Ask the Organizer: Tips for Keeping Your Kitchen Clutter-Free

Earlier this month, I started a new series called “Ask the Organizer”. I posed the question, “What Is Your Biggest Clutter Hot Spot” and the overwhelming response was the kitchen! Many of you expressed your desire to have a more organized kitchen, dining room, table, or counter.

So today, I’m excited to hear what Andrea of Simple Organized Living has to say about the best ways to organize different areas of the kitchen!


The kitchen is the center of the home and even if you aren’t a great chef, I’m assuming you still spend a fair amount of time in your kitchen/dining room every day.

In my opinion, if I’m spending a lot of time in one particular space, I want it to be clean, organized, uncluttered, peaceful, calm, and inviting.

Do those adjectives describe your kitchen?

If not, here are a few simple ways you can transform your kitchen from a cluttered mess to organized bliss!

Counter Tops / Table:

I think all flat kitchen surfaces must be covered with glue because it seems like everything that gets placed on them sticks around for a long time!

Take note of what is currently on your kitchen counter tops and your kitchen table — if it’s like most kitchens, the flat surfaces are probably cluttered with junk mail, expired coupons, newspapers, homework assignments, to-do lists, bills, small appliances, photos, craft supplies, office supplies, recyclables, a variety of food items, and so much more.

And while I don’t think it’s completely realistic to have nothing sitting out on your kitchen counters, I know that I personally enjoy being in my kitchen when it is clean and clutter-free… so I try to keep it that way!

I manage to keep our kitchen and dining room relatively clutter-free by implementing a few simple tips:

Keep trash and recycling bins close by. We store our recycling in the laundry room — which is right off the kitchen, so we can quickly and easily deposit cans, paper, etc. right away. This means it doesn’t hang around on the counters for days and weeks until we finally bring it to the basement or garage.

Use a junk drawer. Yes, I’m telling you that it’s a good  idea to have a junk drawer — mainly because every house needs at least one drawer where you can stash stuff you don’t have a home for {like extra batteries, twist ties, paper, pens, glue, coins, etc.} Just make sure you don’t let it get out of control!

Implement a system for papers. Papers are a huge source of kitchen clutter, and if you don’t have a system for dealing with them, they will pile up quickly — I promise! Toss junk mail, fliers, ads, and subscriptions you don’t want to read before you get into your home; that way the can’t get buried at the bottom of a pile. Have designated “in” and “out” piles for bills, homework, to-do’s, RSVP’s, and other time-sensitive information.

Create zones. If you regularly do crafts, office work, puzzles, play games, or sew in your kitchen/dinning room, then create zones for those different activities. Have a plastic tub for your craft/sewing supplies and store it in a bottom cabinet; designate one shelf for games and puzzles; use a rolling cart to store extra office supplies. By creating a home for all of these items, you’ll eliminate the mad rush to clear off the counters and table when company arrives!

Practice daily maintenance. Keeping your kitchen organized and clutter-free will require a bit of maintenance every day in order to really stay on top of it. I like using a medium size basket as a “dumping ground” for anything that doesn’t belong in the kitchen. Then, at the end of the day, I’ll take the basket and empty the contents to their proper homes around our house.

Cabinets / Drawers:

Probably the #1 complaint I get from people is that their kitchen doesn’t have enough storage space. And while I too have voiced this complaint on occasion, the only solutions are to either create more storage space or get rid of some of your stuff!

My husband and I are gearing up for an exciting kitchen renovation this summer, and we will definitely be creating lots more cabinet and drawer space; but for the time being, I’ve been forced to simply do without and get very creative with the space I do have.

If your cabinet space is limited, here are a few tips that might help:

You can save a ton of space by using dishes, glasses, pots, bowls, and storage containers that stack nicely inside each other. If you have items that don’t stack well, consider getting rid of them or storing them in the basement/garage for the time being.

Also, make sure you toss any containers that don’t have lids, any lids that don’t have containers, and anything that is cracked, rusty, melted, or broken — you shouldn’t waste valuable storage space on these items!

Get creative and find organizing containers you might already have around the house. I love using plastic shoe boxes for holding small kitchen items, lazy-susans for storing canned goods, and shelf dividers/extenders to maximize the storage space I do have.

