Flow and Order: a look at how we use and move through the space we so love

by Magnolia
Published on August 27, 2020

Story by Liz Bell Young, Illustrations by Lida Ziruffo


They gather us in the early morning, come alongside us throughout the day, then call us back for the evening hours. And when your kitchen is set up in a way that makes sense for how you use and move through the space, it can also bring peace. When what you need is right at your fingertips. When what you rarely use is tucked aside. When you have breathing room to create openly, move lightly, think clearly.

All too often, we hang onto the way we first set up our kitchens. Maybe yours is organized the same as the day you moved in—unloaded straight out of cardboard boxes, friends and family making choices on your behalf. Or what was once a thoughtful positioning of appliances, utensils, and baking gadgetry has run its course and no longer matches your lifestyle. Perhaps now you have little ones but haven’t had a chance to put small cups and plasticware at their level, so you’re constantly reaching for what they could grab for themselves. Maybe you’re empty nesting but still have cabinets full of plates and glassware for the daily feeding of five. Or maybe you’ve had a few friends move in, and the cupboards now burst with duplicates.

A good pause is in order. What if you took a few hours and brought pleasing order to the space you so often frequent? What if you allowed that space to really line up with your cooking style, your preferred cadence, and your everyday routines? Here’s a way to start: Simply stand in the middle of your kitchen. Don’t touch anything yet—just look around and note your most-visited cabinets, shelves, and prep zones. (If it helps, put a sticky note or piece of washi tape on those spots, so you can easily visualize your daily use.) Now consider what gets prime real estate but should actually take a back seat and any sections that feel overly crowded, mismatched, or too out of reach. (Mark those with a different tape or color.)

Now, step back and get ready to make fresh choices. If it helps, draw a simple sketch of your desired layout. Imagine you’re moving into the kitchen all over again and have free rein—a beautifully blank slate. Open up all the cabinets; pull things out (backs of drawers included), and don’t be afraid of the temporary mess. Grab a few boxes for donations and discards because no doubt this will become a decent-sized collection. And have a table or spot nearby ready to stage items that have been housed in the kitchen but need a new spot in the house—like that oversize slow cooker that could better live on a basement shelf until the holidays roll around again.

We have collected big-picture ideas for organizing and tips for orderly peace, but remember: This is about you. Not a chef or designer you admire. Not even the mother figure you love. It’s about giving yourself a space that reflects the reality of your day. A place you feel happy and comfortable moving around. As if on a dance floor, with a harmony all your own.



Try putting daily-use items in front and on top whenever possible. For instance, if your favorite mixing bowl holds a surplus of measuring cups, store those cups elsewhere. If your go-to cast-iron pan is at the bottom of the stack because of its weight, store it vertically along the cabinet’s side. Vertical storage is also wonderful for cookie sheets, muffin pans, cutting boards, and serving platter.


Approaching your kitchen organization with the intention of having it work for your own rhythms can make all the difference. More often than not, it’s the paring down that does wonders. Focusing your discriminating eye on all the cabinets, all the accoutrements. Understanding how you use what you have, then putting a calm hand to ordering this space that is the backdrop for so much of your day.


Not every kitchen has extra space for meal prep. If you find yourself searching for space to cook, consider setting up counter space that’s easily
convertible. For example, place the go-to items you keep on the counter
on a tray or cutting board. That way, when you’re in need of counter space,
clearing an area is as simple as moving the tray. Sometimes a makeshift counter—a cart or table you bring in and treat like a temporary kitchen
island—can help make room.



Make room on your counters for the essentials you use every day—the things you find yourself reaching for over and over again. Although it might look tidier with everything hidden away in designated drawers or cabinets, sometimes having the essentials within arm’s reach will make your kitchen rhythms easier and more enjoyable. So whether it’s olive oil or salt and pepper pinch bowls or a large toaster oven you use every morning, reserve space for what works for you.


Once you have your kitchen in peaceful working order, bring in a few items simply because you love them. A potted plant or glass soap dispenser. A small piece of art. An upholstered chair tucked in the corner for an impromptu rest while you wait for water to boil. When rhythms are off, beauty can help bring us back on point. And when flow and order feel good, it deepens the feeling that everything is right with the world.



It’s easy to lose track of everything that gets tucked away in a drawer, so unloading them completely can help you separate what you use from what you don’t. From there, drawer dividers can offer calm for the chaos. Expandable dividers help maximize your drawer’s full dimension, or you can try diagonal drawer inserts that give a place to both small and large accessories.

This story was adapted for digital from the fall issue of Magnolia Journal.

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