Everyone loves the kitchen. The kitchen is warm, full of food, and the center of family life. At the same time, the kitchen is often a magnet for clutter because it has large flat surfaces, is conveniently located, and is where people gather. In order to keep the kitchen clear for its primary purpose – food preparation – consider implementing these strategies:
1. Designate a home for frequently “dumped” items outside of the kitchen.
The key here is to keep items from entering the kitchen in the first place. For example:
- Place a recycling bin between your car and the door so you can drop unwanted paper inside before entering the house.
- Set up a basket or paper sorter for paperwork you are keeping in another location on the first floor (such as a home office, mudroom, or even dining room).
- Hang a hook near the door for keys.
- Designate a “drop zone” for backpacks, purses and briefcases near the door.
- Set up a charging station for electronics on a hall table.
- Hang hooks for coats in a hallway to keep them off of kitchen chairs
- Set out an attractive dish for loose change in the living room or entry
Family members may continue to periodically dump items onto the kitchen counter, but having these new “homes” will make it easier to clear the stuff away when you need to cook.
2. Set up project caddies for activities that take place on the kitchen table.
Portable boxes, bins and caddies provide a method for separating project supplies from the project workspace. You can use anything from a shoebox to a rolling cart. What matters most is that each container is simple to move and lives outside of the kitchen, such as on a shelf in a closet, tucked under a couch, or even “hidden” on an unused dining room chair.
The idea is that family members can pull the supply box out at “task time,” bring it to the table or island to work, and then reset the box when it is time to cook dinner. Consider boxes for:
- Bill processing
- School work
3. Take advantage of vertical options to keep surfaces clear.
Large, empty horizontal surfaces invite people to unload belongings onto them. Try to use your walls in a way that makes it just aseasy to hang something up as it is to put it down. Consider using:
- The back of any doors (either hooks or “over the door” racks)
- The insides of cabinet doors (such as wall pockets)
- Walls near the entrance you most frequently use (hooks, wall pockets)
If you want family members to comply, be sure to label everything clearly and keep storage within reach.
4. Establish boundaries.
Above all, the kitchen is intended for cooking. You can’t cook anywhere else in the home, so the kitchen has to be clear enough to be able to perform this function. Unfortunately, the “gathering” nature of the kitchen sometimes makes this difficult. Ever notice how everyone wants to stand in the kitchen? As soon as the cook heads into the kitchen, everyone suddenly needs to throw something away, make a pot of coffee, use the microwave, get something from the refrigerator, or otherwise “be in the way.” To minimize traffic while preparing food, establish a few kitchen rules. For example:
- Set an “only the cook” time from 5-6 pm (or whenever suits your schedule). During this time, family members are to stay out, unless they are helping prepare the evening meal. No coming in for snacks or drinks until dinner is ready.
- Declare certain areas of the kitchen “off limits while cooking,” such as the counter to the right and left of the sink and next to the fridge.
- Involve family members in setting the table. In order for the table to be set, it must be clear. Therefore, part of this job includes walking around and putting whatever has accumulated back where it belongs.
5. Restore order every night.
This discipline actually applies to any space in which you want to maintain order, but especially to the heavily-used kitchen. Build time into your evening routine for walking through the kitchen and putting items back where they belong (e.g. into the spaces you’ve designed in the steps above). A few suggestions include:
- Clear the sink of all dishes
- Run the dishwasher
- Put papers into the proper holding areas (“to file” folder, the backpack/work bag, the “action” file, etc.)
- Move items that need to go upstairs to the steps. Remind family members to, “never go upstairs empty handed.”
- Gather items needed for tomorrow and put them in a staging area near the door.
- Relocate dropped clothing and shoes to closets and/or a mudroom.
While I know it is hard to worry about the kitchen at the end of a long day, leaving the kitchen clear and ready for action is a gift you can give yourself each morning.
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Is the kitchen a “clutter zone” in your home?