5 Steps to Clutter-Free Kitchen Counters

5 Steps to Clutter-Free Kitchen Counters :: maximizingdaysblog.com

It’s a head-to-head race between kitchen and bathroom counters as to which gets used more.  Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to keep them clear.

In our home, the kitchen is the center of everything and the kitchen island is the first flat surface as we enter, which is an equation for everything getting dropped there.

I am a big believer in using spaces for which they’re created and in order to do that with kitchen counters, you have to have usable counter space.

5 Steps to Clutter-Free Kitchen Counters

Create a Place for the Stuff that isn’t Cooking/Food Related

I get it.  I totally do.  This is where we spend most of the time AND there’s a flat surface.  That’s the perfect recipe for stuff to land where it shouldn’t.

To combat that, create a “drop zone” for the items that are not food or used for cooking food.  Don’t over-complicate this.  Pinterest can be your best friend or your worst enemy in this situation.  It can be as simple as a mail tray that collects all the paper and 3 tiny hooks for keys.  That’s it.  Done.  No paint.  No DIY.

Another option is to use vertical space on the side of your cupboards.  I finally splurged and purchased a few pieces from Pottery Barn’s Daily System to put on the wall next to our fridge that is right inside our door.  By using the vertical space on the wall behind the door, we’ve created a landing zone.  Keys, wallets, sunglasses, mail, pens and even our iPad live here.

5 Steps to Clutter-Free Kitchen Counters :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Make Items Earn their Right to Live on Your Kitchen Counters

Hold each item that currently lives on your counters, and weed out items that don’t get used often.  You get to decide what warrants “often”.

I get tight in the chest when there’s stuff all over my counters, so my rule is that an item has be used at least once a week to earn the place of living on the counter.

What doesn’t get used often gets stored in cupboards, drawers or closets with other like items.

Use Vertical Space

Look at what you have remaining and decide what could be hung under counters or on your backsplash.

This is a preference thing.

If you simply do not have enough cupboard space for what you need, hanging items underneath cupboards is a way to get stuff off the counters and can double as decor.  It can also double as clutter, which is where the preference piece fits in.  If mugs hanging under your counters isn’t your idea of cute decor, then don’t hang them.  But, find another spot to store them where you have room.  Or get rid of some mugs.

A great example of using vertical space well in a kitchen is a paper towel holder.  It’s not so much decorative, but it’s really practical and it can get a big, bulky piece off the top of your counters.

Think Creatively About Other Storage Options

Do you really need that knife block?  Do you use all of the knives in your knife block?  Donate the knives that you don’t use and put the rest in drawer or on the wall with a magnet strip.  Are your drawers too full?  Go through and see if can make room by purging unused silverware.

5 Steps to Clutter-Free Kitchen Counters - Store the few knives you use most often in a drawer :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Do you really need that k-cup stand?  Clear out a spot in your cupboards (near the mugs!) for k-cups.  In their box!  Or get fancy and put the cups in a basket (like I do).

5 Steps to Clutter-Free Kitchen Counters - Store k-cups in a basket in the cupboard next to mugs :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Corral Small Items

If a coffee station with all of the fixin’s on your counter is what bring you joy, then corral everything on a tray.  It gives boundaries and makes it look cleaner.

5 Steps to Clutter-Free Kitchen Counters :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Cooking is enough work as it is.  Don’t make it harder by having a workspace that doesn’t work well for you.

What do you find to be the hardest part of keeping your kitchen counter clutter-free?

Read more about how to Reign in the Mail Clutter or that other Kitchen Trouble Space – the Refrigerator.  

Simplified Summer Challenge PRIZE

#simplifiedsummer challenge - A Simplified Life by Emily Ley :: maximizingdaysblog.com

This past summer, a group of people from this community read through Emily Ley’s A Simplified Life together and used the book as a guide to simplifying our lives.  At the end of each chapter, Emily Ley has a ‘Simplicity Challenge’, which are 5 steps that you can do right now (most take less than 5 minutes) that make big strides toward achieving your goal.

