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How to Downsize and Organize for a Smaller Kitchen

Are you struggling with the reality of having to downsize your cups, dishes and small appliances because a life change is about to happen? It can be daunting to think about downsizing your kitchen. You may be thinking about how you are going to fit all of your stuff into a smaller kitchen. How are you going to organize it so that it makes sense, and everything has a place? It may seem like an impossible task, but it can be done! In this blog post, I will give you some tips on how to organize your kitchen for a smaller space. Follow these tips, and you will be able to make the most of your limited kitchen storage.

My story begins when I received a call from my landlords the end of December of 2020. They were getting a divorce and had decided to sell the house we were renting. I was just over a year into our two-year lease. So, this meant that I didn’t really have a choice but to find other housing options. My son had also decided that he wanted to try living out on his own for a while and would be moving out in February. He was in a good place in his life financially to finally take that leap into adulthood. I’m all for learning from experience and he knew that if it didn’t work out, mom would take him back in.

So, with only my daughter and I to consider for the move, we decided to downsize from a two-story house and look for an apartment.

We were still under COVID restrictions in January of 2021, so we spent most of our time looking at options online. Narrowing it down to two different properties within a specific search area helped. We were able to schedule appointments at both the properties on the same morning. This would make it easier for us to compare while they were both were still fresh on our mind.

The first unit was in a two-story building and had an attached garage, but it was only a 2 bedroom. It was pretty small and didn’t have the open floor plan in the kitchen that I was looking for. While we were viewing the model unit on the lower level, we could hear someone walking and the tv on from the floor above. Not a good sign! Although the unit we were looking at would be on the top floor, I still consider the possible noise that we could be making for the tenants below us. The location was convenient but seemed like the buildings were too close together and the price was a bit high for a 2 bedroom even with winter pricing.

The second unit we were scheduled to look at was just down the street and in more of a commercial area. Three bedrooms are hard to find when you are looking at apartments and this unit had 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. The unit that would be available was currently occupied and we weren’t able to see the exact unit. We did tour a couple other units to get a feel for the finishes and the building as a whole.

It seemed to be a good option and had an elevator and parking garage in the center of the building. This meant we could park on our floor and not have too far to get to our unit. It was in the corner and had views from two sides of the building and was close to the elevator. The unit was just 150 dollars more than the 2 bedroom we had previously viewed. It came with one free parking garage space, and we would have to purchase a reserved spot or park one car outside the building. After looking at the options for exterior parking spaces, we would definitely need to purchase a reserved spot.

We talked it over that evening and decided to go with the three-bedroom apartment in the mid-rise. It was priced better and had better finishes on the interior. I’ll be honest, the elevator was a nice selling point too.

Too much stuff and not enough space?

Although we weren’t able to view the exact unit or even the same floor plan, I knew the kitchen would be smaller and possibly have less storage options. We would also need to change our grocery buying habits as well. The house also had a large walk-in corner pantry with plenty of storage for small appliances.

So, how was I going to tackle the large task of finding space for everything? I knew I had to come up with a plan!

Questions I needed to answer

  • What do I need to get rid of in order to make a smaller kitchen function?
  • If I no longer have a pantry, where am I going to store my food and small appliances?
  • How can I organize my apartment kitchen so that it is functional?
  • What products do I need to help me organize my kitchen?

You can make a smaller kitchen work for you! I will walk you through my recent experience of downsizing my own kitchen.

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Tips to Help you Organize your Smaller Kitchen

One of the most important things to do when organizing a small kitchen is to think about what you use the most. When you are trying to figure out what does where, ask yourself these questions: What do I use every day? What can I live without? What’s taking up too much space? These questions will help you figure out what is most important to you, and what can be put into storage or donate.

Another thing to keep in mind when organizing a small kitchen is that you need to use every inch of space wisely. There is no room for wasted space in a small kitchen! Once way to make the most of your space is to install cabinets or shelves that go all the way to the ceiling. This will give you more storage space, without taking up any extra floor space.

I will walk you through my process of how I went from a larger home kitchen into a smaller one. I will share my ideas on organizing and creating a kitchen with flow.

Tip 1: Purge Unused Items

My process was a little bit different because I was moving from a house into an apartment. I needed to purge my kitchen before the move. Purging before the move would mean less items to pack, boxes to carry and space that I would need to find in the new apartment.

