Having lived in small apartments with kitchens measuring roughly 90 square feet or less for my entire adult life, I know how challenging the lack of work and storage space can be when you’re cooking.
I professionally test kitchen equipment for Wirecutter, the New York Times company that reviews products, and the more gear I acquire, the more my kitchen starts looking like a scene from “Hoarders” (much to the dismay of my very patient husband). I’ve had to find creative ways to store tools, equipment, and food.
It sounds counterintuitive to buy more stuff when your kitchen is small, but a handful of inexpensive items have helped me take full advantage of my limited space and bring order to what would otherwise be a chaotic kitchen. I’ve tested dozens, and here’s what’s best for under $40.
Magnetic fridge storage rack
My fridge is a hodgepodge of kooky magnets, pictures, and to-do lists, but it also provides ample vertical storage on the side. I was giddy with excitement when I first brought home the Yamazaki Magnetic Kitchen Organization Rack because of how well it makes use of the unused space on the side of my fridge.
Unlike a standing paper towel holder, it doesn’t hog precious counter space. The magnets are surprisingly strong and don’t slip, even when I tear off a paper towel or when the shelf is filled to capacity (which it always is). The little shelf is perfect for storing olive oil, a pepper mill, and a jar of salt — items I use daily. The hooks on the bottom of the rack are perfect for hanging small tools like vegetable peelers or pastry brushes.
Lazy Susans, or rotating trays, take advantage of unused space in deep cupboards or corner nooks on a counter. Wirecutter’s pick is the OXO Good Grips Turntable, which comes in 10.5- and 16-inch-diameter sizes and has grips on the bottom to keep it from sliding around.
I use the smaller size for storing oils and vinegars. To ensure everything stays visible and easy to reach, I arrange the taller bottles in the center of the lazy Susan and shorter bottles around the perimeter. Placing the larger lazy Susan in my fridge was a game changer — the turntable makes it so much easier to locate everything I need. It even helps cut down on food waste because leftovers can’t get pushed to the back of the fridge and neglected.
Cup hooks, which can screw into any cabinet, are great for hanging mugs or teacups, but I find they’re most useful for holding kitchen tools that would otherwise end up in a bulky crock on the counter or in a cluttered drawer. Installed below an upper cabinet, the hooks keep tools out of the way yet still easy to reach.
Wirecutter recommends the 1-inch BronaGrand Nickel Plated Metal Screw-in Cup Hooks, but you can find a variety of sizes at your local hardware store. Although they require no special equipment to install, it’s helpful to use a small nail and a hammer, or a drill, to start the hole, and pliers to twist the hook into place.
Magnetic knife strip
Like most small kitchens, mine lacks sufficient counter space, so I prefer using magnetic strips for storing knives in lieu of large, counter-hogging knife blocks. The best magnetic strip I’ve tested is the Benchcrafted Mag-Blok, which is made of impressively strong magnets covered in a handsome wood exterior (available in maple, walnut, cherry, white oak, or sycamore).
The wood is gentle on knife blades, so they’re less likely to dull or dent. I’ve also mounted a magnetic strip vertically inside a cupboard door for holding small tools like scissors or corkscrews, which helps declutter my drawers.
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Food storage containers
Food storage containers always seem to eat up cabinet space, so finding some that nest well with lids that stay tidy can make a big difference. I prefer using oven-safe glass containers to store food because they can perform double duty and serve as baking dishes.
After testing several for Wirecutter, my favorite is the Pyrex 18-Piece Simply Store Food Storage Set. The colorful lids are easy to match to the corresponding container, which saves me from frantically digging through a pile of seemingly identical lids in my cupboard. The Pyrex containers are impressively durable too — in my tests, they survived several counter-height drops onto a hardwood floor without breaking. They’re also microwave, freezer, and dishwasher safe.
Basic principles for small kitchen organization
When you’re shopping for kitchen-organization items, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of available options. Before you run out and buy a slew of things, review these basic principles so you can have a clear sense of what you’re trying to achieve in your kitchen.
Keep everyday items nearby: The more you use something, the more conveniently you should store it. Appliances I use daily, such as my coffee grinder and coffee maker, get prime real estate on my counter. Items I use less often, such as pie plates, cake pans, and roasting pans, get stowed out of the way in bins above my cupboards.
Purge and consolidate: Go through your cupboards and throw out any expired dry goods, spices, or mysterious food lurking in the back of your fridge (admittedly, I don’t do this nearly as often as I should). To maximize space, don’t store anything unrelated to cooking, like medicine or tools, in the kitchen. Items I frequently use in tandem — such as measuring cups, measuring spoons, and mixing bowls — get stored together. To cut down on excess equipment, I try to use a single item for multiple purposes; my large vintage Pyrex mixing bowl, for instance, doubles as a serving bowl for salad or pasta.
Take advantage of vertical space: Hang as many items as you can on the wall to free up cluttered cupboards and drawers. I arrange the most frequently used pots and pans lower, where I can reach them. Some of my cookbooks live on top of my fridge, and I increase cupboard space by using shelf risers and over-the-door baskets.
Whether your kitchen lacks sufficient wall space or is short on drawer or cupboard space, check out our full guide to small-kitchen ideas, where you can find more space-saving tips and product recommendations.
What to Buy is a new series in collaboration with Wirecutter, the New York Times Company that reviews products. Want buying advice from the experts, or need help picking out the right thing for the right job? Email Smarter Living editor Alan Henry, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll look into it for you!
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A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.