The Helpful Guide to a Clutter-Free Kitchen Counter

“The kitchen is the castle. This is where we spend our happiest moments and find the joy of being family.” – Mario Batali

There is something entirely refreshing and life-giving about a clean, uncluttered kitchen counter. In fact, it is one of my favorite benefits of a minimalist lifestyle. It sets tone and culture for the home. It communicates calm and order. It promotes opportunity and possibility (who enjoys cooking in a cluttered kitchen?). It saves time and promotes cleanliness.

Yet it is one of the most difficult places in the home to keep uncluttered. There are, of course, several reasons for this challenge:

  • The kitchen is hard-wired as a natural gathering place for the family.
  • The kitchen is physically located in a high traffic area of the home.
  • The purpose of the room requires messes to be made during its use.
  • The kitchen is often used as a collection area for various odds and ends (mail, etc.).

While it is one of the most difficult places in the home to keep clutter-free, it is often one of the most desirable. It is also completely achievable. We have made it an important feature of our house and you can accomplish it in yours as well.

The Simple Guide to a Clutter-Free Kitchen Counter:

1. Remove the unnecessary.

One of the biggest causes of clutter in our homes is our tendency to put too much stuff in too little of a space. When we do, it becomes difficult to store things, find things, and access them. As a result, we dread putting things away and it becomes convenient to leave things on the counter.

Typically, the kitchen is full of this clutter. We have cupboards and shelves and drawers full of cooking utensils, gadgets, things we thought we needed, and items we purchased for a one-time use.

If keeping your kitchen counters uncluttered is a problem in your home, this is the most important step you can take. Remove completely any item you no longer use. And store items used less than 3 times/year elsewhere.

2. Relocate any thing that does not belong.

Kitchens are notorious for becoming collection areas for all various odds and ends. Unintentionally, they become the storing place for many of them: mail, kids’ homework, purses, keys, almost everything in your junk drawer.

Identify a new proper home for each. Then, change the culture in your home that allows them to stay there. Think of your kitchen as a Department Store Customer Service Area – items may enter there, but rarely stay. You can also extend this thinking to items you already store in your kitchen: televisions, radios, telephone books, etc.

3. Give every item a proper home.

One of the most essential steps in organization and keeping a home clutter-free is to find a proper home for every item. Designate drawers for silverware and cookware; cupboards for plates, containers, and small appliances; and closets/shelves for food and larger, less-used appliances. After taking steps #1 and #2, you’ll find this easier than you think.

4. Store daily use appliances out of sight.

If your counters are routinely cluttered, there is a good chance you are storing many daily-use items there (toasters, coffee makers, teapots, can openers, spice racks, etc.).They are often stored on countertops for convenience sake.

But in reality, these items spend far more time as clutter than they do as needed instruments for food preparation. For example, if you make toast every morning for breakfast, it’ll take roughly 3 minutes to toast your bread. After that, the toaster will sit unused for the next 23 hours and 57 minutes. You use it far less than you think you do.

Rather than allowing these appliances to take up counter space and cause distraction, find a home in an easily-accessed area. In our current home, we store the toaster, coffee-maker, and tea pot in a cupboard right next to the outlet. In our previous home, they were stored in an appliance garage.

5. Change your “counter is convenient” mentality.

The fallacy of convenience is a big reason our kitchen counters stay cluttered. We tend to keep things in plain sight because we believe it makes our kitchen more convenient. As a result, our counters fill up with baking ingredients, knife racks, cutting boards, and coffee mugs.

And while it may be more convenient to readily grab those items when needed, we rarely notice the other conveniences we are sacrificing by storing them there. We move them every time we wipe the counters. We sacrifice precious prep space when we cook. And they subtly fight for our attention whenever we enter the room.

6. Finish unfinished jobs completely.

When a counter is clear and tidy, it becomes motivation to put things away. But a cluttered counter attracts clutter… and unfinished jobs are clutter.

Granted, some projects take more time than others, but many kitchen jobs (washing the dishes, wiping the counters, returning used items, etc.) can be completed right away before ever leaving the kitchen in the first place. For best results, if a job can be finished in less than 2 minutes, do it. Finishing tasks will do wonders for your attitude the next time you walk in.

7. Reset each evening.

If you are lucky, your kitchen gets used every day. And any room that gets used daily will need to be reset daily. That’s why it has been on my evening checklist for a number of years.

We live our lives and often get too used to them. As a result, we get used to our cluttered kitchen counters and don’t realize how freeing it can be to keep them clear. We may be reminded when we walk into a friend’s house or see a photo of a simple kitchen, but we’ve become so accustomed to the current state of ours we forget we can change.

