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If your kitchen counters or table are covered in stuff, you’re not alone. I recently saw a Facebook post by Real Mom Nutrition (love her!) showing the reality of her cluttered kitchen counters and there were a lot of people who could relate. And I would have been one of those people not too long ago until I learned to declutter my kitchen counters AND keep them that way!
The kitchen is typically the heart of the home. So much of life happens in the kitchen that it’s easy to have stuff pile up on the most convenient place – the counters or table. But I’m proof that you can break the cycle and have clutter-free countertops!
Decluttering the kitchen counters is the easy part, in my experience. It’s keeping them clutter-free that takes the most effort.
Why Declutter Your Kitchen Counters?
When you declutter kitchen counters, your kitchen will immediately feel larger and cleaner. Piles and messes tend to stress me out so having clutter-free counters helps me feel more relaxed and in control. If you’re constantly shifting through piles on your counter then decluttered counters will save you time finding what you need.
And the best reason of all (in my opinion) to declutter your counters is it can motivate you to cook dinner at home, saving you money. If you have a clean and clear space to prepare dinner, you’re more likely to do so.
How to Declutter Kitchen Counters
Take a Look at Your Counters
Scan your counters and make note of all the items that don’t belong. Most people have some type of paper clutter on their counters, whether it’s kids’ school papers, bills or junk mail. Kids’ toys, dirty dishes, food are all also likely culprits. Group whatever junk you have on your counters into categories. From here, you’ll need to take two important steps:
- Make a game plan for how to deal with each category of stuff by creating a more permanent place.
- Create systems/routines/habits so your counters remain clutter-free. Don’t let these words scare you! There are so many benefits to having daily routines.
Mail and Other Paperwork
If your mail gets dumped on the counter because you don’t have time to deal with it, then you need a system to sort mail and any other paperwork that comes into your house. I sort mail as a part of my family command center. I like it because it is easily accessible – by the entryway door and visible from the kitchen. Even if you don’t think you need a full family command center, you should have some type of mail sorting system to keep on top of the never-ending stream of mail and papers.
Mail usually consists of junk mail (goes right in the recycle bin), coupons I want to save, bills, and other items that I categorize as action items (a recall notice on my car, a notice for a free energy audit from the electric company, a reminder to make the yearly vet appointment). So I have file folders for the three categories of mail that I want to save – Coupons, Bills and Action Items. I like to have these folders as part of my command center so they are in my line of vision every day and not hidden away and forgotten.
Check out more tips on how to get rid of the piles of paper in How to Eliminate Paper Clutter Forever.
Kids’ Artwork and School Papers
Kids bring home a lot of school papers and artwork. If you don’t have a system in place to deal with it, it can quickly get out of control and clutter your countertops. Typically the papers fall into three categories – artwork, papers to sign or require parent action, and papers that need to be temporarily saved for reference purposes.
The key is to deal with it immediately. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to sort the daily papers your kids bring home.
You may think you need a fancy, complicated process for kid’s artwork but it doesn’t need to be. I have a super simple kid’s artwork storage solution that will help you determine if you should save your kids’ artwork or toss it (yes, it is ok to throw out a lot of their artwork) and ideas for displaying it or storing it.
Papers to sign or other action needed
Anything that needs to be signed or for you to take some sort of action, either do it immediately, put it in your Action folder, or hang it on the fridge. You can either put it into the same Action folder you use for mail or create another one specifically for kid’s paper action items. I personally don’t like much hanging on the fridge but sometimes I need a highly noticeable visible reminder.
Papers to temporarily save
This was a big problem area for me. The kids would bring home a few papers that I want to hang on to for reference purposes (think the field trip paper with details on what your child will need to wear or pack). I didn’t have a spot for them so they would end up in a pile. Then I had to dig through stacks to try to find it when I needed it. I didn’t want to put it in our file cabinet because I knew I just needed to keep it very temporarily. So what did I do? I created a folder with each kid’s name on it within our family command center and now those types of papers go in there.
If you have kids then you likely also end up with their toys on the counter or table. They bring their toys with them when they are having a snack and then leave the table without the toy that absolutely had to be there when they were eating. Or maybe the counter or table is a good work area for certain toys such as legos and play-doh.
Make a new rule that toys cannot be kept on the counters or table. When your child leaves the counter or table so do their toys. That’s easier said than done, right? It may take some time for your kids to get the hang of it but if you’re consistent, you’ll see the results.
If your kids are anything like mine, simply telling them the new rule won’t be enough. Consider rewarding them if they take their toys off the counter or table when they are done. Or, another option is to put any toys left at the table in a basket and they can’t get that toy back for a certain amount of time or until a chore is completed. Check out other ways to teach your family to keep your home picked up.
Dirty Dishes and Food
Dirty dishes and food are obviously going to be part of the kitchen. But they don’t need to be cluttering the counters. Develop the habit of putting away food after you are done cooking or eating and place all the dishes in the sink or better yet straight into the dishwasher.
Part of my night routine is to load and run the dishwasher. I use to dread dishes, like majorly! Once I started timing how long it took me to complete tasks, I realized that dishes really do not take long at all. It totally changed my perspective and I don’t mind dishes at all anymore.
