Heart of the Home or Family Dumping Ground?

clear kitchen

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
  • Crafting
  • School work
  • Work-from-home

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.
Woman Loading Dishwasher

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?

28 thoughts on “Heart of the Home or Family Dumping Ground?”

  1. I’m sure you’re right that the kitchen is the hub of the home and gets the most traffic. Whenever we have gatherings, everyone wants to be in the kitchen (to help or to socialize.) What truly resonates with me is your description about having boundaries so that the kitchen can function most effectively. And part of those boundaries involve having transportable stations (like for crafts or school supplies) to come out when they are needed and be stored away when they aren’t. But in addition to the moveable stations, having “homes” for the things that tend to create clutter also is key. I like your description of installing key, backpack and coat zones, so things don’t end up lost or where they’re in the way. And as an aside, I LOVE that clear art supply tote!
    Linda Samuels recently posted…How to Experience Motivation Calm That Will Move You ForwardMy Profile

    1. I LOVE that tote as well. I can think of many ways that item would come in handy:) The trick with the kitchen is keeping it as a welcoming space (because it is nice to gather together), but also keep it open and safe enough for cooking. After all, you can’t really cook dinner in the rest of the house!

  2. Omg, I literally just decluttered my kitchen and did so much of what you actually discussed above earlier this year. I finally feel like my kitchen is the way I want it for the last few months. So, I couldn’t agree more with what you said above. It not only takes time to set out to do this for your kitchen but also setting time aside daily to put things away helps, as well.

    1. Having your kitchen set up the way you want it to be is a gift to yourself! We all spend so much time in our kitchens, so when they feel ordered and productive, it just makes us happy:) Good for you getting yours done. Couldn’t agree more about setting aside the time daily to reset it!

  3. I love this strategy of how to get your kitchen organized! There are many different zones in our kitchens and this covers the needed areas. Thank you for sharing!

    1. The kitchen is my favorite room to organize. It is so rewarding because most of us “live” in our kitchens. Also, in general I think people maintain a kitchen system because they are in the habit of putting food and dishes away.

  4. I remember my mother often had piles of magazines, flyers, coupons, etc. on the kitchen counter, but that’s never been an issue for me. Especially now that I’m in a rental apartment – there’s barely room in the kitchen for everything we need, never mind the other stuff!
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Are you living your passion? Am I?My Profile

    1. That really is a benefit of living in a smaller place. When there is no space to pile stuff up, you let go more easily. It is funny how we choose to do a few things differently from how our parents did them. Mostly we emulate our parental models, but often we pick a couple of processes where we go in a different direction.

        1. I hear that phrase a lot, and it is actually a great conversation starter! It gives us a chance to consider that there might be reasons to let go of an item other than space. Thanks for sharing that thought:)

  5. When we designed our kitchen, I purposefully placed a cabinet below my small command area. This drawer holds a “Z” vertical folder holder where I place pocket folders in for each kid and each month. It keeps my future paper organized and when the month comes when I need them, I know exactly where they are. The best part is that they are in a cabinet where I can close the door and no one is the wiser.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…15 Unique Things to Toss for a Stress Free Kids ClosetMy Profile

    1. What a brilliant idea! That is an organizer planning her space for sure. When we renovated our house, my great moment of inspiration was to make sure there was an outlet underneath every window along the front of the house so I could put window candles out at Christmas without having to string extension cords all over. Sometimes, it is the little things that mean the most:)

  6. Because there is always so much activity in the kitchen, I feel it’s most important to constantly keep up the tidying of this space. Putting away items as soon as you are finished using them helps to keep the chaos at bay. It can get out of control really fast.

    1. It seems to take no time at all. I think it is, as you say, the constant activity in this space. Nonetheless, you have to keep space for cooking or the whole family will suffer, right?

  7. These are wonderful tips! Designating a home for things “outside the kitchen” really makes a difference. In my home, we catch many things in the garage or in the corner of the eat-in-kitchen area before they get to the counter, so the cooking surfaces stay clutter-free.

    1. Nice to have that corner area, Nancy. Once the stuff is piled on the counter it takes time to move it out. And usually, that brief window you have to get dinner on the table is not the time you want to start sorting through clutter!

  8. Ugh.. it’s the worst! The worst! We have the biggest dumping ground ever, and we’re all four guilty of it. And it drives us crazy. I love your realistic solutions! We do restore order every night.

    1. Very hard with a family because EVERYONE loves the kitchen. At least if you store some items out of the kitchen, and then you are good about restoring order every night, you keep it at bay:)

  9. So true! You can do almost anything else, in any other part of the house, but you can’t cook anywhere else but the kitchen! I like your idea of setting boundaries so that the cook can work without constant interruptions. And, people are used to the idea of putting things away in their designated homes in the kitchen, and that extends to everything else in the house. Having permanent homes for temporary things, clears off those flat surfaces. I love the idea of portable project caddies for everything from ongoing craft projects to bill paying!
    Carol Jones recently posted…7 Surprisingly Simple Ways To Be More Organized By Planning AheadMy Profile

    1. I’m love those clear caddies so much, Carol. I was just telling a client about them and we planned a space where they could live. This really worked for her, because even though she has a spot for supplies for homework in her kitchen, it is a big of a walk to the table. This will make it easier for the kids to get their supplies and bring them to the table!

  10. This was a smell of new fresh ideas for me. The dropdown area I guess is really helpful. I already got to experience where I dropped my house key at the center table and ended up searching for a couple of hours w/c is really annoying to think about.

  11. Ahhhhh, this is funny. I’m the 3rd of six kids so our entire house is a dumping ground, but, surprisingly enough, we only really have one little dumping ground in the kitchen! it’s not a big spot but it’s mainly used for school papers and other random things. My mother has definitely taught us well – the kitchen isn’t a dumping ground!!!
    Justin Spooner recently posted…A 36-Inch Island Range Hood: The Kitchen’s CenterMy Profile

    1. How wonderful to have a mother that kept her kitchen under control. I imagine with six kids, she needed to keep a lot of stuff out in order to do the cooking!

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