Updated on 12.04.14

Tips to Maximize Kitchen Storage Space

small kitchen

Cramped kitchen quarters? Elevate. Get your pots and pans, knives, mugs, and large utensils out of the cabinets and onto the wall. Photo: Ikea

Need more space in your kitchen? No problem at all! All you have to do is tear down some walls and add more cabinets.

Easier said than done, especially if you don’t have thousands of dollars stuffed in those cabinets just waiting to be spent on a kitchen renovation. Even if money isn’t an issue, there are probably plenty of other ways you’d rather use your hard-earned cash.

So, in an effort to avoid the contractors and unrest that accompanies a home renovation project in the heart of the house, here are some ways to get the most out of your current kitchen space:

1. Purge Away

Clutter fuels the fire for enormous messes, so it’s important to pull out the trash bag and get to purging once a month at the least. (I prefer to do so at the end of each week in an effort to tackle any small messes before they spiral out of control.)

Don’t know where to start? Here are a few items that are perfect candidates for the purging session:

  • Pantry: outdated spices, cereal, rice, sauces, canned goods
  • Cabinets: old sponges that haven’t been disinfected, worn storage containers
  • Freezer: expired meats, ice cream, desserts
  • Fridge: old leftovers, open or expired items including canned goods (since they tend to taste like metal after a while) and condiments

Once these items are out of the way, you’ll have plenty of space for new arrivals from your next shopping trip. And, you won’t find yourself spending money on an item you thought you needed, but was hiding in a shelf corner all along. (I’ve been guilty of this on several occasions.)

Most importantly, only buy what you need. For bulk purchases, store the extras in the garage or some other unoccupied space in your home.

2. Hide Seating

If you have an island or bar area in your kitchen, purchase seating that is low to the ground and can easily be stored underneath these fixtures to create room for other storage and shelving.

We have a rather large kitchen, so a portion of the open space is used for a dining area. And under the bar, there are two stools ready to pull out when we have guests over. This creates more space in the living area, and keeps the kids from making messes on the wood floors out there.

3. Stow Away Small Appliances

Counter tops are much more visually appealing when they’re free of messes. But when you’re crunched for space, it’s not always easy to keep them clear.

You can purge old papers and gadgets lying around, but what about the small appliances? Are you to give away your George Foreman grill, toaster, blender, coffeemaker, food processor, waffle maker, juicer, or any other mini-appliance taking up counter space?

Absolutely not! But you can use one of the larger cabinets to store them until they need to be used again for meal prep. They’ll no longer be an eyesore when you enter the kitchen, but you’ll also clear up counter space to store items that don’t look so bad when organized. (When we’re running low on pantry shelving, we sometimes use a small portion of our counter to house bottled water, cereal, or crackers).

4. Drawer Organizers

My mother was adamant about using drawer organizers. There was one in each drawer, and she mandated that they remain intact and that accompanying items be stored in their proper places.

I didn’t quite understand what the big deal was until I moved into my first apartment. Tossing items in drawers and forcing them shut wasn’t working out for me, and I could never find the perfect spoon for my bowl of grits or cereal. Long story short, I gave in and now I can’t live without them.

These cheap plastic organizers maintain order in an environment prone to chaos, and create extra space for things like large cooking utensils and spices. And for the larger drawers, dividers are ideal for pots and pans or stacks of glass plates.

If possible, purchase stackable sets when it comes to kitchen items — glassware, mugs, pots, tupperware, you name it — to minimize the amount of storage space required.

5. Multipurpose Baskets

Baskets are one of the cheaper and better-looking storage solutions out there, and they’re ideal for storing fruits, vegetables, dish cloths, spices, or other items you regularly want access to in pantries, cabinets, or on countertops. No room for baskets? You can try storing these items on top of the refrigerator or even inside the microwave when it’s not in use.

Most recently, such a basket came in handy for all the Halloween candy I don’t plan on letting the boys eat at any point in the near future. (Of course, the special basket is stored in a cabinet so far out of reach that I almost need to stand on a chair to reach it).

I’ve also found that baskets are useful in many other areas of the home, including the bathroom for fragrances and other toiletries that are often stored under the sink area.

6. Cabinet Shelving and Dividers

Whether vertical or horizontal, cabinet shelving is a godsend for those with limited storage space in the kitchen. In fact, when we first moved into our home, I quickly realized the square footage of the kitchen doesn’t matter if the cabinet storage and pantry area is minimal. (This is something I’ll definitely pay closer attention to the next time around).

Anyhow, we promptly purchased cabinet shelving to discretely store all of the extras. The vertical units work well for stackable sets of pots and pans, glass serving dishes, and cutting boards, while the horizontal ones are perfect for large glass bowls, vases, and pitchers.

7. Pot Rack

If drawer dividers aren’t helping, or you simply don’t have another cubic inch of cabinet space to spare, pot racks are another option worth considering.

Hanging a rack from your wall or ceiling adorned with your most frequently used pots and pans will give the space a chef’s kitchen look while freeing up some much-needed cabinet space.

An even more extreme solution for pots and pans: Store them in the oven when it’s not in use.

8. Storage Jars

I’m a big fan of glass jars with plastic white tops. They are visually appealing and eradicate the messes created by food items thrown on the pantry shelf once they’ve been opened. We use them to store cereal, bags of rice, chips, sweet treats, granola bars, Kool-Aid, bagged gravy, popcorn, or any other snack item you can think of. It helps keep the pantry immaculate and free of clutter.

