Tips for Organizing Kitchen Shelves

Rustic kitchen.
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A pleasant, functional kitchen has items stored in a way that maximizes the efficiency of motion.

"A place for everything and everything in its place," is the north star of organizing. A telltale sign we're "off-course" is when the house is clean but it still looks a mess. And no place in your house has this problem more often than the kitchen, which is home to hundreds of small items, many of them used frequently, calling to be put away. By its very nature, kitchen clutter is a reality, and nowhere is the clutter more real than on the shelves lining the walls or in your cabinets. Here are some tips for making sure your kitchen shelves are used to maximum effectiveness.

Start by Purging Your Shelves

You'd think it goes without saying, but the less stuff you have to store on your shelves, the easier it will be to find space for what's left. You can do this one shelf at a time, but some experts recommend going whole-hog and emptying all the cabinets and drawers at one time—at which point you'll very likely decide to discard or give away unwanted items rather than packing them back away. Be ruthless about severing your ties to things you don't want—you'll be glad you did.

Make the Important Things Accessible

If you are blessed with so many shelves and cupboards that you have room to store everything, then reorganize them so that the things that are important—the things you use regularly—are in the most accessible locations. Items you use rarely can be placed on high shelves or in the back of deep cupboards. A good rule of thumb: If you think you'll use some item at least weekly, store it so it so it is at the front of a cabinet or shelf, or so that no more than one item needs to be moved to retrieve it.

Create Storage Zones

After time, many kitchens become storage disasters, with items randomly tucked into whatever nook and cranny will hold them. As part of your purge, designate specific storage areas for items of a similar type. And be logical about where you place those zones. Storage for dishes and plates is obviously best placed near the dishwasher, where they can easily be put away after the dishes are done. Knives and cutlery are best stored on either side of the stove. And obviously, cleaning products are best located beneath the sink.

Get all of your cookbooks and recipe boxes in the same location on an open shelf. Baking products need to be near the largest countertop space you have. If you have a desk or home office space in your kitchen, make sure the pens, paper, envelopes, stamps etc. are all at easy reach there.

Make Use of Awkward Spaces

Most kitchens don't have enough storage space, so make sure to use every available nook and cranny. Corner wall cabinets are often wasted space—until you fit them with plastic corner bins of the type designed to fit into the corner of your shower. For drawers that are very small or have an uncommon size, you can use drawer dividers with moveable partitions, letting you configure them any way you want.

Base cabinets can be a wasteland of unused space, so fit them with adjustable wire racks that let you stack pots, pans, and other items in tiers.

Kitchen manufacturers offer all many of drawer and cabinet accessories, so make use of whatever is useful for making use of all available space.

Designate a Junk Drawer

Rather than rolling your eyes at the junk drawer found in most kitchens, celebrate it. Add one if you don't already have a junk drawer. You might even want to add a second. A catch-all space for storing all the random things you need at a moment's notice is a great idea, and it can save a lot of time when you are looking for a little screwdriver, a flashlight, or batteries.

Add Shelves Above the Windows

If your storage space is truly limited, installing a shelf or two above the windows or door can give you much-needed territory that is especially useful for storing decorative items in open view. Art pieces or crockery are good items to store here. Attach some simple wooden brackets to the casings, add a shelf on top, and you are all set.

Add a Shelf to Your Backsplash

When it is practical—as when you have plenty of countertop to work with—attaching a shelf to the backsplash midway between the bottom of the wall cabinets and the countertop can give you space to store small dishware or cooking supplies.

Use Plate Racks

Plate rack.
credit: Woodworker Express
A plate rack mounted between wall cabinets above a sink offers an excellent storage solution.

Plate racks are not only trendy, but they are also a great way to store dinner plates where they can be accessed easily. The space above a sink is often unused—it's the perfect place for plate rack to hold attractive dinnerware.

Use Stack-and-Pull Boxes

Stackable boxes with pull-out drawers, so valuable for crafters, can also be lifesavers in the kitchen. Use them both on open shelves and in closed cupboards to store small items for easy retrival.

Confine Canned Foods

Canned food organizer.
credit: Atlantic
Canned food organizers offer a solution for one of the most difficult storage challenges.

You can get many more cans into your cupboards by using wire racks, like those used to hold soup cans on the shelves in grocery stores. Cans are stored on their sides, making it easy to retrieve them and equally easy to see when you need to go shopping again. In most cupboards, canned good are stored upright in a single layer, wasting lots of space. Can racks can greatly increase the amount of food you can store.

Mount a Hidden Cork Board

The corkboard or dry-erase board that we all use to jot notes or hang the calendar is usually a messy mass of loose papers hanging on your wall. Why not mount one or more corkboards to the inside surface of wall cabinets, where they can be easily accessed but are still nicely out of open view?

Use Pop-Up Shelves

Wire pop-up shelves work perfectly for making use of wasted cabinet space, and they can be reconfigured whenever your storage needs change.

Add Pull-Out Drawers and Shelves

Pull out shelves.
credit: Rockler Woodworking
Pull out shelves maximize storage and make access easier.

Most kitchens have a pull-out drawer or two, but nearly all kitchens could benefit from more. Pull out shelves in the bottom of base cabinets make it much easier to access items without getting on your hands and knees to reach back into the murky depths. Large pots and small appliances are much more efficiently stored on a pull-out shelf. And many cabinets can accommodate two levels of pull-out shelves to maximize storage.

Line the Back of Cupboards

Wallpaper in cabinet.
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Wallpaper or shelf-liner paper can be used to cover the backs of cabinets

Use shelf liners to cover the rear inside faces of cabinets. Not only does it make the space more attractive, but the contrast allows light-colored items to stand out visually against the liner. This technique is especially attractive with cabinets with glass doors.

Store Small Items in Bins

Plastic organizing bins work wonders for keeping both inner cabinet shelves and free-hanging wall shelves organized. Spice pouches, tea bags, and other small items will be at each reach. Make sure to label the front of the bins.

Use Lazy Susans. Lots of Them

Lazy Susan shelf.
credit: Cabinet Connection
Lazy Susans come in many different configurations.

You might think that a lazy Susan shelf is old news, but most kitchens don't make nearly enough use of these revolving storage shelves. The traditional place for a lazy Susan is in those big corner cabinets where it is almost impossible to reach into the back of the cabinet, but there are many sizes available, so consider a lazy Susan for any shelf where you need to store lots of items. Small lazy Susans can offer salvation for organizing many small items in upper cabinets. For tall cabinets, use multi-tiered lazy Susans.

Use Wire Racks for Cutting Boards

Cabinet rack.
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A wire rack mounted inside a cabinet can keep cutting boards and other flat objects organized and outof the way.

In most kitchens, cutting boards clutter up the countertops. Keep them organanized and clean up your counters my mounting wire racks inside the doors on base cabinets.The same strategy can be used to store cookie sheets and other flat items.

Hang Wine Glasses Upside Down

Wine glasses in cabinet
credit: The Container Store
Brackets can be used to store wine glasses upside down.

Wine glasses, beer glasses, or stemware of any type can be stored more efficiently if mount hanging hardware or brackets to the bottom of cabinet shelves. Another strategy: alternate them right-side-up and upside-down on the shelves, so that they fit closer together. You'll be able to get more glasses into the same space.