Organize Your Kitchen Cabinets Into Streamlined Kitchen Zones

Now that my new kitchen reno is complete, I’m ready to get organized and start cooking with ease and efficiency! Learn how I organize my cooking space into the 4 Kitchen Zones below.

  • By Jess Dang
  • November 13, 2017

If I hadn’t started Cook Smarts but still wanted to leave the corporate world, I think I would have loved being a professional organizer (yes, this is a real career!). There’s something about everything being in its place and also the right place that puts me in my happy place.

There are endless Pinterest posts on kitchen organization that serve as great visual inspiration to corral all your kitchen goods into beautiful containers. I love those too and it’s so fun to admire an organized space.

However, my area of expertise is on how the physical placement of things will change the way you work and feel in your kitchen.

My goal is to show you how to create an optimized flow in this space so that you feel more relaxed and confident every time you’re in it.

You might remember that I talked about the concept of the “working triangle” and kitchen zones in this previous post How to Create the Most Efficient Kitchen Layout. Every kitchen should have a prepping, cooking, clean-up and putting away zone. These zones might overlap but there should be a clear designated area for all of the activities above.

Here are how the zones work in my new kitchen:

Ideally all the items you’ll need in each of these zones will be placed within the zones (or at least in the neighborhood of the zone). Your goal is to have someone else use your kitchen and easily find everything because your placement of items would feel so intuitive.

Prep Zone

I designated the countertop areas near my range as my prep zone, since I can easily move my prepped ingredients to the cooking zone. In my case, my prep zone overlaps with my cooking and putting away zones.

This is fairly common because the step after prepping is cooking or if you’re super organized and prepping ahead, you’ll have all the items you need to store and put away your prepped ingredients in the same area.

Your prep area should contain all the items you use to prep ingredients for the cooking phase. In a perfect world, you would have your mise en place (a French culinary term meaning everything in its place or all your ingredients prepped and ready to go!) ready before you cooked.

I’ve opted for drawers for all my lower cabinetry and these are the prep tools I’ve put into the drawers within my prep zone:

  1. Things used for mashing, chopping, cutting and opening: cutting boards, knives, scissors, can opener, peelers, garlic crusher, graters, zesters, food processor, spiralizer
  2. Things that measure: measuring cups and spoons, kitchen scale
  3. Things for washing: salad spinner, colanders
  4. Things that contain: prep bowls, Tupperware containers, Ziploc bags (all also used for putting away needs)
  5. Things that flavor: oils, salt, pepper, sugar, spices, condiments

I have a few drawers dedicated to prep but this is the one that I usually end up reaching in first:

Cooking Zone

Your cooking zone should be located where your range is since well, that’s where the cooking mostly happens. If you have a small kitchen, your cooking zone will likely be adjacent to your prep zone. In larger kitchens with more space, you might use a sheet pan to move all your mise en place over from your prep zone to your cooking zone.

In this zone, I keep:

  1. Cookware: pots, pans, Dutch ovens, woks
  2. Cooking helpers: tongs, wok turner, spatulas, fish turner (works great on pancakes and fritters too), assorted wooden spoons
  3. Things that flavor (same as prep zone): oils, salt, pepper, sugar, spices, condiments

Clean-up Zone

Your clean-up zone should be located around your sink and dishwasher. Like before, my sink is located behind my range. I love this layout because it makes it so easy for me to clean up while cooking. If I’m waiting for something to boil or simmer on the stove, I can easily just turn around and wash a few dishes so there’s a lot less to clean up when I’m done cooking.

Putting Away Zone

This zone should be situated somewhere between your dishwasher / dish rack and fridge. While your dishwasher is clearly part of your cleaning zone, after dishes are cleaned, they clearly need to be put away. The most common kitchen items that get loaded and unloaded from a dishwasher are your dishware, drinkware, and utensils so designate space for those items as close to your dishwasher as possible. In my kitchen, I’ve assigned the upper cabinets right by my dishwasher for plates, bowls and glasses.

The other instances where you’ll be putting things away is after prep and after cooking. Keeping Tupperware containers, Saran wrap, rubber bands, food clips, and these Food Huggers in this area will make packing up and putting away partially-used ingredients and leftovers into the fridge so much more efficient.

I’ve even situated the Saran wrap so that I can use the cutter without taking the box out (yes, I’m crazy but it does help save a bit of time and Saran wrap frustration).

Organizing Post Renovation

Because I am crazy and love spreadsheets, I had inventoried my kitchen before construction started here. Knowing the layout, I had mapped out my zones to help me figure out where I wanted everything to go post-renovation. In the same spreadsheet, I assigned a number to each new cabinet and drawer and what it would contain.

I measured tall items like my salad spinner, avocado oil bottle and canned food organizer to make sure I gave them enough space. This exercise was tedious but also so helpful for the design process. I was able to tell my designers specific drawer depths and shelf spacing, so I knew everything had a place in the new kitchen and would fit into its place.

Then when the renovation was done, I put a post-it on each cabinet and drawer with its assigned number and referenced my spreadsheet for what needed to be moved into it. It made moving back in so much less stressful and also had us up and running in our kitchen again super quickly!

Here’s a photo of the cabinets with their post-it labels. I was working on moving in while my dad christened the new kitchen by making burgers on the stovetop.

After working out a messy garage, it feels so zen to be back in an organized space, and I feel so much more productive.

Do you have these zones set up in your kitchen? It’s definitely worth taking the time to do a bit of organization since it’ll save you so much time in the future!

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Creating Kitchen Zones for a More Organized Kitchen via @cooksmarts


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