When you rely on your kitchen counter for everything from preparing dinner and sorting the mail to baking cookies and finishing up a school science project, keeping the space organized is essential to maintaining your home’s efficiency. “Waking up in the morning with a clean countertop gives you a fresh start to your day and allows you to get what you need in seconds,” says Nietra Rose of Organizing Lifestyles. “When the countertop is full it can make you feel anxious, rushed, or overwhelmed.” Luckily, keeping your countertops neat and tidy is easier than you think, especially once you heed the advice of our experts.
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Hide as much as you can.
The key to organized counters is to keep them as empty as possible; opt instead to store most of your kitchen tools and other must-haves in drawers, cabinets, or on shelves. “Items stored on the countertop should only be things that you use on a daily basis,” says Rose. “If you drink coffee every morning, then the coffee maker should remain on the countertop—no one wants to pull out the coffee maker every day. [But] appliances not used regularly can be placed in a bottom cabinet or in the pantry on a shelf for storage.”
Ashley Murphy and Marissa Hagmeyer, founders of NEAT Method, also suggest playing by these same rules. They sign off on storing frequently used items—like paper towels or olive oil—on the counter, but encourage clients to tuck the rest away. “Rather than view kitchen counters as storage space, see them as the workspace they are,” says Murphy. “Like any workspace, you don’t want to waste precious time clearing an area to begin work. You want to pull everything out and just start cooking.” And minimalist counters offer a subtle hint to the rest of the people in your home: “By keeping counters clear, you are sending a subtle message to other household members—kitchen counters are not a dumping ground,” says Hagmeyer.
Coordinate your counters with your cabinets and drawers.
When deciding where to place items that will live on your counter, use the drawers and cabinets above and below to create simplified areas for different activities. “Kitchens should not be set up as if you are getting ready for a circuit workout,” says Rose. “You shouldn’t have to walk to three different spots in your kitchen in order to make coffee—you should be able to get everything you need in one zone.” Keep your mugs above the coffeemaker and your sugar packets in a drawer below; put your stand mixer next to your baking supplies cabinet; put plates and silverware by the stove. The same is true for prep tools, says Murphy: “If you’re using a knife block, store it above where your cutting boards are stored. If you store a few everyday cooking utensils in a crock, place those near the drawer with the rest of your cooking utensils. This way there’s no extra steps needed to grab additional items.”
Maximize your square footage.
Make the most of often-overlooked space by creating storage on your backsplash or walls. “I always try to look at the wasted space to create storage,” says Rose, who recommends attaching magnetic strips to the backsplash to store knives or cooking utensils and hanging baskets for fruit. Another tip for freeing up counter space: “Consider moving a category of items out of the kitchen to create more storage in cabinets and drawers for everyday needs,” says Hagmeyer. “Specialty cleaners, occasional use fine china, and other entertaining dishware are great items to move out of essential kitchen cabinets. For example, sporadically used specialty cleaners can be moved to a laundry area, mudroom, or garage.”
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Use pretty containers.
Dress up items you do plan to leave out—like olive oil, salt and pepper, or other spices—with a chic wooden turntable or an elegant tray. “A tray helps twofold: It creates a boundary, so the category doesn’t grow out of control, and it makes it really easy to move the entire category if you need extra counter space,” says Murphy. “For items that must live on the counter, shop local housewares boutiques for beautiful vessels, like oil carafes and salt cellars. This will help maintain a more intentional space to discourage other household members from using countertops as a dump zone.”
Organize future clutter.
Whether you want one or not, every kitchen has a counter that serves as a drop zone for papers, toys, keys, and just about everything else. Tackle the papers first, says Rose. “Because mail is one of the biggest things that clutter up our countertops, I talk to my clients about getting in the habit of, when you bring the mail in, going straight to the recycle bin or trash can and eliminating the junk mail. If you did this for a few weeks you will notice a lot less paper on those counter tops,” she says. Then move the other items to a hidden shelf or a drawer—if space allows, says Hagmeyer. “If you cannot designate a cabinet shelf or drawer for your ‘all purpose’ area—otherwise known as the junk drawer—purchase a counter-appropriate basket or bin with high sides to hide the contents,” she says. “You can add additional smaller containers inside to create designated space for pens, tape, and paperwork. By using a basket, you can quickly transport your drop zone out of view or to another space.”