We Tried It: A Pack-Rat Food Editor Organizes an Impossibly Tiny Kitchen

PEOPLE's food and lifestyle director Sonal Dutt (and self-proclaimed "kitchen gadget hoarder") tackles her small New York City space—and shares the clever solutions that helped bring order to all that chaos

  • What It Is: Organizing a super-small, filled-to-the-brim, New York City kitchen
  • Who Tried It:Sonal Dutt, PEOPLE's food & lifestyle director
  • Level of Difficulty (on a scale from 1 to 10): It was a 3 … well, once I let go of all my hoarding tendencies, hugged several mismatched novelty mugs I hadn't touched in years, and eventually allowed myself to trust the process.

I've been a food and lifestyle editor for over 20 years. Which means I've also been a hoarder (mostly in denial) for over 20 years. Remember that scene from The Little Mermaid where Ariel swims around her secret grotto of human treasures, surrounded by all her beloved whosits and whatsits galore? Well, imagine me and my kitchen looking a lot like that, but with far less square footage and much frizzier hair.

Like Ariel, I had surrounded myself with gadgets and gizmos a-plenty which, at the time, seemed important and useful enough to keep. You want wine openers? I've got 20—yes, literally, I'VE GOT 20. And it didn't stop there: After years of testing new cooking tools and gadgets at home, I stashed away dozens of whisks, citrus reamers, measuring cups, mismatched glassware, ice cream makers, garlic presses, tea infusers, cocktail shakers, colanders, serving platters, water bottles … you name it, I had it and in multiples. I was constantly adding to my kitchen stockpile, but rarely—if ever—subtracting.

Over time, though, all that clutter had become invisible to me. Even though my Manhattan kitchen is about the size of two city phone booths (and I'm being generous here), I had somehow found a way to put every one of those items into a cupboard and out of eyeshot—giving the illusion of tidiness and organization. But open any cabinet door and my truth was revealed: I was a wildly disorganized mess, and I wasn't going to get it under control on my own.

So when a friend offered me a chance to get my kitchen in order with the help of a professional organizer, I jumped at the opportunity—and welcomed Corrin McCoy, the owner of Neat Method in New York City, into my itty-bitty kitchen and into my life. And it's changed everything.

Here's how it all went down:


The first thing professional organizer Corrin did was empty everything out of my cabinets and off the counters, and lay it all out—organized by category. This way, she and I could see every item at once and assess the literal mess: what foods are expired; and what tools have multiples, are old or broken, can be donated, or are is still useful and important enough to keep? Logically, this first step made sense but it was the most difficult for me—I felt strangely vulnerable standing in front of ALL my things. What does Corrin think of me as she stares at that enormous mound of takeout chopsticks and stash of condiments that expired in 2018? Am I monster?


But her kind, gentle, no-judgment-here guidance kept me going, and slowly my insecurities turned into comfort.

To make the process as streamlined and easy as possible, the Neat Method owner created three piles: KEEP, THROW and DONATE. At first, admittedly, I was placing far too many things into the KEEP pile—maybe as a security blanket. But as I kept powering through the piles of products, I found it easier to add to the trash and give-away piles. Before long, she and I had edited my enormous collection down by about 75 percent! It felt as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and certainly my countertops.



Now that we had a reasonable amount of kitchen items left (well, reasonable to me), Corrin and I discussed how I use and live in the space. As a food editor, my kitchen acts as a testing laboratory of sorts for trying new gadgets and tools, and developing and testing recipes—as well as a personal space for my own cooking and get togethers. So while some home cooks may not need to reach for a Vitamix, slow cooker, cold brew maker, Dutch oven, hand mixer and air fryer in a week, I often do.

Work Stations

To give everything a place, Corinn use roomy plastic bins to create "work pods" within my lower cabinets. Each bin is labeled for easy grab-and-use: "Prep tools" is for items like a can opener, measuring cups, ice cream scoop, and hand graters; "Blend & Pressure" houses a Vitamix and Instant Pot; and "Mix & Process" includes a hand mixer, cold brew machine, and ice cream maker.

