Organizing @ Home the Kitchen Upper Cabinets
Today we will discuss:
The various “zones” that make the upper cabinets are included below. If your cabinets are not set up into specific zones, then your goal will be to make them specific. By clearly defining the spaces you will easily be able to see, use and put away whatever you have in your cabinets.
– Sort & Purge
– & Organize
These three areas are more of a 1,2,3 punch, with Reflective Questions mixed in.
– Organizing It
– How Long Will It Take?
Like all the other areas we’ve worked in, the process is the same. Assess and reflect, sort and purge, then organize. If you haven’t read Organizing the Lower Cabinets, you’ll want to check it out.
Grab a box and a cup of coffee. Put on music, smile and say “Thank you for this awesome day!”
Assessing the upper cabinets is not much different than the lower cabinets, it’s just different stuff. For the most part, the things normally found in lower cabinets are:
– drinking glasses, coffee mugs, travel cups/mugs
– plates, bowls, mixing bowls
– serving dishes, serving bowls
– napkins, paper plates, cups
– plastic food storage / tupperware
– vases, pitchers
– light bulbs, batteries
If you have something in your lower cabinets that I’ve missed, please be sure to let me know!
Most of the time the problems we typically find in upper cabinets are:
– things not grouped together by like kind
– space inefficiently used (wasted space)
– not utilizing cabinet organizers to maximize the space
– too much stuff!
Check your upper cabinets for vacant spaces. The vertical as well as the horizontal – these are your areas of potentiality. It’s more obvious that horizontal surfaces hold potential, but so do the vertical and there are few great products you can use to make the most of the cabinet space you have.
Not all cabinets are the same. Some kitchens are equipped with plenty of upper cabinet storage, some with very little (that’s me). What IS the same is that everyone has dishes and cups in their upper cabinets. I’ve never found anyone that doesn’t, so that’s where we will start.
Sort & Purge
Sorting and purging go hand in hand. As you determine if it’s with it’s like kind [sort], and belongs in that space/cabinet, you might as well decide if it is worth keeping at all [purge].
As you work your way through each cabinet, only pull out what doesn’t belong. Purged items can go straight into a Go Away box, and items waiting to group with like items in other cabinets can wait on the counter. In my experience, there usually isn’t enough room to put everything on the counter and it’s overwhelming when I do. I prefer to use the pre-defined spaces of the cabinets to help me group like kind. Once everything is grouped by like kind, I can then make the space more efficient and effective.
These are nearly identical to the lower cabinet reflective questions, but they still apply.
– Is this dish / mug / tray still used?
– Do I like using it?
– Do I have too many of this type? Are there any I could purge and not miss?
– Does it do the same job as something else I like to use more?
– Does it have all it’s parts / coordinating pieces? If not would I still use it?
– Is it in good condition? if not will I use it? can I get it repaired? will I ever repair it?
– Is there enough room in the cabinet for it? Are there others like it in the lower cabinet?
– Is it light enough to comfortably raise above my head and pull down – is it too heavy?
– Can it be stored elsewhere? Can it be displayed?
I may as well jump right into it. Sometimes it’s hard to even see a line that separates sort, purge, organize (other than those comma’s). Some parts of the kitchen cabinets really need organizing elements / products and some don’t. We’ll discuss each area by “zone”.
If you want to better utilize the space your dishes and plates occupy, a white wire cabinet shelf is what you need. Most often I’ll set the large (bigger and heavier) plates on the bottom, and the medium (smaller and lighter) plates on top. As long as the stack isn’t too high, plates are easy to pull out with a slight lift up and forward. Sometimes I will stack plates all in one stack (heck sometimes that is the only way it will work!) but I like to utilize a cabinet shelf whenever it makes sense, for function and aesthetics. The space between the shelves is usually the biggest limitation. There have been plenty of times I adjusted the wooden built-in shelf to make the cabinet function better, so remember that as an option. Just test it all out by repeatedly pulling out and putting away the bowl or plate. If it is at all difficult, try something else. It needs to be smooth and easy since putting away dishes is a daily chore.
The white wire cabinet shelves come in a few different sizes. There are medium, which is a square shelf, and large which is longer and rectangular, and there is also an extension (that comes with the large shelf). I most often use the large cabinet shelf with an extension, but it will all come down to what you have and the size of your cabinet.
