How to organize an apartment kitchen — 10 tips from small space dwellers that work

Even if you have *no* space

modern country style kitchen with black cabinetry, open shelving, brass pendants, ladder to storage, ornate mirror, crittall window
(Image credit: The Main Company/Chris Snook)

All of us that have been blessed with limited square footage know that storage and keeping organized are key to your space feeling fresher, bigger, and brighter. A disorderly mess, even just a corner of it, can cause chaos when you live in a small space. Okay, maybe chaos is a li'l dramatic, but clutter in an apartment can instantly make it feel smaller and become the focus of your home. With all the effort you're putting into spring cleaning your apartment, let's tackle the room that seems to attract the most clutter and can very quickly become the most unorganized — the kitchen.

Don't feel overwhelmed, we have pulled together a super easy guide on how to organize an apartment kitchen. With your cooking space cleaned up and styled to perfection, your kitchen will look just as lovely on the inside as it does on the outside.

1. Empty out your kitchen cabinets 

Small apartment kitchen with white glass fronted cabinetry

(Image credit: @liisivali)

Yep, it's a daunting task but if you really want to get your apartment kitchen organized and come up with systems that work in the long run, everything has to come out of your kitchen cabinets. The key to success is to ensure you have plenty of time to do this. There's no point emptying the entirety of your kitchen and then not having the time to put it all back. So pick an evening where you have zero plans, stick on a podcast, and focus.

And if you can't dedicate a few hours to the task, go cabinet by cabinet, taking it one at a time so you are never having to live with the contents of your pasta cupboard surrounding you.

2. Have a ruthless decluttering sesh

IKEA apartment kitchen with trolley for extra storage

(Image credit: IKEA)

Once you can clearly see everything you are dealing with, it's time to toss things. If you haven't used it in the last six months, and it's not a seasonal item or of high sentimental value, it needs to go. Food storage containers and baking equipment are good places to start when it comes to decluttering. Look at sell-by dates of any cans or dried food, too, and ditch anything that's out of date or donate anything with a date that you know you won't use it by to a food bank. 

And anything you find that doesn't belong in the kitchen group together to find their original homes later."The hub of the home can easily become the catch-all place for items on their way somewhere," says professional organizer Sue Spencer. "A quick look at my kitchen found packages to be posted, letters, suntan lotion. It’s a good idea to have a small basket to collect these things in and redistribute the items to their ‘homes’ at the end of each day (or week if that’s a better fit for you)."

3. Categorize what you have left

small deVOL kitchen

(Image credit: deVOL)

Now you should be left with everything that needs to go back into your drawers and cabinets. Hopefully, it shouldn't be an enormous task, but an easy place to start when deciding where to store everything is to categorize. Create categories that make sense to you and how you use your kitchen — that's usually going to be similar items, like pots and pans, cookware, small kitchen gadgets bakeware, crockery, etc.

4. Make a plan for what will go back where

small modern apartment kitchen

(Image credit: @herzens_wohnung)

It always gets worse before it gets better! And now it's time to start putting things back. While you have the opportunity, give your drawers and cabinets a deep clean before you start filling them up again.

Make a plan of action before you start just throwing things back where they came from. You've got your categories, but the best way to organize kitchen cabinets is by frequency of use. So consider what's most used and what items you might want to keep out on display, too. Leave your most used and most aesthetically pleasing items as the last pieces you find a home for because you'll want to have easy access and keep the prettiest things on show.

Think about how your cooking space is set up, too. "Really consider the layout of the kitchen," says Siân Pelleschi, president of APDO and founder of Sorted!. "Is it easy to make a cup of tea, cook your dinner, have your breakfast? Where do the utensils need to be to make it easy and then what additional storage solutions might you need — hooks on walls or in cupboards, freestanding internal shelving to make better use of internal cupboard space?"

Take inspiration from @herzens_wohnung's gorgeous space and add in smaller pieces of storage that not only look lovely but make all your most used pieces more accessible. A rail above your stovetop frees up valuable real estate inside your cabinets, too.

5. Ensure you get the most out of your drawers

Rustic neutral kitchen

(Image credit: @______theo)

Drawers can be such assets to an apartment kitchen if you make the most of them and organize them so that they function. Usually, they tend to become a dumping ground for your lesser (or never) used kitchen items. 

And the key to a well-organized kitchen drawer? Dividers. "Kitchen drawers come in a variety of widths and depths and can quickly become disorganized and messy if items are left to scatter freely during opening and closing," says Caroline Caron Dhaouadi, founder of Homefulness. "A really quick and simple way to keep the insides of your kitchen drawers organized is by adding expandable drawer dividers. They are super versatile, allowing you to create custom-sized sections within a drawer as well as being able to be moved if and when you change your organization."

6. Decant your dried food to save on space

Small pink and white apartment kitchen

(Image credit: @maggieantalek)

The storage saviors of all kitchens are jars. They turn your not-so-pretty dried food into decor, save you space, and make your space more organized.