The first thing we are going to do is pull everything out of our kitchen cabinets and drawers. If you have limited counter space, I use alternatives to give you additional space. I do this because I like to keep everything level so I can see exactly what I have instead of piling things on top of each other. So, for this I set up an extra IKEA table next to the kitchen island. You could also move your dining room table over or if you have a folding table that would work as well. Anything that gives you added space and allows you to see everything that you have.

After we have our counter space figured out, I will then dedicate a location for items that I am going to donate. This could be on the floor but make sure that it is away from your walking path. You shouldn’t have to step over it in order to get around in your kitchen. I also designate a location for items that I am not sure if I want to keep or donate. This allows me to come back to them when I have a better understanding of the space I have left.

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downsizing your kitchen how to organize for a smaller space

Now that we have enough counter space to put things, I start by pulling things out. As I pull things out, I am being mindful to organize them on the countertop as to what I am going to keep and what I think I may be able to purge. For the items that I am going to keep, I organize them into visual categories. Such as, placing them in groups of items that will go in the same cabinet or drawer. This makes it easier for me to visualize if I will have enough space.

The next step is to start removing everything from your drawers. Again, I start from the drawer on the far left and then work my way to the right. Removing items and organizing on the counter as I go. Once finished with those drawers, I will then move to the kitchen island. I will leave the drawers pulled open a bit to remind myself that it needs to be cleaned.

Pulling everything out will allow you to see more clearly what needs to be donated and what we can keep. Go through all your small appliances and purge what you don’t use. You’ll also want to go through all of your utensils, dishes, pots, pans, and any additional items you are not sure you need to keep. I ended up donating several bins of items that I no longer needed. This was essential in being able to fit everything in my new smaller kitchen space.

Tip 2: Clean Everything

Now that everything is out of your cabinets and drawers, it’s time to do a deep clean. I start with the cabinets by cleaning the first one on the far left and work my way to the right. I will clean the top shelf and then clean the lower shelves one by one. Once the shelves are clean don’t forget to wipe down the inside of the door. I then close the cabinet door and clean the front. You could also leave each cabinet door open and then close the ones that are clean. This will visually remind you which ones still need to be clean. I will do this if I am feeling that I could get sidetracked and forget where I left off. Once finished, I will then clean the cabinets in the kitchen island.

Now that I have removed all the items from the drawers, I start to clean in the same direction as before. Cleaning the inside of the drawers, closing them, cleaning the outside and ending with the kitchen island drawers.

If you struggle with ADHD as I do, cleaning in this way helps you stay focused. If you do get sidetracked and come back to cleaning later, you will know exactly where you left off.

downsizing your kitchen how to organize for a smaller space

Tip 3: Streamline Storage Bags

When you are organizing a small kitchen, it is important to streamline your storage bags. Instead of having a bag for every type of food, choose one or two types of storage bags and stick with them. This will help save space in your cabinets and fridge.

The first thing that I did was to purchase BPA free reusable storage bags for all my fridge and freezer foods instead of using the standard zip lock bags. I also switched over all of my storage containers to the Ikea glass containers. This allows me to use the storage containers for food prep, leftover food storage and I even use them as dishes while eating. They work great for soups, salads, and even rice dishes. The glass containers are oven, dishwasher, freezer, and microwave safe. The lids that fit onto these containers are BPA free, freezer and dishwasher safe. The also carry replacement silicone rubber seals just in case you need to replace the seal. Doing this freed up a ton of cabinet and drawer space.

I still keep some zip lock bags on hand for the random occasion that I will need one. Usually, to place a palette inside to keep from drying out or some other art related reason. You can see how the glass containers stack beautifully and the lids click together for easy stacking. I found that the lid to the small containers don’t stack very well because they don’t click together. I just place them in a different stack from the larger lids.

Tip 4: Declutter Utensils

Save space in your drawers by decluttering all your utensils. Get rid of any utensils that you don’t use and organize the ones that you do use into a designated spot. This will help save space in your drawers and on your counter.

I personally organized my utensils into four separate drawers. My silverware, clips, scissors, and a few items that I use the most (peeler, can opener, pizza cutter) into a drawer all together. I used the Joseph Joseph Large Cutlery Organizer from the Container Store. This drawer is between the sink and stove to make it easy for me to grab the needed utensil. I then organized my knives, spatulas, whisks, tongs, measuring tools, cheese graters, and other miscellaneous items to the right of the stove. To create the separation, I used these custom drawer organizer strips from the Container Store. In the drawers below the silverware are my extra spice jars, mixer, rolling pin, papers, and extra reusable storage bags. Then below that drawer is my baking utensils that I don’t use as often.

