Summer! I don’t know about you, but I would rather be anywhere but stuck in my hot west-facing kitchen this time of year. Here are a few quick and easy kitchen-organizing tips to help minimize your time in the kitchen this summer—we’ll work with a few questions to get you thinking.
Would you ever alphabetize your spices? I never thought I would. I tried to be organized, but alphabetizing spices still struck me as going too far. Then it happened. One winter I got tired of reading all the organizing "experts" who kept saying to alphabetize those spices. It was a long night. I was bored. I decided to try it.
My spices had been on a shelf in our food closet (yes, it was a “closet,” and I wouldn’t dignify it with the word “pantry.” The spices that I used most often were toward the front. Wasn’t that logical enough? As I pulled everything out, I had a few surprises. Oops. I found several duplicates, numerous dried up globs in the bottoms of very old jars, and five jars, count them, five, of something called Five Spice Powder–used for stir fry. Five Spice Powder costs about $6 per jar. I wanted $24 back! What a waste, but I was now converted to alphabetize spices.
My spices are now alphabetized on wire coated racks attached to the inside of my food closet door. To all of you who still aren’t convinced, let me continue: Alphabetizing prevents duplicate purchases. It speeds menu planning because you can tell faster if you have or don’t have what you need to make the recipe. It helps you generate a shopping list faster. You can even cook faster because you won’t waste time hunting for assorted seasonings. Ultimately, you get out of your kitchen faster.
Do you date your spices? I am working on this one. I have heard that spices can last as little as six months or as long as two to three years. I am not ready to throw everything out and start over (though I have a friend who did this and she claims all her food suddenly tasted better). I do keep a permanent marker in my kitchen and I have started to date new spices as they come into my house. I also try to buy the smallest spice container available. A smaller container increases the chance that I will use a spice up before it gets too old.
Are your dry goods organized and stored simply? I like rectangular, airtight, see-through containers. I began this a few years ago. My husband had poured a bowl of cereal for himself from a previously opened box, and, after several bites of cereal and milk, a small spider bubbled to the surface, scrambled to the edge of the bowl, and attempted to escape. Yum. Airtight containers keep food fresher (and spider-free).
Rectangular, or square containers make the best use of small spaces. No wasted corners. They will stack and fit next to each other well too.
See-through containers are great because certain members of my family, who shall remain anonymous, tend to put a nearly empty cereal or cracker box right back into the cupboard. This behavior foils my shopping attempts to keep our pantry stocked. I see what looks like a full box, but it really isn’t. Surprise!
Organize food by type. Put all baking products on the same shelf. Group breakfast items together. Keep snack foods together. Keeping food categorized makes it faster for you to find and inventory what you have.
Are your kitchen cupboards crammed full of stuff? How many sets of dishes do you really need to store in the kitchen? You know the answer. How many coffee mugs would you ever really use all at once? Honestly, if more than six or eight people came to my house, I’d be getting out the disposables. So why was I hanging on to all those mugs dating back to my high school days?
Do you have as many partial sets of unused stemware in your cupboard as I do? Consider keeping what you use and donating or storing the rest of it elsewhere. As for cookbooks, I was finally able to reduce the excessive number when it dawned on me: How many recipes for apple crisp do I really need? Many cookbooks have a lot of similar recipes in common, plus I can find recipes on the Internet. There was a bonus too. Once I weeded out my cupboards, I actually had space for a few cookbooks in my kitchen.
How are those base cabinets? Does everything clatter out onto the floor when you try to make dinner? Base cabinets can be worse than uppers. Consider your pots, pans, nesting bowls, and bake-ware. Organize them to make meal preparation faster and easier. Keep only what you regularly use in these cabinets. Get rid of duplicates and extras. After all, how many sets of bowls do you really need?
Nest the pots and pans. Nest the lids and store them together too. I like using a wire lid rack to hold all my lids together from smallest to largest. This makes grabbing a lid quieter now too.
What kitchen clutter could you get rid of to make functioning in your kitchen easier? Here are some of my favorites to toss or to store elsewhere: extra plastic bags, plastic storage containers (especially if you can’t find the matching lids), pots you don’t use regularly, holiday platters and molds, assorted ceramic coffee mugs stacked deep in the cupboards, partial stemware sets you rarely use, duplicate utensils (Three can openers? What for?), dated or trendy appliances you haven’t used in several years, burnt and scratched pots, pans, and bake-ware too yucky to use any more–you know the ones I mean.
Last question: Do you have room to prepare food and a place to put it when you are ready to eat? When I manage to keep the kitchen counter free for making meals and to keep the kitchen table open for setting the table, my whole family gets in and out of the kitchen a lot faster.
We have a family rule about not setting stuff on the kitchen table, and I only keep what we use every day on the counter. I hope these ideas are helpful. I am out of here! See you at the beach!

Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs. Sign up for her free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at

Kitchen Organizing Catalogs and Websites
Though frugality is an important part of the simple living choices I make, I like to look at specialty stores for kitchen organizing and clutter control ideas. I don’t necessarily purchase what I see, but it gets me thinking about other possible solutions. And sometimes, a specialty product is the best solution for a specific organizing situation. That said, you might want to check out the stores below:
  • The Container Store at 1-888-266-8246 or has many kitchen storage products. You may request a catalog.
  • Get Organized at 800-803-9400 or has organizing products in their catalog including some interesting specialty ones for the kitchen.
  • has kitchen utensils, gadgets, appliances, and links to 101 other kitchen sites.
  • is a site to check out lots of organizing products including a whole section devoted to kitchen items.