14 Missteps That Make Your Kitchen Look Cluttered

We asked pros to share the most common kitchen clutter issues they see — and the easy way to fix them.

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March 23, 2021
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Hanging anything and everything on the fridge.

It’s easy to let your refrigerator door serve as a space for everything from coupons to kids’ art projects, but it can also be visually distracting. To avoid having it become the focal point of an otherwise neat kitchen, keep your fridge door streamlined. Hang a simple calendar or whiteboard to mark down the dates as invitations and fliers come in, instead of pinning everything to the fridge.

Letting mail stack up on the counter.

"The kitchen counter is often a place where bills and permission slips go to die," says Kay Patterson of The Organized Soprano. But ideally, you should avoid using your kitchen as a mail storage center in the first place, she says. Instead, take just five minutes each day to manage the day’s haul: immediately toss what you don’t need, and file away what you do in a place that’s not your kitchen counter. "It can be a hard habit to establish," says Patterson. "But once you get used to it, you’ll never let mail pile up again."

Not adjusting cabinet shelves.

Most kitchen cabinet shelves are adjustable and optimizing that space can immediately help maximize storage and reduce visual clutter. For example, if you have lots of space between the top of your items and the shelf above it, lower the shelf. Or, if you’re storing tall boxes on their sides (or on the counter) because they don’t fit on a shelf, adjust so you have room.

Leaving bagged food in its original packaging.

Decanting pantry items isn’t just for looks — it’s about function! And that’s especially true when it comes to bagged pantry staples (like rice or dry beans) because their shape makes them difficult to store efficiently. To solve, transfer these items to stackable, airtight containers. Even simple plastic ones can do the trick.

Allowing "special occasion" items take up prime cabinet real estate.

Every kitchen usually has at least of few of these rarely-used (or never-used) items — like a large serving bowl or bulky ice cream maker you only dust off once a year. The solution here is two-part: If you never use it, get rid of it. If you use it infrequently, move it out of your kitchen, or consider sourcing it in another way. "Think about how often you really use an item," says Jennifer Johnson of The Orderly Space. "If it’s once a year or less, do you have a friend or family member you can borrow that same item from?"

Your spice cabinet is a mess.

It’s a familiar scene: Spice bottles are small and inevitably the one you need is in the back so you rummage every time. But there’s a quick fix, says Patterson. "If you have the space, the best way to store spices is in a drawer," she says so you can see everything at once. Don’t have a free drawer? Invest in an inexpensive stacked shelf to elevate the spices in the back. Either way, Patterson also recommends storing spices semi-alphabetically to make things easier to find and grab. "You don’t have to be perfect about it. Oregano can go after onion powder, as long as they’re in the same vicinity."

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Leaving appliances out on the counter.

Although it might make sense to leave very frequently used pieces out say, your coffeemaker too many countertop items is one of the fastest ways to make a kitchen look cluttered. "Aim for clear surfaces. While it might be tempting to leave lots of appliances out, tucking them into a cabinet can be so rewarding," says Meredith Ryness of Tiny LA. "Your counters will be much easier to clean and the visual payoff cannot be overstated."

Having a catch-all container for utensils — and leaving that out too.

A common sight in a cluttered kitchen? An "all-of-the-above" countertop canister with spatulas, ladles, and other cooking utensils. If you store one new thing away, make it this. "I generally advise against utensil holders being out on the counter," says Ryness. "It’s just as convenient to have cooking utensils in a drawer nearby, and it’s much less visually noisy."

Letting bulk buys stack in the corner.

The 10-pound bag of rice and 24-pack of your favorite sparkling water? It’s great to bulk buy with budget in mind but not so great to let these items pile up in the kitchen. Designate a separate space to store larger items, says Melissa Maker of Clean My Space. Then move smaller portions to the kitchen only as needed.

Leaving dirty dishes piled in the sink.

While you’re cooking or eating, load dishes immediately into the dishwasher once you’re finished. Then run the dishwasher every night, and unload it in the morning. (The goal is to let dishes skip the sink entirely!) Work this into your A.M. and P.M. routines and you can break the sink bottleneck in no time.

You confuse having too little storage with having too much stuff.

"Most people, no matter what size their kitchen is, feel that they don’t have adequate storage. But this is almost never true," says Ryness. "It’s almost always a 'stuff' issue and not a storage issue." She says once a kitchen is pared down to its essentials, almost everyone will find they have ample space.

Not using all of your vertical space.

Speaking of extra storage space, you can usually find some under the sink above that stash of cleaning supplies. To best utilize it, consider adding a tiered expander rack. It fits right under your sink and instantly doubles your storage space.

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Forgetting about the fridge.

Clutter-wise, countertops and cabinets get most of the attention but you also shouldn’t overlook keeping your fridge’s contents organized and properly stored, says Patterson. If the visual reward of a clutter-free fridge isn’t enough to motivate you, think of the practical payoff: By storing certain foods (like produce) correctly, you’ll prevent them from going bad before their time and you’ll save money in the long run.

Putting off doing a comprehensive decluttering session.

That means going through everything in your kitchen and thinking critically about what you really need, use, and love versus what you should discard or donate. The task doesn’t have to be done in one day, but it does need to be done before you can realistically get (and keep!) a clutter-free kitchen.