Must-Haves for Maximizing Any Small Kitchen, According to a Pro Organizer

Organizing expert Kim Bruce offers up helpful tips and product recommendations to go from cramped to captivating.

Kim Bruce | Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Kim Bruce | Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
We independently source all of the awesome products and experiences that we feature on Thrillist. If you buy or book from the links on our site, we may receive an affiliate commission — which in turn supports our work.

There's a certain magnetism to any kitchen. Whether you’re training for Top Chef, meal-prepping, or hosting a party that never quite makes its way to the living room, the kitchen often serves as the nucleus of a home. And anyone who lives in a small apartment daydreams about a big, open, Nancy Meyers-esque culinary hub. Fortunately, with the right approach and equipment, you can turn whatever you have into something just as special.

To help you get there, we talked to Kim Bruce, a Dallas-based organizing expert, to learn about how to get the most out of a small kitchen.

Rather than dwelling on the size of a space itself, Bruce encourages her clients to re-think how their kitchen is set up, and to make sure that everything in it has a purpose.

“[When I work with my clients], the most common issue is that the space simply isn’t functional,” says Bruce, “Ideally, a kitchen is made up of small zones, and each zone should have a streamlined, efficient system within it.” Bruce suggests that with smaller spaces, these systems are all the more important, since it can be easy to get overwhelmed by “visual clutter.” “When you eliminate visual clutter, you spend less time looking for things and more time enjoying the space,” she says.

To jumpstart the process, Bruce encourages her clients to empty out their kitchen entirely, take inventory of what they have, and start fresh. That way, you know what you need, and what you can afford to get rid of.

“With a smaller space, you need to make sure that everything in it is something that you love and that you’ll use. There are many solutions, but the overall goal is to allow yourself to live a simpler life.”

To help transform your cluttered kitchen into a pint-sized culinary oasis, here are some easy-to-implement strategies, storage solutions, and appliances that can quickly make a huge difference.

Slide-Out Cabinet Drawers & Shelves

With a small kitchen, it isn’t always the lack of space that’s the issue. Often, it’s that people aren’t using the space that they do have effectively. With this in mind, installing pull-out drawers in your cabinets can help make sure that every inch that’s available to you is being put to work.

“I tend to recommend pull-out drawers to install in your cabinets. They’re definitely an investment, but they allow you to see everything,” says Bruce. “Whatever isn’t in the front usually gets forgotten in the back, so you’ll be motivated to use everything you have, or get rid of what you don’t need.”

Pull-out drawers take some installation, so be sure to check with your landlord first if you’re a renter. Still, they’re one of the best ways to keep eyes on all of your ingredients and equipment so that nothing gets left behind. They come in a variety of materials and styles from wood to wire, so you can find an option that suits you both visually and functionally.

Labels

When in doubt, slap a label on it, says Bruce. “When I create zones in a kitchen, everything has a purpose and that purpose is named with a label. Most families I work with have a lot going on, and this way, everyone always knows where everything goes.”

To maximize efficiency, Bruce recommends labeling everything you can, from bins in the pantry to even the shelves inside your fridge. On top of establishing organizational expectations in your home, labels can help you keep yourself in check, and cut down on time searching for something the next time around.

Of course, labels don’t add more space or additional storage, but bring us back to the idea of minimizing the amount of visual clutter in your kitchen. If a particular item doesn’t have a specified home, the general disarray can make your space feel even smaller than it actually is. Plus, labels take the guesswork out of emptying the dishwasher.

“We have to make so many decisions throughout the day, and one less decision can be fabulous!” says Bruce.

Multi-Purpose Tools & Appliances

Whether it’s the latest celebrity chef-designed cooking set or the newest trendy appliance, it can be tempting to pack your kitchen full of gadgets that you simply have nowhere to put. This is where, according to Bruce, “You need to be realistic and realize what you’re working with.”

“With a small kitchen, the main thing to keep in mind is to shop for the space you have. Instead of having 50 pots and pans, let’s have a couple that can do a lot of different things.”

Bruce is big on decluttering and consolidating, and space-hogging cookware and appliances can quickly overwhelm your kitchen. To achieve optimal efficiency in a small space, it’s okay to expect most of the pieces of equipment in it to do more than one thing. Fortunately, there are plenty of options that support multi-tasking, from all-in-one appliances to modern takes on classic pieces.

Pantry Bins

If you poke around Bruce’s Instagram, you’ll find endless images of perfectly aligned, labeled bins filling up her clients’ pantries. These bins are in line with her general philosophy of consolidation, but also help to create a space that you can enjoy looking at and using.

“Bins should be uniform, not only so that your pantry is functional, but because we tend to do a better job maintaining pretty things,” Bruce assures. “Aesthetics are important because the nicer something looks, the more motivated you are to take care of it.”

She suggests that while ideally, each bin should look the same, you can get a variety of sizes so that each one serves its designated purpose correctly. For example, you might have a set of smaller bins for various snacks, and a larger one to house your smaller appliances.

Chad Rafferty is a Thrillist contributor.
Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.