Knock, knock, knock.
At that moment, you could have heard a pin drop. It was a hard day, and I was taking an afternoon break on the couch.
There were breakfast dishes in the sink, you couldn’t even see my kitchen counters, and there was a smell coming from a coffee mug that I hadn’t yet gotten the strength to deal with. I quickly hit mute on the TV and held my breath, hoping against hope that they would just go away.
Knock, knock, knock. Darn. They weren’t going away.
I had to plan my next move. My house was a mess and the thought of someone—anyone—seeing the state of things was more than I was willing to risk.
Why, oh why couldn’t I get my act together?
It’s hard for me to put that into writing. To actually see the words on the page telling my story. A story that wasn’t a one-time deal with me.
Slow to learn I guess. But I sadly found myself in that situation on more than one occasion.
Definitely slow to learn.
It’s not that I wanted to be a slob. Far from it. I longed for a neat and tidy home—one where every cabinet was organized with pretty labels attached to pretty boxes. But each time I tried to clean things out, I would start off strong only to peter out hours in. This left things worse off than they were before, and to fix it all, I would just shove piles into drawers and cabinets wherever it would fit.
Something had to change.
The clutter was not only affecting me but my family as well. Especially the kids. Research shows that kids living in a severely cluttered environment often have elevated levels of distress, experience less happiness, and have more difficulty making friends.
It was time to make a change, and I needed to find something that worked. More specifically, I needed tips and actionable steps that I could stick to long term. The promises of “Declutter Your Entire Home in a Weekend!” were not realistic, especially for me. I needed slow and intentional with specific and easy steps that I could not only do but actually stick with. And if you are still with me, we might just be a whole lot alike.
Stop and take a peek right now at your kitchen counter? Is it a mess? Is it even visible? What would it do to your kitchen—your mood—if your counters were cleaned off and tidy? A whole lot I bet. Call it a small win, yes, but a win just the same.
Tackle the Surface Clutter First
For some reason, my kitchen counters were magnets for our things. Every day when we came home, we would stop in the kitchen and drop whatever was in our arms right there on the counter. So even though each morning I would clean my counters off, by the end of the day there was mass chaos strewn about.
- School papers
- Shopping bags
- Spark plugs? (yes, I kid you not)
Each afternoon the same scene would play out.
I would walk over to my counter arms full of veggies ready to begin dinner only to find stuff everywhere. I would have to use my elbows to make room enough to chop up a carrot. What started out as gentle nudging soon turned into violent pushing. I was frustrated, angry, and so, so tired of things everywhere.
- Why can’t my family put their things away?
- Why do I always have to be the one to deal with it day in and day out?
- Why can’t I have mad magic skills like Samantha in Bewitched and twinkle my kitchen clean?
It’s no secret that clutter causes stress, and I was living proof of that. Yet I still was living in it—ignoring it until my patience boiled over crashing into every single member of my family.
The solution was obvious. I needed a fix. But what?
Keep It Simple
I had tried decluttering and organizing before. More times than I cared to count really. It’s not that I liked living this way. I longed to have a kitchen like the ones I saw on Pinterest. I wanted cleared off counters with barely a thing on them, a neat and tidy pantry with everything inside labeled and in its place, jars with polka dotted ribbons holding chalkboard labels with calligraphy words describing their contents.
Okay, maybe not that last one.
And here I was just lucky to have one of my 6 opened bags of flour bug-free enough so I could use it to make a pizza crust.
I knew what I had to do, but I just couldn’t do it.
With any negative issue in our lives, denial is the biggest obstacle standing in our way to change.
Sure my house might be bad, but it’s not like it belongs in an episode of Hoarders. That must mean I’m doing okay.
And that right there couldn’t be further from the truth.
If I was doing okay I wouldn’t be acting like a crazy person, arms flailing, and screaming at my kids to get their crap off of the counters before I lost it!! My house might not belong on Hoarders, but I definitely belonged on Dr. Phil. I can hear him say….”How’s that working for ya?”
It’s not actually.
The Side Effect of Clutter
I have to confess something here. I have a pet peeve. A big one. I hate to waste time looking for things. (The irony of that admission is not lost on me here.) And the fact that my home was so cluttered meant that I was always looking for things.
So rather than looking at the clutter as the problem, maybe it was not putting things away that was causing all of my grief. Maybe if our things had designated homes—places, where specific items belonged, it would be easier to put things away.
Like silverware belongs either in the dishwasher or in the silverware drawer and is therefore easy to keep put away at all times.
But finding homes for our things was going to take some time, and right now, what I needed was a way to keep the counters cleaned off even after the family got home. Cleaned off so I could cook dinner without losing my cool or answer the door without hiding behind the couch. So if finding homes for my things wasn’t the immediate answer, what was?
Why Catch-all Baskets are the Solution to Clutter-Free Counters
When I first learned this idea from my real estate friend, I was a bit skeptic. A few strategic baskets were all I needed to fix my counter clutter problem? There was just no way. But after hearing her out, I decided to give it a try.
And you know what? It totally worked!
Having a place to toss and go allowed us to keep our same habit. Plus, keeping a large basket for things to get tossed in contained the afternoon chaos until I had time to sort through it all. And since we knew exactly where daily items landed, lost permission slips were a thing of the past.
Having a basket for each family member took this tip to a whole new level.
- My oldest knew where he could drop—and later find—his baseball schedule until it got put on the calendar.
- My Hubby knew where to put the day’s mail until he had time to sit down and open it all after dinner.