If you own more dishes than will comfortably fit in the space, consider splitting the set. Do you really need all 12 dishes accessible every day? If the answer is no than move some to an upper or top shelf. Same goes for bowls or coordinating coffee cups. Which do you use more often – the large or medium plates?
Bowls need wiggle room. Unlike a plate, you need space to pull the bowl up to release it from the stack. Bowls can go under a wire cabinet shelf but they either can’t stack very high, or you’ll need to pull out the stack to get the bowl you want. Bowls should be made as easily accessible as plates. Easy to pull out and easy to put away. I usually place the bowls in position, then practice pulling one out and putting it away over and over to see how easy it is. If it’s not easy, I know it won’t work in the long term. I almost never but a bowl on top of a shelf unless there is a lot of clearance, or if it is a shallow bowl.
Glasses/cups are space hogs! They vary in size and rarely are stack-able. They seem to multiply like rabbits. If they have lids, those often get lost in a random drawer… How to make best use of space in this cabinet?! There isn’t an easy answer; well there is but you might not like it.
The best advice I can give you is to pare it down. Toss out the cheap freebies and amusement park keepsakes. I know you paid $12 for that souvenir cup shaped like a frog but in the end it’s better to not bring it home in the first place. More than anything else, it’s these souvenir cups and freebies that cause cabinets to get out of control.
If it has a lid, store it with the lid on. If the cups are stack-able, store them stacked and keep the lids together in a small container (an XS box might work for these lids). Lids can be stored either in the cabinet with the cups, or in a drawer with other lids and like items, or with the other food storage lids; I’ve seen it all and there is no one right way. It all depends on habits, available space, and proximity. Work with your instincts and not what you “think” it should be.
Oh, and the short easy answer: get rid of it all and only keep the absolute essentials. Minimalism is easy. 🙂
Coffee or Tea Zone
Nearly everyone I’ve met drinks coffee or tea in the morning. It makes most sense to set up a coffee/tea zone for this morning ritual. The coffee maker sits on the counter and in the upper cabinet is stored coffee and mugs. Tea fits this format as well, except instead of the tea maker on the counter, you might store the tea pot or brewer in the cabinet.
Usually a small cabinet is totally sufficient for this. If you need more space than that 1) evaluate what you have for potential purging, 2) consider utilizing the first and second shelf for the coffee Zone as opposed to only the bottom shelf, 3) and if you have a bazillion mugs, choose your favorites to be accessible and move the others up higher.
The goal is to have what you use daily easily accessible. That doesn’t mean all the mugs have to be within reach, just the ones you want most.
If coffee or tea is what overflows your cabinet consider storing your back stock in the pantry and replenish as needed.
– Do I like all the flavors of tea/coffee?
– How long have I had these flavors? years, months, days? It doesn’t last forever! If you didn’t like it when you bought it you probably wont’ ever like it.
– If you are saving it for a guest, how long have you been saving it, and would you offer them this first? If they want to try it will you silently cringe inside hoping they don’t also think it tastes weird?
– Do you have an excessive amount of tea or coffee? If it is still fresh and you will drink it, and if it doesn’t all fit in the cabinet can it fit in the pantry, or in another cabinet? It’s time to get creative. That’s what the top shelves of the cabinets are good for. 😉
Many people store medications in the kitchen and it can quickly become a mess if this area isn’t maintained on a regular basis. I purge the medicines in my cabinet at least once a year and yet I still find things from two years ago.
How does that happen?!
I think it’s because there are some that are only a little expired and I’ll hang onto them for one more cycle.
Some people, like my husband, don’t like to use their medications beyond the expiration date, but even he had expired meds in his stuff.
Years ago our doctor told us that some OTC medications can still be used past their expiration date (within reason), they just lose their potency. However if I leave it in the cabinet I’ll be under the illusion that I have enough of that medicine even though I really need more. In the end my steadfast rule is when in doubt, throw it out!
– Is it expired?
– Did the medication work effectively or were there side effects that prompted the purchase of a replacement medicine?
– Do you like the form this medication came in or do you prefer it in it’s alternate form? – liquid vs. gel caps or tablet, etc.
– Are there way more of this medicine than you’ll ever take before it expires? If yes, can you give some to a friend, neighbor, sibling, parent or child?