I’m giving away all of these goodies to the person who completes the most Simplicity Challenges by Friday, September 28th.

Prizes include:

Grace Not Perfection by Emily Ley

Grocery List Pad by Emily Ley

Y-Weave 5 Piece Basket Set

Kenra Volume 25 Hairspray

Essie Gel Couture Set

Post-It Page Markers

Cable Clips

Go-Go squeeZ Variety Pack

To earn these prizes, comment on each blog post with the number of simplicity challenges you completed from that chapter.  I will track each person’s progress (this is a total honor system thing) and the person with the most challenges completed will get this swag.

I’ll make things easier once you’ve completed challenges, by linking below to each chapter’s blog post.  Log your challenges in each blog post’s comment section, and I’ll add them all up to determine the winner.

Chapter 1 – Simplified Space

Chapter 2 – Simplified Style

Chapter 3 – Simplified Meals

Chapter 4 – Simplified Schedule

Chapter 5 – Simplified Finances

Chapter 6 – Simplified Hospitality

Chapter 7 – Simplified Technology

Chapter 8 – Simplified Self

Chapter 9 – Simplified Motherhood

Chapter 10 – Simplified Faith

Happy Simplifying!!!

Seasonal Transitions

How to Manage Seasonal Transitions :: maximizingdaysblog.com

My daughter turned 5 on Sunday and started Pre-K yesterday.

Excuse me while I cry in my pumpkin spice latte.

Not because she is getting older or has started school, but because summer is over.  We just wrapped up the BEST summer and returning to the reality of a schedule and commitments is more than I can bear.

This is my daughter’s second year of “school”.  She did preschool two mornings a week last year, and I struggled hugely with that transition.  I thought the same thing that you probably did when you read ‘two mornings a week’: That won’t really change much for us.

I was wrong.

I was determined to do this transition better this year.  Here’s what I learned last year and am trying to do better this year.

How to Ease the Pain of Seasonal Transitions

Create a Schedule

This seems obvious, but if you think that you can skip this step, you will regret it.  Start with calendar appointments (things that have fixed times) and then add in what tasks have to get done each day.  You can see how I do this each season here.

Write down a weekly routine; what you do each day.  Make this as specific (schedule each day) or as vague (a brainstormed list) as you prefer.  Writing it down helps you to anticipate what’s coming next so that you’re not caught off-guard.

How to Manage Seasonal Transitions :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Schedule Tasks & Set Reminders

Think through the periphery tasks that come along with your schedule.

For instance, now that my daughter is back in school, her backpack will need to be packed 3 nights a week and I will need to plan a snack for each week.

Your Reminders app on your phone is your BEST FRIEND in this situation.  Set a recurring reminder for the days and times these tasks need to get done.

How to Manage Seasonal Transitions :: maximzingdaysblog.com

These small things seem like no big deal, but when added to other “small tasks”, the compounded weight of getting them done can make you feel like your drowning.  Let your reminders app be your life preserver in this case.

Switch Out Seasonal Wardrobes

If you live in a place where shorts and t-shirts are worn after Labor Day (not here in the tundra!), do everything except actually switching the wardrobes out of the dressers and closets.

Go through and inventory what you have, make a list of (use this free printable) and purchase what you need for each person for the upcoming season.  Wash it and have it ready for when the weather does finally change.

Create a “Drop Zone”

Find a spot in your house that works best to be the place for all the things you need to get out the door in morning.  And to drop all.the.things when you return home in the evening.

Shoes, backpacks, lunch boxes, papers, keys, coats, bags… the list goes on for miiiiiiiiles.

How to Manage Seasonal Transitions :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Word of Warning: Don’t let perfection get in the way here.

The goal is not to make the space look like a page out of the Pottery Barn catalogue.  Don’t let that unattainable goal stop you from achieving the purpose you need here.

If space prohibits you from having all these things in the same spot, fit as many as you can (realistically and functionally!) in one spot, and then designate spots for the other things.  It’s more important that everything have a home than everything’s home being in the same place.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Think through what you need to do to make a busier season work.

You can’t expect to just do what you’ve been doing and add in a bunch of new stuff and have it work well.

