Your No-Sweat Guide to Spring Cleaning

A Très Simple Decor Trick to Fake a Tidy Home

Don't fight the clutter, corral it.

January  9, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

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.

That cocotte has never met my stovetop but it looks good in my tray. Photo by Morgan Goldberg

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.

Don't fight clutter, corral it. Photo by Morgan Goldberg

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.

I've never met a tray I didn't find clutter for. Photo by Morgan Goldberg

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.

Trays for every surface, every room

What's your favorite trick to contain clutter in your home? Tell us in the comments below!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Anne J. January 18, 2020
I am a tray lover myself, and while I am very glad that you took the advice about your Aetna bill and meds bottles to heart, I have one tiny request. Please put your medication in a cupboard, my rationale is that no one really wants to think of you as an ailing person, I understand out of sight, out of mind, put something that will trigger you, but please think about concealing the actual medications. Additionally it reduces the risk of accidental poisoning of a child or, and this is bizarre but happens, teenager (and I am definitely not implying all teenagers here) or drug abuser who will try almost any pill to see if there is a potential “high or downer” to be gained. Unfathomable but actually occurs more than you think. A depressing comment I know but I can’t help myself as a medical person.
Back to the trays, I love them and corral with them in many places, and I believe it increases the orderly look I struggle for in my house. I use them in my bathroom on my large vanity too, which speeds my cleaning as I lift and swipe, and then pull the tray items off at a later time and clean the tray, promise.
I just thought about my bedside table, and a charming melamine tray I could put to good use. Off to corral...
Karin H. January 14, 2020
I keep a tray of bottles (soy sauces, vinegars, oils, etc.) next to my stove for easy reach.
nancy O. January 13, 2020
Morgan - You are the Marie Kondo of clutter lovers! That is "organized clutter". I've edited and streamlined over the years, but I love living with things I've found on our travels and mementos of our family's growing years. I've found that grouping them on trays, in beautiful bowls and in baskets organizes the clutter and even elevates it to decor!
And Yes! It's so much easier to clean.
Nancy January 12, 2020
Morgan - yes! Do this all the time, all over the place.
And while rectangular and square trays give you more accessible space, round ones occasionally work well too.
Also, I sometimes rotate pretty glass or ceramic baking dishes for the same purpose...especially for condiments on the dinner table.
Smaug January 9, 2020
We used to just throw it all in a closet, but I don't think Mom was really fooled.
Stacey January 9, 2020
This might be my crazy IT side kicking in but I'd personally recommend to remove the info on your Aetna letter and prescriptions. Thanks for the article!
Morgan G. January 9, 2020
Thank you for bringing this to my attention! I blacked out the info!