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When we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago, I considered open shelving to replace the upper cabinets.  Since it would also have cost a lot less, I almost convinced my husband it was a good idea.  Then he pointed out it could negatively affect our resale value if we ever go to sell the house.

Have you ever seen those kitchens in magazines with open shelving instead of upper cabinets?

Shelves vs. Cabinet with DoorsThe reason those pictures look so refreshing and open is because the contents of the shelves are neatly arranged.  In reality, many kitchens need the cabinet doors to keep chocolate chip bags from tumbling out onto the counter or to hide the disorganized stacks of dishes mixed with canned goods, school supplies, paper products and appliances.

We decided on traditional cabinets with doors we could close.

But that doesn’t mean I have to hide a disorganized mess or trap falling chocolate (just eat it already, right?) behind closed doors.

I feed at least nine people three times per day.  We require a lot of dishes.  We require large cookware.  We need lots of place mats, flatware, cups, and food.

How do I organize my kitchen for efficiency and house the size and quantity of items I need?

  1. I am ruthless about what we keep.  If it’s not pulling its weight in the kitchen its gone.  For me this meant getting rid of the microwave.  It took up precious counter space and we only used it to melt butter, sterilize sponges, and make popcorn.  {What about leftovers, you ask? Leftovers for nine people take longer to heat up in the microwave than doing it in the oven or on the stove.  Whether you do it plate by plate or multiple dishes at a time, the microwave loses the contest when you have a lot of people for whom you are re-heating.}
  2. I am careful about where I store the things we keep.

In our house there are eight people who can put things away, and a ninth who can wreak havoc on a cabinet at lightning speed.

In addition to being creative with chemicals to keep them out of reach of the havoc-wreaker, I have organized our kitchen for ease of use for the people who most often use the various kitchen-y items.  There’s nothing amazing about our kitchen or what we use in it, but sometimes its nice to see alternative ways to organize or store things.

Our quirky kitchen would not work for some families, but for us, for now, it’s working well.

Here are some of the little things we’ve done in our kitchen:

Base Cabinets

Dinnerware (plates and bowls of various sizes) is stored in base cabinets.  This allows me to load them up with 27 place settings (dinner plates, salad plates, bread-and-butter plates, cups, saucers, bowls) without fear of the cabinet falling off the wall.  It also means my five-year old can unload the dishwasher independently.  We keep our paper plates and plastic/melamine plates with the dinner plates, so there is one place to go for plates when it is time to set the table.

We have a lower cabinet directly behind the sink in our island.  It contains storage containers – glass and plastic.  Above it is a drawer with baggies, and on the door is a rack to hold foil, plastic wrap, waxed paper, etc.  Everything we need to handle leftovers is together.  And after the food is packed away, we can just turn around and set the dishes on the “dirty side” of the sink.

Foods my children regularly get on their own or serve for the family are stored in a pair of base cabinets.  This includes things like chips and crackers and fixin’s for s’mores, as well as breakfast foods like pop-tarts and cereal.  Each child also has a small “candy bin” and one pull-out shelf is dedicated to these.

Baking supplies (mixing bowls, hand mixers, measuring devices) and small appliances all have homes in lower cabinets as well.  My kids can easily reach a mixing bowl to pick strawberries or whip up a batch of cookies.  Since we regularly cook for a crowd, I have a couple of sets of mixing bowls, several liquid measuring cups, half a dozen sets of measuring spoons, and a couple of sets of measuring cups.

Next to the baking supplies cabinet, also down low, is a cabinet housing pie plates stacked by size and bread pans.

One lower cabinet is a pull-out drawer with two trash cans: one for recycle, one for trash.  We have this neat system where my recycling expert (a.k.a. 9-year old) takes the recyle and sorts it every morning.  While he’s gone, my waste management expert (a.k.a. 11-year old) takes out the trash.  When the recycling expert returns with the empty bag, he lines the trash can with it.  Then he uses a new trash bag for the recycle can.  In this way we get to reuse our recycle bags for rubbish.

Under the sink I have a plastic drawer that holds rags, drying mats, and extra towels.  On top of this drawer we keep a small strainer and a large colander.  Next to this I have upright separators to hold my cutting and carving boards.  And in the middle, I keep a roll of trash bags.

Another base cabinet holds small appliances – blender, food chopper, waffle irons, electric skillet, juicer, cotton candy machine (confession: I LOVE cotton candy!), air popper for popcorn, ice cream maker, bread machine, etc.

One lower cabinet holds our pots and pot lids.  Pans with handles hang from a rack near the cook-top.

Another lower cabinet has separator racks to hold cookie sheets, jelly roll pans, pizza pans, and muffin pans upright.

We have a small base cabinet that holds cookie cutters, decorative sugars, birthday candles, muffin-cup liners, and other fun food-project items.

We also have one lower cabinet, on the table side of the island, which houses play dough and school supplies (usually the lab kit for science goes here, though occasionally the chemicals needed are stored separately in the chemical cabinet near the sink.)


We have a drawer under our double oven where we store placemats.  Since it’s a the floor level, even the two-year old can help with setting the table.

