The No-Fail Rule to Never Being Frustrated in Your Small Kitchen Again (Well, Almost!)

updated Jun 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Leanne Bertram)

We’ve talked a lot about how to maximize space in a small kitchen, from recommended storage products to specific kitchen helpers, like burner covers, magnetic hooks, clamp lamps, and cabinet shelves.

But, having cooked in my share of small kitchens, there’s nothing I’ve found quite as effective at curbing the stress many cooks feel in a small kitchen as this, the one rule that can make even the tiniest kitchen feel workable and enjoyable.

(Image credit: Jess Watson)

The rule is this:

Keep your countertops completely clear and reserved exclusively for prep.

This means no storage pieces, no small appliances, no extraneous decor, nothing. Countertops are for cooking, period.

Does that sound extreme? It is! We’re talking next-level small-kitchen efficiency here, and that means taking a brutal look at what you store on your countertop and how it may affect your cooking experience.

If you have minimal countertop space to begin with, can you afford to give up a third of it to your coffee pot? Even utensil jars, fruit bowls, and salt cellars aren’t safe. Think of it this way: Every little thing you keep on the counter is another square inch taken away from that large chopping board you could have been using, or that bit of space that would have been very handy for lining up your ingredients or mise en place. Instead you have to shuttle those items around the kitchen or shove them into the corners to make space when you cook!

There’s something about empty space that signals ease and calm to the brain, and that applies to empty countertops, particularly in small kitchens. When everything else feels cramped and compact, a clear countertop is an invitation and a reassurance that cooking in that space doesn’t have to be stressful.

If you really commit to keeping clear countertops, where do you store everything? Here are a few ideas.

Where to Store Things Besides the Countertop

  1. The wall: Turn the wall into a modular storage space, like Beth did in the photo above. Going vertical is the #1 rule for saving space, after all. See here and here for great kitchen examples!
  2. The side of the cabinets: Try a few floating shelves, or install a utensil rack on the side of a cabinet or behind the stove (assuming, of course, that decision won’t drive you crazy).
  3. In a kitchen cart or island: A customizable kitchen cart with drawers keeps things close at hand while not taking up prep space.
  4. In cabinets and drawers: The most obvious solution, of course. Reconfigure your cupboards and drawers (decluttering as necessary) so you have room to store the essentials you’ve moved off the countertop.

Could you live with nothing on the countertop?