3 Steps to Clear Those Flat Surfaces… Once and For All

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Store reward cards, spare change, dog treats, and vitally important tax documents. These are among the types of items I typically find on clients’ flat surfaces. We all wish our tabletops weren’t crowded with random miscellany, but keeping flat surfaces clear is challenging for most of us.

Today’s post will explore 3 steps you can take to keep your counters clear, and hopefully inspire you to reclaim the flat surfaces in all areas of your home!

1. Follow the beautiful/useful principle: If you’ve ever been to one of my classes, you know that I’m a big fan of assigning “homes” for stuff. This is especially important when it comes to flat surfaces, as they often become the default home of  random items. I recommend you only put items on flat surfaces that are beautiful or useful.

For example, if you own a lovely vase, put it on your mantel and relish a feeling of happiness each time you look at it. This item passes the beautiful test. If you drink coffee every morning, keep your deluxe coffee maker on your kitchen counter. This item passes the useful test.

Take a look at how the beautiful/useful principle plays out on some flat surfaces in my living room.

You can probably guess that the picture and vase are beautiful to me. The globe is beautiful and useful, as my kids frequently ask where countries are located. And the visual timer is incredibly useful to me to get my kids out the door each morning!


My mantle is a home for beautiful items: family pictures, sculptures, and candles.


Welcome to my office. The top of this cube is home to my laptop and printer. This flat surface is 100% useful!

Now, I am no interior decorator, but these surfaces bring me joy because they are all beautiful and useful to me. I don’t allow other items to make their “homes” on these surfaces, and when they try to, I quickly pluck them off and find them a different place to live.

2. Adopt a “flex space” attitude: When I first starting minimizing, I was introduced to the concept of flex space, the idea that a single space can be used for multiple purposes. For example, in an office with flex-space, workers could use any desk. This not only adds variety and flexibility to the workday, but it forces everyone to keep the spaces neat and tidy, ready for the next person. If this sounds crazy, just think about college professors. They are essentially mobile teachers, sharing the same spaces at different times for different purposes.

To keep your own flat surfaces clear, I recommend adopting a “flex space” attitude in your home.

Let’s look at the dining room table, perhaps the worst clutter offender. If “clear the table” is a job you have to perform BEFORE you eat, you know what I’m talking about! Consider your dining table to be the ultimate flex space. It can be used for dining, meetings, office work, homework, play, and more. There is very, very little that should make a permanent home on this space.

Here’s a pic of my dining table in it’s flex-ready form. I like to keep a vase of flowers (fresh, or in this case, crafted by my kids) in the middle. Again, this is the beautiful/useful principle at play. Looking at my clear table with a vase of flowers makes me happy.

This table gets A LOT of use at our house. It is my desk, my kids’ homework space, our dining space, family meeting place, Lego creation station, board game surface, and more. In order to use it effectively in this many contexts, I must keep it in flex-space mode. Think how frustrating it would be to clear off this surface every time we needed to change activities!

3. Consider the jelly donut. Hang with me on this one. I recently worked with a delightful 11-year-old boy to organize his bedroom, which included a small round table. When I arrived, he was using this table as a clutter-catcher for various toys and memorabilia. As we sorted his room, he said he wanted to use the table to store his sizable Magic card collection. I didn’t think that was the best use of the space, but I wanted him to come to this realization himself, so I asked him some questions.

“Hmm… if you put your Magic cards on here, what if you wanted to use the table for something else? What if you and your friends wanted to draw pictures or have a snack? Would it be hard to clear all those cards off every time you want to do something else?”

He thought for a moment.

“Yeah,” he said. “And what if we ate jelly donuts? You don’t want jelly donuts near your Magic cards.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

We ended our session with a clear tabletop and a kid who clearly understood the power of flex-space.

Notice the round table to the left: cluttered before and clear after!

I hope this post has helped you realize that clear surfaces are a possibility in any part of your home. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m seriously craving a jelly donut.

Rose Lounsbury is one of Dayton, Ohio’s top professional organizers and a sought-after public speaker. After blogging about her own journey toward a minimalist lifestyle, Rose was inspired to start Less, a minimalist-minded professional organizing company. Rose is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and has been featured on Good Day Columbus. If you’d like Rose’s help with an organizing project at your home or office, you can contact her at [email protected] or visit her online at OrganizeWithLess.com.

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