Is everything in your home in its best place?

Imagine your kitchen for a moment. What is the one thing that you use most every time you’re in it? Your refrigerator? Your stove? Your trash can?

Most people don’t think about their trash can as being an integral aspect of their kitchens, but it is. During the course of preparing a meal, a trash can needs to be accessed numerous times. That is why I am always surprised when I walk into a kitchen and don’t immediately see one easily accessible from all aspects of the room. Even worse, I’m confused by kitchen designs where the trash can is behind a door, under the kitchen sink.

Yes, a trash can hidden behind a cabinet door looks clean, but it is completely impractical. You have to touch a cabinet nob, likely with dirty and full hands, to access it repeatedly. When it’s time to change the garbage bags, you have to strategically pull out the full canister without dropping anything inside the cabinet. A poorly placed trash can doesn’t help you in the kitchen, it hinders you. And, with the sexy, foot controlled, stand-alone models that are on the market, you shouldn’t feel that you need to hide this essential item.

I have a friend who hides her trash can under her sink and she says that she avoids the constant opening and closing of the door by keeping a large bowl on her countertop for trash while she’s cooking. (I think Rachel Ray promotes this idea on her show, too.) That makes some sense, but by doing this she dirties an extra bowl every time she cooks and adds steps to the cleaning process. An accessible trash can seems like the more efficient solution to me.

Think about the rest of your house. Are you creating extra, unnecessary steps for yourself because of poor organization? Are your pot holders in a drawer no where near your stove? Is your vacuum in a basement closet and not in a closet on the floor where it is used? Remember that good organization and design should be based on what you use and how you use it. I continue to support the idea that everything in your home should have a place to live, I just want you to think about if everything is living in its best place.


This post has been updated since its original publication in September 2007.

45 Comments for “Is everything in your home in its best place?”

  1. posted by TC on

    I hear ya, but…you apparently don’t have animals in your house, do you. Because a trash can not hidden behind doors + an “I’ll eat anything not nailed down” labrador retriever mix = trash strewn all over your house no matter HOW sturdy a trash can you get. Trust me. I know. From bitter, bitter, experience.

  2. posted by Lulu on

    The “dump-bowl” on the counter saves on prep time. It beats the inevitable walking back and forth with an accessable trashcan even if its a few steps, which over the course of preparing a meal can be alot.

    This seems like a good time for “Zone Organizing.” Think of your space(kitchen here, but can apply to any room even your garden) like a target practice Bulls-eye. Where concentric circles represent zones-the center being your main workstation(zone 1)-which may not be in the center of the room. Thats where my trusty spatulas are, and you store your least used items like a blender in the pantry (Zone 5) and even extend the zone for seasonal items to be put in the garage or attic (Zone 6) You customize according to your needs. I bake so the rolling pins and bakeware stay near Zone 2. I dont grill foods often so the grill stays in zone 6(utensils too.)

  3. posted by Kris on

    We have a plastic bag holder on the counter for food waste that gets walked out to the composter each evening. We also have a tall, stainless, automatic opening garbage can. It’s made such a difference in our kitchen. Your hands can be full and once you trip the sensor in front of it, it opens and you’re done. It looks good being out and is practical.

  4. posted by Callista on

    My garbage is out and accessible, my dogs are too little to reach it and the baby gate keeps the kid out.

    I’ve featured your blog on my Monday Linkage post

  5. posted by Anonymous on

    Anyone have a link to a garbage can they recommend?

  6. posted by Erin at Unclutterer on

    @Anonymous — The one I linked to in the post is the one I own and love deeply. I suggest buying one that opens with a foot lever, has a lid that opens out away from the trash, and has an inner bin to hide the top edge of your trash bag. This way, you can access the can with full hands, you don’t have to constantly clean trash off of the lid, and you have access to the top of the bag when the can gets full.

    The one Kris mentioned above I’ve seen at the Container Store, but I can’t find it on their website.

  7. posted by lana on

    I was going to make tease you guys for spending $100 on a trash can, but after reading the Amazon reviews, I’ve changed my mind. We don’t have dogs anymore, but I remember quite well the frustration of keeping them out of the trash. Sounds like this one does the job and looks good, too. I still think 100 clams is too much for a fricken garbage can — even one as stylish and functional as this model — but if you have pets or children who constantly get into the trash, it’s probably be worth it.

    I’ve seen similar brushed steel cans at Bed, Bath & Beyond. (Don’t forget your coupon!)