Remember to think about how you use the items in your kitchen — and then store them accordingly. For example, if you only use certain serving pieces during the holiday season, store them in your basement or garage. However, if you use a specific appliance or tool every single day, you should either leave it out on the counter or store it in a very convenient place.

Refrigerator / Pantry:

You might be surprised at some of the items lurking in the back corners of your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry!

If you haven’t taken the time to go through and organize these areas of your kitchen, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not only wasting time searching for ingredients you need, but also wasting money throwing away food that’s expired or buying more of something you already have in the house.

To better organize these areas, start by pulling out all your food. Yes, I know this sounds overwhelming, but it’s honestly the best way to get started because you can see everything you have.

Once you can see what you’re starting with, quickly toss anything that’s expired or past its prime. Then group like items together {canned fruits, canned veggies, meats, cheeses, dairy, pasta, cereals, chips, etc.}

When I’m putting my food away, I like to create ‘food zones’ — like a lunch packing zone {a basket with snacks, chips, fruit leathers, juice boxes, etc}, a pasta zone {all different pastas, canned sauces, canned tomatoes, Italian seasonings, etc}

I use lots of shoe boxes and small plastic organizers as a frugal way to keep my fridge, freezer, and pantry organized {yes, I have shoe boxes in my fridge and freezer!}

Once these areas are organized and all the food is put away, make sure you get in the habit of putting any new food behind the older food so you don’t end up with expired food hidden way in the back again.

I also challenge myself every couple of months to take a week off from grocery shopping and simply eat from our pantry and freezer.  Not only do I save a bunch of money by not buying groceries that week, I’m also able to clean out our pantry, fridge, and freezer {and I just love getting creative with our menu plan that week!}

Like I mentioned earlier, the kitchen is the heart of your home; and I guarantee you’ll enjoy the time you spend in your kitchen so much more if you keep it clean, organized, and clutter-free!

How do you keep your kitchen clutter-free?

Andrea Dekker is a professional organizer, motivational speaker, and the founder of Simple Organized Living. Her goal is to motivate and encourage others to “create their best life” through simplicity and organization.
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Comments

  1. Rebecca says

    These are great tips. I especially love the ones about how to organize a fridge. Years ago I had read a book that offered some of these tips, like having tubs in the fridge for groupings of ingredients (I have one for fresh veggies, and one for sandwich fixings). Also, I have a small, old fridge (I live in an apartment), and the middle shelf was always a lost zone, until I bought a cookie sheet and now it serves as a “drawer” because I can slide it out to see everything I have. I keep all the cheeses and egg cartons on it. In my freezer I have a box each for veggies, cheese (I buy large bags of shredded cheese at Costco and store them in 1 cup portions), chicken, beef, and pancakes (my small family can never eat an entire batch of bisquick at once so I freeze the leftovers and reheat them in the microwave later for single-serve breakfasts).

  2. says

    The kitchen is the hardest for me! I cook alot and school in my kitchen…so I like it clean and clutter free, but have to work harhttp://www.alighterjourney.com/2012/02/11/taking-back-my-kitchen-part-one/d at it!

  3. says

    Such good ideas! Paper clutter on the counter is the big one for me. How paper accumulates so fast, I have no idea! But I like what you said about tossing things like junk mail before you get in your house. I need to start doing that :)

    • says

      Mackenzie-

      I took a long time and analyzed my paper useage and storage. I transfomed my kitchen paper piles in to a cute tote:

      And then I made an e-book for all thinks paper:
      10 steps to organized paper $5.

      You can get directly to the tote article by clicking on my name.

      :)
      Lisa

  4. Leighann says

    I wish I had a garage or basement to store some of this stuff in. If I did, I wouldn’t have the kitchen clutter in the first place lol

    • Kristine says

      I don’t have a garage or a basement either. I wish I had a little more storage space. I don’t even have a junk drawer because there’s only one drawer in my kitchen.

  5. Sarah in Alaska says

    Amen and Amen.

    I’m happy making steps to get rid of all the excess paper…hey, it’s a start.

