Before and After: I Organized My Parents’ Cluttered Kitchen Cabinets and the Results Are So Soothing

updated May 1, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Nicoletta Richardson

Six years after graduating college, I find myself living in a place I never thought I would again: My childhood home. I’m currently hunkering down with my parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though things are scary right now, I’m happy to get to spend an extended period time with them that I never would have otherwise. 

Because I work at place with strong Organizing DNA, and because I’m mostly stuck inside right now, I’ve taken mental notes of projects that can be tackled during this time — including reorganizing the kitchen cabinets

The cabinets aren’t shockingly unbearable, but there are pint glasses stacked inside coffee mugs, food containers pushed aggressively against each other in a narrow cabinet, and medicine bottles placed among spices. I decided to pitch the reorganizing idea to my mom. She was down, I was down, and so we got busy with a mother-daughter decluttering night.

Credit: Nicoletta Richardson

My mom and I started the journey roughly at 9:30 p.m. since we had to wait for the dishwasher to finish a full load (no plate or cup left behind!). Once everything was available for reassessment, the first thing we did was take every single item out of the cabinets. And let me tell you, we didn’t leave a surface uncovered. Even the chairs were covered in food containers!

While we brought down one thing at a time, my mom and I found ourselves taking a stroll down memory lane. We found a glass pitcher that belonged to my great grandmother, birthday candles from when I turned two (and probably any age that had a two in it), and matching Mickey and Minnie mugs that we brought back from Disney World. I call it nostalgic productivity. 

Credit: Nicoletta Richardson

Once everything was out of the cabinets and grouped together like with like, we took a look at everything we had. There was a “keep” pile (which was pretty much the entire kitchen area), a “donate” pile, and a “throw away” pile. The waffle maker that we forgot about? Keep pile. The wishbone that we randomly stumbled upon? That’s gonna be a hard throw away (after making a wish, of course). 

At the end of the purging stage, we had one and a half bags of trash and one of donations, leaving us with much less to have to put away. With our edits complete, my mom and I paced the room and analyzed the cabinets that now remained bare.

Credit: Nicoletta Richardson

To start the process of putting everything back, I asked my mom: What are the things you always use, and where can we put them so it’s extremely accessible to you? This helped her figure out any big switches that needed to be made — like the stack of salad bowls that were usually perched on the top shelf which needed to come down to the first. 

Credit: Nicoletta Richardson

The silverware, gadgets/tools, and pots and pans all stayed in the same places, but now they had much more breathing room. 

The dishes, mugs, and glasses were all kept in the same long cabinet, but we rearranged them so they were grouped together with their set. We stacked smaller mugs in the back to make more room for the larger ones in the front (no mishmosh stacking!), and we put the sentimental pieces that my parents didn’t use but relished as souvenirs at the top for safe keeping.

Credit: Nicoletta Richardson

The spices, food containers, and miscellaneous cabinets… those were a different story. We put the food containers in a wider cabinet above the stove so there wasn’t as much piling, we put the cutting boards and strainers in the narrow area where the food containers used to be, and we gave one of my mom’s favorite tools (the Magic Bullet!) a prominent place where it’s easy to grab.

All in all, we tackled about 10 cabinets in around three hours, which I think is pretty quick considering it’ll hopefully have a long-lasting effect on my parent’s everyday routines.

Credit: Nicoletta Richardson

One week later, and things are still looking pretty organized in the kitchen: plates and glasses/mugs are being placed in their designated areas, the food containers are staying nicely stacked above the stove, and no more wishbones have been found!

Credit: Nicoletta Richardson

Of course, my parents are still getting used to the new layout — after all, they had the same setup for as long as they can remember. Muscle memory kicks in, and my mom still reaches for the left cabinet when the spices now live in the right. There are also moments of unloading the dishwasher where they have to pause and think, where does this go now?

But overall the decluttering part has been a game-changer, and this past weekend was the ultimate test. It was Greek Orthodox Easter, and celebrating involves a lot of cooking and baking traditional Greek food. Thanks to our thoughtful reorganization, my mom was able to find things quicker — when she reached for a large bowl, for example, she also grabbed the mixer that was conveniently positioned next to it.

The only thing that she had a hard time finding was a bag of skewers we needed to make the chicken souvlaki, which was tucked away next to the Magic Bullet. But hey, it’s a learning process! We now know to move that somewhere else.

The day begins (coffee) and ends (dessert/wine) in the kitchen,— and the quicker you can find the important stuff to make all that happen, the better.