Establishing and maintaining a clean, well-organized kitchen is the first step in making a delicious meal. It's easy to feel beholden to the system put in place during your initial move-in, however, there's always room for improvement. Reticent cooks may even find that a well-organized environment is all it takes to spark inspiration in the kitchen. Here are a couple strategies for optimizing your kitchen, no matter the size.
The ideal kitchen is set up in a way that follows the natural inclinations of the cook working in it. The easiest way to implement this principle is by organizing your kitchen, pantry, and fridge into "zones" based on frequency of use, also known as the "first in first out" method. Most people tend to naturally group similar items together, such as pastas, oils, spices, or dairy. Take your organization to the next level and create further subdivisions based on what you use the most, placing your everyday items in the easiest to grab places. The so-called "Golden Rule" of pantry storage dictates that you should be able to see everything in a given zone, or else you will not use it. In the event of an unavoidably deep cabinet, minimize the classic "unseen, unused" dilemma by using storage bins in your pantry; keeping all your cans in one bin will keep you from forgetting those rogue canned peaches until your next move.
Make Sure Your Food Is Stored Correctly
Although the zoned-approach takes care of most food organization questions, there are some items that take a bit more thought. Get to know which items in your kitchen have specific storage requirements, and stash accordingly. Onions and potatoes can be stored outside the fridge, but keep the two from mingling, as proximity to onions can cause potatoes to prematurely sprout and spoil. Keep flour and bread away from your spice section, as over time they can absorb the scent of food nearby, especially strong smelling items. Finally, be sure to store dairy close to the top of the fridge where the temperature is most consistent, and keep meat at the bottom in order to prevent any accidental leaks from contaminating other food.
Don't waste any more precious minutes rifling through your spices and sifting through different bags of seemingly identical flour. Instead, dedicate some time to transferring your dry goods to reusable clear containers, and labeling easily misidentified items. Don't worry: you don't have to spend all afternoon crafting stickers on your label maker (unless you want to). Just pull out some trusty masking tape and a sharpie— future you feverishly searching for that tiny bag of ground cardamom will be thankful.
A good rule of thumb is "if it's seen, keep it simple." If you opt for open storage, make sure you genuinely enjoy looking at the colour of your objects, or keep them neutral-toned so your eye isn't naturally drawn in their direction. Avoid messes at all costs by storing messy items on saucers or in sub-storage containers. Epicurious recommends keeping your countertop "flavour station" of frequently used oils and spices on a tray or small sheet pan to minimize constant cleanups and wipe downs.
Spend a Little Time Sorting Through Excess
At the end of the day, even the most meticulously thought out space will become cluttered if it's full of expired food, crumbs, and haphazardly disposed of wrappers. Set a timer for an hour and commit yourself to ridding your space of any built up junk lingering in your kitchen. Yes, that means tossing those lidless containers and wiping away that mysterious stain on your fridge door. Take things a step beyond just assessing what is junk and what is functional by using the Marie Kondo method: ask yourself, does this thing spark joy? Do I need it? Do I like it? If the answer is no, consider passing your belonging on to someone else who may use it more.