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How to declutter 8 tricky spots in the kitchen

Sep 29, 2023Sep 29, 2023

Not only is the kitchen a high-traffic area especially prone to messes, it houses a mishmash of awkward items — likely nowhere else in the home is it possible to find a drawer of stray Tupperware lids next to one stuffed with batteries, pens and Post-it notes.

Given the range of organizational woes in the kitchen, we asked professional organizers how they tackle some of the trickiest spots and items found there. Here's what they recommend.

When it comes to organizing Tupperware there are two schools of thought — those who believe in keeping the lids with their containers and those who split them up. Experts say both approaches can work well depending on the space.

"If there is room, I like to match all the lids with the containers and then leave the lids on and stack the containers," says Tracy Bowers of Organize Simply in Salt Lake City. "It's much easier. People are always telling you to separate out the lids but then years go by and you end up having way more lids than you have containers or you’re always struggling to find the right lid."

Other pros prefer separating their lids — either storing them vertically like file folders in one container or arranging them in a lid-specific organizer.

Whichever method you choose, experts say drawer organizers are key to splitting up your Tupperware space. "I use two dividers to create three sections," says Ashley Stewart of O.C.D. (Organize. Create. Design) in Scottsdale, Ariz. "One will be [for] all round containers, one will be all square containers and the next will be all lids."

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Drawer dividers are also a go-to solution for corralling utensils. "We like to customize every single drawer for flatware and utensils," says Bowers. "You can use drawer organizers to play Tetris in your drawer, which allows for so much more usable space than a regular [flatware holder]."

Katrina Teeple of Operation Organization, who is based in Los Angeles and Dallas, recommends creating categories for each section of the drawer, such as stirring spoons, spatulas and tongs. And when drawer space is limited, she recommends countertop containers.

"You can use a few countertop containers to store your general utensil categories upright," she advises. But if you go this route, she suggests cutting down on visual clutter by "investing in a combination of matching wood and stainless steel cooking tools to make the kitchen look more aesthetically pleasing."

Water bottles are another bulky item that can be difficult to organize — but the pros offer several options.

If you keep them in a drawer, water bottles can be stored either vertically or horizontally with the right container. "We don't want to just put them freely in a drawer because then they’ll slosh around," says Teeple. "What you want to do is get drawer organizers — like some bins — that are narrow and deep so that they go the length of your drawer, but they don't allow the water bottles to topple over when you’re closing the drawer. Another thing you can do is use water bottle organizers that allow you to lay your water bottle horizontally, kind of like a wine rack."

If your water bottles stay in a cabinet, Teeple recommends storing them upright on a turntable with a grippy base that will keep them from toppling over.

Somehow the junk drawer always tends to live in the kitchen. To begin tackling it, Teeple recommends identifying which things actually make sense there — such as tape or batteries — and finding a space for them with drawer organizers. For everything else, she recommends the following system.

"If I know something doesn't belong in the junk drawer, like a receipt, flier or kid party favor, I will toss it in my junk basket and go through it once a week," she says. "Most of the time, the majority of the stuff in the junk basket is trash and I am only left with a few things to put away."

She also advocates for changing the name of the junk drawer to the "utility drawer" or something similar, to make it clearer to your household how the space should be used.

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Spices can be controversial among organization pros, with some advocating for stashing the bottles in a drawer, and others opting for a turntable. Stewart is a fan of both options.

"It's always nice to put your spices in a drawer next to the stove," she says, "so when you’re cooking on the stovetop, you can pull out the drawer, and you can see all your spices laying down." If you don't have space for that, she suggests keeping the bottles upright on a turntable in a cabinet near the stove.

Marisa Smith of MACmomorganizing in Madison, N.J., is firmly in the turntable camp: "For spices, it's better to have them on a turntable than just shoving them in a cabinet because when you do that, you can't see what you have."

Thanks to influences like Netflix's "Get Organized with The Home Edit," aesthetically pleasing pantries have become a favorite goal for homeowners.

According to Smith, you don't have to decant every baking ingredient and box of cereal to achieve a happier pantry, but you do have to get rid of bulk packaging for things like fruit snacks and breakfast bars to save space. Store those items loose in bins instead. She also recommends using smaller dividers within larger bins to separate different types of snacks (chip bags from granola bars, for example).

Other pros insist the time and financial investment of decanting is worthwhile for long-term success. "I find that when we go back into a client's house years later and we decanted their items for them, the pantry still looks stellar compared to just organizing with baskets," says Stewart. "It can be expensive at first, but it's a one-time investment that keeps your food fresh while preventing waste and overbuying."

Professional organizers offer a litany of ideas for handling items like sponges and cleaning products under the kitchen sink.

"Get a large turntable and put that on one side, which allows you to just spin it and get what you need, instead of having to dig or pull a caddy in and out for cleaning products," says Teeple. "Then, you want to store your back-stock in the back. If you have two glass cleaners, put the one that you’re not using and haven't opened up in the very back so that it's not taking up that precious real estate."

On the other side, she suggests adding stackable drawers to contain items such as extra sponges. Another trick: Install a tension rod across the back of the cabinet for hanging lesser used spray cleaners.

You can also hang items on the backs of the cabinet doors. "We like using clear, adhesive acrylic containers on the inside of your cabinet door or a cabinet door organizer," says Susie Salinas of Systems by Susie in Annapolis, Md. "Those are good for storing things like sponges or brushes."

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Grocery bags can come in handy — but they can also become a cumbersome mess. If you can't stand the thought of throwing the plastic and paper ones out, experts suggest stashing them in a large bin. Or, Salinas recommends using a product specifically for disposable grocery bags that can be attached to the inside of a cabinet door. For reusable shopping totes, she opts for a Command strip hook on the back of a cabinet door to hang them.

Jamie Killin is a writer in Arizona who covers business, hospitality and lifestyle.

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