It happens as predictably as the sun rises.
In the morning, our kitchen table is as clear as a bottle of cleaning vinegar. But as the day continues, things happen—meals are made and eaten; we go and we return, emptying our pockets of keys, coins, and hand sanny each time; my daughter Mimi’s toddler things seem to materialize out of thin air—a sippy cup here, a cardboard zebra there. By dinner time, our kitchen table is covered with bits and bobs.
Clutter: 1, Me: 0.
For you, this might be your butcher block island or your galley kitchen counter. For us, it’s a hand-me-down formica table, the color of milky oatmeal. It isn’t just where we eat, and it’s not just my makeshift office, either. It’s the heart of our home, where people drift toward (or at least, used to drift toward) whenever we invited them over for dinner.
In Paris, where I live, we’ve recently been through a second lockdown that’s only just easing. The amount of clutter that accumulates increases in proportion to the time spent at home. And it’s driving me batty. So I put my feelers out to find advice from fellow cooks, writers, and friends. Here, some clever and creative tips for winning the battle against clutter on your kitchen island or table.
1. Cristina Sciarra, food writer, interior designer (Jersey City, NJ)
Here’s how I keep the chaos from taking over:
I keep a Lazy Susan next to the range, for the oils, vinegars, honey, and spices I use most. A magnetic knife strip gives me more counter space; it also allows me quickly to see all my knives. Also, keeping my red dutch oven on the range means it doesn’t take up valuable cabinet space, and I don’t have to lug it anywhere. I use it all the time anyway.
Finally, a ‘catchall’ corner (a desk with drawers and a shelf for storing appliances, plus a place for hanging at least a dozen pots and pans): I always want to redo this corner, but the truth is, it allows me to keep the actual counter clear, as it houses the coffee machine and toaster oven, which get used every day. Plus, it houses all pots and pans, other oft-used appliances, and spices.”
2. Arati Menon, senior editor, Food52 (Brooklyn, NY)
“I have a fairly large island (for a New York apartment) that functions as an entryway table, prep counter, work desk, and dinner table depending on the time of day. Naturally, it attracts—and collects—all manner of random objects.
How do I deal with it? I turn a complete blind eye to it during the day.
Come night, I do a sweep and put stuff away—everything other than the three things that live there permanently (a fruit bowl, coffee machine, and blender). Sometimes, things manage to escape my sweep day after day (currently: a large, leaky bottle of wood varnish and a giant ball of twine), presumably because they have no designated home. At that point, I consider if I need to own them at all. If the answer is ambiguous, out it goes: donation, gift, recycle bin, whatever.”
3. Meiko Temple, food writer, creator of Meiko and the Dish (Dallas, Texas)
“Lately, I’m really into using my walls as sources of storage to keep my counters clutter-free.
Whether it be floating shelves for condiments or hooks for hanging utensils, I love the utility and design that leveraging wall space provides.”
4. Eric Kim, food writer, author of the forthcoming cookbook, “The Essentials of Korean-American Cooking” (Atlanta, Georgia)
“The second I had my own kitchen (and the space), I bought a restaurant-grade stainless steel kitchen counter to use as my island, for a couple of reasons:
1) I love that I can transfer anything hot directly from oven/stove to surface without worrying about coasters or trivets or anything; and
2) Hot water and dish wash soap works wonders all over it to clean it. As for clutter, I do that thing where you push everything to one side. As long as you have a free ‘corner,’ it means you can stave off actually decluttering until that corner eventually becomes overfilled with clutter.
As long as my ‘clutter’ is neatly organized into one pile on my work surface, I’m good. It’s a spatial mind trick I play on myself.”
5. Carrie Solomon, author of Chefs’ Fridges (Paris, France)
“My Parisian galley kitchen gets heavy use. The busiest spot is more or less a kitchen throughway that is half counter/half bar. It’s where we gather for breakfast and dinner and where the nitty-gritty of daily cooking and part of my recipe writing work takes place.
I try to limit what stays on the countertop to three essentials; condiments, day to day appliances, and favorite tableware.
Condiments: I try to keep it simple—flaky sea salt, a pepper mill, piment d’espelette, togarashi pepper, honey, olive oil, and sesame seeds. Every other day I do a quick sorting and put away whatever else accumulates.
Tableware: I keep two stacks of my favorite plates and bowls directly on the counter. I like to have plates at hand to serve quickly, they also bring a nice visual element, most of them come from my two favorite ceramicists, Datcha Paris and A Place by the Lake (who is based in Switzerland).
Kitchen appliances: I keep my KitchenAid proline blender and food processor on the counter as I use them almost daily for smoothies, soups, and dips. As space is tight my washing machine is a comic extension of my countertop space on which sits my stand mixer! It doesn’t get as much use as the other appliances, but it helps me get pancake batter whipped up in minutes.”
What is your secret for keeping your most-used surfaces clutter-free? Tell us in the comments below.