18 Subtle Organizing Mistakes That Make Your Kitchen Look Sloppy

These common setups are a recipe for disaster. Cook up a better system for a clean, productive kitchen.

1/18 View as List

You group by item, not by need


You might keep your masher and microplane grater by the stove with other long-handled items cooking spatulas, but that’s not the most convenient setup. “There are three things that happen in the kitchen: prep, cook, and serve,” says Laura Cattano, professional organizer and founder of Organizational Design. “The best thing is to zone out your kitchen by those categories.” You might keep your spatulas by the stove, but your potato masher belongs near your countertop and big bowls. Take it a step further by asking exactly when you use each item. For instance, there’s no reason your mugs need to be by your water glasses, but putting next to the coffee maker will save you from running all over your kitchen in the morning, says Cattano. Here's how to set up your kitchen so you eat healthier.

You think only the counter is convenient

To keep from digging through stuffed cabinets, you might leave items like sugar and oils on the counter. But as long as your cupboards are clear, it doesn’t take much effort to open the door—and you’ll see payoffs with how clear your counter looks. “It doesn’t have to be on the countertop to be easily reachable,” says Jodie Watson, founder and president of Supreme Organization. “If you purge out the cabinets in your kitchen, you can keep sugar in the cabinet. You open the door and there it is.”

You leave big appliances out

iStock/Don Bayley

Feel free to leave appliances you use daily, like a coffee maker or toaster, on the counter. But anything you aren’t using every day should be stored in a cabinet to make more room on the counter. “Nobody likes to have to put the appliance away, but balance that against the precious countertop space,” says Maeve Richmond, founder and coach of organizing company Maeve’s Method. “There’s the convenience of having it out, but it’s more convenient to be able to chop more vegetables or have a cleaner space.”

You don’t adjust your shelves


Don’t let your shelf height define how you use your space. People tend to put cereal on a top shelf because that’s the one with the most space, but it’d be easier to reach on a lower shelf, says Watson. On the other hand, too much space for canned goods and you’ll probably start stacking items into an ugly, unstable pile. If your shelves aren’t already adjustable, buy shelf dividers to split one shelf into two, says Richmond. “Re-spacing the shelves takes away the messiness because things aren’t stacked,” says Richmond. Here's an absolutely genius way to organize your pantry.

You’re digging through bottom cabinets


“Who wants to crawl on the floor like a monkey looking in the back of a cabinet?” says Cattano. If you’re lucky enough to be redesigning your kitchen, opt for drawers at the leg level so you can reach the back easily. Otherwise, you can buy drawers to easily install into a cabinet so you can pull it out and see everything inside, rather than sticking your whole head in the cabinet.

Your fridge looks like a collage


If you leave messages or coupons on your fridge as reminders, they won’t serve any purpose if they’re lost in a sea of photos you’ve had up for years. “People stick things over things and it becomes a crazy montage of stuff that’s overwhelming and doesn’t look that nice or serve a good purpose,” says Watson. She recommends limiting fridge space to a couple nice pictures, inspirational quotes, a grocery list, or emergency phone numbers. Record any other reminders in your phone, and stash coupons in the car so you have them when you need them.

You leave your cooking utensils out


A container next to the stove might seem like a convenient home for your spatulas and serving spoons, but don’t pack all your unattractive utensils into one container. “Not every single cooking utensil needs to be right by the stove,” says Cattano. “Keep out the nice-looking pieces so it’s not overstuffed.” Leave out the ones you use most often, but hide the rest in a drawer. Here's the trick to clean smelly wooden spoons.

Your junk drawer is, well, junk

iStock/Christine Glade

“Junk drawers need to be intentional,” says Richmond. “They’re intended to be for quickly grabbing things we need access to, but if something is not used for a while, it literally becomes junk.” Once or twice a year, go through it and take out anything you don’t use regularly. Leave smaller items in little boxes or ceramic dishes to keep it organized, she suggests.

You’re holding on to your past


Maybe you loved the idea of a juicer but only ever eat toast for breakfast. Or you used to be into baking but now you’ve put your focus into healthy meals. “The first step to organizing is not thinking about the stuff, it’s thinking about your life and how you want to live,” says Cattano. “If it’s not adding to your life, it’s directly taking away from it because it’s taking space away from something else.” If you rarely use an item, it might be time to let go and get rid of the clutter.

You hang your purse on your chair


“The kitchen is still one of the first places we go when we enter a home,” says Richmond. “All the stuff of life that comes in the door accumulates in the kitchen.” To keep your meal space from becoming a catchall for your purse, wallet, and gym bag, Richmond recommends setting up a “drop zone” by your door to set those things as you’re walking in. You might make it a permanent home for your wallet and keys, and a temporary place to drop your workout gear while you’re putting away groceries.

1/18 View as List

Become more interesting every week!

The Reader's Digest "Read Up" Newsletter

We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.