Storage 101: How to store kitchen tools and flatware

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They say the key to organization is a place for everything and everything in its place. This is true for even the smallest items, such as your kitchen utensils. These include your everyday flatware as well as the many small but mighty cooking tools a serious chef requires. Here are some of my favorite options for storing your utensils, in any space and on any budget.

Step One: Eliminating

Before you can organize any part of your home properly, you need to do some culling, and this is especially true in the kitchen. Drawers can quickly become filled with unused tools and gadgets, so take a hard look at the items you own and find as many as possible to give away or box up.

You may never get your collection of utensils down to the perfectly minimal arrangements, but the more items you can eliminate, the easier it will be to store and find the truly useful ones. Never use the little dessert spoons that came with your cutlery set? Only used that special spatula (designed to perfectly flip a single egg) the one time? Stash these items away in less reachable spaces such as upper cabinets to free up more prime cabinet real estate.

If Renovating, Make a Plan for Success

If you’re renovating or building a kitchen, you shouldn’t put off the organizational considerations until all the construction is complete. Thinking in advance about how to hold your collection of tools will produce a much better result. Planning to include a few drawers specifically sized for utensils will save a lot of potentially wasted space.

Typical cutlery trays aren’t very wide. Your basic eating utensils get used every day, but they don’t need that much space. A drawer just 10 to 12 inches wide will provide the right amount of space for those items without the need to have them share space with whisks and ladles.

Give depth some (deep) thought. Besides considering the width of the drawers, don’t forget to think about the depth. Drawers are often 6 to 8 inches deep (on the exterior face) by default simply because the cabinet has been split evenly into three to four drawers. However, a 4- to 5-inch-deep drawer (again, on the face, which translates to just a few inches inside) is all you need to store well-organized utensils. Using more and shallower drawers keeps items from getting piled on top of each other and lost in the mix.

Ideally, you should look at the collection of utensils you have (or plan to have) and map out exactly how much space they will need. This takes some extra effort upfront, but you will end up with a much better allocation of space than by simply choosing drawers in an arbitrary width. You can try laying out your utensils on a dining table to get a visual picture (and some measurements) of how much space they ideally would get.

Mix drawers and doors. Often people think of drawer cabinets and basic shelf cabinets as being two separate things, but they definitely can be mixed to meet your needs more efficiently.

Cabinets with a drawer at the top and doors and shelves below allow smaller, often-used items to be placed at a more reachable height, with the shelf storage left for more occasional items and oversized pieces. If you use lots of small chef’s tools when you cook, consider including many utensil drawers at the top level. It will save you a lot of bending down over time.

Consider going vertical. Want to tidy up your cutlery drawer without having to assign each piece an individual place? Try a drawer with vertical cutlery bins that let you simply drop in pieces with long handles (such as spatulas and slotted spoons) and pull them out easily. You’ll be able to see each piece, and you won’t have to remember exactly where you got it later.

You can store flatware vertically too. Cleverly retrofit a deeper drawer into a cutlery drawer by dividing it into small, deep compartments Just be sure you don’t store sharp items this way, or you may dull the blades (and risk accidents as well).

Create layers. Another way to make the best use of deep drawers is to break them up internally into layers. You can either use a built-in drawer divider system or find a layered drop-in unit.

RELATED: Shop Drawer Dividers for Your Kitchen Space

A tiered organizer can create compartments smaller than an individual drawer to gain maximum space efficiency. Just keep in mind that the upper layer will partially cover the lower layer (or will need to be slid individually), so you should put the most-used items on the most reachable tier.

Retrofitting: What Are the Options?

Single trays. A classic single cutlery tray is sometimes all you need, but keep in mind that these trays are not truly one-size-fits-all. Finding one that comes close to filling your drawer width will provide more structure versus a small tray that shifts around with use. Measure the interior of your drawer and look for a tray that fills it. Online shops will usually have more size options than a small local kitchen supply store.

Configurable trays. A step above the prefabricated single trays is a divider system made up of single compartments that can be mixed and matched like Tetris pieces to create spaces for all your items. If you can’t perfectly fill the full width, use the open space for a sturdy item such as a rolling pin or box of foil that will keep the other pieces from shifting.

Resizable dividers. Another step closer to a custom built-in is a resizable divider system that lets you snap together pieces to create any size compartments you like. An advantage of this sort of system is that you can change the configuration later to fit a different mix of items, or even fit a new drawer if you move or renovate.

Open storage vessels. For those who don’t mind having some of their utensils on display, simple open vessels or jars make a great place to hold your often-used items.

This can look especially great in a kitchen that makes use of open shelving already, with the utensil jars becoming part of the overall chef’s kitchen appeal.

Hanging rails. Another form of open storage is a rail that can be used to either hang utensils and tools directly (via a curved handle or a hook) or hang containers and holders to keep your utensils within easy reach but off the counter.

A wall-mounted system can be great for stealing a little storage space behind the range or elsewhere on the backsplash, which can be a lifesaver in a compact kitchen where every inch of storage space counts.

RELATED: 7 Storage Tricks for Small Kitchens

Pegboards. Like a rail, a pegboard can give you lots of flexible storage space on the wall. Whether this look is charmingly relaxed or too busy is a matter of personal taste, but if you like this aesthetic, it offers lots of practical options for arranging and rearranging your tools.

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