- My youngest knew where to “hide” his test paper with the bright red F hoping it would get forgotten before he headed out to play.
With a simple system like this set into place, it not only kept me calm but it taught responsibility to my kids. They knew where to put any papers they brought home from school and where to find them if they needed to refer to them again.
How to Get Started with Catch-All Baskets
The key to this system working for you is knowing the amount and the size baskets needed and exactly where to put them. This is not a magic solution. Tossing a basket here and a plastic bin there is not going to fix the problem.
You need to get the family on board so they not only understand why you are using catch-all baskets but also HOW to use them.
Step #1. Have a Family Meeting
This is your chance to have a heart to heart with your family. I urge you not to skip this step. I think this is the main reason so many of my decluttering attempts failed. My family simply did not realize I was trying to make a change in our home for the better. Once they knew WHY I wanted to use catch-all baskets in our home, they were much more willing to give it a try.
Start out by being completely honest.
I had to admit that I was short fused and on edge and the clutter everywhere was the cause. Keep it real. Be completely honest and you might just be surprised at the effect it will have on your family.
Step #2. Call in the Troops
Before you can start setting up baskets, you need to get the clutter out of the way. This is your family’s chance to show their support. Start small. Take them right to the kitchen counter and announce that they need to claim what is theirs. Give them each a bag or box to hold their things and explain this is an all or nothing step. Whatever is left is getting tossed.
Now, I am not suggesting you throw away any items on your counters after your family is done. You will want to sort through things, but after your family does their once over, the amount of clutter that is left should be a fraction of what it was. If you see there is no difference in the mess, have them come back and do it again.
Continue until what is left is something you can go through without clutter overwhelm.
Step #3. Bring in the Baskets
After you have your counters cleaned off, you will want to decide how many baskets you need and where to put them. If your kids are older than toddler-aged, I would suggest a basket for each. This will not only keep things sorted by child, but it will also teach them responsibility.
Be sure to choose baskets that are the right size. Slightly bigger than the average size piece of paper (about 9×12), yet small enough to not take up all of your counter space.
If baskets aren’t your thing you can also use plastic drawers with each family member being assigned a drawer. If you choose to go this route, be sure to label each drawer with the family member’s name.
Step #4. Set a Daily Routine
Just having baskets is not going to fix your counter clutter problem. You need to go through the baskets frequently. This will not only ensure that your baskets do not overflow, defeating the purpose of eliminating overwhelm, but it will keep important papers from getting buried and forgotten.
I suggest choosing a time in your day that is calm so you can better focus. Do not attempt to go through baskets while making dinner for example. Maybe after dinner, while the family is cleaning up (wishful thinking?) you can go through the items in each basket, giving the appropriate attention to each.
D/M Pro Tip: Have a pen and pad of Post-It notes when you go through a basket. Use this to make any notes as you go so you do not forget later.
Step #5. Deal with It Now
Do not be tempted to be fooled by the lure of the catch-all baskets.
Just because the items are finally contained in a somewhat orderly fashion, does not mean you can ignore them until they overflow. The key is to stay on top of them in a few minutes each day rather than an hour long sort-through once a week.
Bite-sized pieces are the key to this system working and not becoming an overwhelming task that you are tempted to avoid.
Common Catch-All Basket Road Blocks
- There is just no way my family is going to do this.
- I do not have room for baskets on my counter.
- There is so much stuff on my counter. How on earth am I going to get rid of it all?
- Does my husband have to do this too?
There is just no way my family is going to do this.
To be fair, your family might roll their eyes a bit when you first suggest the baskets. The key is not to lose your cool. Keep your reasons clear and simple so they understand your why. If they still scoff, ask them to give you a trial run—to give it their all for just 2 weeks to see if the system works.
This is good to do even if your family is on board right away. Remember, no system is foolproof. Give it a trial run, and tweak things where needed so it better fits your family.
The mess on your counters is not just from you, and that’s why it’s so important to have your family involved from the beginning. When they realize the role they are playing in the mess, they will be more willing to work on a solution.
I do not have room for baskets on my counter.
It’s true that if your counters are strewn with chaos, the thought of adding even more to that mess just doesn’t add up. And that is why starting with a clean slate is so important.
Once a counter is free from things, you will be better able to see its possibilities.
There is so much stuff on my counter. How on earth am I going to get rid of it all?
If you have quite a bit on your counters, maybe you need to uncover the clutter before you bring your family in. Try these simple clutter steps to make this chore a bit easier to tackle.
- Remove any trash. Take a bag and walk the counter picking up newspapers, sales ads, empty envelopes, empty bags of food, or paper plates. Keep going until most, if not all, of the visible trash, is removed.
- Remove the recyclables. Do the same thing. Only this time, gather up anything that is recyclable in your area.
- Gather up the dishes. Put all the dirty dishes in the sink or dishwasher and the clean dishes away in the drawers and cabinets.
- Obvious clutter. Do a once over removing anything that is obvious clutter that you can quickly put away. Tools go in the garage, clothes go in the hamper, potholders in the drawer, pens in the office, and so on.
What you have left is the clutter you can present to your family. More often than not, the real clutter is not nearly as much as we first thought.
Does my husband have to do this too?
I would say absolutely yes. My Hubby wasn’t too keen on the idea when I first brought it up either, but now he loves having his own basket. He knows exactly where to put any papers he wants to deal with later without risk of losing them, and he also knows any items that come into the home that he needs to look at will be there as well.
Now it’s your turn.
Do you have a kitchen clutter solutions tip that helps you keep clutter off your kitchen counters? Share in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!