After your initial sort/purge you should be left with just a handful of categories. Chances are good you will have thrown away a fair amount of medicine, but if your cabinet still abounds with meds, it’s time to pick and choose what to store in your prime real estate, and what needs to be your back stock. I like to group by ailment, it just seems to make sense and that’s how we shop for it at the store.
The categories I like to create are:
– allergies / cold and flu / nasal
– headache / pain
– eyes / ears
– stomach / pain
– First Aid
If someone regularly takes prescription or OTC meds, consider assigning a box for that person. Create zones for the categories I’ve listed using an appropriately sized box, just be sure it’s not too tall. Remember to label the boxes using the categories – no need to list every item, just the general category is sufficient. Be sure to regularly tidy up any bottles that were left out (I’ve seen this happen a lot).
Meds Organizing TipRemove the flaps from boxed meds. Take note which end has the expiration date and remove the flaps on the other end. Why? Flaps obscure the contents. Without flaps you can grab and go, and know when you're almost out so you can buy more.
How to dispose of those meds?
In short, OTC meds can be tossed in the trash, but certain Rx meds should be brought to a drug take back center. I’m not expert, which is why I have found a reliable resource for you. Not all medicines are safe to throw in the trash or to flush; click to learn more about the dangers of flushing or trashing your meds when a take back program isn’t available.
Not to put down cookbook lovers, but seriously who uses a cookbook anymore?
Every client I’ve ever met with cookbooks at first says that use them but when I asked how they usually search for a recipe, they almost always say “a Google search”. If you really intend to utilize your cookbooks, you’d better make them super accessible! Unless you are a die-hard cookbook loving chef (and I know you are out there) you will most likely resort to searching your favorite blogger or recipe site. If after reading this you realize, “hey she’s right”, seriously consider getting rid of your cookbooks or purging down to only the must-haves.
If you are keeping your grandmother’s cookbook because it was hers, and not for the recipes, it is now a “keepsake” and could either be stored with keepsakes, or with your other books. Don’t crowd your already busy kitchen with non-essential items.
Do you have piles of cooking magazines saved just for the recipes? While watching TV one night cut out the recipes you like and put them in a binder with clear sleeves, making sure to decide what’s worth your time and effort as you go.
Where to store the cookbooks you intend to keep and use?
I like the idea of the pantry if yours is big enough, alternatively above the stove is popular, as is a kitchen cabinet. I’d wait until the more important and essential kitchen items are placed first, then figure out where makes the most sense based on available space. Cookbooks do not need prime real estate and should not be given priority. Remove them and bring them back in towards the end of your organizing project.
I’ve seen spices stored in a variety of spaces in the kitchen: the pantry, a drawer, an upper cabinet, and even those fancy new pullout lower cabinet drawers. I have my preferences, and really it all comes down to what you are used to and what works in your space. For our purposes today I will focus on the upper cabinet, but will share my thoughts on the other locations as well.
– As you sort through your spices, ask yourself these Reflective Questions. Basically all questions seem to lead back to whether they are worth keeping:
– How long ago did I buy this spice? If it’s over a year it may have lost some of it’s flavor. Smell it, and if it’s very fragrant it is still flavorful. According to Stilltasty.com “As a general rule, whole spices will stay fresh for about 4 years, ground spices for about 2 to 3 years and dried herbs for 1 to 3 years.”
– Is this a spice blend my family and I enjoy? (not all are winners!)
– Do I have multiples of the same spice?
– Can I combine them to save space?
– Can I store some in an upper shelf or pantry as back stock?
Here are some tips for maximizing the shelf life of spices: Store spices in a cool, dark cupboard, away from direct heat or sunlight; keep tightly closed when not in use.
When organizing them, keep what you use all the time easily accessible. Although heat isn’t good for spices, it’s really common for people to store spices next to the stove. If you choose to store your spices next to the oven or stove be aware that the heat will make them expire faster than you might expect.
I like to keep my spices next to my stove, and my every day spices are at my eye level, while the others on the next shelves up. I am totally a “need to see it” kind of cook. I’m not very creative cook, so I may not think about using a spice unless I see it. Cooks that are recipe followers don’t necessarily need to see every spice all the time because when the recipe calls for a spice, they will go look for it. It’s still important to be able to see all of the spices, but there’s a difference between looking for a spice and looking to see what you have.
