A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Clear the Counters & Clear Your Mind

I cannot stand to have cluttered counters. Bathroom counters, kitchen counters, and basically any flat surface in a busy home just seem to magnetically attract things. It is one of the continual battles we fight in this house. If I lived alone I wouldn’t have to worry about such a silly little thing. But since that’s clearly not the case, I have to formulate my attack strategy.

As I write this, I can hear my mother’s voice echo in my mind: “Don’t put it down…put it away.” Putting things away where they go is a very important rule for any household. If you find that something doesn’t have a home, either give it one or get rid of it if it’s not worth a designated spot.

Beyond just putting things away when you’re done, try to permanently clear off as many flat surfaces as you can in your home. You’ll love how it feels to see that much clean open space and it will motivate you to clear things off after they get used. Messes aren’t as likely to be addressed if they just blend in with the regular clutter.

Admittedly, this is a HUGE challenge in our house. A kitchen that has 10 people continuously using it is hard to keep picked up. I’ve been working hard to minimize the kitchen counter clutter. Here’s a list of tips I’ve found useful for clearing kitchen clutter. I’d love to hear your tips as well.

Keeping Counter Clutter Under Control:

  1. Don’t leave a mess in the sink or on the counter. By leaving a mess behind you’re just putting off the inevitable or you’re making your mess someone else’s problem. Neither one is a good choice.
  2. Put containers out of sight. Are those decorative containers for flour, sugar, and even cotton balls in the bathroom really necessary? Try hiding them in a cabinet and see if you like the look of a clean counter better.
  3. Hide knives and other utensils. We got rid of two huge wooden knife blocks because they were eating up so much counter space. A simple drawer organizer can keep them organized in half the amount of space. I’ve also seen chefs use magnetized strips to attach knives and other metal utensils to kitchen walls. We actually tried this, but it didn’t work well with our kitchen layout. You’ll have to decide if having the visual mess is distracting or if gaining drawer and counter space is a good compromise.
  4. Store the small appliances. Many people prefer to put away their toaster, mixer, and even the coffee pot when not in use to keep the counters clear. In our house the coffee pot is used so frequently it will never get put away.
  5. Mount it off the counter. If you don’t have the option of putting everything out of sight, consider mounting as many things off the counter as you can. Our kitchen is actually fairly small and the counter space is limited. By mounting things off the counter your eye still feels like things are less cluttered with them up and out of the way.
  6. Look at things with fresh eyes. This is a trick I picked up when our house was for sale. Pretend your house is for sale and look at the rooms of your house as a prospective buyer would. When you leave a room and then walk back in, what things jump out at you? Try to clear out as many things as possible that are visually unappealing.

Much of the struggle of dealing with counter clutter is simply breaking bad habits. If you keep working on it and don’t leave a mess on a counter overnight, eventually it will start to be your new normal way of life.


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Article originally published on 10/22/2010

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  1. Karen (Scotland) says

    Totally and utterly agree with this. As a mum of four, my housework can be lax but my kitchen counters get wiped down a few times daily, without fail. “Stuff” on the counters is just stuff I have to lift to wipe properly.
    We only have a kettle on the worktop and, recently, the toaster has moved to the worktop again. (Two of my kids prefer toast to bread so moving it daily was making more crumbs and mess than is worth it!) The coffee maker goes back in the cupboard when my husband goes back to sea as I rarely use it when he is away. Knives are on a high glass shelf, away from all the kids but I can see through the glass to reach (safely) the knife I want. I’d prefer a magnetic strip but no free wall space in this kitchen.

    My problem area is the “landing station” worktop just inside the kitchen door where things get dumped until they have a home. Often, these are things heading out the house – library books, plastic tubs to return to my aunt, borrowed DVDs, small piles ready for the charity shop. This drives me mad but I can’t find another location for them. That corner has, however, been designated “non-food-prep” as so much stuff gets dumped there, including visiting relatives’ handbags etc.

    I think visible clutter like this can subconsciously have an effect on us that can affect our morale without us realising. I itch in other people’s kitchens to just “put stuff away!” Magazine piles and post – why? Why in the kitchen?! I’ve never got that! Maybe it’s the librarian in me but, ick, poor sticky papers…

    Karen (Scotland)

  2. Faith Janes says

    The dumping ground for mail and other items coming in and out of the house are nearly unavoidable. My dad and brother just finished building a custom “control center” this month. It’s the size of a bookcase and has several shelves, charging stations for phones, hooks for keys, a magnetic white board for notes, as well as slots and baskets for sorting everyone’s mail. It’s right inside the front door so when mail comes in it gets sorted instantly and the built in trashcan gets the junk mail out of here immediately. It’s also nice to put something on the shelf that you know you need to take with you the next time you leave and you need somewhere to keep it safe.

    I think having a designated space and keeping on top of the mess is the important step that most people miss.

  3. We had a spot on the counter that was a magnet for all our clutter. It was the bane of my existence! I couldn’t stand it…but it was the natural “drop zone” when someone would walk in the house. Ugh! Fortunately, my hubby is handy and decided a project was in order. Maybe this was for my sanity, or maybe it was a desperate act of self-preservation on his part, but he did some “exploring” in a column that was between out entryway and kitchen. After discovering it was hollow, he opened up the drywall, ran power, and built cubbies about 5 feet tall, 1 foot wide, and 8 inches deep. They’re perfect! Now I have a mail center, power for chargers, and baskets to hold all the “stuff” that formerly occupied my poor counters! You’re spot on, Faith…a “designed space” is a huge step toward Life: Simplified…Organized!

