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Looking for a Social Distancing Distraction? Here's How to Organize Your Kitchen on a Budget

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At a time when kitchens are at the center of our new normal, three designers share their tips on how to keep them organized on a budget.

By Kelly Dawson

Kitchens were always the hardest-working space in a home. It's the place where the toil of cooking meets the relief of conversation, and where a small snack for one can sit side-by-side with one giant feast for a dozen. In every shape and size, kitchens have to be able to go with the flow. 

But then the COVID-19 pandemic turned modern life upside-down, and a kitchen's flexibility has been stretched to its limits. While still a hub of utility and comfort, they're now working even harder to meet the demand of a crisis. 

"With preparing and serving three meals and numerous toddler snacks at home, we are cycling through everything in our kitchen much faster," Kelly Mindell, founder of Studio DIY, says. "That leads to messes piling up quicker if things don't have a designated spot. We've been spending time dividing, organizing, and repurposing other items in our home to make sure everything has somewhere to go." 

Shea McGee, cofounder of Studio McGee, and Joyce Downing Pickens of JDP Interiors agree. They've also been adjusting to this new reality by examining how their kitchens can be even more functional, from streamlining pantries to corralling tools. Below, Mindell, McGee, and Downing Pickens share the lessons they've learned these last few weeks on how to organize a kitchen on a budget, in the hopes that it makes this hard-working room as efficient as possible. 

How to Carry Out Your Plan 

Once you have an organizational plan in place, carry it out with as little headache as possible by moving strategically, cabinet by cabinet. Discard expired items, and consider donating a surplus of canned goods to a local food bank. After shelves are cleaned out, pay close attention to the areas where you spend the most time, including spots that may be overlooked. 

Organize based on convenience. "Put items that frequent the dishwasher as close to the dishwasher as possible, and put your coffee mugs close to your coffee pot," Mindell says. "Minimizing your need to move around the kitchen, and maximizing the ease of putting items away, will keep things tidy." 

Divide your drawers. "Big, open drawers create big messes! Everything needs a designated spot," Mindell continues. "Simply use containers you've recycled or collected elsewhere in your home to categorize everything." 

Use your door space. "Take any baskets you might have and install them onto the inside of your cabinet doors," Downing Pickens says. "This will maximize your space and make for easy grab-and-go access to everyday items." 

Label spices. "I label the top of all my spices using round stickers and a Sharpie," Downing Pickens says. "It makes it so much easier to know what's what without having to check the label." 

Repurpose Items for Effortless Storage 

It's possible to have storage pieces—like glass jars and space dividers—delivered to your door, but all it takes is a little creativity to see how items you likely already have can be reused for this project. Not only will this solution minimize the amount of outside items coming into your home, but it's also a budget-friendly approach at a time when every dollar counts. 

Strip your old canned goods. "Remove the labels on jars once they are empty and add them to your drawers for small items," Downing Pickens says. "This is especially helpful in your 'junk' drawer for pens, paperclips, rubber bands, and so on." 

Use the "guest-only" dinnerware. "I've pulled out bowls or cups that I typically only use on special occasions to help me store items," Mindell says. "For instance, we have a piece of colorful glassware that's holding snack bars in our pantry and a serving bowl holding fruit on our counter." 

Pull out trays. "Whether it's corralling soap and a dish brush next to your kitchen sink, or holding some of your favorite everyday spices, trays can keep spaces feeling collected instead of cluttered," McGee says. 

Use small baskets for laundry. "If you use reusable cloth instead of paper towels, use baskets from around your home to store them in: one for clean towels, one for dirty," Mindell says. "That way, you can just grab the 'dirty' basket when it's full and dump it right in the wash."


Kelly Dawson is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who has been writing for Dwell since 2015. Follow her on Instagram @atthecrosswalk.

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