Organizing Cabinets

For each space you organize, the best approach is to consider the characteristics of its use. With cabinets, which often store a large number of small items, key elements to think about are accessibility and line of vision. The answer to the following questions will help you determine some strategies for organizing your cabinets.

1. What is being stored in the cabinets?

Some items (towels, for example) stack easily and usually take up the entire depth of a shelf—there’s not much question of what’s behind. Medicine cabinets and spice cupboards have many items, often of different sizes, and questions of order and visibility enter into play.

2. Where in the home are these items used?

If it is the storehouse for items used entirely in one room (a kitchen cabinet, for example) how you approach it will likely be different than if it is a hallway cabinet that holds some things for the bathroom, utility items like lightbulbs and flashlights, and bedroom linens.

3. Can you alter the shelf heights in the cabinet?

If the shelves are attached, the built-in organization will limit your ability to group things in sensible ways. If you can alter them, you can, for example, create a shelf space that is just taller than the tallest item (often put on the lowest level), and avoid wasting space. One good solution for fixed shelves that are taller than the space you need is plastic coated wire racks, which can be used to create mini-shelves within larger shelf spaces.

4. What is the purpose of the top of the cabinet?

Some people use cabinet tops (if they’re usable and not up to the ceiling) as additional storage space, placing large items that won’t fit within the cabinet or are enclosed and will require less cleaning. Some store items that are the least often needed on top, rather than within. Others use it as an area for ornamentation, placing vases of flowers or knickknacks on them. Still others may combine the functions, displaying, for example, a teapot collection, and thus combining storage and decoration.

home institute 1 Principles

Which principles you apply and how you apply them will depend on your answers to the above questions and, in some cases, making compromises between different approaches. The overriding principle should always be safety: this may mean making certain the cabinets cannot be opened by children (by locking them or using safety latches), or by storing any potentially hazardous items in alternative places.

  • Place smaller items in front of larger items so it’s easy to see everything at a glance and people don’t need to “rummage” through the cabinet to find what they need.

  • Place most frequently used items more accessibly than rarely used items—this may mean “in front” and/or “on a shelf that’s closer to eye level (as opposed to a very high or low shelf).

  • Place heavy/large items in the base of the cabinet where they get the most support and will have the least chance of being dislodged when other items are being accessed.

  • Group items by use (bandaids, antibiotic ointment, hydrogen peroxide, gauze, tape in one section; toothpaste, mouthwash, dental floss in another)


  • Group items by user (each member’s bathroom paraphernalia on a separate shelf,


  • Group items alphabetically (allspice, anise, basil, cardamom, cloves, fennel)


  • Group items by size, placing all the tall items on one shelf, and ensuring that space is not wasted (for example, the bottom shelf of the medicine cabinet could hold large containers of shaving cream, hairspray, contact solution, with smaller items being placed on other shelves.

  • Group items in storage containers: lazy Susans, plastic-covered wire racks, cutlery or tool trays, and sewing boxes can be used to contain and organize a large variety of items, including ones that their manufacturers didn’t have in mind. Use whatever works.

  • Written by Mary Elizabeth

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