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In a parallel universe, all my pants fit me perfectly and my kitchen is large enough to pirouette,  several times, from counter to counter as Vivaldi echoes off all the marble and stainless steel.

But this is not that universe, and, in this one, my kitchen is an 8×8 galley kitchen where a four-year-old can stand arms outstretched and touch both sides at once.

Here, every inch of space counts, and as a rental, there’s only so much money one wants to spend on upgrades.

If I owned it, my first investment would be great cabinetry with lots of built-in space-saving solutions, but that ain’t happening, and a lot of you aren’t about to install incredible cupboards right now either.

Fortunately, with a few creative tweaks, discipline, and planning, it’s possible to maximize small space kitchens for big-time cooking.

As a passionate hobby chef, years of small-space cooking have taught me tricks to share for curbing clutter, smart layouts, and more:

1. De-Clutter, De-Clutter, De-Clutter

It’s always step one! Learn how to improvise, donate what you don’t need, and minimize your tools and appliances. Pastry bag? Unless you’re Aunt Bea and decorating pastries weekly, donate it. Instead, snip the end off a produce plastic bag and nix the clean-up next time you’re piping. Meat mallet? That’s what flat bottom of your sauté pan is for. Chuck the mallet. Rethink every item in your space.

2. Spice, Spice, Baby

Anyone big on cooking has gone well beyond seasoning salt and poultry spice. When carrying 20 to 30 kinds of spices, not to mention hot sauces, space vanishes fast. Use matching containers. Make them stackable for cupboards, or choose a wall-mounted spice rack, or have magnetized tins to mount counter-side on your fridge. Spices should be arm’s reach of the stove. It’s where you use them, and things will be tidier if they’re close to home.

3. Junk the Junk Drawer

Really, when’s the last time your week was saved because that crucial mystery bolt in the junk drawer came to the rescue? That’s right, never. It’s time to get real and find homes for your errant crazy junk drawer bitsies (like, in the trash) and then use the drawer for something that has a purpose, like utensils, or food storage wraps/bags.

4. A Cut Above: Mounting Knives

Magnetic strips are great, and mean ditching that crappy wood block for knives. Mount them on the back wall. I know, it literally seems like a reach, and there are often decor photos of magnetic-mounted knives by stoves, looking all cool, but if you’re suddenly burned by a hot dish and throw your arms up when reacting, that’ll be the last place you want your knives. Don’t do that.

5: Up, Up, Up, and Away! Wall-mounted systems

I’ve got Ikea’s Bygel rail system up in my kitchen, and my dish drainers hang on the wall, not on my counter, freeing literally 30% of my prep space. $50 and an hour’s install, and my space use is completely different. They’re also great for hanging S-hooks for utensils, holding containers for odds and ends, and more, depending what your needs are, and all quick-to-reach, making your kitchen fluid when cooking. With hanging utensils on S-hooks, only hang what is used (and cleaned) often. If often in use, you’ll probably love having it hanging and easily accessible. I know I do.

6. Getting Hooked: Cups

Simple dollar-store hooks maximize limited cupboard space with hanging access to favourite mugs. There are some sexy mugs out there these days, so hanging a great-looking set brings color and fun into an rental space you can’t paint. A couple tips on installing cup-hooks: One, pre-drill holes so you don’t strain your hands twisting hooks. Two, partially straighten hooks because they’re often not large enough for big designer mugs available today. Slightly straightening hooks before installing them, using pliers, will keep cup-hanging options open for years to come.

7. Go Unplugged: Store Appliances

While appliances make life easy, keeping them on the counter is a space-suck for small kitchens. Don’t do it. Instead, relocate anything not used daily to a small bookshelf or dedicated space in a pantry or closet. Mine are all in an in-suite storage, out of sight, and I pull ‘em out to use then put back ‘em when done. Look! Counter space! Like magic!

8. Unlikely Helpers: Office Supplies & More

Never underestimate job-specific organizers when you’re in the kitchen, but don’t feel compelled to buy fancy solutions. An old CD-holder wire tray does double-duty for pot lids, an office document clip organizes barbecue skewers and chopsticks in groups. Think creatively and you’ll find unexpected solutions all around you. Failing that, there’s always smart-storage-solution shops.

9. Hooked on Hooking Up: Pots

Pot racks go from $210 to $1,600 on Williams-Sonoma, but you’re not limited to ready-made solutions. Whether it’s jerry-rigging a bicycle tire rim to hold S-hooked pots, like seen on the popular “Suzie Homefaker” Facebook page, or finding other metal or wood frames to suspend that suit a small corner in your place, there are a lot of ways to get your pots hanging overhead and free up your cupboards. The Google has ideas!

10. Smart Space Planning

When planning out cupboards, think healthy — put junk foods up high, and healthy foods eye-level. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a more true than we’d like to admit. Similarly, utensils and foods you use often should be at the most accessible spot — eye-level, at the front of the drawer, et cetera. Put eating utensils and dishes closest to the table, cooking utensils next to the stove, and so forth. Store it where you use it and you’ll find it easier to maintain awesomeness in the kitchen.

Practice Makes Perfect

Always remember that small kitchen will show you where it’s not working. As time goes on, where do things get disorganized the fastest? That’s how to know where you need to find a new approach.

To stay on top of Small Kitchen Life, it’s best to the pantry out regularly. Every six weeks or two months, go through the cupboards (it’s not hard, you only have three!) and find out what’s expiring soon, make a plan to use it, and organize it all again.

Small kitchens are a tough lot for anyone who loves to cook, but with today’s creative design options, a little cash, and smart thinking, it’s surprising how one can economize space.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.