  8. posted by Wesa on

    We keep our trash can, recycle can, and container (with lid for compost) under the sink. The trash and compost container come out while cooking, then are retired back under the sink after clean up is finished. Since we live in an apartment with a smaller kitchen, floor space is at a premium. Most people only have one container for trash…imagine having 3 containers for trash, recycle and compost to contend with!

  9. posted by Raisin on

    Open trash cans are a cold buffet for my dogs.

    I have a hole on one of the countertops with a trashcan underneath behind a door. Then I have a trashcan that I can slide stuff into from the counter, like at subway.

  10. posted by Meesha on

    When we moved into our current place I spent four days thinking about how to organize the kitchen. It paid off, because this is without a doubt the most efficient kitchen I’ve ever worked in, and that makes cooking even more fun.

    Oh, and we have the good fortune of having a weird strip of low counter with no cabinets underneath (I think maybe it was supposed to be a desk area?) that both hides the trash can and keeps it easily accessible. When I’m doing prep work on the other side of the kitchen I just pull the can to my side and toss as I prep.

  11. posted by Faculties on

    I defy anyone to find a place to put a trash can anywhere except under the sink in my kitchen. It would have to be blocking a door.

  12. posted by Aimee on

    We used to have a nice tall can with the pedal. It was great, but when we moved house there wasn’t a good place for it and the best spot became under the kitchen counter. I guess it all depends. 🙂

  13. posted by Colin on

    In our kitchen, the trash can and recycling can are on a sliding shelf – they can be slid out for when I’m doing prep, and out of the way so I’m not tripping over them the rest of the time. I’m surprised that you feel that strongly about it, but then I wouldn’t trade our setup for a pedal can either I suppose.

  14. posted by Nick on

    Having a garbage bowl and dirtying one extra dish every day is easier than spending $5,000 on remodeling my counter workspace to make the garbage can centrally located. Of course, I could always just move the garbage can next to where I’m doing food prep. Hmmm….

  15. posted by MadMolecule on

    When I’m cooking, I’ll get out one of those extra-flimsy little plastic bags from the produce section of the grocery store for putting your veggies in. I’ll set it on the counter next to where I’m chopping and preparing, and put trash (onion tops, chicken trimmings, etc.) into it as I go. When I’m done, I just tie up the bag and tosss it into the trash can. This also keeps it from stinking up the joint if some raw chicken happens to sit in the bottom of the trash can for a couple of days.

  16. posted by LazyLightning on

    Yeah if our trash can isn’t behind the closed door, our 2 cats just pull it right over. Lids don’t stop them. Also, where would a standing, accessible trashcan go in a galley-style kitchen? I fear we’d trip over it.

    I do what madmolecule does — a good use for thos flimsy bags.

  17. posted by Christy on

    One more pet owner here–the cats and dogs actually work together to get at the trash behind the door. Without one of those “baby locks” on the door, the cats will work on the door until they open it and then the dogs knock the can over onto the floor. Everybody wins with a little cooperation!

  18. posted by Jul on

    We have trash under the sink (it’s a small kitchen – anything else would take up valuable space). While cooking I throw scraps into a convenient container on the counter – the container is lined with a bag (I re-use small plastic bags which veggies come in here). This bag serves a double purpose: (1) it keeps the container clean and (2) I can tie it off before tossing it in the trash, thereby reducing the odors coming from vegetable bits in the trash.

  19. posted by Serene and Not Herd on

    First, I guess I must have well behaved cats. The garbage has never been a target, though I’m sure if it were, I’d be putting garbage behind a door.

    This post and the comments have reminded me how much I hate the swing lid on my current garbage can. It always gets coated in yeuck as we throw things away, and if the garbage is too full, it won’t swing open at all.

    Time to buy a new one.

  20. posted by Bonnie on

    I second (or third!) using plastic bags. I have a cat, and even when I tried using a sturdy trash can, it’s annoying having him constantly underfoot trying to get into the garbage! I have a bag open in the sink and toss trash in there, and take it out after dinner. It’s also a good habit to get into as there are never any food scraps to attract bugs overnight.

  21. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    If you’ve got kids or pets you’ve got to keep the garbage secure. I know a kitchen designer who hides the garbage in a cupboard (mostly under the sink) and you can open the door with your foot and the garbage can slides out. It’s pretty cool and you don’t even need monkey toes to do it.

  22. posted by juice on

    We’ve got a small bin from Ikea (Rationell?) that you can buy a hanging rack for, and it lives on the back of the pantry door. Swing the door open during prep, and you’ve got a bin that’s at waist height for dumping stuff into, close the door when you’re finished and it’s out of sight. And the cats can’t get to it either.

