7 small habit switch-ups that professional organizers swear by to keep kitchen countertops clear and clutter-free

For tidy and organized kitchen surfaces, it's the small changes that make the biggest difference

a minimalist kitchen with no countertop appliances
(Image credit: Lauren Moore. Design: Design Assembly)

Staying on top of countertop clutter can feel like a constant battle. Our kitchens are the heart of the home, and so they quickly become a sort of catchall for all those miscellaneous odds and ends that don't have a home elsewhere. Combine that with the practical purpose they serve, and our surfaces soon become overrun with stuff. 

The best way to keep counters clear in your modern kitchen? Making small but meaningful changes rather than resorting to drastic commitments. When the clutter becomes too much to bear, it's easy to think you need a total kitchen overhaul, but - as every professional organizer will tell you - it's the small changes that make the biggest difference. 

To keep surfaces clear for the foreseeable future and not just the short term, adopting a few small habits and introducing them to your regular routine will be most conducive. Below, we asked professional organizers to share seven tricks and tips they swear by for clutter-free countertops, all of which you can introduce to your home today. 

1. Give 'homeless' items a place to live 

a kitchen with a tiled kitchen island

(Image credit: Nicole Franzen. Design: GRT Architects)

The first step to a clutter-free kitchen countertop? Ensuring all your belongings have a place to live. It's all too easy for a homeless utensil or a stack of letters to become permanent fixtures on your surfaces, but the trick is not allowing them to outstay their welcome in the first place. By far the best way to do this is by allocating them a home. 

'Start by creating space in your cabinets,' says Di Ter Avest, a professional organizer and owner of Di is Organized. 'Get all the things that are lying around on countertops, shelves, and tables, group them with similar items, and designate them a home. You can also add labels to the shelves or containers so everyone in your house knows where to return things.'

2. Invest in countertop organizers 

It might sound obvious, but one of the best ways to organize a kitchen is to invest in some clever organizer buys. From sliding countertop gadgets like this one at Amazon that make it easier to access your heavier appliances, to a good old-fashioned spice rack to keep all your seasonings contained, there are some kitchen organizers that no one should live without. 

Designated countertop organizers will also help to ensure everything in your kitchen has a designated home. As home organizer Kayleen Kelly points out: 'When you lack systems of organization and don't know where to put things, they're going to wind up in general areas, like countertops.' 

3. Place dirty dishes straight in the sink

kitchen countertop

(Image credit: LochAnna Kitchens / Photography: Paul Craig)

All of us are guilty of stacking dirty dishes by the side of the kitchen sink or letting them collect on a spare slice of countertop - especially if you don't have a dishwasher - but this is a surefire way to having messy surfaces. To keep your counters clean and tidy, professional organizer Melissa Gugni suggests putting used dishes, mugs, and glasses straight into the sink. 

Not only will this keep them out of sight but it will encourage you to wash them once the sink is full, preventing a washing-up marathon further down the line. 'Yes, the dishes will eventually need to be done, but keeping them contained makes the kitchen feel less cluttered and dirty and makes me feel better about getting back to work there,' Melissa adds.

4. Store appliances you don't use frequently inside cupboards

Countertop appliances such as toasters, coffee machines, and air fryers may make your food prep miles easier, but only when they're not cluttering your space. If your surfaces are flooded with gimmicky appliances that you rarely use, store them away when not in use.

It's a quick and simple chore, but it's one that Melissa uses all the time with her clients. 'A question I ask my clients a lot is "how often do you use this?",' she says. 'With regards to a countertop, folks often tell me that they rarely use the crock pot, the standing mixer, or the automatic drip coffee maker (they prefer pour-over coffee). Appliances take up valuable real estate, so consider finding a place in a cabinet and enjoy the space their absence creates.' 

5. Adopt the 'one touch' rule

A kitchen countertop made from concrete

(Image credit: Paul Archer Design)

Decluttering tips can be a game-changer if you want to kick unhealthy habits with your stuff, and the 'one-touch' tidying rule is a brilliant one for kitchen counters. Wondering how it works? It essentially does what it says on the tin. If you pick something up, be sure to put it back. 

'Dealing with an item immediately reduces clutter and saves time,' says Di. 'Put things back in their homes as soon as you are done using them. For example, if you run the dishwasher overnight, go ahead and unload the dishwasher while you wait for your toast or oatmeal to be ready in the morning. That way, whenever you use a glass or any other dish, you can rinse them and put them straight in the dishwasher.' 

6. Make a kitchen 'command center' 

We all have that one corner of the kitchen island or space in front of the windowsill where we deposit our daily bits and bobs. We're talking about the likes of keys, glasses, and letters that quickly accumulate into little piles of clutter. When it's been a staple of your kitchen counters for so many years, banishing it is easier said than done. 

'Create a designated drop zone for these daily used items,' says Kayleen. This could be a decorative catchall bowl, box, or even a shelf. 'Make sure to go straight to the recycle bin once you get your mail to discard any junk mail, and implement a filing system so your papers have somewhere to go.' 

In Di's home, she's created a designated area on the wall to preserve more countertop space. 'A command center will help you keep all the paper, keys, loose change, bills, and school assignments off of the flat surfaces in your kitchen,' she says. 'Pick a corner of the kitchen or space by your entryway to create a command center by adding hooks, magazine folders, calendars, and whiteboards.' 

7. Adopt a 'kitchen closing' routine 

Flat front kitchen cabinets with edge-pull handles

(Image credit: Captex Construction)

Our kitchens probably see more foot traffic than anywhere else in the home, and although they're somewhat of a social hub for the whole family, there needs to come a time when you draw the line. Just as a restaurant kitchen closes for the night, set a bedtime boundary to prevent the horror of late-night mess greeting you in the morning. 

This a technique Di relies on in her own home. 'Every night, load and run the dishwasher, wipe down the countertops, table, and appliances, put stuff away in their homes, and quickly sweep or vacuum the floor,' she says. 'You can even go one step further and set the breakfast table for the morning!' Of course, that last step all depends on the state of the kitchen to start with... 

Follow these steps and before you know it, the whole family will catch on to your organized habits. Clutter-free countertops will finally be the norm in your kitchen for good.  

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Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.