Small-Space Kitchens

The 10 Commandments of a Clutter-Free Kitchen

updated May 14, 2019
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Credit: Minette Hand

We’ve all seen them — those neat, tidy kitchens with nary a stray spoon or spatula in sight. How do they do it? What magic keeps those kitchens in tip-top shape? And can it wave its merry wand over our kitchens, too, please?

Here are 10 rules all clutter-free kitchen cooks live by. It’s no magic, friends — just smart habits that anyone in any kind of kitchen can adopt. (That means you.)

1. Keep the countertops clear.

Clutter starts at the countertop, which is why clutter-free kitchens, you’ll notice, always have clean and clear counters. Resist the urge to use the countertop as a drop-off place for mail, keys, magazines, dirty dishes, and all of life’s miscellanea. (Create a landing strip close to the front door instead.)

Relocate small appliances and get rid of any non-essential countertop decor. Make sure that whatever you do keep on the countertop is functional and essential to your cooking. (A cutting board, for example, or a salt cellar.)

Read more: 5 Habits for Keeping Clear Countertops

2. Keep things in cabinets (or become a minimalist).

For all you open-shelving dislikers (no haters here!), this is for you: Kitchens look neater when belongings are kept behind closed cabinet doors rather than stored out in the open. (There! I said it. It doesn’t mean I don’t like open shelving, but I’m aware of its downsides.)

If you’re aiming for a clutter-free kitchen, you’re better off sticking to cabinets so you can at least hide the clutter you do have. If you love open shelving, get comfortable with a minimalist style, have a unified color palette, or only display the pretty things in nice containers to keep things looking intentional and tidy.

3. Follow the “one in, one out” rule.

Every clutter-free kitchen has a plan in place to keep it that way, and it usually involves some form of the “one in, one out” rule, which means that for everything new you bring into the space, something else has to get taken out. This way you maintain a healthy balance, and the “stuff” doesn’t begin to take over.

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

If you have open shelving, keep things simple and spare. Don’t overcrowd! (Image credit: Leela Cyd)

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

I’ve written before about my love for Marie Kondo’s book on tidying, and one essential tenet of her philosophy is that everything you own (as in, every single thing) should have its place. Nothing should be left to your own storage whims.

This is an essential habit for a clutter-free kitchen, too. Think of the mantra “Don’t put it down, put it away!” every time you’re about to put something down randomly in the kitchen. Is it dirty? Put it in the dishwasher. Is it clean or new? Put it in the cupboard, refrigerator, or pantry. Is it not supposed to be in the kitchen at all? (Here’s looking at you, gym bag and winter coat.) Take it out of the kitchen and put it in its proper place.

5. Don’t use the refrigerator as an art gallery.

Simple, but so true: Remove excess paper, notes, photos, lists, and magnets from the refrigerator, and just let the refrigerator be, and your kitchen will immediately look neater.

6. Find alternatives to the pile.

With the exception of pretty bowls, patterned cloth napkins, or white plates, most things in piles/stacks don’t look great. This is especially true of pans, pot lids, small appliance accessories, and messy space hogs like trash bags and kitchen wrap.

Cooks in clutter-free kitchens turn piles into pleasant areas. They hang pots on the wall, store food processor blades and pot lids on magnetic knife strips, and hang trash bags on a roller. Anything that can be lined up or spread out is — it’s just so much easier to store and see that way!

7. Do a chore a day, instead of all at once.

To maintain a clutter-free kitchen you have to value tidiness, and place a priority on cleaning. But that doesn’t mean you have to be knee-deep in deep cleaning every week; just do a little cleaning every day, so you’re both cleaning and maintaining the kitchen at the same time.

Read more: Download Our 20 Minute/30 Day Cleaning Plan

8. Have morning and evening kitchen rituals.

Mindfulness: It’s an airy word that gets thrown around a lot, but small, attentive actions in the kitchen really can help keep clutter under control. Morning and evening rituals help us pay more attention to our kitchens, and how we feel and work in them.

More on Kitchen Rituals

9. Let yourself have one messy drawer.

Okay, so not every clutter-free kitchen is, well, clutter-free. Every good diet needs a cheat day, right? Every clutter-free kitchen needs a cheat spot, a free-for-all place to stash something until you’ve found a better location or purpose for it. (And putting it in your cheat spot is better than just leaving it out!)

The key is to be very specific and intentional about where that spot is. Choose just one shelf or drawer, and don’t let it spill out into the whole cabinet.

10. Always leave the kitchen better than you found it.

And finally, a rule of living for clutter-free kitchen cooks: they always leave the kitchen better than when they found it. This might mean quickly wiping down the table when they pass through the room, or taking the water glasses out of the sink and loading them in the dishwasher. It means always looking at your kitchen with a discerning eye and asking yourself: “What small thing can I do in this moment to make my kitchen a little bit better?” Small things grow up to be great habits.

What clutter-free kitchen rules do you live by?