Welcome to Week 2 of the Less Mess Challenge! Now that your kids are happily playing with their decluttered and organized toys, we’ll now move on to decluttering and organizing the kitchen, pantry, and refrigerator. Actually, this is the best area for you to find childcare for since this is going to be big and messy and INTENSE if you’re doing the full challenge.

Less Mess Challenge: Decluttering and organizing the kitchen
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Printable checklist at the bottom of this page.

Decluttering and Organizing the Kitchen

Kitchen are hardworking places in homes. If you think about how many individual items kitchens hold and how often the space gets used, it’s no wonder they get cluttered and disorganized quickly.

Even the most organized and simplified kitchen needs a good reset and cleaning at least once a year — and I’m betting yours and mine aren’t even close to being the MOST organized and simplified kitchens.

If you’re doing the full challenge, consider breaking it up over several days. (US Friends — I planned this week here on purpose, since some of us might have an extra day off to work).

If You Only Have 30 Minutes: Quick Declutter

When Decluttering and Organizing the kitchen, make sure all your food storage containers have lids!

If you only have a little time to dedicate to decluttering the kitchen, hit the hot spots. Everyone’s hot spots will be different, but good examples are usually as the cooking utensils, food storage, and pots and pans.

Donate or recycle any food storage containers without lids. Toss any non-stick pots with the coating scratched off. Toss old condiment pouches from the drive through.

Clear your counters, making sure everything you remove from them gets placed back into its proper spot.

Peruse your fridge for old food.

Check your pantry for empty boxes and rotten potatoes (WHY are there ALWAYS rotten potatoes?)

If You Have an Hour: Declutter & Surface Clean

Do everything stated above, but take it a step further.

Choose two or three of your messiest drawers or cabinets and tackle those, declutter and wipe them out. Quickly look through and declutter your other cabinets and drawers.

Sorting your fridge into zones is helpful in letting you find what you want when you need it.

Stack pots and pans nicely. Make sure all food storage has a matching lid. Get rid of any old, melted, or broken cooking utensils.

Give your fridge a quick wipe and sort items into zones.

Wipe down the fronts of all appliances and the inside of your microwave.

Move items on the counter out of the way and wipe behind them.

If You Have a Few (or 10) Hours: Declutter, Deep Clean & Organize

Do everything above, but instead of choosing two or three drawers and cabinets to focus on, do them all. Yes, all.

Empty everything out one cabinet at a time, wipe it down, and evaluate whether the items you’re storing in that spot are optimal.

If you want to go all in, or if you’re very unhappy about the way your kitchen is working you can do ALL the cabinets at once (I don’t do this because it’s A LOT, even for a professional) but it will give you a fresh start.

This narrow knife block was the perfect fit for this narrow drawer
This narrow drawer served little purpose until we added this knife block. Cutting boards are directly underneath.

Before returning items to your cabinets, consider the best places for them. Plates, utensils, and cups should all be close to the dishwasher and the stove (if that’s where you serve dinner). Cutting boards and knives should be close to one another. Pots should be near the oven. Food storage containers should be close to where you package up leftovers.

Items you use most often should be more accessible. Items that are used less often should be less accessible.

Also, be thoughtful about the items you’re returning to the cabinet. Let go of anything you haven’t used in ages. Get rid of anything you have an excessive number of (yes, I’m looking at your mug collection).

Give the cabinet doors a good wipe, too.

Use vertical space as much as possible by adjusting the height of your shelves to match what you’re storing.

While I truly believe you can organize without spending a lot of money on organizing supplies, they really can help make spaces more efficient. Evaluate your space and your belongings, then consider investing in a few pieces that will be helpful for your space.

Related Post: Vitamin Storage & Organization

Related Post: Spice Organization

Best Kitchen Organization Products

Before purchasing any products, be sure to measure your space and your items.

Vertical pan dividers make grabbing the pan you need simple.
Drawer dividers for different categories of items are helpful when Decluttering and organizing the kitchen
  • Many kitchen sink cabinets don’t use vertical storage well, a stacking drawer unit can help solve that problem.
Under the kitchen sink: Think vertical with stacking drawers.
Before buying, use what you have. These scrub brushes are stored in a glass vase.
  • Pull out drawers are pricey and require installation, but make a WORLD of difference for accessing those deep bottom cabinets.
  • Stacking water bottle holders are perfect for accessing the bottle you want without toppling all the others.
Water bottle organization - a rack to stack
  • Bins are helpful for containing small items, such as parts to a mixer, measuring spoons, or
  • Divided trays or drawer dividers are must-haves for junk drawers. Play tetris and maximize your space.

Junk Drawer Organization Ideas.

organized junk drawer
  • Command hooks are useful for hanging potholders, rubber gloves, measuring spoons, and aprons

Decluttering and Organizing the Pantry

Now it’s time to tackle the pantry. If you don’t have one, apply these strategies to the cabinets or shelves where you store your food.

Remove everything from the space and wipe the empty shelves down.

Evaluate the food as you go—throw away any expired or stale food and make a donation pile for food you just won’t eat.

Decluttering and Organizing the Kitchen and pantry, make sure to check for expired foods and use a few select materials to help you see what you have

Sort the food into categories. Every pantry will have different categories, but here are some common ones:

  • Canned goods
  • Pasta
  • Dinner ingredients
  • Snacks
  • Fruit & nuts
  • Candy
  • Breakfast
  • Condiments
  • Chips
  • Bars

Consider decanting some items into jars.