But what if you don’t have a dishwasher? The stack of dishes may seem overwhelming (trust me, I know! I lived in two houses without a dishwasher.) but I’ll bet it doesn’t actually take as long you think. If you are really committed to having decluttered counters, then you’re going to have to make cleaning dishes part of your daily routine.
Cups and Water Bottles
I’ve found that drinks scattered across the counters make the kitchen look so much messier than what it really is. Drink cups that will still be used throughout the day can be corralled in a designated spot on the counter. I know this doesn’t seem like it will make that big of a difference but it totally makes your kitchen look tidier.
I also bought color-coded cups for my kids, only one for each of them. The kids now have one cup to use all day, every day and there is no confusion as to which cup they were using. This made a huge difference in the number of cups on the counter and in the dishwasher.
The number of countertop appliances is going to vary greatly depending on who you talk to. I’ve heard of people who don’t keep any small appliances out (even if they use them regularly) but I haven’t actually met anyone who does that. I’ve also seen homes that must keep out every single appliance they own!
Too many countertop appliances make your kitchen look cluttered. Are you actually using them every day? If not, find another spot for it or decide if you still really need it.
My husband loves kitchen gadgets (although that has thankfully been curtailed). If you find that you are drawn to the newest kitchen tools but then don’t really use them, consider donating it to a charity or selling it.
Space-Saving Ways to Declutter Kitchen Counters
Keep only items that a relevant to the space and are used on a daily basis. If your kitchen doesn’t fit everything, consider decluttering your kitchen and organizing it, using walls and inside of cupboard doors to save space on the counters.
Here are some products that help keep the most common items off your countertops:
How to Organize Your Kitchen Countertops
So now that you have clutter-free counters, how should you organize your kitchen counters? The answer is going to depend largely on your personal needs but overall, very little should be kept on the counters. Your kitchen will appear cleaner and it will likely also be cleaner because it’s easy to wipe down the countertops when they are clutter-free.
What to Put on Kitchen Counters
So what should stay on the counters?
- Sink items such as hand soap, a small bottle of dish soap, a scraper and a scrubber
- Fruit bowl or stand – By having fruit front and center it makes it more likely your family will reach for a healthy snack. It can also do double-duty as your decorative item.
- 1-2 small appliances that you use Every. Single. Day. and it’s too big to be put away somewhere else. For us, it’s the coffee maker and toaster oven. I love my KitchenAid mixer and use it frequently but not enough to warrant keeping it on the counter. Yes, it is big and heavy but it’s still stowed away in a cabinet after each use.
- Napkins and/or paper towels (although I prefer to hang paper towels under a cabinet)
- Small decorative items – keep this to a minimum, especially if you have a small kitchen. Kitchen countertop space is precious and I don’t believe it should be taken up with a lot of decorative items. Too many decorative items will make your kitchen look cluttered. If you really want to have more decorative items then use items that are visually appealing and practical, such as a pretty teapot or nice canisters.
Keeping Kitchen Counters Decluttered
If you declutter kitchen counters and stop there, there’s a high chance your counters are going to be cluttered tomorrow and every day thereafter. So now that you have your counters decluttered and organized, how do you keep them that way? You may need to change your mindset, find motivation or developing new habits and routines.
Change Your Mindset
Changing your mindset can be the most difficult thing. So many times I’d set a goal and thought I was determined to reach it. But then I let the excuses creep in. I couldn’t do it because I was busy at work, or the family wasn’t helping or I was too tired. Excuses are easy. Develop a “No Excuses” attitude. Every time you catch yourself making an excuse, stop and remind yourself that no excuses are allowed. If day one doesn’t go well, then figure out the problem and create a solution, not an excuse.
Find Your Motivation
Getting started can be half the battle. Everyone is motivated in a different way. Find ways to make your chores less of a chore or at least make them bearable.
Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.
Developing Good Habits
So much of maintaining a tidy home has to do with developing good habits and clutter-free kitchen counters are no different.
Keeping your counters clean and clutter-free means creating new routines. I created weekly trackers specifically for morning and night routines and the same principles apply to any routine you want to develop. Creating a checklist and a weekly tracker is the best way to create a new routine and stick with it.
Over time, as the daily routines become second nature, discipline morphs into habit.
Allow Yourself Grace
Your home is meant to be lived in, not as a staging ground for photoshoots. Don’t try to live in perfection. Sometimes your kids will leave their homework or snack plate on the counter. Sometimes you may not feel well and just can’t do the dishes. Life will happen. Unexcepted things come up. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s not perfect every day.
The key is to not let the exceptions become the rule. If you get off schedule one day, don’t let that be your excuse to not clean up the next day. Just pick up where you are and make the best of it.
Clutter-free kitchen counters aren’t going to happen overnight. Well, it can but it likely won’t stay that way. You need to develop organization systems for all the stuff that constantly appears on the counters. Your solutions don’t need to be complicated or expensive, it just has to work for you. Find what works for your family to keep your counters clutter-free and don’t stress out if it’s not perfect at all times. Stick with it and you’re sure to see a difference.