  23. posted by Kris on

    This is the one we purchased … and you get cheap shipping, too.

  24. posted by karen on

    can anyone tell me if the oval trash cans are any easier to get garbage bags in & out of than the round ones? i spent a ton on a round brushed aluminum step can, and the [email protected] bags are a pain to get in without having the top of the bag show around the top of the can. ugh. i finally bought a cheapie plastic step bin–slimline–and i like it much better.

  25. posted by carol on

    I do a mix between the “plastic bag on the counter” routine and the “move the trash next to the prep-area” thing. It depends on what I am prepping – to skin root veggies, I get a larger target area to catch shavings if I aim for the trash can. Also, it’s easier to shoot the shavings down into the trash into that little plastic bag.

    For the most part, it is easy enough to pull the trash can out three feet from the cabinet instead of leaving it out. We’ve got a galley kitchen and there really is no other place to put the trash that is out of the way.

  26. posted by Melinda on

    I just don’t have any floor space in my kitchen. My trash can is in the broom closet and will stay there.

  27. posted by Wesa on

    When you toss produce (or other biodegradable materials) into a plastic bag and that bag ends up at the landfill, the organic matter in the plastic bag never decomposes because the landfills prohibit the plastic bags from ever decomposing. Please please consider composting or using a yard waste container.

  28. posted by Jessi on

    I agree with Wesa!

    I compost. I keep a plastic tub to toss compostable scraps in, and a paper bag from the grocery store for non-compostable trash. Both reside on the floor underneath my sink. I have no cabinets, just plywood counters and a couple of shelves. My kitchen was formerly a darkroom and has no amenities to speak of.

    I have no pets or kids, and I do not cover either container, just toss in. If I have meat scraps or bones, which is rare, I either put them in a used plastic bag, or I just take it outside to the big trash can right away.

    My kitchen is so tiny I rarely have to take more than 3 steps to reach anything. The exception is the fridge, which I have to take 6 steps to reach cause it’s in the garage; it doesn’t fit in the kitchen. But my kitchen is practically in the garage anyway. I call it my ergonomic kitchen!

  29. posted by Melissa A. on

    Food waste goes in the mini compost bin under the sink. I don’t want that out in the open. I don’t have a good spot for a garbage can that doesn’t involve being in front of a cabinet or appliance, or being on carpet in the hall or the dining area.

  30. posted by LazyLightning on

    Composting is a good idea for home or townhouse owners… but what do you suggest for apartment dwellers who don’t have a yard or outdoor area for composting?

  31. posted by Anonymous on

    Since we are talking trash…could you tell me what you do with grease/drippings? I currently just pour it into a can, wait for it to cool and toss it in the trash but am curious if any of you have a better idea.

  32. posted by Anonymous on

    Unfortunately, the sheer layout of my kitchen does not allow me the space to have a trash can out and on the floor…unless, I want to leave the work area, and walk around the long counter (35 feet, round trip from the sink/stove area). I keep my trash can under my sink, but I pull it out each time I’m getting ready to cook. I’ve found it’s even easier to scrape the scraps off of a cutting board into my lidless can than it was when I had a kitchen with the fancy, stainless steel (that showed rust very quickly, DO NOT BUY!) trash can with a foot pedal. If the lid doesn’t swing back 180 degrees (think REACH toothbrush flip-top head guy), all it’s doing is impeding your dumping things into it.
    As for the smell factor, ours never gets smelly, and I do mean NEVER. My solution is keeping a trash can small enough to necessitate emptying it every 2 days and I shake a little baking soda in every time I put a new bag in.

  33. posted by Shannon on

    Check ou this site for kitchen and office organization: Magnetic tins are awesome!

  34. posted by Carol Olmstead on

    As a Feng Shui consultant, “where should I keep my kitchen trash can” is a question I frequently hear. Sometimes you have no choice but to keep it out in the open, under the sink, or away from your pets. I offer this Feng Shui advice: keep your trash can where it is most convenient for your situation, but keep it as small as you can live with and empty it frequently. That will keep the good energy circulating in your kitchen.

  35. posted by Ethel on

    Yeah, it’s kids that probably explain why people keep their trash cans somewhere inconvenient. Even if you don’t have them – your mom did, and I think many of us learned habits like hiding the trash from our moms.

    We keep ours in the open, but on the other side of a baby gate. I still tend to congregate my trash while prepping a lot, and then put it with the other trash. I’m not interested in paying a lot for a trash can, but I do hate having to open doors to get to the trash.