  4. Rachelle Lobato says

    Faith I’m right there with you when it comes to this. Having clean counters provides more workspace (especially important when your living in an apartment with a small kitchen), a peace of mind and can even be motivating. Who feels like cooking when the kitchen is a mess and the sink is full of dishes? As a new mom of a 5 month old I have even less time now to be cleaning and clearing clutter. I am looking forward to seeing what else I can clear from my counters by applying your tips. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Karen (Scotland) says

    Lol at this! I love the idea of a “control centre”: even getting to call it that would be worth it!
    Our hall is too narrow for something like this but I know exactly what you mean – I’d also want to include hooks for school rucksacks and swim bags.

    I came back to add that hanging fruit baskets are major counter space-savers. We have an old-fashioned three tier basket which holds most of our week’s fruit. Traditional fruit bowls are WAY too small and take up too much space.

    My husband just read this over my shoulder and said “Hmm, that sounds handy” about your control centre – I see a DIY project in the near future… 🙂

    • Mikala (Australia) says

      I live in a very small apartment and bought a small hall stand which just fits next to the front door. It has hooks for sunhats, and bags containing things that need to be taken on the next trip. It has a small shelf with a drawer which is where I keep my keys, sunglasses and phone and underneath it has a section (which is designed to hold umberellas) in which I keep my handbag, my son’s nappy bag and my daughter’s school bag.

      Makes the dash out the door (when you are running late as is often the norm with kids) a case of grab and go!

    • Faith Janes says

      🙂 I’ll have to take some pictures and show off their hard work on the control center.

  6. The counter clutter is a constant battle at my house. I cleaned off the counters on Thursday and as I sit in my dining room writing this, I can see the clutter has started to pile up already. The problem is that our breakfast bar is the drop off point for my husband when he walks in the house and he quit frankly doesn’t see what my problem is. This is one area we still have to figure out in our home.

  7. I do pretty well with this most of the time, although it is a daily battle. My problem area seems to be the kitchen table. I have some things on the table that we use on a daily basis and I’m not sure what to do about them. Most mornings at breakfast I read a Bible story to the kids, so we have a Bible storybook on the table, as well as a devotional book, which we sometimes use as well. We also practice math facts, spelling words, and memory verses at the table, so all of those lists and flashcards are there, too. I’ve thought about putting all of it in a basket on the table, but it still looks cluttered. Any thoughts??

    • Faith Janes says

      Is there room for a small bookcase nearby or even an attractive basket of some kind? We school all the over the house so I understand where you’re coming from. If there’s a reason for something to be easily accessible to your table then that’s fine. Just find an organized solution that you’re ok with. Sometimes it’s just necessary to hide the “mess” for times when you need an area to be presentable.

  8. I notice that if there’s one thing on that flat surface it beckons to others to join it. Somehow, an empty counter stays empty longer than one with even one piece of paper on it. I’ve been putting corraling my foo foo la la decorations on trays to give the appearance of an emptier table. The kids then pile the stuff on the tray, on top or the pretties-but the flat surface around it is staying cleaner!

    I pile school stuff in a rather unattractive laundry basket. Then I set it on the floor when I want to see the table top. In my little head the basket on the floor is easier to ignore than the basket on the table. Go figure. K

    • Faith Janes says

      It’s so true that clutter attracts more clutter. I’m like you, I deal better if the clutter is at least contained somehow.

  9. I’m definitely struggling with this very thing since moving into our new house. We have limited counter space, but I’m struggling to come up with other options for some of our stuff without making it inconvenient. I know there is a solution out there…I just haven’t thought of it yet!

  10. I’m loving your website! I’ve always commented that my husband, father and father-in-law have this knack of leaving their phones, keys, wallets, and other things on any shelf or surface they can find. I’ve never been able to figure out why, especially because they usually can’t find where they left their things! I’ve designating them a spot for their stuff when they come into the house, it works most of the time.

    I’ve also been wanting to unclutter the living areas more. I really like ceramic jugs and bowls and have collected a few over the years but I feel like there is way too much stuff in our house so I’m feeling inspired to put nearly all of them in boxes and feature 1 or 2 and then swap them over each month for a little bit of difference.

    • Faith Janes says

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the site. Thanks for reading. It has helped us a lot to have a place where phones, keys, etc. are actually supposed to be kept. It’s hard to make new habits though.

  11. I have this problem too. ANY horizontal surface in my house has clutter on it. It is a constant battle for me. I am better in many ways, but then when I fall behind a day or 2, it can start to pile up! Thanks for giving me these guidelines and a gentle reminder!

  12. Clutter! Just tonight, my son was moving ‘stuff’ on the table from one place to another, so he has room to put paper down to draw. He remarked that there’s too much ‘stuff’ in the table. And there’s an area on my countertop that I’ve not fully resolved. It’s the catch-all place. The night is still young…I’ve got some work to do! It’s indeed restful to the eyes to look at a flat space, and nothing is there to clutter the line of vision.

  13. This photo alone is huge inspiration. I look at it every morning! However, don’t the island shelves look a little bare? What’s the point of having them? Also, I imagine a vase with seasonal flowers in there…


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