When decluttering and organizing the kitchen, consider decanting snacks into jars.

Related Post: To Decant or Not to Decant

Put items back into the pantry—potentially placing each category of item into an appropriately sized bin (skip dollar tree bins here, they’ll just break because of the weight of the food and the frequency of use. If you don’t want to purchase an entire set of sturdier bins right now, perhaps just grab one or two for smaller food items).

If you added bins, be sure to label them so family members know where to find items and where to put them back. Even if you didn’t add bins, you can add a simple label to the shelf to delineate each zone.

Related Post: How to Organize a Pantry

Related Post: Organizing a Small Pantry

Best Pantry Organization Products

  • Sturdy bins or baskets for food categories.
  • A can riser for cans (I like adjustable ones because my inventory changes).
  • Turntables are great for pantry corners or large pantries, but if you don’t have a ton of space, you probably don’t want to use one.
  • A door rack is a great way to use an otherwise unused space.
  • Command hooks (again) for lunchboxes, chip clips, fly swatters, etc.
  • Canisters or mason jars if you’re going to decant anything.

When you’re done organizing your pantry, stand back and admire it. Grab a family member or two and give them a tour of your new and improved space. Threaten bodily harm if they make a mess of it.

Decluttering and Organizing the Refrigerator

Finally, let’s tackle the fridge and freezer.

Take everything out and wipe it alllllll down. Remove any drawers or shelves that you can and wash them with warm soapy water in the sink. Dry them thoroughly before you return them to the fridge.

Check the food as you’re removing everything. Toss anything that’s expired or past its prime. Sort what’s left into categories (eggs, drinks, cheese, dairy, fruit, veggies, condiments, spreads, etc). If you have doubles and triples of the same item open, combine them into one if you can. 

Once your fridge is looking fresh and new, it’s time to restock it.

Cleaning out the fridge is an essential part of Decluttering and Organizing the Kitchen

Put items back into your fridge according to the zones you’ve created.

Helpful products for the fridge

Narrow bins in the fridge can be helpful for organization

I don’t use a lot of products in the fridge, so I have a minimalist view of what’s necessary and what’s not. Here’s my very short list:

Some people choose to decant items such as condiments, eggs, and even fruits and vegetables. Personally, I don’t want to take the time to do that, nor do I want to spend money on all those products, but if you do—go for it, it’s definitely gorgeous!

Kid-Friendly Kitchen Organization

Depending on the ages of your children, organize with them in mind — and I don’t mean baby proof, I mean place certain items in certain ways to allow for independence.

For instance, I have very early risers. On weekends, they get up, make themselves cereal, and watch television until I get up. I help facilitate this by purchasing certain (unbreakable) items and placing them where my kids can reach.

Here are some ways I organize my kitchen for my kids:

  • Dishes and cups that won’t break are placed in a low cabinet.
  • Cereal is on a lower shelf in the pantry, as are snacks.
  • Lunchboxes and water bottles are accessible so they can pack independently.
  • Lunch bins in the fridge filled with easy to grab foods. See details here.
  • Bread stored in a low drawer.

The way you organize for your children will obviously depend on their ages, needs, and abilities.

Final Details

Once you’ve got your cabinets, drawers, pantry, fridge, and other appliances wiped down and decluttered, clear off anything still on your counter that needs a new home. Wipe the counter down thoroughly. Wipe the sink out. Give your floor a sweep (or mop… organizing the kitchen makes my floors nasty) and sit down with your feet up, order delivery, and don’t make a meal for at least 72 hours.

Maintaining your Organized Kitchen

Unfortunately, kitchens get messy quickly because of how much and what capacity they are used. The good news is, if you do a thorough reorganizing and cleaning every year, it’s never as hard as that first time.

Forming good habits also helps kitchens stay in control.

Forming good habits will help you maintain your kitchen organization.
  • Empty the sink before bed every evening.
  • Run and empty the dishwasher at a regular time (for us, it runs over night)
  • Check your pantry before you make a meal plan
  • Reset your pantry and fridge every week or two
  • Wipe down counters regularly
  • Clear counters every evening.

If you notice that there’s an item that’s always on the counter, always in the way—that item probably needs a home. Assign it one and make sure it gets put back there.

Decluttering and Organizing the Kitchen, Pantry, & Refrigerator

Decluttering and organizing the kitchen, pantry, and refrigerator is a big job. While it may seem pointless to do since it will get messy again so quickly, it’s really not. Having a kitchen where everything has a home and where you can find what you need will be worth it in the time you’ll save searching for items.


Next Up: Decluttering & Organizing Mudrooms & Coat Closets

Back to the Less Mess Challenge List

2 thoughts on “Less Mess Challenge, Week 2: Kitchen, Pantry, & Refrigerator”

  1. Do you have any advice for food storage for those of us without a pantry? I have my food scattered around the kitchen in a few different cupboards because I don’t have an actual pantry and there is always way too much sitting on the counter that doesn’t fit in a cupboard. I can’t take advantage of better pricing on larger packaged items because we don’t have room. Any suggestions?

    1. Be creative! Keep what you reach for often in the kitchen, but try and find a spot elsewhere in your home to add a pantry — a coat closet, laundry room, or even a baker’s rack added to a hallway or in the dining room. Maybe there’s an open wall where you can add shelves? If you’ve got counter space, you can add a breadbox, basket for snacks, or some often-used baking goods in canisters.

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