Decluttering a Working Kitchen, Part 3

Whether the eating area in your house is located in the kitchen, next to it, or in a separate dining room, the table in it is likely to be a magnet for anything you need to set down instead of taking time to find a place for.  That’s why it’s so hard to keep a table clear of everything except place settings.

If you eat in front of the television, this may not be a concern for you. But my family likes to eat at the table where we converse while we eat (no phones allowed), so a clear table is a necessity.

It’s also a necessity when I’m cooking, because our kitchen has so little counter space. So when I bake cookies, there may be a few cooling racks on the kitchen table. Every year, we decorate dozens of Christmas cookies on that table. We even set bags of freezer meals on the table while assembling them. But whatever we put on that table, it has to be gone before suppertime so we can eat.

In a small house, it isn’t just food that ends up on the kitchen table, as I noted in my e-book, Secrets of Small-House Living:

Most rooms in a small house need to be multi-functional, and the eating area is no exception. Our kitchen table sometimes serves as a gift-wrapping station, a crafting area, a work area (especially at tax time), and a parking zone for the groceries as they transit between the driveway and the kitchen. For that reason, we’ve had to get in the habit of keeping it clear. We can’t let it become a catch-all, because we need that space, even when no one is eating.

Often the mail tries to pile up on our kitchen table. I go through it daily, shredding and filing, but occasionally I can’t get to it. It’s amazing how quickly other papers are magically drawn to that spot! Before I know it, I’m sitting down to dinner next to a paper pile. I have to be very diligent to stay on top of that potential mess.

If you have children at home, I’m sure your table attracts far more than just paper. But even for us, it’s been a challenge to find other places to put the things that are so easy to throw on the table:

It helps to keep some filing places nearby. There’s a small basket on the wall, near my calendar. That’s where I put the bills. A few nearby kitchen drawers hold personal financial paperwork, sale flyers and coupons. Junk mail goes straight to the recycler or shredder. Everything else goes to the far end of the table, which is near the basement door. I’ve gotten into the habit of taking whatever’s on the far end of the table down to the basement with me when I pass by. (The basement is where we keep our filing cabinets.) Some days I feel like I’m just taking pieces of paper up and down the steps. But there’s no room upstairs for a filing cabinet.

Inside the kitchen cabinets that face the eating area, I keep information taped to the doors. My phone number list is there; it includes our doctors’ and dentist’s numbers, among others. (I’m old-school, so I don’t keep it all on my cell phone.) The insides of kitchen cabinet doors are great places for keeping information that needs to be easily accessible.

Since I wrote that, I did make a change in how I do things in the eating area. I got tired of constantly taking papers down to the filing cabinet in the basement. So I now keep an accordion file in a large kitchen drawer next to the table. Every six months or so, I take that accordion file to the basement and file everything. Then I bring it back up and put it in the drawer. It saves me a lot of steps, and allows me to easily access recent files.

Ultimately, the key to keeping your eating area clear of clutter is to make sure you have places to put the things that end up on the table. Backpacks should go on coat racks by the door, or on your children’s bed posts. Groceries should be put away promptly. If these things have a place to go, they won’t be left on your table. And having a clean table goes a long way toward making your kitchen, and in fact your main living area, look comfortable and uncluttered.