9. Ditch the Oversized Table

My husband and I debated this one for quite some time. He’s a fan of grand dining room tables and I’m a fan of simplicity. Anyhow, I won and we have a compact, space-saving table with four chairs. In even tighter spaces, you can also consider a fold-down table or breakfast nook to save more valuable space.

Need to squeeze in even more storage? Pick up an extra-long tablecloth — long enough to hide a plastic drawer unit under the table that you can fill with tupperware, dishtowels, food items, or whatever else needs stowing away.

10. Think Beyond Cabinets

Not everything has to be tucked away in matching cabinetry — don’t be afraid of open shelving. I suggested wall shelving in the bathroom in a prior post, but shelves also work well in the kitchen area to store dishes, mugs, or other frequently used items.

This may sound a bit strange, but a bookshelf may also do the trick. You can use it to store plates, glasses, and bowls that have nowhere else to go. It’s also the perfect place for all your cookbooks (if you still use them) and any books you may like to browse at the kitchen table, bar area, or breakfast nook while you’re enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning.And if you’re lucky, you can find a bookshelf that fits cubbies to store all those miscellaneous items; Big Lots often has them in stock.

You can also shop around for rolling or idle kitchen carts or metal shelving units; they are ideal for chips, linens, bowls of fruit, and wine if contoured to fit glass bottles, just to name a few uses. And these carts can be moved into another area when you need the space.

11. Fill Empty Cabinets With Pantry Items

Is your kitchen equipped with a set of corner cabinets that are a hassle to access and often go unused? Overlook the temporary inconvenience of bending over in a corner and put them to good use. The space may be cramped, but it beats having an overloaded pantry or countertop.

I use one of our corner cabinets for grilling utensils and supplies, and use the other for bags accumulated on shopping trips, but both could go in the garage to maximize space. We don’t grill that often, so I sometimes forget the items are there. As for the plastic bags, it’s easy enough to reach in and grab one from the collection when we need one. As a bonus, I rarely have to purchase garbage bags; these come free of charge and work out just fine. Trash never piles up since full bags are small enough for the boys to haul off to the trash can.

12. Sanitation Rack

This is a simple metal device that can be affixed to the cabinet directly beneath the sink with sponges, liquid dish soap, and your most frequently used cleaning products. While you’re at it, now’s the perfect time to discard any of those items you no longer need, or toss the toxic cleaners in favor of natural ones that get the job done at a fraction of the cost.

If you’re really crunched for space, store these items in some other area in the home, such as your linen closet or bathroom vanity.

13. Trash and Recycling Bin Holders

These dual-purpose fixtures are easily installed and designed to fit underneath a lone kitchen cabinet, in lieu of freestanding bins that take up kitchen floor, closet, or cabinet space.

Beyond their compact nature, I also like them because they keep odors at a minimum — they’re closed off in a cabinet, and the bin sizes are often so small that they need to be emptied before the trash can get old enough to emit a rotten odor. They’re also more discrete, so guests don’t have to feel grossed out about sitting near a trash can if your dining room table or breakfast nook happens to be in the kitchen. Another option: Keep a small trash bin the kitchen and the larger unit in the garage.

14. Rearrange Appliances

While I realize this will only apply to those with empty space or corners in their kitchen, it’s worth mentioning: A minor tweak in your layout might be just what you need to free up a bit more space, or make an underutilized corner more useful. And doing so will make more room for rolling racks or standalone shelving.

15. Wall Hooks

Similar to pot racks, wall hooks are ideal for coffee mugs or other cups with handles. They also work for cooking utensils, such as stirrers, measuring cups, and large serving spoons.

16. Pull-Out Cabinet Units

Often there actually is more usable space in your kitchen, it’s in the most inconvenient spots — like the deep, dark corners of your bottom cabinets or drawers. No one wants to dig shoulders-deep into that cabinet in search of a lid, so the extra space goes unused.

Install hardware that allows you to pull out the entire contents of cabinet shelves to reclaim those hidden corners and put them to good use.

17. Magnetic Knife Strip

I inherited a beautiful set of designer knives from my mother, but there was one thing I was never a fan of: the wooden storage block they sat in. The thought of something hanging out in the grooves when the knives weren’t in use gave me the creeps.

So we invested in a magnetic knife strip. It mounts on the wall, out of the reach of my children, and I no longer have to worry about what strange things may have touched a knife’s surface. And sometimes, when I’m in a goofy mood, I tell my youngest son it’s mommy’s very own sword set and he giggles every time.

18. Mountable Dish Drainer

Growing up, there was no such thing as a machine that did the dishes for you; we were the dishwashers. And for that reason, we don’t use the fancy GE dishwasher that was here waiting for us when we moved in. We do things the old-fashioned way and stick the dishes in the drying rack before storing them away.

But some of the racks sold in stores are on the bulky side, so if you’re washing by hand, invest in a mountable or collapsable dish drainer to maximize your counter space.

If you’re wondering why I don’t just use the dishwasher as a drying rack, I have a valid reason. We used to do so, until I started to notice the residue forming at the bottom of the device from the sedentary water. Gross! When running it a few times a week still didn’t solve the problem, I abandoned it.

19. Hang Your Plants

Plants make a lovely addition to your space, but get hanging plants or place them on upper shelves to free up table or counter space.

20. Be Spartan

Keep only enough plates, utensils, mugs, and glassware in the kitchen for your immediate family’s regular needs, and store extra dishes and glasses for company and special events in another room, such as a hutch in the dining room. If there’s anything that’s not integral to your regular kitchen usage, find another place in your home to store it.

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