Use the flat surface clutter rule to clear clutter from your kitchen counters, bathroom counters floors and other flat surfaces in your home once and for all. Clutter-free surfaces will instantly transform the look of a room!
The flat surface clutter rule was probably the most helpful and most remembered rule when I was decluttering my home for the first time and when I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted the end result to look like.
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Here’s the flat surface clutter rule:
If it is a flat surface (like the floor, the table, the countertops), then the flat surface should be cleared of anything that is not a permanent fixture.
When leaving a room, any flat surfaces should also be cleared.
Remember, clutter attracts clutter!
I know. Duh, right? Stay with me.
Clutter attracts more clutter on any flat surface
Why have a rule that clears clutter from any flat surface? Well, clutter attracts clutter.
Admit it, when your house is super, awesome deep clean because you have overnight guests coming over, the house stays clean way longer than when there is crap thrown everywhere!
I know when we let our house go, and it looks like a kid tornado came through. I get lazy too about putting things away.
Often times, there will be books and papers left on the kitchen table. Why? Because there are already books and papers there, what is one more item?
Clutter has a way of making you think “What’s the big deal with adding one more thing to the pile already there?” Before you know it, your house is a mess, and that overwhelming and anxious feeling you get about having to clean the entire house creeps back up on you.
How the flat surface clutter rule works (2 options)
The slow method to clear clutter from flat surfaces:
First, you have to clear the clutter from all of your countertops and other flat surfaces. This is the hard part. Take your time, and work room-to-room. You can do it all in an afternoon, or you can spread it out over a week or two. Pick the time schedule that works for you.
Give yourself permission to do it the way that makes you feel the most comfortable and doesn’t create more stress. As you gain momentum, you will want to move faster, as the feeling of relief you get from clearing the clutter is transformative!
You will then need to create a maintenance habit that sticks with you once the clutter is gone from any flat surface.
The quick method for decluttering countertops and any other flat surface clutter:
If you want to see major changes in your house and get some instant clutter relief, pick up a laundry basket and start in one room. Grab everything off any flat surface and put it in the basket. Then, start putting things in their designated place.
If you don’t have a place for something to go to, create one now, that is not on a flat surface creating more flat surface clutter!
After you finish one room, move on to the next room. Involve your family too.
Tell them XYZ area is no longer a dumping ground. For little ones, they may not know where to put something. Help them find a permanent home for their belongings.
Real-life example with a solution
My little ones struggled with this problem of adding clutter to a table every day with their pre-school artwork. I was getting so aggravated they kept piling it up on the dining room table which was near our front door.
When I got frustrated one day, they told me “Mommy, we don’t want to throw it away, and we don’t know what to do with it.” Bless their hearts, they had no idea what to do with their little treasures.
So, we created a system to manage kid art and display it in their rooms. It was a win-win for everyone. The table was cleared, at least of the artwork, and my kids had a way to display their masterpieces.
Floor space is a major flat surface that attracts clutter
Even when I thought my house was clean before decluttering and embracing concepts of minimalism, there was still a lot of clutter on the floors.
I used the floors to store things because these items had no designated place. What it was doing though was creating chaos in my living areas. It was taking away walking space, a place for furniture, and that empty space that simply creates calmness and openness.
For example, I was storing x-ray films against the wall before we decluttered the bedroom. Why? I don’t know. Where does one put x-ray films? Turns out, that part of the body was long corrected, and there was really no reason to keep x-ray films any longer. So out they went!
Removing something so simple fixed visual clutter in my bedroom. Even if you don’t throw something out, find a place for everything.
Furniture and floor clutter
Furniture obviously takes up floor space, and you should not remove all your furniture pieces.
Take a look around the room.
- What furniture pieces do you never use?
- Is there any reason for keeping them?
- Do you only need a piece for when company comes over to visit?
- How often do you have company?
- Could you replace said furniture item with a more multi-functional piece?
When I first evaluated our living room, we had multiple stand-alone chairs that never got used. However, they were taking up two corners in our living room.
I got rid of our falling apart desk chair, replaced it with one of the stand-alone living room chairs, and when company comes over, we bring the now desk chair out for people to sit on if needed.
At all other times, our living room had a nice large opening in the corner where kids can play, the dog can lay down, or a space that could simply be open and be inviting.
Floor clutter in the playroom or your kid’s room
Kids love to play, and they love having space to play. Create a storage system in your kid’s rooms that can get toys off of the floor and better yet, hidden behind cabinet doors, a toy chest lid, or in a closet.
It will give you peace of mind to see a cleared space, give your kid’s an easy way to pick-up, and give your kids space to play. Your kids will think you made their rooms bigger simply by helping them find their floors!
You don’t have to get fancy either. I’ve used Rubbermaid containers in closets (since they’re hidden anyway) and baskets in more open areas. We use shelves with cubbies and baskets to group toys together.
Tabletops are an easy attraction for flat surface clutter
In our last home, the formal dining room table was right by the front door. We did not eat on the dining room table nightly, so it became an easy space to dump everything when coming inside. I HATED IT. It made me so mad. It was like my family was trying to make me crazy. I even threatened once to turn the table on its side so people could no longer use it as a dumping station.
I cleaned off the table and then made the flat surface clutter rule.
If anything was left on the table for mama to clean up, mama got to decide such item’s fate. They knew after my big purge, that often meant it could end up recycled or in the donation bag.
If you use a table for work, crafts, or for eating, clean it up after every activity.
Tables are great for families to come together and share an experience, but remember clutter attracts more clutter.