  6. says

    These really are great tips…I would say that I follow most of this except we still manage to always have a bit of a paper problem!
    We keep our small appliances that get little use (mostly holidays) up in the cupboard above the fridge and back in a long corner cupboard. It keeps everything out of the way and leaves the best (most accessible) storage space free for other things!
    To combat problems we were running into with forgetting juice that we had purchased that was shoved to the back of my pantry and to give me a place to keep some of my items away from little hands we purchased an inexpensive white plastic shelving unit. The top shelf is mine, the next shelf houses markers, crayons, color books and school work (the boys’ stuff), the third shelf is for juice boxes, bottles and pouches, and the bottom shelf houses sports drinks. This simple storage solution not only saved my sanity but it also saves me money as I can do a better job stocking up (especially with sports drinks!) when there are sales.
    I am especially thankful to be blessed with a large pantry-it has three large shelves and 2 smaller shelves. the topmost shelf can hold 12 boxes of cereal and the bottommost shelf is great for tortillas and chips. I keep the large bottom shelf organized with small open front bins-I can stack them three high and each has specific contents-fruit snacks, poptarts, oatmeal, granola bars, dessert snacks, and popcorn. The boys can easily open the pantry and get a snack without much fuss! I keep the extras in their boxes on the shelf next to the bins-I LOVE that I can see at a glance just exactly what I am out of or running low on!
    When we bought an upright freezer my husband thought I was nuts for buying plastic bins to organize it-now he wonders what we ever did before! We have a bin for pork, chicken, cheese, breakfast foods, and veggies. It is so much easier to pull out a bin and get what I need than it is to dig around. Another plus is that the bins help to slow down the frost build up! I also use small bins in my fridge freezer-one for ice packs and one for ice pops-the space in between the bins fits 4 loaves of bread perfectly.
    A little organization (especially in the kitchen) sure goes a long way!

  7. says

    Wow, your kitchen already looks organized and beautiful. Can’t imagine what it will be like *after* the renovation! I tried my best to be organized in my old apartment, but eventually reality set in that it was just too small for the four (and at the time, soon to be 5) of us. I never knew how big a quality of life improvement having a garage and basement would be! There is a place to store Christmas decorations!

  8. Heather says

    Agree on the junk drawer.
    Even when I’ve had very small kitchens with very little drawer space, I’ve designated one for “junk”. Otherwise, the counters end up being cluttered, and that’s worse.

    I have a desk in the family room so that all mail, etc. never enters the kitchen. I do have the kids’s school stuff on a shelf in the kitchen, though. I sit and go through it while they eat their afternoon snack. It helps to have a routine and then it doesn’t get out of control.

    It’s very important to me to have uncluttered counters. Otherwise, it’s hard to want to cook – and that’s the main purpose of the kitchen for me. So I keep all appliances off the counters. I’ve heard people say, “I use that every day, so I leave it out,” referring to mixers or coffee pots or toasters. But no one ever leaves a pot out just because they use it every day! Or the silverware. Just a thought that occurred to me yesterday.

    • Brandy says

      I keep everything off my counters too, including the coffee pot and other appliances. However, there is one baking stone that I leave on the stove top everyday. I use it so much and for some reason it annoys me to have to get it out every single day. Funny, I know.

    • Emily says

      I do use my coffee pot and toaster every day, and here’s why I leave them both out. The toaster accumulates LOTS of crumbs underneath it (even with the little crumb trays), and I wouldn’t want those crumbs in one of my cupboards or pantry or wherever, beside my countertop, I would store it……so it stays on the countertop. I can program my coffeepot to automatically brew coffee in the morning for whatever time I set it. If I didn’t keep it out and, instead, stored it in a cupboard or the pantry, I’d have to reset the clock and re-program it every day when I plug it in. Who would want to do that? So, the coffeepot stays out too.

    • Kristine says

      I leave the pots that I use every day or almost every day out on top of the stove. I also leave my coffee pot on the counter all the time because I have no other place for it. I have very few cupboards and only one drawer in my kitchen, plus a couple of metal utility shelves, so I have to leave some things on the counter. Since I don’t have much free counter space, I use the table for food preparation.

    • Christine says

      I too put my toaster away (once cool). Only the Kurig stays on counter – clutter makes me crazy!

      • Cathy says

        Gosh, it’s just a Find and Replace mixup, which is always good for a smile. I used to use “F&R” to crank out form letters for an insurance company, and one day I was about to send out an important letter referencing lots of “attached documents” and noticed that I had somehow replaced every spelling of “documents” with “dumplings.” Oops.