That’s what I tried to do last year and it bombed.  BIG TIME.  For any of you who have been around for more than year and follow me on Instagram, you may recall a teary Instastory related to this….

Reconsider morning and evening routines.  Enforce strict bedtimes for everyone (including yourself).  Prioritize self-care.  Set reminders on your phone for the things you will inevitably forget.  Hang a file folder on the wall for papers that need to be signed, read, returned, etc.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

We all have adjustment periods.  Try as you might, there’s no way to know exactly what you need to do until you experience it.

Use this adjustment time to your advantage.  Acknowledge pain points and work on solutions to alleviate them.

And when it’s too much and your kid didn’t get her form turned in in time to go on the field trip and you just served frozen pizza for the third time this week and you’re wearing your underwear inside out because it’s better than going commando?  It will be okay.  Sure, you could have done a few things differently and had a different outcome.

But you can’t change the past, so now, ask yourself, “What can I do to make it better from here on out?”

How to Manage Seasonal Transitions :: maximizingdaysblog.com

How I Use My Simplified Planner

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Let’s just start with the reality that the pictures of the inside of my Simplified Planner are not Pinterest-worthy.

Because I use the heck out of it.

What is the Simplified Planner?

The Simplified Planner is an annual paper planner sold in either a calendar version (January-December) or an academic version (August-July).  There is a daily version, where each page (except for Saturday & Sunday) is one day, or a weekly version, where a page spread is Monday through Sunday.

I think it’s best to let my new BFF, Emily tell you what’s so great about it.

Why a Simplified Planner?

A few years ago, I created this printable in order to have everything that I needed to know for my day in one location.  And it worked really well.  I had great intentions of writing out my goals for the day and using the extra minutes section, but the truth is that just never happened.  And there was no white space, which I found myself wanting.

As I became aware of Emily Ley through reading her book A Simplified Life, I was drawn to the simplicity of the Simplified Planner.

I chose the Academic Daily Simplified Planner.  Academic because our life goes in school-year cycles and Daily because I knew that I wanted a daily schedule and my tasks all on one page.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Let’s call a spade a spade.  This planner, while beautiful, practical, helpful and all the other yummy adjectives is not cheap.  With a steep price tag of $58 for the daily and $48 for the weekly, I wanted to make sure that this is what I wanted and that it would do what I wanted it to do before I doled out that cash.

Emily Ley has copies of both the daily and weekly pages for free in her free printable library, so I printed off three weeks worth of planner pages and gave it the old college try.  I highly suggest doing this.

After using those pages as my planner, I realized that the simplicity of it was just what I needed.  I also liked that it was bound already (as opposed to my homemade printable which would get hole-punched and stored in a binder) and smaller than my binder.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com


How I Use My Simplified Planner

I have found that it works best to fill out my Simplified Planner one week at a time.  I pick a time each week – most often Friday afternoons – and transfer everything from appointments, tasks and meals into my planner.

Start with Your Calendar

Our family uses iCal for all of our appointments and events.  I open up that week on our calendar and transfer all of the events from our family’s electronic calendar into my planner.  Starting with appointments is helpful because everything else that needs to happen that day gets fitted around those fixed times.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Fill in “Everyday Stuff”

Each morning, I do my devotions, take my pills and make our bed.  Ideally.  To help me remember to do this, at the top of each page, under the date, I draw a little square (or use my daughter’s little square stickers that she doesn’t like) and write D (for Devotions), P (for Pills) and B (for Bed).

I also write in each day’s workout and my rest time.  Some days, working out is a scheduled class at the gym, and some days, it’s just planks on my living room floor when I can squeeze it in.  I have also learned that when I write something in on my planner, I’m more likely to do it, so making my rest time during the final hour of my kids’ naps helps me be more realistic about the available time that I have to get my tasks completed.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Add Tasks

I keep all of my tasks in the app Wunderlist on my phone.  Many of these are recurring, but without having them come up on the app, I will forget them.  I view all of the upcoming week’s tasks on the app and write them in my Simplified Planner.  From that point on, any additional tasks for the week get written into my Simplified Planner and only tasks that are due more than a week out get added to my Wunderlist app.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com


I write in each of the three meals that we eat into my schedule because it helps me to mark out the white space of available time.  I don’t plan breakfasts or lunches, so I don’t write anything more than the meal’s name in my planner.