If you get into the habit of cleaning up after every single activity, you will always be able to enjoy the clean and open space of a table when it is time.
Clear clutter from kitchen countertops
Whether you have a small kitchen or a large kitchen, clearing clutter from the kitchen countertops will make your kitchen so much more inviting.
Now, I’m not one of those minimalists who has nothing on her counters. I like to have some things up there, for practicality reasons or because I enjoy looking at something.
Be purposeful about what stays. I like my fruit bowl. I think it is pretty, so it stays. It also reminds me often how lucky we are to have fresh fruit and veggies at our constant wanting.
I also keep the knife block on the counter. It makes meal prep so much easier, and it looks nice.
One of the items we got rid of from the kitchen counters when we decluttered the kitchen was the coffee maker. I know, that seems crazy.
My husband is the only one who drinks coffee, and I was sick of the waste every day. He would make an entire pot, and then he was leaving at least two cups.
What did we do? We switched to a French press, and we love it! He makes coffee in four cup batches, and then the coffee press gets put away in a cabinet.
My husband initially thought I was crazy when I mentioned the idea, but I bought him a French press anyway. Since then, he has never turned back. He actually likes his coffee better this way, and we got back a chunk of kitchen counter space!
Clear clutter from bathroom countertops
I never knew I cared about bathroom countertop clutter until we started exploring minimalism.
We always had a small bathroom, and I was plenty content with the bathroom clutter that accumulated on the counters. I kept my flat iron, styling gels, make-up bag, and toothbrushes on the counter. I could not put them under the sink because there was no room under the sink!
In order to clear clutter from your bathroom counters, you may have to first clean out and declutter your bathroom. It will be worth the trouble because you will now be able to put all that stuff you use every day out of sight. Let me tell you, once that stuff is out of site, you will LOVE it. It is so nice to walk into your bathroom and not see the chaos as you start your day.
Clear clutter from furniture tops
Clear off your dresser, nightstand, chest of drawers, guest beds or any other pieces of furniture that have become impromptu storage units.
Clutter is usually on furniture tops because it does not have a designated place where it belongs, or because you have run out of space to store these items, so those become the easy storage solutions.
Don’t just buy more storage bins either. If you cannot find a place for an item, make a place. This may mean getting rid of something to make that space.
Clear clutter from the top of the fridge
Oh, the top of the fridge and the clutter it brings. It is so easy to put things up there. It is out of site, kind of, and out of mind.
We are still guilty of placing items on top of the fridge, but I fight it as hard as possible. The items that usually make it up there are lunch boxes. You empty your lunch box and then you throw it up there for tomorrow’s lunch packing.
Like everything else, create a space for the items you are storing up there, and your kitchen will feel so much cleaner!
Clear clutter from the garage workbench and garage floor
This is another Achilles heel for me. Why? It is because the garage is my husband’s workspace.
I try to be respectful of my husband’s stuff when decluttering, but it is so hard when there is so much chaos.
In our last home, we had a garage workbench. It was awesome…when we moved in. It was cleared off and empty. Then the tools were unpacked, and that was the last time I actually saw the workbench for two years.
Finally, during my crazy purge, after I had decluttered every other room in the house, I took everything off the workbench and put it all loosely in a box.
WARNING: If you use my method, be prepared for a not-so-impressed spouse. Seriously, the look on my husband’s face when he realized his organized chaos was literally thrown loosely into a box was something to talk about for years to come. (I personally thought it was fantastic to see such a wonderful workspace again, but he was less than amused.)
Something positive came out of my brave workbench purging though. I bought pegboards, and we hung them up. I then bought inexpensive screws and hooks and placed them all over the garage. The workbench got cleared, and the floor space was cleared. It was like a whole new garage and work area.
My husband eventually forgave me for messing with his things, as he too got to benefit from the cleared space. Bottom line, get things off any flat surface and off the floor. The amount of space you gain is invaluable.
Mail clutter is a huge contributor to flat surface clutter.
If you want a simple solution to your mail clutter struggles, check out my super simple mail organization system…without a big DIY project! I fought my mail piles around the house for years. It was ugly some days. The best solution, stop the inflow. I have other helpful tips too.
If you want a DIY project and something a little more elaborate for your system, check out my inspiration post for creating a family command center.
Maintaining a clutter-free flat surface
After any flat surface is cleared, create a family rule. Communicate this rule.
You know as moms we often forget the communication part. I’m guilty. If you communicate a rule, there is a better chance people will follow it!
Tell your family before they leave a room, they must grab anything off the table, floor, etc that belongs to them.
I get it, for my five-year-old, I might as well be talking into thin air. However, if I say it enough times, she will one day create a habit that stays with her for life. It takes time mama.
You will feel huge transformations from clearing something as simple as a cluttered flat surface. Be strong. Be persistent.
Lastly, get support! Join our community of like-minded people. Real-life people with real-life clutter.
This post is part of the Happy Clutter-Free Home series. You can achieve a decluttered home once and for all. You don’t have to settle for cleaning all day, stress, and general clutter overwhelm.
Being a mom is hard already. Don’t let clutter make it feel impossible. Get back time and reclaim the joy in your home.
Join a community of others to hold ask questions and share your progress. All are welcome!
Today is Day 2 of the Happy Clutter-Free Home Series
If you didn’t get a chance to see it, check out the first post in the series, Decluttering Checklist to Get You Started: 100 Items to Get Rid of Today.
You may also enjoy checking out 20 areas you can declutter in 20 minutes or less.