How to organize a small kitchen — even if you don't have a pantry

Decluttering is key

Sunny day in the living room and kitchen, small apartment
(Image credit: Getty)

Moving into your dream city loft with no clue how to organize a small kitchen? Scanning Zillow listings can quickly go from exciting to daunting when you realize that most apartment kitchens are tiny AF. From limited counter space to a lack of shelving, most kitchens these days don’t exactly do much for the budding home cook. 

And while everyone wishes they had a bigger kitchen or a built-in pantry, it’s also true that there are plenty of savvy small kitchen organizers, plus tricks and tips that’ll make even the snug of spaces efficient and surprisingly optimized — if you’re willing to get creative.

We spoke to Jen Martin, founder of Reset Your Nest, to get her best advice on exactly how to transform your kitchen into a home cook’s dream. From decluttering with a purpose to finding storage space you didn’t know you had, here’s what you’ll want to do if you’re hoping to make the most of your small kitchen.

How to organize a small kitchen

1. Only store what you use regularly

Small kitchens can be a big challenge for anyone," shares Martin."'My team has helped turn hundreds of chaotic kitchens into stunning, well-organized spaces by encouraging our clients to only store what they use regularly."

When you are limited on space, getting serious about what you really need is the most critical thing you can do. For example: which pots and pans do you actually use? Most of us really only use a couple on a regular basis. If you have extras, consider donating them to a local charity, and be sure to organize pots and pans that are in use, efficiently.

2. Consolidate your small kitchen appliances

"We all have small kitchen appliances we love," admits Martin. "Mine is my electric tea kettle. However, when you have limited shelf and counter space, you need to make choices or consolidate. Think about storing small appliances you don’t use frequently in another room or closet to free up space.

3. Review your food storage sitch

"I love shopping at Costco," confesses Martin.

"I have a large family and we go through food fast, but that also means we need to store all of that food. When you have a small kitchen, be thoughtful about the quantities of food that you purchase. I recommend keeping a reserve of items you use frequently and storing some emergency food items, but that can of expired beans that have been sitting on your shelf for two years? Go ahead and toss it."

4. Consider how frequently you use certain items

Sometimes we hold on to items that are seldom used…special silverware, seasonal dishes, or huge turkey platters. Do you really want to dedicate an entire space to something you only use once a year? "Think about boxing it up and storing it in another room or passing it on to a family member with a bit more space," suggests Martin.

5. Ditch those dozens of tea towels

There are only seven days in a week. Do you need twenty dish towels? Definitely not. But before you throw them away, think about donating spares to thrift shops, or even animal care centers for bedding or to be repurposed as patchwork throws if they're past being sellable.

6. Maximize vertical space

"When you live in a small space, every inch matters. Don’t overlook vertical space, including the walls," says Martin. You’ll want to consider adding a shelf to your cabinets, using stacking bins, and adjusting the spacing to maximize precious space in your cabinets.

'You can add a magnetic knife holder anywhere along your backsplash or above your stove. Pots and pans can be hung from racks, aprons from a hook, and dishes and essential food items (placed in airtight containers) could be stored on floating shelves,' she explains. "I’ve used the side of a cabinet for hanging a wall spice rack and it looked beautiful."

Do you have a number of cutting boards, for example? Martin suggests turning them into wall decor. Hang them and then pull them down when you need to use them. Find where your kitchen has space to spare and get creative about how you can make it function better for you.

7. Eliminate bulky packaging


♬ original sound - Teresa Caruso

"Getting rid of bulky packaging and replacing it with streamlined storage bins and containers is my number one tip for organizing any space and it’s especially important when organizing small spaces," explains Martin. "I promise you will be shocked once you start to implement this principle. Your space will literally expand."

This will also ensure all your ingredients and shelf-stable foods will be easy to see, making it much more feasible to know exactly what you have in stock and how much is left.

8. Style your kitchen with function in mind

Your counter is a great place to add a little style and also make the most out of limited space, says Martin. For instance, if you have a small coffee maker, why not store your coffee in a cute jar? You could put your favorite mugs and a small tray with your favorite mix-ins next to it.

9. Use the inside of cabinets, and under your sink wisely

Use the inside of your cupboards to store paper towel rolls, hang dish rags, or store dish soap. "I've lined the insides of cabinets with hooks for everything from drying towels, window cloths, and dusting mitts to fly swatters," Martin says. "Hooks are so handy!"

And don't forget about the inner door of your under-sink space to store essentials used in the sink (scraper, washcloth, scrub brush, etc).

10. Think about how items can serve multiple functions

Mason jars can serve as drinking glasses, food storage, vases, and meal prep. A wooden cutting board can serve as a trivet, a cutting board, and a serving platter. The right kind of casserole pan can serve as baking ware, a serving dish, and Tupperware.

11. Invest in collapsible kitchenware

Collapsible tools are space savers. "There are so many items you can now buy in a collapsible version," Martin explains. "Colanders, bowls, Tupperware, popcorn maker. If you have an item that is just too big, look to see if there is a collapsible version available."

Christina Chrysostomou
Former acting head ecommerce editor

Hi, I'm the former acting head ecommerce editor at Real Homes. Prior to working for the Future plc family, I've worked on a number of consumer events including the Ideal Home Show, Grand Designs Live, and Good Homes Magazine. With a first class degree from Keele University, and a plethora of experience in digital marketing, editorial, and social media, I have an eye for what should be in your shopping basket and have gone through the internal customer advisor accreditation process.

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