I meal plan suppers, but have learned that what I think we will eat when is almost never how it goes.  I write the planned suppers on these Post-It flags and put the post-its on the days where they are assigned.  Then, when we change our mind, I can just move the post-it and not run out of white-out so quickly.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

After putting the suppers on their days, I will go back through and add in any corresponding tasks that may come with prepping that meal.  Most often this is thawing meat or prepping a crock-pot meal.

Color Code

This is completely optional.

Ideally, I would like to use Emily Ley’s color coded dot stickers to categorize tasks, but they were sold out when I ordered my planner.

Right now, I color code with pens because it gives me a quick at-a-glance way of knowing what my day looks like.

Because I will get asked, my color coding is as follows:
Purple – Errands/Appointments
Orange – Meals
Black – Work
Blue – Blog
Green – Household

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com


I bought the icon sticker set (only because the color coded dots were sold out), the sticker book, the page marker and the washi tape to go along with my Simplified Planner.  If I had it to do all over again, I would just buy the sticker book.  The stickers in it add a fun little touch to the pages and for how much time I spend looking at the pages of my planner, I want to enjoy it.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

There’s nothing wrong with the icon stickers or the washi tape.  I just haven’t figured out how to use the icon stickers well.  And the washi tape is great and some people would love that the colors coordinate with two of the planner covers, but I don’t care about that.  I could have bought much cheaper washi tape at Target and it would have served the same purpose.

I use the washi tape on the monthly spread for things that last more than one day and on the daily spread to mark off a large block of time during the day.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

The page marker is my only product that I wasn’t happy with.  It’s too narrow to easily find the page and I have found that using a binder clip works much better.  The binder clips is not as pretty, I’ll give you that.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Monthly Calendar

I use the monthly calendar to track birthdays and anniversaries (where the icon stickers did come in handy) in addition to all-day or multi-day events (marked with washi tape!) or other notable events.  I don’t like to clutter this up with every appointment we have on our calendar, but it is helpful to have a place where the big stuff can be seen in a calendar view.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Notes Section

The bottom section of the Daily Edition Simplified Planners used to be divided into two sections; The left half was for ‘Meals’ and the right half was for ‘Notes’.  Beginning in 2018, the Daily Editions now have one large Notes space at the bottom.

I love this feature.  As I mentioned earlier, I write my meals information in my schedule, so I don’t need to use the bottom part of the page for that.  It’s also a really handy place to write whatever I need to remember from that day.  Instead of having a bunch of little pieces of paper floating around with necessary information, when I need to find something I wrote down, I can find it in a Notes section in my planner.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

After one month of using my Simplified Planner, I can’t imagine going back or using anything else.  It has helped me to use my time well and prioritize what matters.  Which is all I really want out of a planner.

What’s your favorite planner and why?

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com

2018-2019 Academic Editions are sold out, BUT Calendar Editions of the Simplified Planner launch on September 5th.  If you want one, I highly suggest ordering on launch day because they do sell out.

How I Use My Simplified Planner :: maximizingdaysblog.com



A Simplified Life by Emily Ley :: Simplified Faith

#simplifiedsummer challenge - A Simplified Life by Emily Ley :: maximizingdaysblog.com

“And what does the Lord require of you?  Seek justice.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with thy God.” – Micah 6:8

I love that this book ends with this chapter.  Reading the book through a second time as part of this group has made me think more deeply about each of these areas of my life.  As it should.  And as I read this chapter the for the second time, one thought couldn’t escape me.

It all comes back to faith.