Organizational Helpers:

Clear Stackable Plastic Storage Bins: $1.59 and up each; containerstore.com

Black Washi Tape: Black Washi Tape: $5 and up, michaels.com


Corinn noticed that I had shoved all my oils, vinegars, salts, and peppers into a dark, tiny cabinet, and was constantly moving bottles around or reaching into the back to pull one out. Her solution: House them in a larger cabinet closer to my prep area, and place them all on two large OXO Lazy Susans—one for oils and vinegars, the other for salts and peppers. Honestly, why hadn't I thought of this before? The turntables are sleek and low so they barely take up any room, and they have a super-smooth glide so the bottles and pepper grinders never tip or spill over. One spin, and I have easy access to everything!


To reduce the number of bulky, half-empty bottles and boxes, she also decanted salts into a slim OXO Pop Containers and oils into space-saving glass dispensers. This truly reduced the amount of clutter in the cabinet by half! The oil dispensers are the perfect shape and design for grabbing and using in my cooking—the spout allows for a gentle, precise pour. Plus, the clear glass allows me to see how much oil I have left so I never run out mid-recipe.

Organizational Helpers:

OXO 11" Round Turntables: $10 each, containerstore.com

OXO Good Grips Oil Dispensers: $20, bedbathandbeyond.com

Ayesha Curry 4" Wood Salt Cellar: $9, target.com

OXO Pop Containers: $9.99, oxo.com


My kitchen is outfitted with several tall, deep cabinets, which is a blessing and a curse for a pack-rat like me. An infinite number of things can go in, but they're packed into a poorly-used, unorganized space. To combat this problem, Corinn used acrylic risers to add secondary shelving for my paired-down plates, bowls and dishware. So instead of stacking my bowls in an unsteady tower, I now give them a floating stage to shine.


My storage container cabinet was an even bigger mess: vessels of different shapes, materials and sizes stacked precariously with lids that never seemed to fit. After tossing or donating any containers that were old, stained or scratched, or didn't have matching tops and bottoms (which, to be frank, was about 80 percent of the lot), Corinn and I paired down the collection to eight excellent OXO glass food containers with leak-proof silicone lids. We decided glass containers would be the most useful and versatile since they can go into the microwave, oven, freezer and lunch bag, can be washed easily, and nest neatly so they take up less space in the cabinet. She also added a small wooden desk organizer to separate and give the lids height, so it's easy to identify the size I need with just a glance.


Organizational Helpers:

Acrylic Organizer Shelves: $12 and up; containerstore.com

OXO Good Grips Glass Snap Containers with Lids: $30 for 16 pieces; surlatable.com

Maple Pot Lid Organizer: $12 and up; containerstore.com


Before Corinn took control of my kitchen, I had three major categories for food storage: snacks, meals, and everything else. While I knew immediately where to find the coffee, turmeric, and linguine noodles, I knew it didn't make sense. So she created a real system by designating specific food nooks throughout the kitchen.


She utilized the space on top of my refrigerator for an easy-to-reach breakfast area. She decanted granola and dry cereal into OXO's clear dispensers with pop-open lids. They're easy to hold, open with one hand, and have generous spouts so the cereal pours out without spilling. (And, bonus, they're SO much nicer to look at than those tacky cardboard boxes). Other breakfast foods such as oatmeal, dried fruit and pancake mix, were placed neatly into a woven storage basket and tucked into a spot on the fridge too.


Confession: I'm a spice-a-holic, and I often have between 15 to 30 bottles of various ground and whole spices on hand at any time. So it should come as no surprise that my spice cabinet was also a total mess.


Corinn had a solution: She poured each spice into its own mini, air-tight Pop Container—tiny ones for ground spices and slightly larger ones for whole and chunky spices (like cinnamon sticks and full dried chilis.) She labeled each variety with its name, and slipped them into a plastic bin labeled "Spices." The individual spices can be stacked or quickly organized in any order, depending on what I'm cooking that day. Game changer, y'all!


Lastly she left room on my counter for a compact coffee bar, with a spot for my much-used Nespresso Mini Essenza machine and recyclable coffee pods—which she placed in two OXO Pop jars. The containers are air-tight so they keep the pods fresh, and have generous openings so I can quickly grab my favorite blend without having to dump out the contents. Corinn even organized the pods by color(!!) so there's no way I'm going to mess up that rainbow perfection.


