How to keep counters clear in a small kitchen: 5 expert tips
January 31, 2024
Nowhere attracts clutter quite like kitchen countertops – despite our best efforts, it seems a pile of random objects on the island or dining table is inevitable. But physical clutter is mental clutter that causes us stress, so it pays to find ways to keep counters clear when organising the kitchen, especially if you are blessed with a smaller space.
Organised kitchen counters make everyday cooking easier, and make for a more pleasant environment in general, whether you’re enjoying a morning latte, or making a quick working-from-home lunch. It also leaves space for thoughtful styling touches, from a cosy kitchen lamp to a live basil plant in an attractive pot to make a kitchen look more expensive.
From trying out new, space-savvy small kitchen storage ideas to reorganising kitchen drawers, these are the methods professional home organisers recommend to keep counters clear in smaller spaces – plus some shortcuts to a kitchen that seems organised to the untrained eye even when it is anything but.
How to keep counters clear in a small kitchen
It can be hard to eliminate piles of paperwork, car keys, dog leads, and kids’ toys, not to mention bulky kitchen appliances, but it’s perfectly possible by making a few changes and instilling daily tidying habits and declutter methods recommended by professionals.
While the idea of taking everything out of our cupboards and drawers may not fill us with joy, it will make all the difference. It frees up magical space, and it’s a good chance to clean the kitchen and get into those corners that are usually hard to reach. Plus it means you have to actively put items back rather than leaving them there out of habit, ultimately creating a more intentional, purposeful space.
“Inevitably the reason you have lots of clutter on your worktop is because you’re struggling to fit it in a cupboard or drawer,” says home organiser Laura Price. “So if you want to declutter a kitchen worktop, declutter the surrounding cupboards and drawers first.”
Laura Price is the owner of The Home Organisation. Laura Price’s goal is to help others experience the benefits of living an organized life after discovering that organized homes brought her peace when raising three children in a hectic home. Hence the birth of The Home Organisation, a dedicated team of professional organisers.
When decluttering, home organiser Katherine Blackler from SortMySpace Ltd recommends using a large surface area like a dining table or countertop to categorise like-with-like and see where you have duplications. Goodbye, surplus utensils, spatulas, and peelers.
“By emptying the cupboard or drawer, you can see the full potential of the space and you also have to make a conscious choice to put items back in rather than leaving most there as default,” says Katherine.
The temporary chaos of everything being out of the cupboards is great motivation to declutter thoroughly because you see just how much you are storing – there’s nowhere to hide.
Dubbed ‘The Personal Trainer for your Home, Katherine is a high-energy individual with an inherent passion for bringing order from chaos and making everyday life that little bit easier. Based in London and owner of SortMySpace Ltd, Katherine Blackler is the first CPO® Certified Professional Organiser in the UK, and the past President of APDO Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers in the UK.
2. Give everything a home
Kitchen storage ideas and solutions become much easier when all items have a home because it takes the thinking out of putting things away. “Create zones and designated spots for everything,” insists Craig Horeau APDO member and Managing Director of A Tidy Mind London.
Adding labels to storage containers is also helpful as it makes it clear to everyone in the household where things go, especially when organising a pantry. It might sound a little Monica Geller, but zones and designated spots for absolutely everything will make tidying into something you can do on autopilot, so counters are less likely to get buried in clutter.
In terms of zoning, Katherine Blackler recommends allocating cupboards or shelf space near the dishwasher or draining rack for crockery and everyday glassware to easily put items away within one reach. “That way it’s more likely the task will be completed” she says.
3. Try quick daily declutters
The reality is that keeping counters clear and organising a small kitchen means tidying little and often. Take inspiration from the “closing shift” social media trend, put on some music, and spend five minutes each evening putting everything back and wiping down the surfaces.
Professional home organiser Lisa Coe says, “I always recommend that my clients take a few minutes each evening to clear their kitchen counters of anything that doesn’t belong on them, to avoid a build-up of clutter.”