You don’t need to live with a cluttered kitchen countertop. The solution is indeed simpler than you think.

Image: Yasu’s Photo

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    ‘Change your “counter is convenient” mentality’

    Nice point. I’ve recently discovered that a cluttered surface ( or room, or desk ) brings about stress as compared to a clean counter top. Nice clean lines tend to calm.

    Dan @ ZenPresence

    • says

      I find that clutter also creates a sense of unease with me too.. yet surprisingly so does the emptiness. I don’t like clutter but it follows me.. I guess I need to do some EFT on that feeling of emptiness.

  2. says

    We follow most of the above mentioned points in our kitchen except for having a separate storage for kitchen appliances. Half of the kitchen shelf is occupied with the appliances which have limited use daily. Implementing this advice is going to make a big difference. Thank you for sharing!

  3. says

    Thanks again Joshua,
    If we all could just master the kitchen first, it will help keep the whole house clutter free. The kitchen is our first and best place to start. We can set an example for all the other rooms. I know most of us know this…. but that is why I SUBSCRIBE to your blog. It is great to get these reminders to keep on our path. You are so right on… get the kitchen done and keep it done and you will be empowered to clone that clutter free feeling to the other areas of you life.
    Thanks again for the gentle reminder!

  4. Lisa says

    As for kitchen gadgets & clutter: get rid of single use gadgets. A toaster oven is a multiple use item (save a lot of $ to use a small toaster oven than heat the whole large oven for small baking) and replaces the toaster. A rice cooker is nice, but just one more item and doesn’t actually reduce the amount of dishes to be done. All the little gadgets we buy are usually easily replaced by a couple of good knives (and learning how to use them).

    Have a gadget that you haven’t used in a year? Get rid of it :-).

  5. says

    Okay, okay! I’ll dismantle my spice rack tonight and re-gift the rice cooker to the neighbors. Thanks for the motivation, Joshua. Kitchen clutter has been quite the 9:30 pm argument ignitor. Let’s put a stop to that!

  6. Thia May says

    Oddly enough, this is my least problem area, mostly because my kitchen is in the back of the house (not a high traffic area) and I have a home office with a bin for mail. However, I have the toaster and coffee pot out. I can’t remember the last time I actually had toast. Need to move those now. And as always, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blog. Thank you!!!

  7. says

    Right after I read this post, I rearranged some things in the cabinets and made space for my coffee maker. The toaster oven is just too big to hide away, but now it is the only item left on the counters. I’m loving it!

  8. Fiona Malone says

    A friend read a tip in a book, which was basically a zero tolerance approach to Things on Flat Surfaces. The idea was that if you’re inclined to be messy, don’t put ANYTHING on a flat surface, the absolute opposite of what happens in decorating magazines. Because once one thing is allowed there, it will grow friends: the flowers attract the keys, which attract the phone, which attract the bag, which attract the pens…
    I tried it. I removed everything from my kitchen table and bench. I found everything a new home (including the bin). And now I do not leave the room while there is stuff on the surfaces. When I’m done in there, the surfaces are clear.
    It’s been several months. I still have clear benches.
    (Except for the gingerbread house that was an awesome idea but badly planned, because I have no idea where it should live. I think we need to eat it soon.)

  9. O+ says

    This post made we wonder about your philosophy on food itself and your consumption of it. :) Is your fridge full or is it minimalist also?

    Keep up the good work!

  10. says

    And another great bonus to keeping counters clear, is that they are safer! There is a food handling component to the clean kitchen theory too. One area I struggle with, is my pantry stock. But for counters, being able to fully wipe them down after preparing a meal means there are less germs to cause a potential problem. Trying to cook on a cluttered counter top also means an increased chance of injury — you need room to chop, a safe place to put down a hot/heavy pan, etc.

  11. Marianne says

    I see everyone talking about coffee makers and I forgot what it was like to have that appliance out. Last year we bought a brew express coffee maker that installs into the wall. It comes out about 2 inches onto the counter and hooks directly to the water line. I love clean spacious counters!

  12. laurie macpherson says

    I have a lovely spring table in my kitchen and lots of cupboards for storing stuff!!

  13. Anne Stockwell says

    My kitchen is easier to keep neat, because it is the room I control most fully. I do need to implement some of these tips though!

  14. Karen says

    I have started working teaching cooking & the kitchen there is spotless. At home I cook around the mess & clutter & its driving me nuts.
    I even printed this out to keep as a reminder.
    Thank you for this post.

