Optimizing a Small Kitchen

If you’re living with a small kitchen and are running out of ideas and steam, take heart!

When you’re limited by space, you’re in the perfect place to tap fresh ideas! Research shows that constraint DRIVES innovation. Limits (like a tiny, older-design kitchen) actually force our mind to get creative and come up with out-of-the-box solutions!

This is certainly the case in the home of our professional organizer, Valerie. She has an adorable cottage home with limited space and has many brilliant solutions for making the most of it! Valerie took advantage of every inch of her small kitchen by controlling quantity of supplies, constructing centers around her kitchen, clearing counter tops, and creatively using storage space.

Control Quantity

Probably the most obvious and beneficial strategy for optimizing a small kitchen is to limit the amount of STUFF. An over-abundance of stuff is a problem we see in kitchens of all sizes! No matter how much cabinet space is available, it often gets filled – and over-filled! So, if you’re living with a small kitchen, controlling the inflow of stuff in your kitchen must be Goal #1.

We listed this tip first because your kitchen organization project should begin with sorting and PRUNING! Prior to finding a home for items, go through and see what categories you have, how much of each category, and how often you use each category. Then, measure and plan for your storage solutions. Slimming down your stuff to only what you actually use and love will make a big difference in optimizing your small kitchen.

Portland Professional Organizing Services - Kitchen

Next, use these strategies to control the quantity of stuff in your small kitchen

  • Avoid buying bulk for items that you use slowly. This may mean more frequent shopping trips, but it will keep your cabinets from being burdened with more than they can handle. Our Order Restorer Valerie shops weekly for her family.
  • Use the “ONLY” Policy This means that each space or bin can be assigned ONE type of item. So, you would ONLY store coffee mugs on the mug shelf; you would ONLY store snacks on the snack shelf; and so on….
  • Establish a 1-in-1-out rule for kitchen supplies – appliances, utensils, plates, glasses, mixing bowls, cookie cutters, mugs, etc! For example, if you find a new mug you just HAVE to have, let go of an older one.

Small-space management requires being extra-mindful of what you allow to take up space in your minimal real estate.


Construct Centers

Once you’ve sorted and pruned the items in your kitchen, think about HOW and WHERE you use items. Then, create CENTERS for those activities. Group the items that you frequently use together and store them near each other.

For example, Valerie created a “Baking Center” in one of her cabinets.

Kitchen baking area

All baking goods are kept here – from ingredients to supplies to spices – it’s all in one place.  The most often used items are given the prime shelf space at eye level.

Lighter items are stored above the heavier ones for safety when pulling them out of the cabinet. The bottom shelf is for mixing bowls that are often grabbed as part of the baking process.

Baking center ingredients and mixing bowls

In the drawer below Valerie’s baking center are the measuring spoons and cups. This creates a visual “column” in which ALL baking supplies are located. Organizing the baking supplies in this way makes baking easy, even in a small kitchen!

Other “centers” that may be helpful:

  • Breakfast Center (store the breads and spreads near the toaster)
  • Lunch Prep Station
  • Smoothie Bar

Creating centers around the kitchen is a useful strategy for kitchens of any size, but it’s a necessity for small kitchens!

Clear Counter Space

When you’re living with a small kitchen it can be tempting to store items on your counter. However, keeping your counters clear makes your kitchen look bigger and will help with flow and usage. Now, that doesn’t mean that every item must be stored out of site. (If that’s your style, great!) But limiting the number of items allowed to “live” on your counters will be easier on the eye and mind.

Kitchen Counter and sink

There are a few strategies that can help you keep your counters clear in a small kitchen:

  1. Maximize storage spaces (more on that later)
  2. Use practical items (soaps, utensil holders, etc) for décor and to bring in pops of color instead of adding decorative items to your limited counter space.
  3. Get in the habit of “resetting” your kitchen every evening. Following your evening meal, make it a habit to put things away and clear your counters.
Organize Your Daily Rhythms Download

Create More Storage Space

This is where constraint really begins to drive innovation! Use these ideas to create storage where there was none in your small kitchen!

Make use of “dead space”

Look around your kitchen for real estate that isn’t being used. The most common under-utilized space is vertical space.

Valerie used risers to create more storage for mugs and jars in her cabinets. Not only did this double the storage surfaces, it prevents breakage and makes grabbing and putting away mugs much easier (and safer!)

Glasses and mugs with risers

Val also maximized vertical space by adding a shelf for her microwave on an empty wall. She then used a rolling rack underneath to take advantage of that “dead space”. This simple solution added storage in a place that would otherwise be un-usable.

Rolling Cart in Kitchen

In the baking center cabinet, Valerie made use of the “dead” door space by adding spice racks (that are attached with Velcro) and clips for sauce packets.

Spices on Door

Choose the right organizing products

If you need help choosing the right organizing product for your project, I share this subject at length here. In small kitchens, aptly used baskets and canisters can help you maximize the usability of your space.

As you see, Val has decanted (transferred from the original packaging to consistent containers) most of the food that is stored in the kitchen.  

Jars with white lids

The uniform size makes storage easier and it also is easy to see what items need to be replenished soon.

Baking ingredients

Additionally, baskets can be a critical tool in a small kitchen!

“Basketizing” items of like type allow you to utilize multi-purpose storage spaces more effectively:

  • Instead of having to reach over the top of other items to reach the back of the pantry, baskets allow items to be moved as a group.
  • You can pull out a bin and remove an item in the back of the cabinet without knocking down everything in front of it.
Baskets in pantry

Grouping items, like Val has done, and containerizing them keeps the pantry neat and the food easy to access!

Another creative organizing product Valerie used was in her baking center on the 3rd shelf up. Due to the height of the shelf and the tip-toe reach required, she used baskets with easy-to-grab handles for frequently used items.

Baskets with handles

Now, instead of reaching in and searching for an item, she simply grabs the handle of that basket, brings it to the counter, then returns the basket to the shelf. These simple ideas not only OPTIMIZE her space, but also ease-of-access.

Create custom storage

Finally, Valerie needed more space for her kitchen appliances…so she created it!

After measuring and determining exactly what she needed, she searched for a storage solution with flexibility. Being able to customize the shelves was crucial to ensure no space was wasted.

She and her family also eliminated a few infrequently-used appliances during this discovery process. A good discovery and planning process BEFORE you jump into physical organizing is critical to optimizing space.

Valerie now has a tall storage shelf for her kitchen appliances (she calls this her Appliance Garage) that is a perfect fit! She finds that they actually use all these appliances now because they are so easy to access.

We hope that taking a peek inside the home of our professional organizer has sparked your imagination for your own small kitchen!

Remember: use space limits to your advantage and get creative! In the process of optimizing and organizing your space you will fall back in love with your kitchen – the most used room of the home!


How to Organize Your Small Kitchen

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