8 Kitchen Organizing Mistakes You’re Probably Making (and How to Fix Them)

updated May 28, 2021
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A well-organized kitchen isn’t just a neat kitchen, but an efficient one. When everything has a rightful place, you’ll save time every step of the way, whether you’re doing dishes or whipping up dinner. On the flip side, even the simplest storage mistakes can get in the way of a tidy, efficient food prep space.

Curious if you’re unknowingly breaking kitchen code? Here, some of the most common mistakes people make organizing their kitchens — and how to fix them:

Credit: Jill Chen/Stocksy

Choosing organizers without decluttering

Though you likely have the best intentions when buying organizers, pause to purge first, says residential designer Jamie Gold, author of “Wellness By Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness and Happiness.” Never buy kitchen organizers before you declutter your pantry, fridge, cabinets, and other spaces, she explains.

Why? It’s difficult to establish a meaningful solution if you don’t know exactly what you have. “It doesn’t make sense to plan storage for items that no longer serve a purpose,” Gold says. “You’ll have more room and need fewer organizers if you focus on what should really stay in the kitchen, especially its key work zones.” Moral of the story: first get rid of expired, damaged, or unneeded kitchen items.

Storing items that don’t belong in the kitchen

That seasonal gingerbread kit and those BBQ skewers? Sure, you use them in the kitchen, but how often? Don’t waste time and space trying to incorporate these lesser-used tools into your kitchen space. Seasonal (especially holiday-related) items are better stored elsewhere (like in labeled bins in your basement or storage area, or in harder-to-reach cabinets), says Gold.

Styling before organizing

When you move into a new space, you want it to look good. But starting with decor could backfire. It’s counterproductive to style your kitchen before (or instead of) organizing it, says Lucy Milligan Wahl, a home organizer based in San Francisco.

In a kitchen, this might mean deciding where you display pretty dishes, a crock of matching cooking tools, or a stand mixer. While that’s not inherently bad, prioritizing aesthetics will make it more difficult to use the space, because you’ve devoted prime locations to display rather than daily use.

Organizing based on size

Another common mistake Gold sees in kitchens: When people think about organization in terms of their cabinet sizes, rather than their location relative to appliances and fixtures.  Your cutting board might fit best in the cabinet next to your oven, but that’s not efficient if you’ll actually use it on the opposite counter.

To solve that problem, think of storage in terms of functional “zones,” then organizing your ingredients, utensils, and other kitchen gear according to how and where you use it, says Gold. “For example, if you season your recipes while you cook, look for spice organizers that will work in cabinets near your range or stovetop,” she says.

Using food storage containers that take up too much space

Decanting adds a cohesive look and cuts down on the appearance of clutter, but those jars and food storage containers may not be doing you any space-saving favors. It’s common for people to use food storage bins that take up more room than they save, says Stasia Steele, a professional organizer and founder of The Little Details. Instead of opting for containers just because they’ll look orderly, think about whether they’ll actually serve a functional purpose in your kitchen.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Keeping a junk drawer

If you’re short on kitchen storage, consider whether your junk drawer is really the best place for your checkbook, pens, and receipts. The answer: Probably not. “By getting rid of this drawer, people have the opportunity to fill it as they see fit,” says Chef Carla Contreras says. “Love teas? Make a tea drawer. Then, put the items from the junk drawer in their place instead of in the kitchen.”

Hanging on to reusable containers and bags

Plastic food containers from the Chinese restaurant, glass bottles, Trader Joe’s bags… These items certainly play their part in an eco-friendly kitchen, but not always an organized one. For recyclable items, be realistic about what you actually use on a regular basis, then get rid of what you don’t.

Another common culprit: reusable, cloth grocery bags. Trim down your collection to five bags at the most, then donate or repurpose the rest, says Lauren Williams, a professional organizer.

Not adjusting your shelves

In almost every kitchen she’s ever organized, pro organizer Michelle Vig finds items that aren’t ideally placed: “For example, I might find an outlying small appliance shoved into the Tupperware cabinet or a tall glass pitcher turned on its side near the others,” she explains. “The reason is usually the same — it didn’t fit properly on the shelf!”

The solution is simple: Just adjust your shelves. “With one adjustment of the shelf, we can usually solve the problem, and I have homeowners tell me often that they wished they had thought of that,” says Vig.