The 12 Worst Offenders for Kitchen Clutter and How to Do with Them

The 10 Commandments of a Clutter-Free Kitchen

Scores of cabinets and miles of counter space, a place for everything and everything in its place — this is the dream kitchen. But the reality is that most of us are cooking meals in spaces not of our dreams. Our kitchens are working spaces that we forgive for being short on cabinets, counter space, and often, both.

Another real-life situation: Our kitchen corners, counters, windowsills, and tables have a tendency to accumulate clutter. From the day’s mail (or, let’s be honest, the week’s) to the ice cream maker we haven’t managed to put away (even though it’s now officially fall), these items somehow manage to take over — which can make our kitchens more difficult and less enjoyable places in which to work.

I surveyed my friends and family to find out the worst culprits of kitchen clutter, the things that always seem to pile up or get in the way — plus the best ways to deal with them.

1. Rubber Bands

When considering the rubber bands of all sizes that have accumulated in various places throughout your kitchen, keep in mind that not all rubber bands are created equal. While it certainly is useful to have a stash of sturdy, asparagus-worthy rubber bands next time you need to secure something, you probably don’t need the three tiny ones that seem to arrive wrapped around each bunch of scallions.

Tip: Wrap the worthy ones into a good, old-fashioned rubber band ball to keep stashed neatly in a drawer.

The Clutter Filter: Create a Landing Strip

2. Mail

Mail and magazines aren’t necessarily kitchen-specific, but they do always seem to find their way onto kitchen counters and tables, don’t they? My method is to sort the mail right when I walk in the door: Magazines land on the coffee table and I tuck the mail that needs attention on my living room landing strip. I only bring catalogs and junk mail into the kitchen to put them directly into the recycling bin.

Tip: Stop junk mail clutter before it gets to your mailbox by opting out of unwanted catalog subscriptions, credit card offers, and the like.

3. Reusable Shopping Bags

If you’re like me, you somehow still forget to bring reusable bags to the store —even when your kitchen is overflowing with canvas bags hung on doorknobs and the backs of chairs. Begin by corralling them all in one place and picking out your favorites to pack into the trunk of your car, in your bike basket, or in your favorite purse.

Tip: Those lightweight mesh bags that you received as promotions or at conferences? Donate a stack of them to your local charity or thrift store.

10 Ways to Reuse Bread Tags

4. Twist Ties & Bread Tabs

While twist-ties and plastic bread tags can certainly be reused — and plastic twist ties are great for trellising tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans in backyard gardens — be realistic as to how many to keep.

Tip: Stash little jars in your junk drawer or cabinet to keep them corralled.

5. Corks & Bottle Caps

It only takes one party to confront the reality of corks and bottle caps. But don’t just toss them in the recycling bin along with your bottles! Recycling policies vary, so it’s a good idea to check with your program.

Tip: Set aside corks to recycle through projects like ReCork, Cork ReHarvest, and Recycle Cork.

10 Kitchen Tools & Gadgets We Deeply Regret Giving Away

6. Oddly Shaped Tools

Funnels, sieves, ladles, tongs, whisks, and graters are ill-suited to storage in drawers and seem to provoke consternation. So, where do they belong? Rather than trying to jam them into a drawer, stow them in round equipment caddies or even hang them, if possible.

Tip: Remember, it never hurts to edit your collection.

Before & After: How I Finally Organized My Food Storage Container Drawer

7. Food Storage Containers

Plastic and glass food storage containers are a constant challenge — especially when you’re dealing with a motley collection of quart containers, Chinese takeout containers, and Mason jars.

Tip: Edit your collection down to containers and lids that match, and do your best to stay on top of drying and putting them away into a designated storage space.

5 Ways to Get Your Pot Lids Organized

8. Pot & Pan Lids

Although they don’t necessarily accumulate on surfaces, the lids of pots and pans are major culprits of in-cabinet clutter. Fortunately, we’ve got abundant advice for you on how to manage this perennial storage issue. Try a magnetic strip, tension rods, or specially designed racks.

Tip: If you use a hanging pot rack, try threading each lid onto the handle of its corresponding pot or pan before hanging it, a trick I saw recently and to great effect in the home of a friend.

9. Unitaskers

It has been said before, but it bears repeating: The tools that you use infrequently or seasonally contribute little in your kitchen when they’re not in use, so get them out of there! It’s safe to say that unless you use your cake decorating supplies, cookie scoops, sushi rolling mat, or tortilla press at least once each month, they’ll be just as happy in a storage bin in your coat closet as they will in a kitchen drawer.

Tip: Consider swapping unitaskers out seasonally. Keep the cookie cutters close at hand in winter, but trade them out for the cherry pitter come summer.

10. Appliances

It might seem strange to think of appliances as clutter and not, you know, just part of the kitchen itself, but I’d argue that unless you’re using your stand mixer, food processor, blender, Instant Pot, rice cooker, toaster, electric kettle, waffle iron, or slow cooker regularly, they’re major counter real-estate hogs. This is doubly true in smaller kitchens, where cooks can find entire stretches of valuable counter space tied up with appliances gathering grime and generally contributing to visual and practical congestion.

Tip: Instead of letting them own your counters, set up a sturdy bookshelf and move these appliances there. Follow our three-step plan to help prioritize.

The IKEA RÅSKOG Cart as Coffee Station

11. Coffee & Tea Equipment

In these current caffeine-driven times, many of us have traded out the standard electric drip coffee maker for an array of options instead: French press, Chemex, espresso machine, burr grinder, and even sculptural pour-over setups. While having options for drinking coffee and tea is largely a pleasure, the array (with accompanying scale, infusers, filters, and travel mugs) can make for a serious traffic jam. One solution is to hang beloved mugs and teacups, or to dedicate a little cabinet space to coffee in particular.

Tip: Don’t have cabinet space to spare? Consider this ingenious IKEA cart solution.

12. Long-Term Food Projects

Kombucha or beer-brewing, compost-making, vegetable ferments in process, and a collection of canning jars, rings, and supplies are familiar sights in the homes of those who love to cook. While these projects often yield delicious results, they require some commitment in terms of time to work their magic, which means that once they take up residence in the main prep area of one’s kitchen, they don’t yield quickly. Little by little, they readily encroach until the area best used for day-to-day meal prep can become a long-term project zone.

The good news is that often projects like these do best out of direct sunlight, without being moved frequently, so relegate them to a dedicated, out-of-the-way area and consider non-kitchen spaces for storage of finished canning projects.

Tip: Marisa McClellan of Food In Jars swears by sheet trays of jars slid under her sofa.

Your turn: What’s the worst source of clutter in your kitchen?