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How to organize your kitchen counters — and get your sanity back

by respaced on August 2, 2013

The kitchen counter is often the most cluttered flat surface in the house, and because it is also in the most high-trafficked room in the house, a cluttered counter can make your whole house feel out of control. So if we can tame the counter chaos, your house will feel a lot more organized. Start by analyzing what is on your counter and finding a home for everything:

Mail

Get an incline file sorter and about 5-6 folders. Label each folder with the next action each piece of mail needs. Typically, your mail will have one of 5-6 needs, and these are how you label your folders (e.g. “To be paid, To be reviewed, To be entered, To be filed, To be contacted/looked into). If possible, put a recycling bin and paper shredder near the incline file sorter so you have a whole paper management system. Only get your mail when you have 10 minutes right then and there to sort it, shred it, recycle it or file it. Then once a week, perhaps on Sunday evenings when you sit and pay the bills, sit down with the folders and do all of the actions those folders tell you to do. Ideally, all of those folders are emptied out once a week.

desktop file sorter

Magazines, Catalogs

Get a shallow basket or bin and place it next to your mail station to collect all of your reading material such as magazines and catalogs. If you or your spouse subscribe to a lot of magazines, you might each need your own reading basket. Alternatively, you could place the reading basket next to the place where you read most often, such as beside the couch or on the end table next to your bed.

Projects, Recipes, Articles Ripped Out From Magazines

Do you rip out pictures of couches you like, shoes you want to buy or articles on places you want to go, restaurants you want to try? Try getting an accordion folder for those. I myself have an accordion folder devoted to all of the gardening articles I rip out, and I have labeled each compartment with a different aspect of gardening. This way, I have created my own personalized gardening reference book. Recipes you rip out can go into a binder stuffed with 3-hole-punched clear sheet protectors. Store this recipe binder with your other cookbooks.

Children’s Schoolwork

Children need a place to empty and store the papers from their backpacks. This could be a stacking tray for each child or a folder labeled with the child’s name on your incline file sorter. Older children can be trained to put school notices in the incline file sorter (e.g. Report cards to be signed could go in the “To be Reviewed” folder). You will probably have to sort the younger children’s papers for them. Display the artwork if you like. You could display it this way. Get a portfolio for each child to store everything else. Commit to going through this portfolio at the end of the school year and only saving the best art. Everything else can be tossed. Remember, you can always take photos of artwork before you toss it.

art display line

Homework

Get each child a colorful clipboard or let them decorate their own. Put a hook on the wall either near the kitchen counter or in the space where your child does his/her homework. Instruct the child to clip his/her homework to the clipboard each night. That way, you can see exactly what homework needs to be done, how much they have and if it has been done. The clipboard also serves as a hard work surface if your child wants to work on the homework on the couch or in the car.

clipboard organizing pinterest

Team Rosters, Phone Directories, Schedules

This is the kind of paper that you refer to often over a length of time. Get a large binder and add dividers for different sections such as School, Work, Home, Family, Medical and Babysitter. Place these papers in there and store the binder in an easily accessible spot such as in the kitchen beside the phone. Commit to going through this binder once a year to recycle old papers.

Keys, Cell Phones, Wallets, Sunglasses

These things often end up on the kitchen counter and more often than not, if they are lost, it’s because they are buried under all of the paper on the kitchen counter! Ideally, these things would live on what organizers call “a landing strip” by the front door (or whatever door people enter and exit from).  A simple shallow little box with divided compartments sitting on a hall table by the front door is often the easiest solution. I highly suggest you label each compartment with what goes in each spot to keep the container from becoming a catch-all for other things without a home.

Things that need to leave the house

This category might include library books or other borrowed items that need to be returned or items that need to be repaired. I recommend you store these things by the front door, not on the kitchen counter. You might want to install a low bench with cubbies by the front door or perhaps a tall, thin shelf unit with pull-out baskets. One basket or spot on the shelf can be designated for things that need to leave the house. And so everyone in the family knows where this spot it, I highly recommend that you find some way to label that spot.

entry way from pinterest 8

Kids’ toys, things that don’t belong on the counter

You can’t nor should you try to make room for everything on the counter. Some things simply do not belong there, and yet family members may be in a bad habit of dropping off whatever they don’t want to put away at the moment. This is a behavioral issue, not a space issue, so here are some solutions for that. First of all, make sure family members have homes for all of their belongings. If they don’t know where something goes, their default pattern is going to be to put it on the counter.

After you have cleaned off the kitchen counter, try writing on an index card “Please don’t put anything here.” Tent the card and put it on the counter to start breaking that bad habit in your family. If you have tried the tent card for a while and certain family members still leave their things there, you might need to do something drastic. Try imposing a 10 cent fee on every item left on the counter. That usually gets the message across quickly!

Have I covered everything that gets left on the kitchen counter? In the comments below, let me know if I have left anything out, and I will answer your question and add it on to this blog post.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Evelyn August 6, 2013 at 8:43 pm

The suggestions for kid paperwork is awesome, and I love the photo of how to hang kid artwork. Do you know where to find a hanging system like that? Love what you do!

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respaced August 8, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Thanks, Evelyn! I’ve been enjoying your great sense of humor on your blog too. 🙂 Here is a link to the art line from Ikea: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/60075295/ You could also do the super-cheapo version, which is to string fishing line between eye screws. This is what we did. Best of luck!

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