Organizational Helpers:

OXO Pop Cereal Dispensers: $20; target.com

Mocha Water Hyacinth Storage Basket: $12 and up; containerstore.com

OXO Mini Pop Containers: $30 for 4; kohls.com

OXO Medium Pop Container: $13; target.com

Clear Plastic Storage Bin: $1.50 and up; containerstore.com

OXO Pop Medium Cookie Jar: $18; macys.com


As you can imagine, there's very little room for food storage in a kitchen this small so every inch of space is valuable. Knowing this, Corinn turned two of my tall, top cabinets into a compact, organized pantry. I had always used these cabinets for stashing non-perishable foods, but I was notorious for just sticking boxes and cans in wherever they would fit. Inevitably, certain products would become hidden on the top shelf or get shoved into the back corners, never to be seen, used or remembered. (This is how I ended up with four bottles of pesto with wildly varying expiration dates.)


To create the pantry, Corinn gave each shelf a theme: "Pantry Staples," "Canned & Bottled Foods," "Snacks," and "Sweeteners." Each shelf got its own plastic bin and label, so it would be super clear where to store my groceries when I get back from the store and where to look when I'm ready to cook. The best part: Since I pull out the entire bin when I want to grab, say, a can of tomatoes, I can see all my supplies at once. No more losing or forgetting about foods in the back of my cabinets!

She transferred some items—like granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, popcorn kernels and chips—to their own individual Pop Containers (mini ones for the sweeteners and larger ones for the snacks and flour).


When Corrin came to plan my kitchen, I had recently finished developing several pasta recipes for a story and was now in the middle of testing mac 'n' cheese kits for another one—so my cupboards were overflowing with half-opened bags of rigatoni, farfalle and penne and soon-to-be-opened boxes of mac. After discussing the challenges and how quickly things can become overwhelming, she created a cabinet focused entirely on my work supplies: labeled "Pasta" and "Mac," for now. (The labels can be changed or swapped when another big project testing comes around.)


She lined the mac 'n' cheese boxes and bags of long pasta into a deep, narrow bin—they fit perfectly inside and prevent the noodles from spilling out everywhere. Corinn also poured the half-empty bags of pasta into tall, square Pop Containers to keep the noodles fresh—the containers are air-tight—and the look tidy. (Sidenote: I'm now officially obsessed with OXO's Pop Containers. They come in so many different shapes, sizes and dimensions, so they fit into almost every nook and cranny of my cabinets—making use of even the tiniest space.)

Organizational Helpers:

OXO Mini Pop Containers: $5 each; surlatable.com

OXO Square Tall Pop Container: $16; oxo.com

OXO Mini Square Medium Pop Container: $11; oxo.com

Clear Plastic Storage Bins: $1.50 and up; containerstore.com

Clear Linus Deep Stackable Bin: $18 each; containerstore.com

WATCH THIS VIDEO: Step Inside Martha Stewart's Home Kitchen


I never liked the area under my sink—probably because I used that cabinet it to stash my garbage can, recycling bin, and trash bags. I mean, honestly, who wants to hang around in there? Corinn saw its potential and encouraged me to use this underutilized space better.


Yes, the cabinet would still need to house the garbage and recycling cans but the rest of it would get a big makeover. She stacked two large plastic bins, one to house the cleaning and dishwashing products and the other for reusable grocery shopping totes (I have a vast collection of bags that could rival your local Trader Joe's store).

The thing I love the most about this cabinet now: the door-lining bins. It never occurred to me to use the backs of my doors for more storage—thank goodness Corrin did. The floating bins stick firmly to the cabinet doors, and now hold everything from rolls of aluminum foil, parchment paper and plastic wrap to ziptop plastic bags, trash bags and sandwich bags—and now all within easy reach.

Organizational Helpers:

Clear Stackable Plastic Bins: $1.59 and up; containerstore.com

iDesign Affixx Adhesive Organizer Bins: $8 and up; containerstore.com

before after


I know it's not easy to reorganize a space—no matter how big or how small. The task often feels daunting and overwhelming, especially when the initial clearing out creates more mess than before. But whether you're doing it alone or with the help of a professional organizer like Corinn and Neat Method, the results are truly life-changing.

The end result is a tiny kitchen that looks, feels and functions so much better than I ever thought possible. Now, everything truly has a place of its own: I no longer have to scrounge around in deep cabinets to wrestle out my cutting board or blender because my tools are in their designated spot, and are easy to access. And, guys, I just love that everything just looks so Instagram-perfect! I'm totally crushing on my itty-bitty kitchen.

My next big undertaking: Making sure it stays this neat and organized. Forever.

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