A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

7 Genius Ideas to Declutter Flat Surfaces (and Keep It That Way)

How long does it take for a flat surface in your home, like a kitchen counter top or dining room table, to accumulate a fresh mess of clutter? That's what we thought. Professional organizer Jamie Novak shares how to keep junk from piling up in the first place.

1 / 7

Set the table

Really. Set it with full place settings. Having plates, glasses, and napkins arranged on the table leaves no room for clutter. The already full table will prevent you from just dropping stuff down and forces you to put items away. This will help you and your family break the habit of cluttering up the tabletop. Plus, you can skip the step of putting clean dishes away in the kitchen cabinet only to have to pull them back out later when dinner is served. Save time—and clutter—by setting the table with the clean dishes direct from the dishwasher (or drying rack).

2 / 7


Leave a reminder

Leave yourself a note on the buffet, bookshelf, or side table where things tend to pile up. The note might say, “Don’t put it down—put it away!” or “No clutter zone.” Seeing that visual reminder may be just what you need to be mindful about staying organized. Remember, you are trying to break a bad habit, so be patient, it can take some time to rework your routine. If you find yourself sliding back into old habits, catch yourself and put the stuff away before it gets out of hand. Leaving reminders is one of the habits of successful time managers.

3 / 7

Give everything a home

If you haven’t designated a place for something to be stored, then it has nowhere to go, and that makes it impossible to keep your home clean. Clutter will always appear on flat surfaces all over your home. A convenient storage spot—whether it’s a box for bills waiting to be paid, a basket for magazines waiting to be read, or a bin for clothes waiting to be taken to the dry cleaner—will make it much easier to stay organized and avoid daunting stacks. Make sure the storage is easy to access; that way storing the item will be just as easy as plopping it down elsewhere. Here are more storage hacks to help banish clutter.

4 / 7

Create a drop box

A drop box can be a great solution to corral all those loose odds and ends. Designate a smallish box, bin, or basket as the one place to drop random stuff that gets left out—like a tube of lip gloss or a single phone charging cable. Sure, you’ll have to sort through it at some point, but that is so much easier than moving all those little items from place to place. Plus, you’ll be able to carry the box from room to room putting everything back where it belongs.

5 / 7


Get a rolling cart

If you need to spread out projects on a flat surface to work, then this is the decluttering tip for you. A rolling cart allows you to haul your supplies to the table where you can work on your project and, when you’re done working, all you need to do is put the supplies back on the cart and roll it out of the way. This is an ideal solution for when you’re working on large, ongoing projects like sorting photographs, creating a collage, clipping coupons, or any other task where you need to spread out. Make sure you get the right cart by measuring the clearance where you want to put the cart. For example, if you want to roll it under the table to stow it, you’ll need to know the table height. Or you might prefer to roll the cart into a nearby closet, or just tuck it in the corner of the room.

6 / 7

Do it now

If you leave things out on flat surfaces so you won’t forget to look for them later, your logic has a flaw. This could be a form that needs filling out or a battery for the TV remote. I get it—you’re worried that if you put it away you’ll forget about it or lose it. So here’s the decluttering tip that will change your life: Tackle the task right now. Many times, a quick task like swapping out batteries or filling out a form could take just a few minutes—so don’t procrastinate. By putting off the task until later you create clutter and give yourself one more thing to remember to do. As often as possible try to catch yourself and finish up the task on the spot.

7 / 7

Declutter daily

No matter how diligent you are, flat surfaces can still accumulate clutter. Life comes with lots of stuff and sometimes that stuff lands on your kitchen counter top or dining room table. Try to get in the habit of spending a few minutes at the end of each day putting things away; that way you can minimize the piles of stuff on flat surfaces around your home. A little daily maintenance can make all the difference between cluttered and clutter free. Imagine the success you’ll feel when you clear your flat surfaces and keep them that way!

Jamie Novak
Jamie Novak is a cleaning and organizing expert with more than 20 years of experience. When she's not on deadline, you can find her searching for the mango slicer that mysteriously disappeared from her kitchen utensil drawer. The author of "Keep This, Toss That: The Practical Guide to Tidying Up," she covers cleaning and organizing for RD.com.