Mise en place—”things in place.” It’s the first thing any student at culinary school learns, the first thing any rookie cook learns on the line at a restaurant. You have to keep your things in place, your workspace clean, your tools and ingredients organized. But there are so many moving parts: dinner plates and wine glasses, cereal bowls and flatware, spices and pantry items, serving dishes and roasting pans, utensils and baking supplies. Where should you even start?
To put you on the path to organized bliss, IKEA Interior Design Specialist Charlene Tea answered pressing questions you shared about kitchen storage on @goodhousekeeping. The best part? Her tips and product suggestions below are applicable for every kitchen, no matter how big or small, and whether you rent or own.
1. How can you best make use of lower cabinet organization? What are the strategies to use for under the sink, pots and pans, or countertop appliances?
Interior organization is all about inserts. For lower cabinets, Tea suggests using UTRUSTA partition wires to keep items like baking sheets and lids in check, and pull-out wire baskets for pots, pans, and small appliances.
“No more digging through your cabinets to find things in the back,” says Tea. “Plate holders or bins with handles make it easier to grab stuff from lower cabinets, and it’s a natural way to keep the items contained and organized.”
Under the sink, she advises installing a slide-out bin system to have easier access to cleaning supplies, as well as trash and recycling receptacles. “Store your cleaning supplies in easy-to-clean bins and use shelf inserts to make use of the vertical height to store more items,” she says.
2. What are the best uses of upper cabinets? How do you organize them to make them as efficient as possible?
Since upper cabinets are at eye-level, use them for everyday items you want accessible, like plates and glassware. “You want to give priority to frequently used items,” explains Tea, adding that cabinets should be categorized by use.
“Be sure to separate food from dishes, cookware, and utensils, so each cabinet is sorted by its type to help differentiate,” says Tea. Things like cooking oils and spices should be in a cabinet near the stove, while dishes should be near the sink or dishwasher.
If you have a smaller kitchen with limited cabinets, Tea says you can use the shelves to create the separation between types of items. “Don’t forget shelf inserts or glass racks are very helpful to save space and maximize the storage use,” she adds.
She also notes that you should make full use of available vertical space, storing seasonal or rarely used items on the highest shelves or even on top of your cabinets.
3. My pantry is a MESS but we rent so don’t want to install anything. What can I do?
The first step to a renter-friendly pantry makeover, according to Tea, is to readjust your shelves. “Store food that you use more often at an easy to reach level, and try grouping foods in similar heights to maximize your space, so you can store as much as you can while wasting as little as possible,” she explains.
If you need more shelves, use inserts to create extra levels for canned goods and jars with a variety of heights, and sort foods by type, so items that you use together are near each other — or better yet, grouped in their own basket and labeled.
Airtight plastic or glass containers are also a must-have for dry goods like pasta, grains, flour, and sugar. “Storing your food in clear containers shows what you have and how much, making it easier to plan your grocery runs,” says Tea. “They also make everything look neat and tidy.”
She suggests using every available nook. “Make use of the back of the cabinet door and clip up little items such as snacks or sauce packets so they don’t get lost,” she says.
4. What are the go-to strategies for organization in a small kitchen?
The first step to an organized tiny kitchen? “Purge!” says Tea. “Look through all of your utensils, gadgets, and small appliances, leaving only the items that you truly use and need.”
And make use of wall space: “Hang up some rails and hooks to store small cooking accessories or hanging utensils. It can free up valuable drawer and cabinet space for other items,” explains Tea, adding, “the KUNGSFORS system allows you to customize smart wall storage with options such as shelves, hooks, and clips all connected together.”
For food storage, buy clear containers that are stackable, which makes it easier to see what you have while saving space. If possible, add a small trolley or kitchen cart. “It provides extra storage and another work surface when you need it,” says Tea.
5. What do organized drawers look like—for everything from utensils to herbs and spices!
An organized drawer makes items easy to find. The key to that relies on inserts—no messy tangle of utensils, no loose spice jars rolling around, and no jumble of plastic containers. IKEA has more than a dozen different utensil and flatware trays and bins, plus inserts for your most-used items. Mix and match to find the perfect combination to fit your drawers.
6. How would you balance closed organization with open storage?
Tea likes a combination of open and closed storage in the kitchen. “Having some open storage is a nice balance,” she says, noting that it allows you to show off favorite pieces and keep everyday items handy. Open shelves also take up less visual space, creating a more spacious look in the kitchen.
Closed storage is just as important, though, and protects your things against grease and dust. “Consider only having open storage for your everyday needs,” notes Tea. Cabinet doors will keep your items grime-free and tucked away for when you really need them.
For more kitchen design inspiration and tips, visit IKEA-USA.com/kitchens.
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