which makes them incredibly easy to store and put away. Think of all the room you’ll save by keeping five stackable bowls in your cabinets instead of three bowls that you can’t stack. 

Small items in your cabinets can get lost and misplaced, which is why I’d suggest getting some baskets to store them in. For example, the small bottles of vanilla essence and food colors in your baking cupboard, as well the baking soda and baking powder etc. are easily lost in large cupboards.

You can divide the cupboards with the help of smaller baskets and place these things in those instead. This way they’ll stay organized and you’ll only need to take those baskets out when you bake instead of rummaging through drawers and cabinets all the time. 

Tips for Keeping a Kitchen Organized 

Sometimes you find yourself looking at a messy kitchen where nothing is at its place shortly after you organize everything. When this happens, you’re either going to have to clean everything up again in a single day or make a conscious effort to start putting things back to where they belong in the kitchen. 

Put Things Away 

This is my first tip on how to make sure a newly organized kitchen stays that way – don’t put things down after you’re done using them, put them away instead. 

Use Sticky Notes 

If you have trouble remembering where you keep everything now, you can use sticky notes to put labels on all your drawers and cabinets. This is a great way for anyone who’s moving into a new house or trying to get used to a new kitchen to remember where everything is put, and you can keep them up for as long as you need to – usually until you start knowing where everything needs to go without looking at them. 

Tidy Up Often 

I find that one of the worst habits I have is letting the dishes pile up in the house throughout the week. If you’re trying to make your kitchen more tidy and organized, keep putting everything away and always stay on top of the dishes and any dusting you might need to do on the shelves and cabinets. 

Storage Recommendations 

I took the time to scour the internet for some storage options that would help you get your kitchen in order. I selected most of this stuff based on how much it costs, the customer reviews, and whether I would use it for my own kitchen or not. 

Magnetic Knife Holder 


A lot of things like spatulas and knives need to be near the cooking and prepping spaces, but putting them round the counter can take up valuable space. This magnetic knife holder is wide and strong, with multiple reviewers reporting that it didn’t lose its strength through time. If you’re looking for something that lets you put those knife blocks away and gives you easy access to your stuff, give this magnetic bar a chance. 

Pull-Down Spice Rack 


Storing spices in high cabinets is never really recommended. It always leaves you peeking behind the spice jars at the front, struggling to find the bottle you actually want. Meanwhile the dish you’re cooking might get past the point where you even needed to add the spice! This is why pull-down spice racks like this are a great idea – they’re going to help you keep everything in your sight and not take up too much space inside the cabinet. 

Bakeware Rack 


Remember how I mentioned you need to get something to organize your lids with? Well, you can use this bakeware rack for either that or actual bakeware. Whatever you end up getting this for, I would say this can help you find a place for a lot of things that are just laying around in the kitchen right now. 

Nesting Storage Containers 


Tupperware is an essential part of any kitchen, but storing is can be tricky. When not in use, it seems like a completely unnecessary thing to have around the house. This is why you need to buy it in sets like this where it doesn’t take up too much space when you nest them, and this one is dishwasher, microwave, and freezer safe. 

A Corner Shelf for Your Counter 

Small kitchens are all about maximizing space and making use of corners and spaces where you normally wouldn’t even think to put anything. This corner shelf is a great idea to use those kitchen corners – where previously you might have fit maybe three sauce bottles in this corner, you can now place a whole range of things from condiment bottles to a whole toaster! 

Over-the-door Storage Basket 

Things like the aluminum foil, baking paper, and vinegar don’t really seem to have a designated spot, and if you feel like you don’t want to leave anything lying on the kitchen counter, you can use over-the-door storage baskets like this one to keep random bits and bobs. 

FAQs

Question: What kitchen storage containers should I use? 

Answer: There are many kinds of storage containers in the market, but I recommend you get containers that are either stackable or silicone containers that are collapsible when not in use. Both these types will save you a lot of storage space, and make sure whatever you get is dishwasher safe – otherwise, you might find yourself having to scrub them up and store them by hand after every use. 

Question: How do I maximize storage space? 

Answer: Maximize space in your kitchen by thinking outside the box. Simply put, you need to find storage space in places where there isn’t any, with the help of things like pull-down shelves and ones that attach to cabinet doors to provide some extra room to store things.
You can also maximize space by throwing out and giving away anything that isn’t an absolute essential item in your kitchen and turning some of the other things (like the spice jars) into part of your decor.
You can also invest in storage baskets that can hang over the side of your cabinet doors and store things in those, and you don’t even have to store everything in the kitchen. If there are things that you don’t use often, move them out of the kitchen and store them somewhere else like in the garage or the attic. As long as you know where the items are when you need them, you’ll be fine. 

Question: What is the easiest way to organize my kitchen and store everything? 

Answer: The easiest way to store everything in your kitchen is to think about where it all belongs. For example, things like the dishwashing soap and paper towels should go near the dishwasher and sink, the pots and pans should go under the kitchen island or some bottom cabinets while all the spices need to be near the stove. If you like to bake, having the baking cabinet right on top of the preparation area or counter just makes sense. Keep things around the kitchen in such a way that you need to move around with your feet as little as possible. 

Question: Do I need to keep everything in the kitchen? 

Answer: No, keeping everything remotely cooking-related in the kitchen isn’t a wise idea, especially if you have a smaller kitchen. You can keep heavy mixers you only use when making birthday cakes and the Christmas-shaped cookie cutters in the attic or in the garage. As long as you know where things are when you need them, they don’t have to be in the kitchen all the time. 

Question: Are open plan kitchens popular? 

Answer: Open plan kitchens are the most popular kind of kitchens in America right now, though no one really knows what the future of this trend will be. So far, kitchens being open plan means that the style of the kitchen cabinets and how you store things in there is incredibly important. Not only does it influence how efficient working in the kitchen is for you, but it also means that emphasis needs to be placed on the overall look and tidiness of it. 

Trial and Error – Figure Out What Works for You 

As you can see, there really is no one way to organize your kitchen, and you’ll find a lot of people saying very different things about kitchen storage. This is why it’s important to not take anything too seriously and make sure that whatever way you’re storing things around the kitchen works for you. 

The best way to do that is through trial and error, but it’s not as hard as it looks. The more you’ll cook, the faster your kitchen storage will fall into this natural rhythm where everything feels like it’s where it should be.

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