  36. posted by Plaid Ninja on

    I don’t really have much of a choice. My kitchen is a small corridor. The door opens into the kitchen on the left side. On the other side the refrigerator door opens and extends to nearly the other side of the corridor. The rest of the wall space is taken up by a baker’s rack and microwave cart – both of which are far too important to remove in favor of a garbage can, which up to this point, has been perfectly fine under the sink.

  37. posted by Sue on

    I don’t have pets, but I have a wooden handmade trash bin with a hinged top lid that is vented via a screened, heart-shaped opening in the lid. Inside is a Rubbermaid trash can, not lidded, which I use trash liners in. It looks nice, it’s sanitary because the garbage doesnt actually touch the wood & it’s vented. I got mine at a craft sale, but I know they sell similar ones-just google wooden trash bins or wastebaskets.I think because of its sturdiness it’s probably pet-proof.

  38. posted by Open Loops 1/13/2009: Articles I Found Interesting | on

    […] “Unclutterer » Archive » Is everything in your home in its best place?” talks about how mis-placing a trashcan can look good, but be a hindrance. A friend of mine recounts a story where her father located the trash in a closet to make things look nice and her mother responded by putting a can where it was useful. During a trash take-out, her father refused to empty the trash from the “unauthorized trash can.” […]

  39. posted by Likes a clean trashcan on

    I have a trashcan which sits out by my counter near the entrance (thankfully, I have a large entrance to the kitchen/dining area). It has a lid which flips open with a “button” on top, I’ll either move the can or just open/close it with my knee while cooking. If my dog sees me put something in and wants to smell I just tell her “No” and she’ll back away and leave it alone.

    I clean the inside and outside of the trashcan every time I change the bag (keeps my white trashcan fresh and clean…and it only takes about 30 seconds since I do it every time). Personally, this is most convenient for me, though my father in law chooses the under the sink method.

    My brother in law and his family choose to put their trash can in the pantry. This has to do with the set up of their kitchen and their lifestyle (three young kids running around). I understand this…but I still can’t get over it…it seems so dirty to have the trash in the pantry. And the smell is overwhelming if they’ve let their trash ripen in there (which shouldn’t happen…but it does anyway).

  40. posted by infmom on

    Leaving the trash can out all the time probably works fine in a house with a kitchen bigger than a hallway and devoid of trash-can-diving pets.

    If we left the trash can out in our kitchen we’d be tripping over it all the time, and our cats would think it was Thanksgiving every day.

    I’ll put up with opening the cabinet door under the sink, thank you very much.

  41. posted by Susan McMullan on

    As I read, I substituted “compost” for “trash” and then it makes sense. Yes I do access compost frequently during meal prep. I often use a bowl on the counter or even a paper towel to collect it.

  42. posted by PatMcD55 on

    No kids, no pets, so we have an open large plastic can for trash, and a smaller plastic can for recyclables (glass, plastics, paper, aluminum, steel — and they all go in one container). When I do prep work on the back counter (the larger of two work spaces in a small kitchen), I often put down a paper towel to catch vegetable peelings, lettuce spines, etc.), and then carry it all to the garbage can when I’m done. If we’re doing a big job (trimming all the meat off the holiday turkey), the garbage can gets moved into position near the back counter to minimize possible spills.

    We’re going to redo the kitchen in the next year or two, so may switch to covered can (sensor or foot pedal), or might switch to pull-out garbage drawer next to principal work counter.

  43. posted by JoDi on

    We switched to a trash can under the kitchen sink about 16 years ago, and I would never go back to having the trash can out in the kitchen again. It’s so convenient having it under the sink or in a lower cabinet next to the sink. All I do is pull it out before I start prep and it’s right where I’m working. We’ve never had a kitchen where you could keep the trash can out and conveniently located to the prep area so I would have to carry trash to it or pull the can over near the prep area when I’m cooking if I had the trash can out in the kitchen anyway. This post sounds like a convenient opportunity to post an affiliate link to a “sexy, foot controlled, stand alone” trash can.

  44. posted by Wwaxwork on

    I have a tiny swing bin on the counter for small bits like tags from bread bags, tea bags etc that I empty every day and use a big cheap plastic bowl as a garbage bowl while doing meal prep, everything goes in it, then into the bin when tidying up for the night. I’ve got one of those fancy $100 bins and I’m taking that sucker to my grave if I can. Keeps dogs out, has handsfree opening, has a butterfly opening top so it fits under my counter out the way.

  45. posted by Marion on

    Anonymous asked what we do with grease drippings. We keep an empty vegetable can in our freezer and pour the grease drippings in the can. When the can fills up, we put it in the trash on trash day, so it’s taken out immediately.

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