Four Strategies to Keep Your Busy Kitchen Organized

November 18, 2023

Big holiday events can shatter the best laid plans for an organized lifestyle. Look no further than a kitchen post-Thanksgiving for proof. Mountains of dishes, cluttered counters, leftovers in a dozen different containers that barely fit in the fridge. It’s perfectly normal for the increased workload to derail you. Organization is a process, not a destination, and it takes extra effort when you’re under extra demand. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! Use our four strategies to keep your busy kitchen organized even when the holiday storm hits.

1) A home for everything

It’s one of the most basic organization rules for a reason! When every item has its own place, resetting and maintaining a space becomes a million times easier. You know that you have exactly what you need, you know where to find it, and you know where to store it when you’re done.

Even if your kitchen is already organized with this rule in mind, it doesn’t hurt to do a quick walkthrough before any big cooking days come along. Make sure you’re not starting out with clutter. Only items that actually “live” in the kitchen should stay there–clear away any accumulated paperwork, toys, electronics, etc.

Are your counters and cabinets are still overflowing after you’ve evicted any non-kitchen items? Evaluate what you have on hand and where you’re storing it. Are unused appliances taking up space in cabinets, forcing your common-use items to live on the counter? Consider moving the unused items to storage farther from the kitchen itself so you can keep common-use items close and neatly tucked away. If anything “lives” in the kitchen but has never been given a designated, permanent “home,” rework your existing stock to make one!

2) Workflow and zones

This strategy follows naturally from the first. Not only should every item have a home–that home should correspond to where and how the item is used. That way, you can reorganize your kitchen into designated “zones” tailored to specific purposes (a prep zone, a washing zone, a serving zone, etc.). Using zones gives each kitchen task a “home,” just like items.

Examples: 

  • Knives, cutting boards and food processors are all stored around a specific counter (the “prep” zone).
  • Oven mitts, pots/pans and cooking utensils are all stored around the oven (the “cooking” zone). 
  • Sponges, brushes, dish soap and dish towels are all stored around the sink (the “cleaning” zone).

As simple as it seems, enforcing these zones more strictly takes a lot of the pressure off maintaining your spaces once they’ve been organized. Keeping items in specific areas makes preparing for tasks easier and makes put-away simpler. A mess in one zone is less likely to spill into and overwhelm others. And it’s much more obvious when a pause for cleanup is necessary: once the work zone gets too messy for you to do any work, it needs a reset!

3) Bite-sized maintenance

Those regular resets we mentioned in the last strategy are the real key to keeping a kitchen organized, even when you’re in the middle of using it. Decluttering, finding homes and building zones all set you up for success beforehand. Doing the work to maintain those systems during use is what makes all that effort pay off.

We know it can feel exhausting. After all that prep work, we still have to pause in the middle of busy cooking sessions just to clear off counters, put away appliances and wash dishes? Wouldn’t it be easier to just plow through the tasks and deal with the aftermath at the end? 

The short answer is no. Letting clutter and messes pile onto each other only complicates the eventual cleanup, not to mention the additional time it takes. And letting one round of tasks tear up your newly organized kitchen just means that, when it’s time to prepare the next course, you’re working in chaos again.

Give bite-sized maintenance a shot this holiday, if only to see how it works for you. After you get one pot simmering on the stove, go back to your prep zone and throw away the food packaging, rinse off any knives and put away appliances you won’t need for the next task. Hand wash mixing bowls while you’re waiting on something in the oven. It’s not just busy work. You’re making life easier for your future self.

4) Enlisting aid

Of course, depending on the size of your gathering, taking on all this maintenance on top of your other duties may literally be too much. That’s okay! You can always enlist aid from your loved ones to pick up the slack. This is the time of year to celebrate family, after all. Why not make the end result a group effort?

Funny enough, bringing on helpers works the same way as “homes” and “zones.” Clear delegation is key! Not only does it make things straightforward for the people assisting you, but it also makes staying out of each other’s way much easier, even in smaller kitchens. (Hint: this is where your zones really pay off!) The options are endless, so pick what works best for you.

A few suggestions…

  • Assign a designated cook to man the stove or keep an eye on oven times while you take care of coordination and prep.
  • Assign a prepper to stay in one zone chopping, mashing and grating ingredients so the cook can grab them as soon as they’re needed.
  • Enlist a small team to help with serving. As mealtime approaches, pass off finished or nearly-finished dishes for them to garnish, plate and carry to the dinner table.

It doesn’t even have to be that involved. Something as simple as having a younger family member gather and wash cooking utensils as they’re used means your zones get reset as you go with no pauses on your end. And you can always sweeten the pot for your helpers by having their work excuse them from future tasks. One AO team member’s household has a longstanding rule: if you helped cook or clean during dinner prep, you don’t have to touch a single dish after the meal!

How do you captain your ship going into the holiday season? Are you already using one of our four strategies to keep your busy kitchen organized, or do you have a few extra tricks up your sleeve? Let us know over at the Abundance Declutter Group on Facebook and pick up even more organizing tips!