If you live in a condo, you already know that space is at a premium in the kitchen. Not only do you have to store food, cutlery, utensils, dishware, serveware, and small appliances, but it’s often the main communal space in a home. Guests tend to crowd around the kitchen, meals are eaten there with family and friends. So it should not only be functional as a kitchen but as a gathering place to be enjoyed.
Opening a cupboard that’s crammed with pots and pans, loose containers and lids, and all manner of dust and crumbs can be a real mood changer. Working in that type of kitchen environment is stressful, and not something anyone wants to deal with first thing on a Saturday morning, or when they get home from work.
But how do you prevent your cupboards from turning into a nightmare situation?
If you don’t need it, let it go
The first step to take when re-organizing or re-arranging a space is to pull everything out of the closets, cupboards, and drawers, and go through it piece by piece. Decide which items to keep, donate, or toss. The goal is not to get rid of everything, but to figure out where each of your belongings fit into your life and your space. Items, like old appliances, dishes, etc., that you forgot about years ago can resurface. You may decide that they have a renewed place in your kitchen, or that they can be of better use to someone else.
Repeat this process for all food items too. I’m sure we’re all guilty of holding on to years-expired packaged items, boxes with nothing more than a few crumbs left, ingredients or snacks that we didn’t like but don’t want to finish eating or to throw away. I call this limbo food because it’s just hovering there in the pantry with no clear exit route. If it’s gone bad, let it go. If it’s brand new and you don’t want it, donate it. And if you just forgot about it, then you’re the lucky recipient of a free grocery item from your own supply.
Consider before you purchase
Going through the exercise above should surface some truths about how you purchase, store, and use different items and foods in your home. Some of these truths may be ugly, but it’s better to face them. Do you own three ladles but only ever use the same one? Did you notice a lot of packaged food waste? Do you tend to keep space-taking items that are not of value to your life? Remind yourself that those items were once money, and that money represents your time. Were they worth it? This exercise will help you consider more carefully what you purchase in the future. This is especially true when space is at a premium but can apply to any situation. Stuff. Builds. Up.
Is your storage infrastructure functioning as it should?
After analyzing what’s contained inside your kitchen storage spaces, look at the spaces themselves. Are the hinges and handles in good shape? Do the drawers slide easily? Could you use an improved cutlery tray? Are there enough shelves in the cupboards for the type of items you store in there? Do you have sufficient lighting in all areas of the kitchen? Improving the infrastructure of your kitchen will help maximize your usage of it. If something is not functioning properly, is a pain to use, is not bright enough, or is constantly getting stuck, we are less likely to use it and so it becomes a dead space. Small improvements and modifications make a room easier and simpler to use.
Make use of vertical space
We lose a lot of air space in cupboards, fridges, closets, and pantries. Fortunately, there are a ton of storage solutions on the market. In my kitchen, for example, the overhead cupboards are very tall, and the glassware we store in them is short. Instead of losing all the head space we decided we had two options; to stack the glassware, or to add a wire shelf (available at many home stores) so that we could have a second level of glassware. We decided to stack the glasses because we also have several tall bottles and jars that take up more height.
If you have a cupboard on the lower level, adding drawers can improve efficiency and can be much easier to access if you have trouble bending down and getting into the back corners of shelves. Home improvement stores sell affordable internal shelf kits that you can install within a cupboard, that stay hidden behind the door and cannot be viewed from the outside. They’re generally basic enough for any home handy person to install.
The more visible, the better
It’s the items that get hidden away in the back corners, behind other things, crammed into dark spaces, that we forget about. Using wire shelves, movable storage baskets, and drawers, can allow us to see more of what’s in our inventory and to better access it.
How does your kitchen flow?
A well designed, usable kitchen is preferable over a big kitchen, any day. More space does not mean “better”, and it certainly does not equate to more usable space unless it was thoughtfully designed.
Think about how you move through your kitchen and what you expect to be located where. How can you arrange it so that the least amount of steps are required to do your tasks? For example, locate your mugs in the cupboard above the coffee maker so that they’re right there when you need them. Oven mitts and hot pads should be next to the oven. Small appliances or serveware that you rarely use should be stored in the less convenient cupboards or the back of the pantry. And likewise, dishware and small appliances that you frequently used should be stored in the most accessible places.
Create more space with functional furniture
And finally, how can you add more storage in a space that does not exist? As I mentioned earlier, I live in a condo and have limited space. But I love to cook and entertain, so I have several large platters, big pots, etc. that take up a lot of square footage and are difficult to store. That’s where functional furniture comes in. Items that you rarely used can be stored in non-traditional places to save space in the kitchen for the things you use often. Under-the-bed storage units are particularly useful because they take up no extra footprint but can accommodate a lot of stuff. If you have an open entryway, try adding a storage bench that will not only function as a place for you to tie your shoes, but as another place to store your over-sized items.
How have you make more space in your kitchen, or use your space more efficiently? Let us know in the comments.
Freelance writer and photographer living in Toronto. She is the author and photographer of two cookbooks, Everyone’s Welcome (2019) and Allergen-Free Desserts (2015).