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Secrets of a Hardworking Kitchen

Whether you're ready to reorganize, take on some upgrades, or tackle a major renovation, our tips and tricks will help you make sure the busiest room in the house is also the most efficient one. Time to get cooking!

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No. 1

Keep Things You Use Most Within Reach

This may just be the most important rule of kitchen organization. Storing things near where you need them means saved steps -- and saved time. When you're trying to get dinner on the table, every second counts.

Only you know what you use regularly -- if you make smoothies for breakfast, keep the blender on the counter; if you use it a few times a year, tuck it in a cabinet. But here are some basics to keep handy.

  • Everyday Tableware

    Open shelving (above, left) provides easy access -- it also makes a room feel airy and is less expensive than cabinetry. It's ideal for dishes and glasses. Keep them near the sink and dishwasher to streamline cleanup. We notched shelves to make slots for the dishes to stand up in.

  • Cooking Essentials

    Keep cooking oils, salt, pepper, favorite spices, and key utensils within arm's reach of the stove (above, right). Use a tray to keep things looking neat and catch drips. Keep like utensils together in crocks. Store salts in open containers to easily grab a pinch.

  • Everyday Tableware

    Open shelving (above, left) provides easy access -- it also makes a room feel airy and is less expensive than cabinetry. It's ideal for dishes and glasses. Keep them near the sink and dishwasher to streamline cleanup. We notched shelves to make slots for the dishes to stand up in.

  • Cooking Essentials

    Keep cooking oils, salt, pepper, favorite spices, and key utensils within arm's reach of the stove (above, right). Use a tray to keep things looking neat and catch drips. Keep like utensils together in crocks. Store salts in open containers to easily grab a pinch.

If you run out of room, get creative and make more. For example, the shelf behind the stove (above, right) is just five inches deep but provides lots of valuable storage for items that would usually take up countertop space. You can also hang a rack from the ceiling or knives from magnetic strips on the wall. And many products are designed for the insides of cabinet and closet doors -- holders for paper towels, cleaning supplies, and more.

Editor's Tip

Keep your kitchen clutter-free by going through it once a year -- the run-up to the holidays is a great time. Put away or donate what you don't use.

No. 2

Take On the Tricky Stuff

When we asked our Facebook community for its kitchen-organizing problems, the same issues came up again and again. So we set out to find solutions. First, we measured our cabinets and drawers. Then we did some creative shopping, looking not just at housewares stores but at office-supply stores for organizers that would bring order to storage areas.

  • 1
    Baking Sheets and Cutting Boards

    Instead of stacking these items and making them hard to access, stand them up in sturdy dividers (these were made for file folders). This cabinet above the wall oven is a convenient spot for them.

    Baking Sheets and Cutting Boards
  • 2
    Leftover and Lunch Containers

    Consider buying one good-quality brand of food-storage containers so they nest; store tops separately in dividers. Keep them with lunch sacks and water bottles to pack lunches in a cinch.

    Leftover and Lunch Containers
  • 3
    Pots and Pans

    Drawers are an excellent alternative to cabinets for some items -- you can reach everything easily. This one has pegs that can be moved to create custom spots for pans. Add a divider to stand up lids along the side.

    Pots and Pans
  • 4
    Spices

    A single layer is the goal, so you can see what you have. These low racks for drawers fit jars of various sizes. We decanted spices into clear jars and added clip-art labels.

    Spices

No. 3

Create Stations

Pinpoint the kinds of prep and cooking you do most often, and keep the supplies you need for them in the same area to streamline daily to-dos.

Breakfast Station

Make things as easy as possible for yourself first thing in the morning: Keep the bread box by the toaster, tea near the teapot and the honey, and the juicer out on the counter. These flip-up cabinet doors stay open for easy access, and they're not in the way. Keeping the bread box in this cabinet saves precious counter space.

Baking Station

Canisters of flour and sugar, a stand mixer, and a rolling pin will get you going with many recipes for baked goods (and make a kitchen look homey and well used).

Recycling Station

Hang bags near the bins inside a cabinet door, and tack up your town's recycling guidelines, too. An in-counter compost bin makes it a cinch to save scraps.

Coffee Station

With mugs, spoons, and sugar all right next to the coffeemaker, there's nothing standing between you and your morning cup -- just add milk.

No. 4

Customize Storage

  • 1
    Table Linens

    A few long dividers -- these bamboo ones are expandable -- keep stacks of napkins and dish towels orderly. Because you can place them just where you want, you can make a compartment that's the perfect size for napkin rings or anything else.

