How you need to be organizing your cabinets.

By Jeffrey Henderson

We look at photos of kitchens with perfectly organized cabinets and feel a bit inadequate. We read articles and blog posts featuring kitchen systems that seem unrealistic. We watch television shows telling us what we need to do yet feel unmotivated. What’s the issue? One system will not work for everyone. The key to successful organization in your kitchen cabinets is to determine what will work for you based on the manner in which you use your kitchen. 

1. Define Your Kitchen Style

You’re really the only person who is the most qualified to make this determination, but here’s what you’re looking to decide:

  • Am I a chef (or aspiring chef) with tons of spices, tools, and gadgets? 

  • Am I an entertainer who loves to have people over so I need a lot of serving options?

  • Am I a cook who doesn’t mind the task but isn’t particularly fancy (most of us fall into this category)?

  • Am I a utilitarian kitchen user, i.e. I have to eat to stay alive so there’s a kitchen in my house?

  • Am I the anti-chef being who has no use for a kitchen (you don’t necessarily need to keep reading...)?

2. Establish a Kitchen Plan

You’ve determined where you fall in the kitchen style spectrum, now we need to see how you use the space. 

  • Chef: I have key elements I use frequently to which I need immediate access and other items I use less frequently but to which I still need convenient access.

  • Entertainer: I don’t want to have to dig through my cabinets to find my favorite party pieces.

  • Cook: I have simple needs but want my favorites handy.

  • Utilitarian: I boil, I drain, I heat things up, and I microwave - don’t over-complicate this.

  • Anti-Chef: have a phone charger handy in case my battery is low while I’m placing my order.

3. Create a Functional Space That Works For YOU

Regardless of your style, you should be able to use a three-zone approach:

Pull your spices, tools, and gadgets out and set up priority zones. 

  • Zone 1 - Frequents - the items you use on the regular

  • Zone 2 - Semi-Frequents - you use these several times per week

  • Zone 3 - Can’t Let Go - these are the things you may rarely use, but you want to have them accessible


Zone 1 should be most accessible from your favorite workspace. These are the things you want to have in reach to easily grab while you’re creating your amazing food. 

TIP: Start by organizing ALL your spices alphabetically. Then, pull those you use on a daily basis and place them in the most accessible area of your spice storage (for example, if your spices are in a drawer, place them in the front so you can grab them in a hurry).

Zone 2 shouldn’t be too far from your workspace or require moving anything out of the way to grab them. 

Zone 3 can be obstructed since you access these items rarely. The important thing is that you’ll keep these pieces so they’re handy when you want to use them, but they’re not in the way of your day-to-day activities. This is a great use of those weird spaces every kitchen has that get under-utilized. For example, the cabinet above your stove, the cabinet above your fridge, or that deep cabinet in the corner.


Your kitchen is a little tougher to organize. While you want to maintain its day-to-day function, you’ll also want to have a well-organized array of dishes, platters, boards, etc. for entertaining. This is where you’ll use the zone system.

Zone 1 will be all the pieces you use every time you entertain. Whether it’s having a couple over for dinner or having 20 over for an afternoon gathering, you know you have pieces that come out each and every time.

Zone 2 will be those pieces that are supplemental that you may or may not use.

Zone 3 will be your specialty and rarely-used items. 

The rest of the kitchen? Not really that much of a concern, is it? As long as your entertaining pieces are stored well, you can manage the rest, right? If not, you may want to grab a tip or two from other styles to help keep your kitchen in good order.


As noted, the Cook is the classification under which most of us fall. We have fairly well-appointed kitchens, all the tools we need to make a good meal, and we’re not too fussy about it all. This is the kitchen that is usually the easiest to organize. 

Zone 1 contains all the tools you use to cook most frequently. In your case, this likely means pots, pans, utensils, food, spices, plates, bowls, and flatware. Yes, that’s most of the kitchen’s contents so it’s important to recognize what you use most frequently.

Zone 2 contains the specialty items that you use regularly, though not