        Anyway, regarding junk drawers, I like to sort as much as possible into ziplocks. There’s always a subtext of miscellaneous junk floating at the bottom, but on top at least there are viewable baggies of rubber bands, twist ties, batteries, birthday candles, cut-out Coke reward codes, etc.

        Thanks for the nice article. I plan on experimenting with various sized boxes/bins to organize our freezer, which is small and usually crammed full, with chicken nuggets or frozen peas poised to fall out on whowever opens the door next!

    • Harmony says

      I read Andrea’s blog every day, and I absolutely love it, but the word ‘dining’ is misspelled in every instance on it. It does drive me a little nutty, but the content is really good, so I try to overlook it. :)

    • says

      Yes, typos drive me crazy too. I’m a bit of a stickler about stuff like that. I am still seeing “dinning” twice in the beginning of the article now.

      I think this post is really long, too…it would be easier to read if it were broken up into a few posts.

      I always think about your 500 word limit for guest posts. That is such a good tip!

    • Kristine says

      Wow, typos bother me, too, but not so much that I won’t read an otherwise good post because of them.

  9. says

    Great tips! I keep my garbage and recycling in the cupboard under my sink and it has been so handy. We also use a pot rack which has freed up a lot of cupboard space.

    • Sharon says

      I have a few really deep cabinets also. So, I put the back of the cabinet to work holding things that I don’t use very often, like my big roaster pan and my largest crock-pot. This way, the stuff I use often doesn’t get shifted around to the back – it can’t because there’s something in the way. It’s kind of a pain when I actually DO use the roaster, but it only happens a few times a year, so I decided I can live with that! :)

    • says

      In my deep cabinets I make rows of things like papertowels, cans of chili, etc. Things that I regularly use and buy 10-12 of.

      :)
      Lisa

    • WilliamB says

      There are a couple of things you can do.

      You can put items you don’t use much in the back; optionally you can stack something you do use on top of the less-used item.

      You can find something to use as a “step” in the back of your cabinet. You lose the space under the step but you’ll be able to see what’s on top of it.

      You can put a short shelf in the back of the deep cabinet; store little used items under it and more used items on top.

      To remember what you have in the depths, put a photo on the inside of your cabinet door.

  10. Jennifer says

    We recently purchased another garbage can that matches the other we had. We have them side by side and one is labeled recycle. I was getting tired of the counter top being piled with recyclable items! It has worked out great. I also placed a nice basket in the center of the dining room table to hold “things” that would get placed there and left. This way it looks neater and can be cleaned out every other day or so.

  11. Rachael says

    It’s so hard keeping things tidy when you live in an apartment. The kitchen counter is the catch all because we don’t have room for a desk. We also have an issue with drawers because we can’t install latches on them so things end up on counters (like batteries for instance) to keep them away from our toddler. Any suggestions here?

    • Heather says

      Pretty soon he’ll be able to get up on the counters, so you might as well just dedicate some upper cupboard space. Hopefully you have knobs on the cupboards so that you can get those locks that just lock two knobs together and do not harm the cabinet in any way. Good luck. Kid-proofing requires thinking outside the box sometimes.

  12. Alyssa says

    Love this post! I allow myself a little organizing basket in a drawer to keep those loose “things.”

  13. says

    We keep our garbage can and a plastic bag for items we will recycle under our kitchen sink. We empty the trash and the recycle bag every evening before we go to bed. Junk mail automatically gets put into the recycle bag. However, even by doing this every day, I still manage to accumulate paper clutter on top of my microwave. Recently, I’ve made it a point to sort through that paper clutter while I am on the telephone. By the time I am done with my conversation, I’ve cleared out quite a bit of paper clutter as well.

  14. says

    You mean we’re not the only ones with cardboard boxes in our fridge and freezer? :)

    We keep onions in a box in our fridges and we have four cardboard boxes across on shelf in our big freezer with bags of cooked, chopped chicken in one, bags of shredded zucchini, and sliced pears, and other little odds and ends in two more, and the last one holds our bags of chocolate chips, Andes mint pieces, and other baking “chips”. They are super helpful in keeping things organized! :)

    • Susan says

      Oh goodness no! I have little plastic bins in my fridge to store little things, like leftovers in ziplock bags. I have a bin for go-gurts and snack items like that.