To make this habit easier to build, stack it on top of an existing habit, be it making an evening chamomile tea, or doing your five-minute declutter straight after loading the dishwasher. “It doesn’t matter at what time but set yourself five minutes each day to quickly sweep through your countertops. Doing this regularly will keep your counters consistently clear,” agrees Laura.
Lisa Coe is the founder of Happy Space Organised By Lisa, a home organising company based in Nottinghamshire. Lisa is trained and accredited by Dilly Carter, and her favourite thing about working as a professional organiser is seeing clients fall back in love with their homes.
4. Limit counter space to daily items only
Organising a small space takes discipline – you can’t have all your cookware, chopping boards, and appliances out all the time. It’s just not realistic because the space will become practically impossible to use. Reduce the items left out of your daily kitchen essentials, and have some fun styling them.
“Try and only keep items you use every day out on the counter, like a kettle or toaster. You don’t need a bulky appliance you use once a month taking up valuable countertop space,” says Laura Price. “Instead, find a home for it in a cupboard and if it doesn’t fit in the kitchen, store it elsewhere in the home.
“If you have items that have to stay out, styling them can help make your counters feel more considered and elevate the look of the room,” continues Laura. “Styling a kitchen counter is all about grouping functional and decorative items to create pretty displays that are also practical. Use a round chopping board or slate and place a couple of your most used oils, salts and spices on it, next to the hob.”
5. Use wall-mounted storage and shelving
Finally, imagine you are a kitchen designer and take a look at your kitchen with fresh eyes to avoid glaringly obvious kitchen design mistakes that waste space. Ask yourself if any vertical space could be used more effectively.
Kitchen risers, at Amazon, are a great small kitchen storage solution, whether on countertops or inside cabinets, as they give you more surfaces for putting spices and regularly used items without taking up more lateral space.
Maybe the inside of your cabinets could be rearranged slightly, too: “Remember, shelves in cupboards are often adjustable so taller items you think may have to live out, such as oils and so on, could potentially live in a cupboard with a few tweaks,” says home organiser Vicky Silverthorn.
Vicky Silverthorn has been a professional organizer for over 10 years, helping people from all walks of life to declutter and organise their homes. As an expert in the industry, she believes that our well-being starts at home – if your home is in shape, other elements of your life will follow. Vicky has written Start with your Sock Drawer, an Amazon bestselling book on living a less cluttered life. As well as being the official storage expert for John Lewis, Vicky has appeared on ITV’s This Morning and Channel 4’s The Big Spring Clean.
Katherine Blackler reminds us not to forget to use the space underneath our cabinets and our ceiling space. “Add hooks for teacups or a kitchen roll holder. Also, consider hanging pots, pans, or utensils from a ceiling or wall rack to reduce countertop congestion.”
How do you organise counter space in a small kitchen?
It’s best to organise your countertop space into zones, so you may have washing up liquid, hand soap and so on near the sink, then a wooden stand to corral your best olive oil, salt and garlic near the hob, and key appliances grouped in another corner.
“If you need to store several appliances such as your toaster, kettle and a coffee machine on your worktop buying these items in a similar colour and style makes a big difference to the aesthetic,” advises Lisa Coe. Another quick shortcut to better-organised kitchen counters is to decant tea, coffee and spices into uniform jars.
Identify what is it that tends to clutter your kitchen counters. If it’s paperwork, why not make a designated basket or folder for paperwork to be stored in? If it’s appliances, see if you can store any lesser-used ones in a cupboard out of the main cooking space.
“Permit yourself one tray, bowl, or small receptacle to corral the itty-bitty bits that would normally be strewn across these surfaces,” suggests Katherine Blackler. “Or allocate one drawer to be the ‘junk drawer’ when you could (temporarily) mine sweep the clutter if you heard unexpected visitors are en route.”