    Table Linens
  • 2
    Utensils and Knives

    Divide a large drawer into compartments by fitting together bamboo boxes according to your needs. This knife holder is flexible -- instead of presized slots, it has thin strips of soft cork that protect the blades, so it works for different sizes.

    Utensils and Knives
  • 3
    "Junk" Drawer

    It's not junk -- it's just stuff that you don't know where else to keep. Devote a drawer to office-type supplies, and keep it from looking messy by fitting the whole drawer with square and rectangular metal-mesh boxes.

    "Junk" Drawer
  • 4
    Specialty Supplies

    From tiny icing tips to big bins of flour, baking tools and ingredients require varied storage solutions. Use plastic containers with compartments to corral small items. A deep drawer is good for flours and sugars, labeled on top.

    Specialty Supplies

Editor's Tip

"I keep spices I use for baking -- such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger -- in a small bin in the pantry, separate from other spices. When I'm ready to bake, I just pull it out."
Ayesha Patel

No. 5

Put Your Pantry to Work

Whether you have a walk-in pantry or just a couple of cabinets devoted to dry foods, keeping them organized makes meal-planning easier. It even saves money, since you're less likely to buy things you already have. Pull-out shelves mean nothing gets lost in the back of the cabinet.

  • Sneak In Storage

    Magnetic strips inside the pantry door hold tins that can be used for small items, such as sprinkles and sanding sugars.

  • Label It

    Marking where different types of foods go makes it easier to keep things tidy -- especially if you have several people in your home putting away groceries and cooking.

  • Add Baskets

    Potatoes and onions shouldn't be kept in airtight containers or together -- baskets or open bins allow air to circulate.

  • Decant Dry Foods

    Buying in bulk is economical and less wasteful when it comes to packaging. Use airtight containers or Mason jars to store foods like beans and grains. You can also decant foods from opened packages -- a half-box of pasta, for example.

  • Sneak In Storage

    Magnetic strips inside the pantry door hold tins that can be used for small items, such as sprinkles and sanding sugars.

  • Add Baskets

    Potatoes and onions shouldn't be kept in airtight containers or together -- baskets or open bins allow air to circulate.

  • Label It

    Marking where different types of foods go makes it easier to keep things tidy -- especially if you have several people in your home putting away groceries and cooking.

  • Decant Dry Foods

    Buying in bulk is economical and less wasteful when it comes to packaging. Use airtight containers or Mason jars to store foods like beans and grains. You can also decant foods from opened packages -- a half-box of pasta, for example.

Editor's Tip

I save jars to decant foods into -- rice, nuts, pasta, popcorn, and cereal. Jars keep things fresh, and I like seeing what I have rather than looking at packaging.
Jennifer Aaronson

All in the Details

A few smart additions will prepare your kitchen for any scenario.

  • 1
    Extend Your Reach

    Tongs are great for grabbing lightweight items -- paper towels or boxes of cereal -- on high shelves. And they take up a lot less room than a step stool.

    Extend Your Reach
  • 2
    Stock Up for Kids

    Choose a drawer that children can reach themselves, and fill it with sturdy dishware (as well as a few craft supplies to keep little hands busy in the kitchen).

    Stock Up for Kids
  • 3
    Prep for Pets

    Store dry food in big bins that you can scoop right out of; put them on a pull-out shelf, where they're out of the way but don't require any heavy lifting.

    Prep for Pets
  • 4
    Plug In

    Outlets on an island -- the more the better! -- let you use small appliances. This ingenious four-sided, pop-out style is almost invisible when not in use.

    Plug In
  • 5
    Clean Up

    No more rummaging around under the sink -- a narrow pull-out cabinet is the perfect size for paper towels, sponges, and cleaners.

    Clean Up

Command Central

In an efficient kitchen, it's not just mealtime that runs more smoothly -- it's your family's overall routine. Devote space to a message center and a charging station. Unlike a traditional bulletin board, this recessed area is backed by glass that's magnetic and that you can write on with dry-erase markers. Add a charging station with a USB port for all your devices. Bamboo boxes keep everything corralled.

Cozy Corner

This room is the heart of the house, where everyone gathers. So why not create a comfy spot to encourage people to read, study, or keep you company while you cook? A high shelf holds cookbooks over a banquette with a simple seat cushion and throw pillows, which are an easy way to bring color into a neutral room.

Get Cooking

Now that we've dished on our best setup strategies, make them your own with a sleek kitchen set from Martha Stewart Living for The Home Depot. 

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