Tiny Kitchen Organization

My kitchen is approximately the size of a shoebox.

Exhibit A:

Excuse the harsh lighting and cluttered grocery lists on the fridge; still a work in progress.

While I’m glad the rest of my apartment isn’t also the size of a shoe box, having a tiny kitchen makes it hard to organize everything you need in a kitchen. Picture the cabinets you see on the top right (across from those are very similar ones) crammed with cans, boxes, and bags of food, plus several spices and other cooking or baking items. It’s filled so much that you can’t find what you need without something toppling onto your head – or to avoid that happening having to climb onto the counters to scrounge through to the back of the cabinets only to find that it was right in front of you all along. That’s the situation I had going on.

Small-But-Mighty Storage

Before I got overwhelmed and first started to tackle the kitchen, I saw some small holes where nails had been along the bottoms of the cabinets over the sink. I realized that I could put nails there myself and hang things on them to keep the counters free from clutter and the items easily attainable. I tried this with some cute measuring spoons, pot holders, and a dish towel (John Mark also hung a mug there). This has worked wonders for me; the towel is easy to grab when I’m washing and drying dishes, and I can always get to my measuring spoons without digging in a drawer. I may even add some more nails where I need them.


The Dreaded Food Cabinets

I usually think I’m pretty good at organizing – I can at least figure out how to do it, even if I don’t go buy the things necessary to carry the task through. I had spent a lot of time on my step-stool, getting down to business with these cabinets, thinking I had finally figured it all out. I was determined that we had plenty of space to store everything without using all of my energy finding and getting it back out to use it! There aren’t many organizing situations in which I’m completely burnt out and at a loss for ideas, but these cabinets held me hostage. As many of you can imagine, this was a disaster for me. So, naturally, I spent countless hours pinning my dream kitchen and organizing hacks in an effort to spark some kind of inspiration fitting to my shoe box kitchen (no pun intended). But, honestly, nothing beats finally texting your mom with that “will you please come help me organize my kitchen cabinets??” text.

I knew she would figure it out.

My parents just so happened to be passing through on their way to see my brother last weekend, so they stopped at our apartment for a while. My mom had told me that when she came, she’d help me with the cabinets. John Mark and I ate breakfast with them and visited for a while…then I just let her go and do her thing with those cabinets. I walked in the kitchen every few minutes to check on her – by “in” I mean “right outside of” because we wouldn’t both fit with such a big mess in there. At one point I walked in and the counters looked like this:

A lot of random stuff, right? It always gets worse before it gets better.
A lot of random stuff, right? It always gets worse before it gets better.

This pile eventually dwindled down to nothing, and everything had a home – more on this in few minutes. Now, I had two main cabinets I was worried about: the one above the counter that holds our un-refrigerated food, and the one above the stove that holds baking-related items (it used to be a store-all kind of thing).

I had already bought a couple of storage containers at Bed Bath & Beyond that are wonderful (one of the ones I bought is a two-tiered shelf system), but I didn’t think any more would fit without still having some trouble getting in and out of the cabinets. So, while my mom was working in my tiny kitchen, she figured out a way to organize these containers and the surrounding food items still left over in a way that wouldn’t be a hassle. Before we go any further, you need to know that my cabinets are a little warped. They hold things just fine, but the bottoms of some of them are slightly concave, so if you need to store something a little top-heavy, it won’t stand up correctly. So, we needed to find a solution for this next – I hadn’t even realized there would be a solution to this.

John Mark and I received a lot of cutting boards as wedding gifts. I only use a few of them, so she found a couple that would fit the width of the cabinets and leveled out the bottoms so I could put boxes, cans, or bottles on top of them. Here’s what it ended up looking like (I know you’re dying to find out):

On the top left is a bin with boxes of baking soda, cocoa, etc., and the right is the stackable shelves with small spices.
On the top left is a bin with boxes of baking soda, cocoa, etc., and the right is the stackable shelves with small spices.
Below the bottles, you see a magical, leveling cutting board.
Below the bottles, you see a magical, leveling cutting board.

She modified it even more after this. We used to keep bread on top of the refrigerator because there was just no place for it to go in the cabinets. I went back to the kitchen another time, after it was under control quite a bit more, and found her looking for another small cutting-board-leveler. When I found her one, this is what she did with it:

The peanut butter and jelly aren't knocking each other over now!
The bread fits, and the peanut butter and jelly aren’t knocking each other over!

Plastic Bag Solutions

I had absolutely no clue what to do with the three kinds of plastic bags I own plus the aluminum foil and Crock Pot liners. I had read about attaching them to the insides of cabinet doors, but couldn’t figure out a practical way to do it. The only thing I didn’t think of was tape! 🙂 We decided to tape the flaps of the boxes to the insides of the bottom cabinets where we store pots and pans (which is still a work in progress).

It originally looked like this. A horrible place for them, can't you tell?
It originally looked like this. A horrible place for them, can’t you tell?
Surprise! So much easier.
Surprise! So much easier.

The aluminum foil is now standing by itself, and the Crock Pot liners are inside the Crock Pot. This was a pretty easy fix, and it took hardly any time. We used packaging tape because it holds better than regular tape and is more attractive than duct tape.

Refrigerator Makeover

Like I said before, we used to keep bread on on top of the refrigerator. I also stashed John Mark’s Clif Bars, all of our baking and sweet potatoes (in a Veggie Sack), and anything else we couldn’t find a home for on top of the fridge, as well. This has changed…mostly. There are still things on the refrigerator that shouldn’t go in the cabinets, but they’re so much more attractive now.


Since the fridge is really one of the first things you see when you look into the kitchen, this two-tiered basket really helps to make the room look less cluttered (it’s from Target). We put the Clif Bars in a medium-sized Pyrex bowl – I had plenty of Pyrex to spare, and the Enjoy Life Chocolate chips I use for baking and fruit dips in a jar that we already had – they won’t melt on top of the fridge!

Final Touches

The last couple of things that needed a home were my aprons. My grandmother and a friend both bought me aprons, and we just hated to have them crammed in a drawer somewhere where I couldn’t get to them if I needed them. We bought a two-pack of Command fancy-looking bath hooks to hang those on (similar to these, with a brushed nickel look). They also added some much-needed color to the room that I thought would never be there.


Tiny Kitchens Have Hope

There has been some serious progress happening in my kitchen. I feel like I can cook and breathe at the same time now! Even the smallest and bare-est of kitchens can be dealt with and made warmer – mine is proof, although I still consider it a work in progress. What else can you really do to a rental, you know? If you’re struggling with organization, it really pays to brainstorm and use simple things you already have in your home. We only ended up buying two items for organization purposes that day and still accomplished so much! It’s a relief to have an organized, simplified kitchen.

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