Welcome to Your No-Sweat Guide to Spring Cleaning, a month-long series that puts the fun (yep, for real!) back into cleaning. We’re talking spruce-ups that take less than five minutes, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that hacks, and hands-off cleaning tasks that basically…do themselves—plus our trustiest tools and helpers. The goal: clean less, go outside more.
Ok, I’m just gonna say it: I’m never gonna be a Marie Kondo. I’ve always loved a home filled with tchotchkes and souvenirs and little items that have no purpose beyond being cute. I also have plenty of stuff that brings me no joy, but that I am forced to keep, like bills and receipts and instruction manuals. And ever since I've made my peace with that, I’ve found my own little way of creating order in my chaos—with the help of my many trays.
Yes, trays were designed for serving. But the tray is also a brilliant gathering tool for making a space appear more orderly than it is—especially when living in a small space, where it can quickly feel like items multiply faster than they should. Even though it is essentially just a small surface atop a larger surface, a tray magically makes messy items look purposeful and orderly. And in the case of prettier contents, puts them on beautiful display.
On my coffee table, for instance, I have a square, white tray that holds hand-painted ceramic bowls filled with matchbooks I’ve collected, as well as a scented candle and a mini Le Creuset cocotte that I find adorable (and have never cooked with!). This tray is meant to highlight some of my favorite things as the centerpiece of the table, and it does so successfully.
Another example is the shallow, marbled melamine tray that I keep on my bar cart. On this tray, I show off my wood-handled cheese knives, because, well, they’re pretty. If I had laid out these tiny utensils straight on the top of the bar cart, they would’ve looked misplaced and disorganized. The tray is the miracle worker keeping my surfaces from complete disarray.
Trays work similar magic with boring objects. I reserve a large, mirrored tray on my kitchen countertop for all the annoying papers I have no choice but to maintain. Fortunately, a pile of bills next to a pile of receipts next to a pile of miscellaneous, non-discardable chits looks relatively neat when stacked side-by-side in a shiny tray. It is here that I also store bottles of pills I take daily, headphones, spare batteries, and a few pairs of sunglasses. This super-accessible spot is ideal for items I like to have on-hand—the ones I want to retrieve regularly without rummaging through an over-stuffed drawer, and the tray allows me to arrange them in a semi aesthetically-pleasing fashion.
The moral of the story is: you should employ decorative trays for containing all types of small items throughout your home. There is literally no room that it won't work for. I can almost guarantee your space will look far more tidy than it possibly is, and your objects far more intentional. Oh, did I mention it makes cleaning so much easier? Now that's a win-win.
What's your favorite trick to contain clutter in your home? Tell us in the comments below!
It's here: Our game-changing guide to everyone's favorite room in the house. Your Do-Anything Kitchen gathers the smartest ideas and savviest tricks—from our community, test kitchen, and cooks we love—to help transform your space into its best self.