Looking for a Social Distancing Distraction? Here’s How to Organize Your Kitchen on a Budget

Looking for a Social Distancing Distraction? Here’s How to Organize Your Kitchen on a Budget

By Kelly Dawson
At a time when kitchens are at the center of our new normal, three designers share their tips on how to keep them organized on a budget.

Kitchens were always the hardest-working space in a home. It's the place where the toil of cooking meets the relief of conversation, and where a small snack for one can sit side-by-side with one giant feast for a dozen. In every shape and size, kitchens have to be able to go with the flow. 

But then the COVID-19 pandemic turned modern life upside-down, and a kitchen's flexibility has been stretched to its limits. While still a hub of utility and comfort, they're now working even harder to meet the demand of a crisis. 

"With preparing and serving three meals and numerous toddler snacks at home, we are cycling through everything in our kitchen much faster," Kelly Mindell, founder of Studio DIY, says. "That leads to messes piling up quicker if things don't have a designated spot. We've been spending time dividing, organizing, and repurposing other items in our home to make sure everything has somewhere to go." 

Shea McGee, cofounder of Studio McGee, and Joyce Downing Pickens of JDP Interiors agree. They've also been adjusting to this new reality by examining how their kitchens can be even more functional, from streamlining pantries to corralling tools. Below, Mindell, McGee, and Downing Pickens share the lessons they've learned these last few weeks on how to organize a kitchen on a budget, in the hopes that it makes this hard-working room as efficient as possible. 

"If I can't see it properly it usually goes to waste, so it's important that I know what's where," Downing Pickens says of her kitchen supply. Organization is especially needed when kitchens are being used more often that usual. 

Getting Started 

While it's understandable if your kitchen is more cluttered than usual, there's probably more you can do to minimize clutter besides crowd dried beans in a corner and call it a day. Before you dig into this organizational project, take note of how your kitchen is already being used and in which ways its function can be improved. 

Don't make your solutions a secret. "Make sure you explain your organization system to the rest of your household and get them on board, too," Downing Pickens says. "This way things not only get organized but stay organized." 

Try to make kids as autonomous as possible. "Put snacks you want them to have access to on shelves they can reach, and dedicate a low drawer to their own bowls and cups," Mindell adds. "Our three-year-old son can now grab his own snack and bowl as a result. Every minute counts when you are balancing working from home and parenting from home full-time." 

Remember to cut yourself a break. "If you try to keep it organized every second of the day, you're going to get burnt out pretty quickly," McGee says. "My advice is to check in every couple of nights before you go to bed and make sure everything is in its place. Then, when you wake up the next morning, you get to start off the day with a sense of calm." 

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"I’ve been learning that I need an efficient way to group together staples so I can easily see and decide what I need to buy from the grocery store," McGee says. She uses baskets, trays, and crocks to keep everything organized.

How to Carry Out Your Plan 

Once you have an organizational plan in place, carry it out with as little headache as possible by moving strategically, cabinet by cabinet. Discard expired items, and consider donating a surplus of canned goods to a local food bank. After shelves are cleaned out, pay close attention to the areas where you spend the most time, including spots that may be overlooked. 

Organize based on convenience. "Put items that frequent the dishwasher as close to the dishwasher as possible, and put your coffee mugs close to your coffee pot," Mindell says. "Minimizing your need to move around the kitchen, and maximizing the ease of putting items away, will keep things tidy." 

Divide your drawers. "Big, open drawers create big messes! Everything needs a designated spot," Mindell continues. "Simply use containers you've recycled or collected elsewhere in your home to categorize everything." 

Use your door space. "Take any baskets you might have and install them onto the inside of your cabinet doors," Downing Pickens says. "This will maximize your space and make for easy grab-and-go access to everyday items." 

Label spices. "I label the top of all my spices using round stickers and a Sharpie," Downing Pickens says. "It makes it so much easier to know what's what without having to check the label." 

"Make sure everyone in your home knows where each item goes and you'll be surprised at how big of a difference it makes," Mindell says. This philosophy applies to kids, too, who Mindell says should be as autonomous as possible in the kitchen. 

Repurpose Items for Effortless Storage 

It's possible to have storage pieces—like glass jars and space dividers—delivered to your door, but all it takes is a little creativity to see how items you likely already have can be reused for this project. Not only will this solution minimize the amount of outside items coming into your home, but it's also a budget-friendly approach at a time when every dollar counts. 

Strip your old canned goods. "Remove the labels on jars once they are empty and add them to your drawers for small items," Downing Pickens says. "This is especially helpful in your 'junk' drawer for pens, paperclips, rubber bands, and so on." 

Use the "guest-only" dinnerware. "I've pulled out bowls or cups that I typically only use on special occasions to help me store items," Mindell says. "For instance, we have a piece of colorful glassware that's holding snack bars in our pantry and a serving bowl holding fruit on our counter." 

Pull out trays. "Whether it's corralling soap and a dish brush next to your kitchen sink, or holding some of your favorite everyday spices, trays can keep spaces feeling collected instead of cluttered," McGee says. 

Use small baskets for laundry. "If you use reusable cloth instead of paper towels, use baskets from around your home to store them in: one for clean towels, one for dirty," Mindell says. "That way, you can just grab the 'dirty' basket when it's full and dump it right in the wash."

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