"A big obstacle when it comes to organizing food in a pantry or kitchen cupboard is excess packaging," says Dhaouadi. She notes that dry foods take up tons of space mostly due to the boxes and containers they come in. "This packaging tends to quickly fill up your food cupboards, making it difficult to find what you need and creating a cluttered and uninspiring aesthetic. By decanting these items into clear, space-saving jars or containers, you can save valuable shelf space while creating a pantry that is visually appealing and inspiring!"

This apartment kitchen of @maggieantalek is the perfect example of keeping enough on show that the space feels full of character, yet it's super organized so functions well, too.

"When it comes to space, I knew it would be limited so I focused on putting all cluttered items, like packaged foods and mismatched mugs, into the cabinets where they wouldn’t be seen," says Antalek. "I used open spaces, like the opening over my sink and my bar cart, for items like glassware and my matching spice jars. They look pretty on display and then I don’t need to waste precious organizing space on them! I can keep the ugly things behind closed cabinets and keep the whole space looking clean and aesthetically pleasing."

7. Be strict about what's on your countertops

Apartment kitchen with houseplants

(Image credit: @madeva_holzliebe)

Kitchen countertops are prime real estate for adding decor — cute mugs, pots, houseplants, chopping boards, etc. But they can also quickly become cluttered and therefore lose their main function. Now we are all for a nicely curated countertop, but they have to be just that, curated. So when organizing your kitchen countertops do consider what looks nice but also consider what makes sense. If it's preventing you from actually using the surface space, it's GTG.

And when adding things back to your countertops, place things in areas that they make sense. Kettle near the mugs, utensils and oils near your stove, chopping boards near the area you like to prep food — you get the gist. And if you have open shelving, use that space for your decor. Make like @madeva_holzliebe and keep countertops free of clutter and just for appliances and prep.

8. Make shelving work harder

Kitchen shelving with brick wall

(Image credit: Read & Hall)

Organizing kitchen shelving is always the one part of organizing our kitchens we actually enjoy because you can see your progress. Sure, it's satisfying having neat kitchen drawers, but no one really sees and appreciates your hard work. Shelves on the other hand? That's where you'll feel rewarded.

We love the balance of form and function going on with @readandhall's kitchen shelving. They look fabulous but also not so purely aesthetic that they don't earn their keep too. "The brick wall was original to Emma's 1920s bungalow house and Em didn't want to cover it up," says Sarah Hall, Emma Read's sister. "So instead, [we] installed open shelving for easy access, great display, and provides ample storage for ceramics and beautiful kitchenware you don't want to hide. Also, deep drawers for pots and pans are preferred over cupboards."

Jen and Mar, founders of Interior Fox, also note the importance of choosing aesthetics and function when it comes to displaying your kitchen items. "Glassware and glass pieces always look clean and sparkly on a shelf, while the colored ceramics add a bit of texture and interest. We always want our styled shelves to make sense so, for example, if you display a teapot, go ahead and add a jar of loose tea and some mugs next to it."

9. Bring in extra pieces for storage and style

Small apartment kitchen with open shelving

(Image credit: @heyheyhaus)

Portable pieces are ideal small kitchen storage solutions. So if you're struggling to organize the contents of your kitchen in a way that makes sense for you (even after a big declutter) consider bringing in some freestanding furniture that offers more storage and surface space.

Case in point, Steffi of @heyheyhaus's space. The trolley tucks up against the wall when it's not in use, so it won't take up any valuable floor space but offers the perfect coffee bar. "I only put nice things on the open shelves," she says. "All the stuff I didn‘t want to see went into the cabinets. We needed a little more space for the coffee machine, so we went for the simple solution of a trolley. Not just because it was portable, but it can be an extra table with more storage possibilities."

10. Always make use of unused or awkward spaces

Small kitchen with plenty of storage

(Image credit: @highboyla)

If you are a small apartment renter or owner, you already know how crucial those high-up spaces can be when it comes to storage. The space above the closet, the li'l gap above the fridge, it's all ideal for storing lesser-used items that you only need to reach for occasionally.

Create a home for those pieces that made it to the final round of your decluttering but you know you'll only use once or twice a year by adding shelving at ceiling height. Keep the space organized by adding baskets and even label them so you always know what's going on up there. 

Katie of @highboyla has the right idea by making a weird alcove work harder. "We have an awkward-shaped, old apartment kitchen with this weird corner gap," she says. "We thrifted a butcher block stand that fits perfectly in the corner and use that as our coffee bar! We also find that hanging our pots and pans saves so much space. We’ve even added storage baskets on the shelf above to hold extra cleaning supplies, paper towels, etc."

Hebe Hatton

Hebe joined the Real Homes team in early 2018 as Staff Writer before moving to the Livingetc team in 2021 where she took on a role as Digital Editor. She loves boho and 70's style and is a big fan of Instagram as a source of interiors inspiration. When she isn't writing about interiors, she is renovating her own spaces – be it wallpapering a hallway, painting kitchen cupboards or converting a van.