  15. says

    I love these tips. I’ve never seen an appliance garage before, great idea. I will work on implementing these steps to help eliminate the clutter in the kitchen. It’s one of the most difficult rooms in my home to keep tidy. It seems like I’m constantly working on it!

  16. Jodi says

    Hmmm…I have 5 kids and we have lots of bowls of fruit and veggies on the counter (tomatoes, onions, garlic, limes, lemons, apples, oranges, whole watermelons and pineapples). What can I do with those?

    • says

      Jodi why not allow one bowl of fruit for decoration/use? Put some of that list in the fridge. Lemons, limes, garlic, onions, oranges, and apples all do well in the fridge. Watermelon too if you have the room! Keep the rest in one bowl!

    • Jenn Marie says

      Kudos to you for keeping healthy food out for your family. I keep my onions, garlic, and potatoes in the pantry. For the citrus fruit and apples, a three-tiered fruit basket (standing/hanging) or tray works well and is decorative. Watermelons and pineapples can go in the fridge or on the floor of the pantry. If you choose to store citrus in the fridge, remove it 12 hours before use. Cool temperatures cause the fruit to dry out, and room temperature helps restore it.

  17. says

    The kitchen counter being clear is the start of my calm. We do have our appliances put away with the exception of a kettle that we use frequently throughout the day and a bowl of fruit. I like to say “the counters are my workspace.” I keep them free of things so I have room to cook, bake, and pay bills. It’s a great place to start for someone trying to have less.

  18. Maya says

    I am making a vision board of how I want my future life to be and I picked a photo of a clear kitchen counter. I didn’t realize how my cluttered counter was affecting me in a negative way. Thank you for this article. Now to get busy. I am not a hoarder but magazines and counter clutter is my downfall. Any ideas would be appreciated. We are an older couple.

  19. says

    Today I began to clean my closet, and I couldn’t have imagined what I would experience my wife was just about to call the therapist from hoarders, because I didn’t want to get rid of my old T-Shirts. She had like 15 of them that I never wear, but I swore I would wear them again one day! I eventually got rid of them at a Goodwill store! I feel like I’ve made a step in the right direction. I’ve been reading your blog in 2013, and I’ve told everyone I was going to do this in 2014. I got a taste of how hard it was going to be to becoming a minamalist!

  20. Catherine says

    I am so excited. I minimalized my kitchen today. I have a big box of kitchen gadgets ( melon ball thingy anyone?), coffee mugs, and baking trays all ready to donate. Loving the journey!

  21. says

    It’s difficult to whip up dinner when you can’t find an inch of work space between that bulky blender, hulking knife block and rickety spice rack. Find ways to clear your food prep area by uncovering surprising new places to stash some of your biggest space hogs.

  22. Carolyn A says

    I would love, love, love a clutter-free countertop, but with a 1920s farmhouse kitchen from the 1950s and six people, there’s no where else to go with certain things other than the countertop. That said, we can probably do better and have less out than we presently do.

  23. Paula says

    THANK YOU! I have been reading your posts for awhile and implementing a couple of the smaller quicker changes but I just spent 6 hours going through my already small kitchen and pulled out all the clutter and unnecessary things. WOW my counter is empty except for a fruit bowl and a knife block. I LOVE LOVE LOVE it! Slowly but surely I am “becoming” a minimalist!

  24. says

    I appreciate this reminder. It took me a long time to adopt your method of putting away the coffee grinder and other items.

    Now I will focus on keeping it decluttered every night.

  25. Amanda says

    This is a great challenge! Living in an apartment with a small kitchen, its sometimes much easier to leave the things I use daily out instead of trying to find a place to store them. But this does get a person thinking of ways to implement the concept.

  26. Tiff says

    Hi. I recently started following this site. Great advice. I’ve been struggling to keep the kitchen counter clean, and I am guilty of many things mentioned. Keeping the coffee maker I only use once a month out. Having a utensil container on the counter. There’s many things out that I only use once a week or even less. Time to go in to find new homes for everything that’s on the counter.

  27. Marie says

    I’ve discovered one of the best ways to keep a clean kitchen is to organize your cabinets! When cabinets are not organized, people will be less inclined to put things into them. If people know something will drop on their foot when they open the cabinet door, or that it will be work trying to make an item fit and stay put, they will leave it for someone else to put away, if ever.

  28. Rachel says

    And they collect dust! I’m working on this. I have a hard time putting away the daily items, but I did get my non-daily items stowed in cabinets yesterday.

  29. says

    I make a point of clearing my kitchen counters of all clutter every morning before I leave for work. There’s nothing quiet as nice as walking in the door at the end of a tiring day and seeing a neat and tidy kitchen. It is an Ahhhhhh moment.

  30. Carolina R. Kipnis says

    I actually have to disagree with insisting on keeping the counter completely bare. Functional items that get regular use do their best service when they are ready at hand, rather than having to fuss and bother with opening a cabinet, pulling it out of the counter, plugging it in, and so on…

    “Clutter” is when the stuff in your space is interfering with what you want to do in the space. But keeping one’s tools at the ready hardly counts as “clutter” in my mind.

  31. Jessica says

    I agree with all of these tips (and live by them). However, I have accepted that my kitchen will always be filled– not with mail or unnecessary clutter, but with things I use multiple times a day. I am a single mom of four that is lucky enough to work from home and cook three meals a day, from scratch, with raw ingredients. My kitchen is used probably A LOT more than the average kitchen and, because of the way I cook and my personal appreciation of knowing exactly what is in my family’s food, I have a ton of kitchen items that I feel I need. I have minimized as much as possible for this kind of cooking lifestyle but a lot of it I will not sacrifice. The kitchen is extremely important to me and every single thing that ‘clutters’ my kitchen gets used every single day, most get used multiple times a day. At first it bothered me that I couldn’t get rid of more but I later realized it’s perfectly okay to have an area or certain items you feel you need… for some it’s their books, others maybe it’s their gardening equipment.
    What I need is a rock star kitchen filled with bulk items and equipment to feed my herd stellar, wholesome meals… and as quickly as possible.

    What is important to remember is what it is you actually value and HELPS you in your lifestyle. What lifestyle is important to you? High quality food and the ability to easily provide that for my family is one of my non-negotiables. So my kitchen will be filled with stuff and I’m ok with that.

    With that said– if it doesn’t belong in the kitchen or isn’t being used, get it out.

  32. jenn says

    I use my kitchen. I don’t use knick knacks on shelves. So, I don’t do knick knacks and I keep the rest of the house pretty clutter free but I’m okay with leaving appliances that I use every single day out on the kitchen counter. Isn’t it just time consuming to put them in the cabinet and then pull them back out every single time?
    To me minimalism is more about not accumulating stuff just for the sake of accumulating stuff. But I feel like hiding stuff in the kitchen is just pretending.

  33. says

    We have less than 10sq feet of counter space in my kitchen. I have my toaster oven on a shelf in a cabinet. When I make toast I uncoil the cord and plug it in. I don’t even take it out of the cabinet. I just leave the cabinet door open until I’m done making toast. Unplug, coil the cord and it’s all put away.

  34. says

    I’m interested with an appliance garage but I’m afraid this won’t work for me who has an obsession with my coffeemaker. LOL I need to see it on my counter top. I don’t use it daily – I use it several times a day.

  35. ren says

    I cleaned off kitchen counter…my boyfriend walked into house and asked if we were moving and when I said no he asked if he was getting moved out…no, haha- but shows how much of an impact cleaning a total of 8 feet of counter top.

  36. ren says

    I have my coffee maker and microwave out, that’s it for appliances. One small wicker tote to hold recyclables on their way out to bins. Looks so much neater and cleaner.

  37. Shari says

    My husband says he likes the toaster out and here is his reasoning. If it takes you only 30 seconds to take out the toaster and 30 seconds to put it away over the course of a year, it becomes 365 minutes to access your toaster which is over 6 hours of your life in a year just messing with your toaster. Is it worth having a clutter free counter or would you rather have that 6 hours of your life back? LOL Yes, this is what I deal with when I suggest minimalism! Lol I try to use Gretchen Rubin’s line that “counters are for activity and not for storage” but he always gives me poop about it! Lol

  38. says

    Joshua, I know you have children. How did you manage clear counters when your kids were small? I keep daily use items in the cupboards, but then, come breakfast time, it seems like everyone wants something different out – I try and teach my children independence (i.e. don’t do something for them that they are capable of doing for themselves), but they’re not big enough to get the toaster oven out by themselves, for example. How did you balance those two ideas? Thanks – I love your blog. :-)

  39. Anna says

    Moving into my new home I kept my kitchen very minimal and clear but when family came to visit and saw how few things I had they went out and bought things I didn’t need or wanted it’s been difficult to explain that I was happy and not in need of any more stuff. The just in case you need it way of thinking seems to be taking up so much room in our lives.

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