Whether you’re vowing to make every recipe in Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person in 2023 or simply reduce your food waste, one of the best ways to set yourself up for success with food-related New Year’s resolutions is to start with your kitchen.
Easier said than done, though: After all, who among us has not aspirationally purchased a single-use kitchen gadget, only for it to rot away in the utensil drawer? (Looking at you, apple corer.)
For some advice from a pro, we spoke to Janelle Williams, a professional organizer from Annapolis, Maryland, to talk us through the ways we can get a hold of our kitchens heading into the new year. From fridges to pantries, from cabinets to drawers, Wiliams is here to make our new kitchen year a bright, organized one.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you approach pantry organization? What goes in the pantry versus what goes into kitchen cabinets?
A lot of people contact us to just do their pantry, but we often end up doing the entire kitchen. Why? Because a lot of things people should have in their pantry live in their cabinets, and vice versa. Moreover, I often find the same product in several spots in the kitchen: sugar in the pantry and sugar in the cabinet, for example. We pull everything out and pick one spot for foods or tools that have the same use.
Things I normally put in the pantry are back-stock things: If we’re decanting flour and sugar, we’ll put the extra into the pantry. Snacks go into the pantry. We encourage our clients to think of the pantry as storage for everything that isn’t daily use. Daily use items—what you use to prepare meals, your utensils, etc.—that’s what we put in the cabinets.
Speaking of cabinets, how do you approach space planning in the kitchen?
Most cabinets, cupboards, and drawers in your kitchen should be for items that you use every day. We call those high-usage areas. Therefore, make sure that things in those high-usage areas are things you use every single day. If you’re not serving food on that platter except at Thanksgiving and Christmas, why is it in with your everyday pots and pans? Shift items out of high-usage areas that don’t belong there, and make sure your everyday tools are in their proper place.
What about the fridge?
Two simple habits can make your refrigerator so much more efficient. First, create zones in your fridge dedicated to drinks, condiments, veggies, snacks, and everyday lunch items. Second, take a moment to clean up the fridge before grocery shopping. You’ll find old vegetables and fruit that need to be cleared out (and it will help you shop correctly for the coming week).
Do you have special recommendations for home cooks with families or in multi-person households?
I love labels for homes with more than one person in them! So often we hear that one person in the household ends up having to put everything away because no one else knows where things go. Labeling fixes that, so whether it’s bread or cereal, any member of the household can help with kitchen cleanup and putting away groceries—including the kids.
Do you have any tips specific to living in apartments or other small spaces?
First and foremost, if you have limited space in the kitchen, you have to find other places to store things. See if, for example, you can move some furniture you might not need every day in the kitchen to another room, then use that opened-up space for smart storage. And think vertical in small spaces: stack things instead of spreading out.
Share one secret mind trick for being more organized in the kitchen.
The key to good organization is to have only as much stuff as you can keep on top of—no more. A great way to control how much you buy and then try to store, is to use containers. They’re my secret weapon. If you use a snack bin, for example, instead of just shoving as many snacks as you buy into your pantry, you’re limited to the amount of things that can fit in that bin. It’s a mindset shift: Containers will help you control spending and build better habits.