I lined each of the drawers with the Solid Easy Liner from the Container Store. This made it easy for me to clean the drawers when necessary and provided some non-slip protection.

Tip 5: Organize your Spice Drawer & Cabinet

One of the best ways to organize your spices is to use jars that are the same shape and size and labels. Personally alphabetize my spices in square shaped jars and purchased this steel drawer organizer to keep them at an angle that is easy to see all the labels. I ended up not using the labels that came with the jars. I designed and printed my own on JOYEZA vinyl sticker paper. Wow, I think they turned out amazing, here is the full tutorial!

downsizing your kitchen how to organize for a smaller space

I used the cabinet above the stove for all my extra spices and oils that wouldn’t fit in a jar or was too tall for anywhere else. Notice the taco seasoning in a Weck jar. I used to put all my spices in these when I had a custom-built spice rack in my old farmhouse. I loved these jars, but they are tall and round and hard to find the perfect spot for them. See the full farmhouse kitchen remodel here.

downsizing your kitchen how to organize for a smaller space

Tip 6: Stack Your Pantry & Dishes

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To free up space in your kitchen cabinets, try to stack your dishes and your pantry cabinet vertically. This will save space in your cabinets and make it easier to find the dishes or food items that you are looking for.

When we moved into this apartment, there wasn’t a separate pantry for all of our food. So, I had to improvise by using up cabinet space. I ended up separating our food storage into two cabinets.

The one on the left was used for canned goods, snacks and other miscellaneous items. I used two glass computer monitor stands that I had previously used in my office space. They are height adjustable too! This gave me added storage under for individually wrapped snacks and I stacked canned goods on top.

The cabinet to the right of the stove was used for any baking and pasta goods. I also stored my Twizzlers and iced tea bags in here as well. Because it was the cabinet closest to the stove, it made for easy access while cooking.

You can’t see them very well, but behind the lasagna and pasta sauce are dry goods storage containers. I used THE HOME EDIT canisters in varying sizes for all my dry good storage. I have yet to make labels for them, but it is on the to do list!

downsizing your kitchen how to organize for a smaller space

For my dish’s cabinet, I used an undershelf basket from the Container Store to add additional space. I went through most of my mismatched dishes and opted to keep the ones that I used the most into one cabinet. For additional cups that weren’t used as often, I placed them in the cabinet above the stove with additional soda and water storage.

downsizing your kitchen how to organize for a smaller space

For pots and pans, I donated the majority of them and kept only my cast iron pans, favorite skillets, wok and strainers. I did purchase a set of new Rachael Ray cookware set that I love.

Tip 7: Hide Your Small Appliances

Purging a lot of my small appliances helped. I mean who really needs three different air fryers? I kept only the ones that I use the most. The best spot for them was above the refrigerator for the taller appliances. I did have to remove the extra shelf and place it on top of the upper cabinet. The toaster I keep in the kitchen island on a tray from Ikea. This keeps the crumbs from getting everywhere and makes it easy to pull out when needed. This also keeps it off the countertop where I used to keep it.

downsizing your kitchen how to organize for a smaller space

Clearly, I have a Chai addiction! But in my defense, it does save me a small fortune to make it at home rather than several trips to Starbucks every day. I also put all my large volume dry goods in the containers with the yellow lids. These are usually for dry goods that I purchase in bulk like flour and rice.

Visual Walk-Through Cabinets & Drawers

downsizing your kitchen how to organize for a smaller space

Visual Walk-Through Island

downsizing your kitchen how to organize for a smaller space

Here are the images of all four kitchen island drawers. I use one for all my hot drink items, straws, napkins (not really used), reusable lids and straws for all my Starbucks cups. I also have the lids for my water bottles in here. The next drawer holds all of my silicone lids when I warm food up in the microwave, my baking gloves, scale, covers for cast iron skillet handles and some oatmeal. I don’t use paper towels, so I have a drawer with wash clothes and hand towels.

downsizing your kitchen how to organize for a smaller space

Final Thoughts

Organizing a small kitchen can seem dauting, but with a few tips and tricks it doesn’t have to be. Make sure you are using every inch of your space wisely. When thinking about what goes where, ask yourself what you use every day. This will help you figure out the flow of your kitchen and where to place everything. With these tips, you will be able to organize your small kitchen in no time!

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