      I have an upright freezer, and the man who delivered and installed it for me years ago suggested getting some plastic dishpans to keep frozen food in. Even if you don’t organize per se, packages of frozen foods don’t exactly stack neatly (meats and such, not boxed foods), so having containers of some sort is a good way to store them so they don’t fall all over the place.

      I started out using cardboard boxes. They worked, but they didn’t last too long. I replaced them with dishpans, and they work great.

      • Susan says

        Okay, when I said “oh goodness no” I was referring to Sarah’s first sentence above. You’re definately not the only one with cardboard boxes in the fridge and freezer. :-)

      • Jen says

        We have a chest freezer. I use the larger size re-usable shopping bags in it for different types of frozen foods. I wrote on the front of each bag with a sharpie. So I can just grab the handles and put out the bags to find the “chicken” bag or “veggie” bag or what ever I need.

    • Rachel H. says

      It really wouldn’t be that hard to build, it’s a very simple basic table design. I love it as well and am planning to put the design idea in my woodworking folder.

  15. Jessica says

    Our kitchen pretty much looks like this. Neither my husband or I can stand it when there is stuff on the counters, usually we only have the Scentsy warmer, KitchenAid mixer and Keurig on the counter. It is very easy to maintain once everything is organized.

  16. Sharon says

    The kitchen is definitely a challenge area for me. I’m fairly organized, but there are some things that definitely create a bit of chaos for me. In general I follow two rules: 1) like things with like and 2) store things where you use them most. The second rule can create a problem when there are lots of things I use in a particular area.

    I’m getting ready to reorganize my kitchen (move some less used items to the basement) and I’m trying to remember some “rules of thumb” I saw several years ago. I know that one of them was if you don’t use it every day, don’t keep it on the counter. There were a few others about … if you only use it once a month … if you only use it once every 6 months to a year … Anyone remember these?

  17. says

    Thanks a ton! Really, I’m a very organized person, but the kitchen always seems to be my worst nightmare (by my standards,lol. Apparently to most people my whole house is beautifully organized)!

    I LOVE the part about using a basket as a “dumping ground!” I’ve never heard of that nor did it ever occur to me! I’m constantly having problems with stuff getting into the kitchen that have no business being there and the “dumping basket” sounds like the perfect solution!!

    Thank you thank you thank you!

  18. April M. says

    I love the basket idea too. I usually put everything that doesn’t belong in the kitchen on the dining table and then end up with a messy table. The basket is a great idea!

  19. WilliamB says

    Guess I’m an outlier – I like organizing a kitchen and, by the standards of this list, I keep a lot on the counter. By now I have a good idea of what to store together and what I want to keep out. Standing mixer, rice cooker, toaster oven, spice rack, knife block, fruit tower are all out; blender, cutting boards, bowls, colanders pots, pans are all in lower cabinets. The over-oven shelf has baking sheets, muffin tins, cooling racks.

    I keep all the measuring gadgets, spices, sauces (soys, fish, vinegar, etc) in one area. The baking ingredients – flours, sugars, oatmeal, leaven, etc – in another; in my current kitchen this cabinet holds rices also. Storage containers and eating dishes go near the fridge. The other cabinets hold shelf-stable foods and oils.

  20. katytr says

    great article with great tips. I loved your use of shoe boxes and other containers to store flour and food in. It makes no sense that flour containers are usually round (and hard to organize)

  21. says

    Oops, I forgot to add in my previous comment about some great ideas I got from Family Handyman for the kitchen. I hung all my measuring spoons and cups inside my cabinet doors where my baking supplies are kept. Just took a few nails and a couple of minutes. Much better than being thrown all in a drawer and having to dig and dig for stuff. Also, I took 20 seconds and put a tension rod across the back of my spice cabinet and propped up all my little spice jars on it – so they don’t get lost way back in my dark, scary cabinets. I’d love to post some picture here if I knew how. Just let me know!

  22. Christine says

    I recently found a 12 month letter-size organizer at Target. When the bills come in, they get opened, filed in the month it’s due and the excess paper gets shredded immediately (especially those teaser low-rate checks from credit card companies…dangerious if ever lost/stolen). The paper pile on my kitchen counter is MUCH smaller.

  23. Natalie says

    How do you get the rest of the household to keep up with the organization? My husband rebels and everyone else just ignores my efforts:)