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12 Ideas for Organizing with Open Shelving

Open shelving is a popular storage solution whether you live in a small apartment or are just looking for a new way to organize your kitchen. However, open shelving can look cluttered and messy if not organized right. Here are 12 ideas for organizing your open shelves.

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shutterstock_739269280 open shelving glassesOlya Detry/Shutterstock

Group Items Together

If you are storing your drinking glasses on open shelving, group them together. Same goes with spices, plates and serving bowls.

Photo: Olya Detry/Shutterstock

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shutterstock_574543546 tupperware container storageKseniia Oshchepkova/Shutterstock

Use Containers

Open shelves aren’t always the best place to store food, but if you have limited storage and need to store food on open shelving, invest in some containers with lids. Not only will they help keep your food from going stale, they are more attractive than a bunch of boxes and cans.

Photo: Kseniia Oshchepkova/Shutterstock

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shutterstock_530497795 kitchen open shelving organizationArchiVIZ/Shutterstock

Think Heavy to Light

If you plan to use open shelving for heavier items such as mixers and food processors, put these heavy items on lower shelves so they are easier to get down. Put lighter items such as cups and small bowls on higher shelves, but be sure to keep everyday items within reach.

Photo: ArchiVIZ/Shutterstock

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shutterstock_419031811 toy storage baskets and bins babyAlina R/Shutterstock

Use Baskets and Bins

Whether it’s in the kitchen, the bathroom or the toy room, baskets and bins can come in handy. Use baskets or bins in fun colors to store small items such as building blocks, art supplies, guest toiletries and cloth napkins or dish towels.

Photo: Alina R/Shutterstock

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shutterstock_528544441 bookcase libraryCasezy idea/Shutterstock


If your open bookshelf is looking a bit crowded, see if you can move things around to get more storage space. Push books all the way to the back and you’ll likely have some room to put out a candle or a couple framed pictures in front. You can also try stacking some books to create more storage space.

Photo: Casezy idea/Shutterstock

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shutterstock_185909885 kitchen open shelvingalexandre zveiger/Shutterstock

Stick to What You Use

There’s a good chance you only use that tart pan once or twice a year, so get it off the open shelf. Only store items you use regularly or want to display on open shelving.

Photo: alexandre zveiger/Shutterstock

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shutterstock_708497602 dining room

Create a Solid Base

If you have metal shelves, consider using something like a cutting board or decorative serving tray to place underneath smaller items. This will help create a sturdier base for items such as spices that may otherwise fall over.


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shutterstock_203428204 baby changing station organizationAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Think About Height

For open shelving in the bathroom, mudroom or toy room, keep height in mind so everything is within easy reach. If you have high shelves in the kitchen that are hard to reach, use them for decorative items or pieces you don’t use as often.

Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

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shutterstock_435299629 books bookcase shelftadamichi/Shutterstock

Edit Books

If you have more books than you have shelf space, it’s time to edit your collection. Put out the cookbooks you know you’ll use regularly, along with books that you know you might read again. Store all others out of sight or better yet, donate them.

Photo: tadamichi/Shutterstock

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shutterstock_784973674 open shelving dining

Make it Pretty

Display artwork, found objects and other treasures you’ve collected on open shelving. Place smaller pieces of pottery in front of books or prop up a painting behind those drinking glasses. You can also use some open space for pretty plants and flowers.


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shutterstock_465281156 antiques Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Go Big and Small

Mix and match big items on the same shelf with small items if possible. Too many small items on a shelf can look cluttered.

Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

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shutterstock_126715268 open shelving kitchen bowls organizationAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Organize and Organize Again

There’s a good chance that when it comes to organizing open shelving—whether in the bathroom, toy room or kitchen—you probably won’t get it done the first time. Every few weeks, look at the space and remove any items that aren’t working or try reorganizing so the items you use regularly are right where you need them.

Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Rachel Brougham
Rachel Brougham lived through a major home renovation in 2019, knows the ups and downs of home improvement, and loves sharing tips with readers. A veteran journalist of both print and television, she’s won several awards for her writing and has covered everything from the environment and education to health care, politics and food. She’s written for several publications beyond newspapers including Bob Vila, Taste of Home and Minnesota Parent, and she currently writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column. Her memoir, Widowland, about the sudden loss of her husband, was published in 2022. She specializes in everything from home decor and design to lawn and garden, product reviews and pet care. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her tending to her garden (both vegetables and native plants), playing with her dog, watching sports with her family or getting some exercise. A native of Michigan, she currently lives in Minneapolis. An avid user of Instagram, you can follow her @RachBrougham.