I keep parchment paper, rolling pins, thermometers, and oven mitts/hot pads in a drawer between the oven and the cook-top.

Just to the right of the cook top is a small drawer where I keep spoons and forks that don’t match anything.  These are handy for tasting foods while cooking.

One drawer near the cook top is dedicated to serving utensils – large forks, slotted spoons, tongs.  You get the idea.

And I have a drawer for specialty utensils like pizza cutters, cheese grater and cheese slicer, egg slicer, micro planer, basting brushes, etc.  This drawer is in the island and can be reached from the island (where we do a lot of food prep), cook-top, and sink.

One drawer is dedicated to scoops and metal whisks (plastic ones used in non-stick pans are in a crock near the stove).  I have a cookie scoop, mini-muffin scoop, and a muffin scoop stored here.  And I keep two balloon whisks, a flat whisk, and a ring whisk laid neatly in this drawer.

We use one drawer for our kitchen towels and twist ties, rubber bands, and chip clips.  I keep two towels for each day of the week – and they are actually embroidered with the name of the day of the week so we can tell if we’ve changed them.  Since there is a max of 12 towels in the drawer at any given time, it doesn’t take a huge drawer.

Yes, I have the proverbial “junk drawer.”  It has a multi-compartment organizer in it to sort broken toys from clothes pins from glue and tape, etc.  Nothing startling here!

We keep silverware in a drawer on the table side of the island.  It’s pretty far from the dishwasher, but we decided it was more handy to have silverware near the table for table setting and to grab something quickly while eating than to have the drawer near the dishwasher.  The dishwasher silverware tray lifts out and can be carried to the drawer for easy unloading.

I also keep trivets and coasters in a drawer near the table for the same reason.

Upper Cabinets

I have a cabinet over the ovens (we have a double wall oven) full of casserole dishes, bundt and tube pans, and cake pans of various sizes and shapes.  I also store my cupcake safe up there because it’s the only place large enough. 🙂

Serving dishes are in upper cabinets near the stove.  It makes it easy to grab a dish and serve right from where I’m cooking.  Most of the kids who cook are tall enough to reach the serving dishes, so they don’t need my help to get dinner from cook top to table.  Since several of our serving dishes are special gifts from others, I like having them out of reach of the two-year old.

I have another upper cabinet that holds open packages of paper napkins, special party plates/supplies for the next birthday or special event, and sometimes I put potatoes in this cabinet to keep them happy until I’m ready to use them.

In the kitchen, we store only the chemicals and cleaners we need in the kitchen.  Open bottles are kept on the top shelf of an upper cabinet.  If we buy in bulk, unopened bottles stay downstairs in our “Market” until we need to put them to use.

I also store all medicines in the kitchen.  Most of the time someone needs water to take it anyway, so the kitchen is a handy place.  Our medicines stay on a medium-high shelf in the same cabinet with chemicals.  My older kids can reach them if necessary, but my two-year old can’t, even if he climbs onto the counter.

We do keep glasses and coffee cups in an upper cabinet between the sink and the refrigerator.  The coffee pot lives nearby as well.  And one drawer, under the coffee pot, is dedicated to an extra set of spoons and ice cream scoops to make drink preparation easy.

I have an upper cabinet with pitchers and vases so kool-aid and fresh picked flowers can be quickly dispatched.

I only keep one upper cabinet for food.  Food that stays in the kitchen is food that will be used in the upcoming week.  By shopping day, it is essentially empty.  I say essentially because I also keep honey, soy butter (we have a peanut allergy), ketchup, tea bags, and kool-aid in this cabinet and they don’t get used up every week.

Oh!  And I do have this awesome piece of furniture my step-dad made for me years ago.  It has served as a bookshelf, closet, tool chest, and pantry over its many years.  But right now it acts as a baker’s pantry.  This cabinet sits next to the refrigerator and holds all the ingredients needed for baking – flour, sugars, chocolate chips, oatmeal, salt, baking soda and powder….  It also holds my cake decorating supplies and cookbooks.  Since I store all these products in plastic bins (we buy 25# bags of sugar and 50# bags of flour), it takes a large cabinet.  This one is 7ft tall, 3 ft wide, and 1 ft deep.   Spices for cooking (not baking) are stored near the stove in racks attached to the wall.

Out of the Kitchen

Most of our food lives in the “Market” downstairs.  The Market is a small room with the water heater and air conditioner/heater units.  But it is large enough to hold our chest freezer, a second refrigerator, and long shelves of non-perishable food.  I buy commonly used foods (for us) in bulk when it is less expensive and we store it all in the Market.  {My kids LOVE to “run down to the market and grab some green beans, a loaf of bread, and a gallon of milk.” “)} I also store little-used items in the market: canning supplies, roasting pans, coolers, buckets for brining turkey, baskets for picking fruit, and 20qt and larger stock pots.  These are all items I actually use, but not very often.  I don’t want them cluttering my kitchen, but I need them someplace clean and convenient. Cooler bags are stored in the back of our van.  This keeps them right where I need them when we head to Sam’s Club or if it’s hot when I shop for groceries.  It also keeps them out of the house. 🙂

Photo Credit:
Open Shelving by Brian Stansberry (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons