Our 30 Most Brilliant Tips for Dealing with Clutter in the Kitchen

updated Jun 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)

Fact: You can have a perfectly clean kitchen (think: pristine countertops, a spotless stovetop, and a coffee maker that looks like it just came out of its box) and you can still be drowning in clutter. Just because you’re a clean person doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a neat one.

If you’re drowning in kitchen utensils or are tired of looking at piles and piles of stuff that just does not belong on the table, you have a clutter issue. Good thing we have loads of tips, tricks, and rules to help you get all that stuff under control. These are our very best pieces of advice when it comes to decluttering.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

1. Put a piece of tape on all your questionable kitchen items.

Not sure if you really use something often enough to justify keeping it? This is like the backwards hanger trick — only it’s for your kitchen instead of your closet. Put a piece of tape on all your questionable tools and gadgets (the handles of pots and pans, the cords of small appliances, etc!). Take the tape off when you go to use an item and reassess in six months. Anything that still has tape on it can probably go.

2. Or use the 90/90 rule.

For something less involved, but still effective, try the Minimalists’ 90/90 rule. Ask yourself: Have I used this item in the last 90 days? If not, will I use it in the next 90? If the answer is no, it’s time to let go. The only time this is tough is when you’re talking about seasonal stuff (like ice cream makers or melamine dishes), but you get the point.

3. Put away anything you don’t use daily.

If you have a toaster on your counter but can’t remember the last time you made toast, it may be time to find space for it in a cabinet. Having stuff out on your counter only adds to the visual clutter, so if you don’t really need it, put it away. (Your gorgeous stand mixer can be an exception to this rule.)

4. Make a system for things that belong in other rooms.

There’s always that errant stapler that’s made its way from the home office to the kitchen table. Or the hats and gloves on the island. To deal with those misplaced items, get a basket. Designate it as the space for things that belong in other rooms and toss things in as you tidy up. This way, your kitchen gets decluttered quickly and then you can carry the basket from room to room as you put things away.

5. Set a timer.

If things have gotten so cluttered that the task seems overwhelming, set yourself a timer for two, three, or five minutes. Just do the most you can before the buzzer goes off.

6. Stop using your fridge as an art gallery.

Yes, your toddler is handy with a crayon. No, you don’t have to put every piece of his art on the fridge just because he made it. Hanging all those scribbled-on papers on your fridge is bound to make your kitchen look messier than it is. If you really want to display his work, consider framing some of your favorites and hanging them in a grid or gallery wall by your breakfast table.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

7. Decant sloppy-looking food packages.

Even though things like bags of sugar, boxes of pasta, and bulk packages of rice belong in the kitchen, that doesn’t mean they look great. It’s so easy for those packages to end up looking like a hot mess. We’re big fans of putting ingredients into airtight containers for a streamlined display. Just make sure you pick a container that’s large enough to hold everything you’re decanting.

(Image credit: Liz Calka)

8. Try the “bigger than a breadbox” challenge.

Decluttering doesn’t have to happen all at once. Pick a single spot in your home that’s more cluttered than you like and get to work. The only rule is that you have to choose a spot that’s proverbially “bigger than a breadbox.” Pick a single cabinet, inside the fridge, a pantry shelf, etc. Tackle the space and then pat yourself on the back.

Read more about how this works: Try the “Bigger Than a Breadbox” Decluttering Challenge this Weekend at Apartment Therapy

(Image credit: Pippa Drummond)

9. Straighten up the coffee table.

Whether you eat every single dinner at your coffee table or just use it for snacks during Netflix binges, we know you eat something off that table. So take a few minutes to clean it up each day and you’ll have a clearer mind and the living room will instantly look a bit better, too.

10. Use your phone — without downloading any extra apps.

The irony about lists is that they’re supposed to make us all more organized. But if you have a dozen lists hanging off your fridge, they’re probably not going to be super helpful — and they’re going to clutter up your space. Instead, try keeping your shopping lists digitally in the Notes app or emailing yourself.

11. Try the “best, favorite, necessary” mantra to decide what stays.

Still having trouble getting rid of stuff? Look at everything in your kitchen with some “best, favorite, necessary” glasses. Is that spatula the best one? Your favorite one? Necessary? Then you can keep it. If not, it’s time to toss or donate it.

12. Be honest with yourself.

Still holding onto that bread maker after all these years in hopes that you’re going to become the kind of person who makes bread? If you’re really gonna do it, that’s fine, but be honest with yourself. If you just have no idea when you’re going to get around to it, it may be time to pass the machine along to someone who will actually use it. Then, you can enjoy more cabinet space!

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

13. Banish the mail from your countertops.

Let’s go through your post-work routine, shall we? You get home, check the mail, carry the mail inside, put it on the kitchen counter, and then instantly get sidetracked by a million other things. Maybe you sort through it a little while the oven preheats for dinner, but even still, stacks of envelopes and catalogs grow and grow. Not only do they create clutter, but these piles also increase your risk of missing an important notice or bill. Develop a system to deal with the mail as it comes in!

Read more: One Thing You Should Banish from Your Kitchen Right Now

14. And actually, ALL other errant stuff.

Mail is one of the biggest culprits, but it’s not the only issue when we’re talking about countertop clutter. There’s homework, office papers, to-do lists, craft projects, pet supplies, etc! Make a rule that none of these things can ever make direct contact with the counter. Instead, they can go in that basket or back where they belong! This rule counts for the kitchen table, too.

(Image credit: Catherine Meschia)

15. Stop stashing stuff next to the trash can.

Putting something next to the trash can is not the same thing as putting something in the trash can. Break down boxes that are bound for the recycling bin as soon they’re ready and take out the trash once it’s full. The more you let that stuff pile up, the more cluttered your space will become!

16. Try a decluttering checklist.

Not sure where to start? Follow the suggestions on our handy checklist.

(Image credit: Melanie Rieders)

17. Get your small appliance cords under control.

As great as your shiny KitchenAid stand mixer looks on your counter, its cord (and the one from your toaster, and the one from your coffee maker) just makes your space look cluttered. Luckily, we have some smart ways to get those cords out of sight.

(Image credit: Elissa Crowe)

18. Put more stuff in your cabinets.

It’s simple: The less stuff you have sitting out, the less cluttered your space is going to look. But don’t just throw stuff in a cabinet and hope the door stays closed!

19. Follow the “one in, one out” rule.

Obviously, if you get a new toaster, you’re going to get rid of the old one. So why not apply that same principle to other things in your kitchen? Following this rule will help you prevent the stuff from overtaking your space.

Read more: Tame Kitchen Clutter: The One in, One out Rule

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

20. Create a home base for your in-use cups and glasses.

If you and the rest of your household hydrates properly, your home could end up looking like the set of the movie Signs by the end of the day. Meaning, you may deal with cups and glasses everywhere. Squash that kind of clutter by designating a set spot for in-use cups and glasses to go. If it’s a bunch of adults, designate a spot on the counter or table. If you have little kids, try this quick and easy hack.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

21. Put all other dishes away immediately.

Dirty dishes stacked up next to the dishwasher? Clean ones in the rack next to the sink? These things aren’t helping your clutter situation! Put dirty dishes right into the dishwasher. And put them away once they’re clean and dry.

22. Follow the “don’t put it down, put it away” rule.

This one is a little self-explanatory. Don’t put that clean butter knife on the counter — put it in the drawer where it belongs.

23. Make sure everything has a home.

In order to follow the previous rule, everything needs an actual home. Whether that means storing your air fryer on a chair in the corner or putting it in a cabinet, make sure there’s a place for every tool and gadget in your kitchen.

24. Invest in some organizers.

Sometimes, in order to give everything a home, you need to invest in specialized organizers. As much as you might not want to spend any money, it might be necessary to buy, say, a holder for all your water bottles, if it gets them up and out of the way.

Some Organizers We Love

(Image credit: Diana Paulson)

25. Push chairs under the table or island.

It’s shocking how “off” a pulled-out chair can look in an otherwise clean and clutter-free kitchen. Take a few seconds to push chairs in and straighten the table if it’s been knocked askew.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

26. Have some morning and evening rituals.

If you ran the dishwasher before bed, unload it in the morning while the coffee brews. Make chores like these part of your routine and your kitchen will always get back to its reset position.

Rituals to Try

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

27. Corral things with a tray or cake stand to make them look more purposeful.

A bunch of bottles, salt cellars, and pinch bowls on the counter? Cluttered and sloppy! A bunch of bottles, salt cellars, and pinch bowls on a tray on the counter? Curated and and lovely! Use a tray, cake stand, or pedestal bowl to create little vignettes on your countertop.

28. Have a junk drawer.

Repeat after us: There is nothing wrong with having a junk drawer. In fact, it’s downright necessary. Where else are those little bits and bobs supposed to go? Having a single designated drawer keeps them off of your counter and out of sight.

29. Invite some friends over.

If you’re anything like us, your house is never neater than the few minutes right before company comes over. Plan to have a few friends over this weekend and you’ll suddenly be motivated to put things away.

Read more: A Mom Gets Honest About the Only 2 Reasons Her Counters Ever Get Clean

(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)

30. Learn to embrace it.

You know the saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”? There’s some value in that! We’ve all given such a negative connotation to the word “clutter,” but it can look good and work for some people. Just look at these kitchens in the link below for proof!