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We usually wait until spring to whip out the cleaning supplies, but this year is different. As we hunker down at home again, we’re itching to get ahead—starting with the kitchen cabinets. Ask any expert the best way to organize them and they’ll have a pretty comprehensive plan of action. Yet so often, when you take to the task yourself, it feels overwhelming and burdensome. It can seem so much easier to just let things settle as they do, even if emptying out your dishwasher does start to feel like playing Tetris. But there is a better way. All you have to do is plan, and then everything else will fall into place.

For pro organizer Rachel Rosenthal, founder of Rachel and Company, that means first considering how you use your kitchen. Are you a bake sale genius who never strays from your cupcake tray for too long? Are you an avid meal prepper who needs to fit both a pantry and your dishware in one small space? The best way to organize your kitchen cabinets depends on a variety of factors concerning your own lifestyle—but with that in mind, there are a few rules that pretty much always apply to any kitchen. Here, Rosenthal shares her top six strategies for keeping your space tidy for good.

Declutter First

“I’m a big fan of starting fresh,” says Rosenthal. If your cabinet organizing journey seems like it will be especially formidable, it’s likely worth the extra effort to totally clean them out before you start your sorting. This will help you to get a fuller picture of the things you have and what you can get rid of. “A lot of times people will see they have three separate measuring cups when they hardly even use one,” she notes.

Be Realistic

Someone who cooks nearly every meal and someone who orders takeout a couple times a week will likely have different priorities in their kitchen—so they will also have different organizational needs. This is why Rosenthal says it’s important to “think about how you actually live and how you want your kitchen planned out.” If you drink coffee every morning, place your mugs in the cabinet closest to your coffee maker. If you rarely bake yet have a relatively extensive collection of bakeware, put it in a cabinet that might be a little bit out of the way.

Shape-Shift Your Space

With the right tools, you can optimize the cabinets you have to make them work better for you. Rosenthal recommends using shelf risers to take advantage of vertical space, especially when you need to organize smaller things like cans or spices. Lazy Susans are great for kitchen cabinets that need to function as a pantry, and bins are especially crucial for food storage. “If your shelf is deep, add a bin that fits the space, so you can just pull it out and grab what you need,” she says. This ensures the things in the back of your cabinet get used before they expire and you can see what you have (so you don’t end up buying another carton of baking soda by accident).

Group Your Items

You surely have all your dishes in one spot and all your glasses in another, but Rosenthal recommends getting even more specific with your categories: “If you have glasses for juice and glasses for water, group all the water glasses together and all the juice glasses together,” she says. “And if you have wineglasses that you use often, you’re going to want to have easy access to those, too.” The best way to ensure you don’t overclutter any given area is by sorting less-used items (e.g., those champagne flutes or vintage coupes) somewhere out of the way, like a china cabinet or a high-up shelf. 

Get Nesting

Food storage containers—a major culprit of cabinet clutter—can take up less space when you tuck them into each other. “I’m a big nester,” says Rosenthal. “I put all the bottoms in one another and contain all the tops together.” This same technique can be applied to your pots and pans. A lid organizer—which you can mount to the inside of your cabinet door—keeps them in easy reach for when you need them and not in your way when you don’t.

Contain, Contain, Contain

“I never do kitchens without dividers,” says Rosenthal. Any way you can distinguish different sections within your cabinet helps maintain all the hard work you put into getting it organized in the first place. Whether you’re using bins, risers, or pull-out drawers, ensure that everything in your cabinet has a home, and it will stay tidy in the long run. 

This story was originally published on August 27, 2020. It has since been updated. 

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