With each chapter, I have shared my struggle in each of these areas in my life.  They are (but are not limited to….):

  1. I have more stuff than I need and I just keep accumulating it
  2. I don’t really like the way I look
  3. I’m well-intentioned with my meal planning, but when the time comes, I’m just too lazy to actually make the food I planned
  4. I want to do all of the fun things and not miss out on stuff, but I also thrive from just being home and doing nothing
  5. I want all the stuff.  The nice, pretty stuff.  All of it.  But I can’t afford everything that I want
  6. I love the idea of being hospitable, but really, I just want to stay in my comfort zone in my home and not have to make small talk with people I don’t know or don’t really like
  7. I get an endorphin rush when I see ‘likes’ on my Instagram photos
  8. I want all the things I need to feel rejuvenated (and there are A LOT of them) ALL.THE.TIME.
  9. Motherhood is so darn hard.  I want to do it all and be the best and I am just not.

Do you sense a theme in all of that?  Discontentment.  Lack of trust.  Selfishness.  Laziness.

Each of those struggles is deeply rooted in an area where faith is lacking.  And no amount of simplicity challenges are going to fix that.

Simplicity Challenges are great.  I highly encourage everyone to do all of them.  You have got to start somewhere.  But the deeper struggles will only be resolved by a healing that does not come from ourselves.

#simplifiedsummer challenge - A Simplified Life by Emily Ley :: maximizingdaysblog.com

It is only when we trust in God’s promises that He has redeemed us from ALL of our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we can even begin to deal with these issues.

  1. God has given us more than we will ever need.  Even if we die of starvation and live a life on this earth riddled with pain and heartache, the promise of eternity with God in heaven is the only thing that we really need.  And the only thing we absolutely could never attain on our own.
  2. I am God’s child.  Created by Him.  My value is not determined by my outward appearance, but rather, by who made me and calls me His own.
  3. God’s grace and forgiveness covers my sins.  All of them.  Even the silly ones like being so lazy that I won’t get up off the couch and make food for my family.
  4. The things in this world are good and many are blessings from Him, but the moment they become THE thing in our lives, our priorities need some readjusting
  5. The stuff of this world does not bring real happiness, satisfaction or joy.  Stop expecting it to.  Or hoping it will someday.
  6. My time on this earth is not about my comfort.  I have been put here to be an ambassador to a gospel whose cornerstone is inclusion and love.  Live in response to the undeserved inclusion and love that I have experienced and pass it on.
  7. I am God’s child.  Created by Him.  My value is not determined by other people’s approval of me.
  8. True rest comes from a relationship with God
  9. I am not enough.  I never will be.  And depending on myself to be everything my children need not only sets me up for failure, but it is lying to them.  I have to rely on God’s strength EVERY DAY and trying to do it on my own will only end badly.

When people hear that I write an organizing blog, I get the question, “Where do I even start?” quite frequently.  I don’t always answer this way, but my honest answer to you now, in light of this chapter, is….

Start here.  Start with what matters.  Start with where you started.

Created by God, separated from Him, and bought back at an immeasurable price. And end with His promise that this isn’t all fixed in a day.  Or a lifetime.  God spends our entire life refining us, continually pointing out our sin to us, so that we can continue to see our need for Him, ask Him for His forgiveness, which we are guaranteed in Jesus, and living with a purpose that is bigger than ourselves.  And is bigger than an organized home, a simple wardrobe and a delicious dinner menu.

Simplifying begins and ends with faith.  Trusting God isn’t easy.  And trusting God doesn’t make things easy.  But when we start with trusting in His promises, this simple life that we are called to live is filled with purpose and joy.  And that’s why we all started reading this book in the first place.

Simplicity Challenge

At the end of each chapter, Emily Ley has a ‘Simplicity Challenge’, which are 5 steps that you can do right now that make big strides toward achieving your goal.

Comment on each blog post with the number of simplicity challenges you completed that week.  I will track each person’s progress (this is a total honor system thing) and the person with the most challenges completed at the end of the book will get some swag.  Like good, helpful swag.   No clutter-y stuff.

Don’t forget to take photos of the process AND the progress and use #simplifiedsummer so we can all celebrate together!

#simplifiedsummer challenge - A Simplified Life by Emily Ley :: maximizingdaysblog.com