My kitchen has one measly, stuffed, terrible drawer. It is filled with spoons and measuring cups, tiny pie birds and rolling pins, and a pizza cutter. It’s really important to know where the pizza cutter is when I plunge my hand into the drawer to shift things around haphazardly to get it to close. This is less than ideal, and hardly unique, especially in this age of kitchen gadget overload. But with the arrival of a new year and the Netflix hit Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, I and countless others are considering kitchen overhauls.
Marie Kondo was initially known for her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but she has found new fame in her Netflix show, where she helps families get rid of mountains of clothing and establish organizational systems. In the episodes, Kondo tackles home clutter in five categories: clothing, books, papers, sentimental items, and miscellaneous.
Kitchens fall under miscellaneous, which seems wild since it is one of only four rooms in my apartment and certainly needs some special attention. Kitchens also present a unique challenge: Kondo’s process decides how to keep an item based on whether or not it “sparks joy.” Most kitchen utensils (colanders???) do not spark joy, but are utterly necessary.
So Eater found some organizational experts and a few folks who have recently decluttered their kitchen to get their best tips — including, yes, some new stuff to buy.
What to get rid of
Coral Musgrave, a travel blogger in the UK with a focus on minimalism, recently downsized from a three-story home to a small two-story home, and in the process realized that she had a ton of redundancy in her kitchen. She found 18 pairs of kitchen scissors, six cheese storage boxes, and a ton of hand-me-down Tupperware from her mother.
“I thought I had been organizing for years,” she says. “But what I was doing was moving things around and hoarding stuff.”
Redundancy is big for Kondo. “Most people have too many tongs!” Kondo told Bon Appetit. “And disposable plastic cutlery, what you get when you get delivery food, and packets of sauces. So many of them.”
Faith Roberson, a professional chef who now runs an organizational company called Organize With Faith, says that “too many bowls and too many coffee cups!” are the main culprits of clutter in many kitchens she organizes. (In my kitchen, I had three pie birds and approximately 1,500 mugs.)
Roberson also recommends tossing things that don’t do enough work to justify the space they take up, like gimmicky unitaskers. “Challenge yourself by being mindful about what you’re using within a week,” she says. If you have something with only a single use (a garlic press, for example), can it be eliminated from your arsenal? A tool that shaves corn off the husk and does nothing else should probably only stay if you use it every day.
What to buy
After watching Kondo’s show, Marlene Fao, who runs the interior home blog My Mindful Home, was inspired to tackle her kitchen and pantry. “Before I felt overwhelmed. I knew it was something I needed to do, but couldn’t gather myself to do it,” she says.
She bought several items that helped her get her kitchen in order: Spice organizers with rubber ribbing contain spices in drawers without the jars all rolling around. A magnetic knife holder frees up counter space. Wire baskets help store potatoes and loose pantry items. (Another spice organizing option: the Spicy Shelf Deluxe, a shelving system that really does take things to the next level.)
“Drawer inserts or dividers are a must or you end up with a jumble of items in a drawer,” Collette Shine, a NYC-based professional organizer, says. “Shelves inside shelves are so useful so you can maximize the space in your cabinets... from the top to the bottom.”
Roberson also recommends Lazy Susans to maximize deep cabinet space, and suggests glass containers as a great addition to a kitchen both in the pantry and inside the fridge. “You can cook with it and store food, so that eliminates the need to hoard take-out containers,” she says. Plus, you can see what’s inside.
Many people in cities have tiny kitchens that are short on drawers, counter space, and cabinets. Shine recommends buying a container to hold large spoons and spatulas that sits on the counter if drawers are lacking.
“And don’t forget about the walls,” she says. “I have a Command hook on the wall above my fridge where the wok hangs.”
How to organize
As a mere viewer of Kondo’s show, Woody Chichester decided to reorganize their kitchen after their housemate started watching the show. They got rid of a ton of fancy glasses and oddball utensils. “I did take a tip from Marie Kondo here and put things I use more often on the easiest to reach shelves, and stuff I use less often up high,” Woody says. The cupboards are now open and the plates so much more accessible.
“It had never occurred to me till I saw the show and one of the clients organizing her Tupperware on their side instead of stacking them, and so I tried it and wow, it works,” Coral Musgrave says.
No amount of organization, though, is going to make your kitchen any bigger, which means thinking outside the kitchen is essential. “I don’t think that every kitchen item needs to be in the kitchen. If you have items that are useful (like the pan that you make turkey with every Thanksgiving), can it be stored on a shelf at the top of a closet?” Shine says.
My pasta maker, for example, probably does not deserve valuable shelf space in my small kitchen — even if it does bring me joy.
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