Then there are the cooks who just have a gift and can pull together flavors like magic. (Can I come over for dinner?) You still need to see what you have, but you know what you are looking for, or what can work. You see a spice and can imagine what it will taste like with all the other flavors.
There are many ways to group spices. You can choose to place your frequently used spices in the front with the least used at the back; by cuisines; or in alphabetical order. There is no wrong way, just do what works for you. The most important thing is spices must be seen to be used, and too many spices make it hard to see the ones you want most.
In the above photo, on the lower shelves a 3 tier platform elevates spices so they can more easily be seen. The next shelf up utilizes a lazy susan to see all of the available spices. A vacant space was left on the bottom shelf intentionally – it’s always nice to have some wiggle room.
Lazy susan’s are a must in a cabinet and work great for oils, vinegars, honey, sauces and other staples. Whether in your pantry or upper cabinets, lazy susan’s help you easily see and access.
Storing Spices Elsewhere
As mentioned, spices can be stored in other places. You may have your set-up in place and it may be working for you – and that’s perfect! I’m not here to change what works for you. When it comes to storing spices in the pantry, things to consider are how far away is the pantry from the food prep area? Some kitchens have the pantry “around the corner” or out of the immediate vicinity of food prep. Although I understand for the overall design of the kitchen and space, I would consider converting at least a portion of the cabinet to spices.
The fancy new tall skinny “drawers” for spices are interesting enough, but for me I am not a fan, and here’s why. I don’t want to have to crouch or hunch over to see my spices. From the top shelf, all the spices are viewed from the tops of the lids, not the front of the labels. The second or third shelves are about mid thigh height or lower, that is practically sitting on the floor by the time I crouch down. I wouldn’t want to do that EVERY time I want to retrieve a spice. Tall spice containers or bottles/jars don’t always fit in the space and the shelves aren’t always adjustable. I have organized several of these drawers and have never liked any of them with the exception of the one that was at my eye level. It was eye level to hip level – that worked. If a builder wants to make good use of the pocket of space next to the stove, a better use are tall narrow cabinets to store cookie sheets and platters.
The last way I have seen spices stored are in a drawer, like a utensil drawer, but for spices. I think that works well. It’s a bit more limited on what you can stock, but everything is easy to see and access. I think it is a reasonable variety of spices and any overflow can usually go in a pantry. This isn’t a very common practice (at least in my neck of the woods) but it’s common enough for the Container Store to sell a drawer organizer just or that purpose!
There have been a handful of homes were food storage outside of the pantry was necessary, and it wasn’t necessarily due to the pantry being too small. I’m not going to address food storage here because it’s not that common and your reasons for doing so will be wide and varied. When I discuss Pantry organization you can gain inside and ideas on how to organize your “pantry extension”. Treat it as another “zone” and you should be fine.
How to determine where zones are located?
Sometimes I get called out to a house because the flow of the kitchen is off. The client might not know why the flow is off but it just is. Most of the time it’s because zones are not clearly defined, and sometimes it’s because the zones aren’t in the ideal place.
To know what zone placement is right for you think of the activities that take place; all of the activities and give each one a priority. For instance, plates bowls and cups are used daily and should have a prime location that is easy to get to from every vantage point possible.
By the time you are certain age your habits are a bit hard wired. It doesn’t mean they can’t change, it just means you do a lot of things automatically. Chances are you didn’t put a whole lot of thought into how you set up your kitchen when you moved in, or if you did it may have been based strongly on how you had it set up at your last place. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. It works most of the time because of habit, but even a few tweaks can make a big difference.
How Long Will It Take?
If you work exclusively on the upper cabinets and you stay totally focused by not allowing yourself to get sidetracked, it will take about 4 hours. Be sure not to take everything out and spread it all around, it will overwhelm you! Work strategically and group within the cabinets, even if you are cluttering them up initially. You will still have to use the counters to help sort and group, but it will fill up faster than the cabinets.
Sit down and make a plan before jumping in. Utilize your timer to keep track of time!
Go for it. Just fling open the cabinets and get to it. After you make your plan!)
By now you should already have some momentum, use it to your advantage.
You’ve got this!
– Get donations out of your house asap! Think about where the nearest drop off is and include it on your route.
– Return items back to family and friends. Add it to your calendar or ask them to stop by and pick it up (and admire your progress).
– Set a time limit to get it out of the house, and stick to it!
Want more help? Join the Clutter to Clarity Club here!
Until next time…