Organizing A Small Kitchen

When we moved into our current loft, we lucked out with a decent kitchen. Not necessarily what I would have chosen, but very nice, with lovely granite counters, stainless steel appliances and a great gas hob. What wasn’t so great was the actual space. Of the four different apartments/condos we’ve lived in over the last eight years, this one definitely has the smallest kitchen.

Actually, each kitchen we’ve lived with has been smaller than the last. It became a problem in our last loft, because we’d amassed so much stuff that it wouldn’t all fit. So we decided to simplify. Actually, the Mr was the driving force behind a lot of it – he started cooking during the five months I was lying on the couch throwing up (pregnant with Eleanor), and he wasn’t impressed with how cluttered and inefficient the kitchen was.

We listed a lot of stuff on Craigslist – extra sets of measuring cups (we had four), pots missing lids, mismatched bowls, baking dishes we rarely used, a too-big-for-us slow cooker and our token wedding-gifted fondue set (still unopened seven years later). We sold the entire lot, and made a decent chunk of change. We put that cash towards replacing a few things – buying a space-saving collapsible colander and matching chopping boards, which store more neatly than the mismatched ones we had before. In the end, we ended up with exactly what we needed and nothing more.

Our food cupboards weren’t working terribly well either. They all looked like this:

As a result, things would sometimes get forgotten about and expire, or they’d run out before I realised they needed replacing. After a few trips to the Container Store, I got things squared away and now they look like this:

(That middle left shelf on the bottom picture could do with a container to house the rolling pin and other big utensils but there are only a few of them in there so I haven’t felt the need to spring for one yet.)

I wanted containers that came in multiple sizes, with air-tight lids, that had to be dishwasher-safe and, most importantly, BPA free. I also wanted something narrow, so I’d be able to see everything easily. I chose these ones, which run $5-$10 a piece depending on size. I got most of mine on sale, but they still ended up costing about $150.
I used a basic label maker to write on them. I thought about prettifying them all, but this was more functional. If I change the contents, I just peel off the label and write a new one. And the huge unexpected bonus is that I can stick them in the dishwasher and the label stays put and still peels off nicely afterwards if I want it to.
I also added labels to the bottom of each container with the expiry date on.
Some of the higher shelves themselves are labelled, because the cabinets are so tall that I can’t otherwise see what’s on them. I took the photos above standing on a step stool, but this one below is from my eye level. And I’m 5’8″, so I’m not exactly a shorty.
Of course, our spices are still neatly nestled in a drawer, just like they were in our old place.
This system works really well for us – I first organized the cabinets and the spice drawer over a year ago, and the set up is still going strong. It also made it really easy when we moved – we just stuck everything in a box and unpacked it all into the new kitchen in minutes.
All that was only half our issue, though. The other problem was counter space, or the lack thereof. When J cooks, he doesn’t like to have anything on the counters at all. It’s still nice to have a coffee/tea station sitting out most of the time though, so we solved that issue by corralling it all on a tray. When he wants to cook, he just unplugs the grinder and the kettle and moves the whole tray up to the bar.
We also use a tray to house soaps and a scrubbing brush next to the sink. We could store these things under the sink but that cabinet is baby proof and kind of a pain to get into, so this was a good compromise.
We bought a collapsible drying rack that sits in the sink or folds away when we don’t need it out. It’s dishwashable too, which is nice.
The small appliances that we would normally have kept on the counter now occupy a bookcase in a little nook next to the kitchen.
This bookcase also houses a bevvy of other things…
Top shelf: A basket full of easy-to-grab snacks for the kids.
Second shelf: Cook books, dog treats, a binder with hand-written recipes and a file full of Cook’s Illustrated magazines.
Third shelf: The aforementioned small appliances.
Fourth shelf: A basket that holds cameras, iPads, laptops and other electronic stuff (which was previously lying around the living room making me crazy), the fruit bowl and some pretty chargers.
Bottom shelf: Another file with coloring books and boxes of kids’ art supplies.
The bookcase sits to the left, next to the balcony door, in the photo below:
We also have a set of wire shelves in our walk-in closet/boot room. It’s not terribly pretty so I’ll spare you a photo, but it houses extra paper towel and bulk items (we started shopping at Costco when one opened near us and, while it’s a pain to have a lot of big things, it saves us at least $200 a month on our grocery bill).
On the other side of the kitchen, my DIY chalkboard is still working well as a place to keep note of things we run out of. Prior to this, J would leave empty packets and boxes on the counter to remind me to put them on our shopping list. It was effective but messy, so I much prefer this method!
I use a chalk pen for text that’s going to stick around a while (this one, which I love), and regular chalk for writing out temporary grocery lists. I learnt the hard way that chalk pens don’t rub off easily, especially if the ink is left to sit for a long time. I’ll have to give it a fresh coat of chalk paint soon, but I can live with the ghosts of Christmas greetings past for now.
Altogether, we’ve made the space work for us so that its size really isn’t an issue. Here’s a little roundup of the things that we’ve found most useful in making our little kitchen really rather efficient…
Collapsible Stuff:
Drying Rack // Colander // Pan Rack – Ikea // Cake Carrier
Clear Containers:
Container with Dividers – Ikea // Square Canisters
Narrow Stacking Canisters // Baskets – sold out // Labels
Extra Shelving:
Parsons Bookcase – Home Decorators // Wire Shelving
Pretty Trays:
Sponge Holder // Ceramic Brownie Dish – Anthro // Turquoise Tray
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  1. August 20, 2013 / 12:42 pm

    That is one organized kitchen! I love your idea of putting expiration dates on the bottom of the containers. I need to get a label maker and try this out.

  2. August 26, 2013 / 9:28 pm

    i definitely need that bookcase! love the use of them in the kitchen