How to declutter a dining room according to professional home organizers

Knowing how to declutter a dining room is essential for a stylish space that remains true to its purpose

Modern dining room with round table, black chairs in center of room with wooden hutch visible to the right and lots of house plants
(Image credit: Janis Nicolay)

Big or small space, knowing how to declutter a dining room properly can see your home go from a little overworked and tired-looking to being the life and soul of an evening in a chic way. 

We all know too well that, especially in a hybrid home, no matter how beautiful our dining room tables are, they are subject to all manner of paperwork, children's toys, and, naturally, a cup of coffee or two. 

So where should we start if it has all gone a little too far?

How to declutter a dining room

We spoke to professional organizers to learn their secrets because the fact that you have read this far is a silent indicator that your dining room might be looking a little disheveled. If you are simply curious, you might learn an extra trick or two to maintain an organized and streamlined dining room space.

'Maybe your dining room isn’t used frequently, or maybe it’s used all the time, but chances are most of us could use some decluttering and organization,' says Ami McKay, creator of PURE Design. Here is what to do according to the experts.

Ami McKay headshot
Ami McKay

Ami McKay founded PURE Design in 2000 on the belief that design is found in the art of giving. The work that she puts into each project reflects her personal life experiences and she believes they are at the heart of her business. Today, she is proud to be named one of Canada’s Top Five Interior Designers.

1. Start with a fresh slate

natural dining room scheme with bright red chair

Future / Emma Lee / Sally Denning

(Image credit: Future / Emma Lee / Sally Denning)

Though we might like to think our dining rooms are designed (and reserved) solely for enjoying meals, we know this is not the case, and it is easy for all types of household clutter to pile up on the table itself or in the surrounding environment. As when organizing any other space in the home, a ruthless purge of items that do not belong here is necessary. 

'Begin by clearing surfaces such as tables and counters,' recommends Janelle Cohen, professional organizer and creator of Straighten it Up. 'This provides a clean canvas for organizing and creates a more visually appealing and spacious atmosphere.'

Woman with short brown hair smiling wearing blue and white polka dot top on a gray background is Janelle Cohen
Janelle Cohen

Janelle Cohen is a professional home organizer and TV personality known for her work with major celebrities and appearances on top shows like The Today Show and Good Morning America. She is also the author of The Folding Book: A Complete Guide to Creating Space and Getting Organized, available at Amazon  and recently Partnered with Kelley Blue Book to announce the 2024 Best Buy Awards.

If deciding what to get rid feels overwhelming, our next expert suggests going by timeframe. 'First and foremost, get rid of anything you haven’t used in the last six months,' insists Julianna Melamed, founder of Full Service Living. 'Donate, throw out , sell it - just get it out of your precious space.'

Smilling woman with short brown hair wearing V neck orange top and necklace is Julianna Melamed
Julianna Melamed

Julianna Melamed is the founder of home concierge company, Full Service Living, located in New York City that specializes in home organization, move management, and home project management. 

2. Group and edit your collection

Dining room with terracotta walls

(Image credit: John Lewis)

The next area of focus should be on consolidating your dining room belongings in a way that makes sense. Ami shares a simple strategy: 'For decluttering, pull out your items and spread them out on the table; stemware, flatware, dinnerware, serving dishes, and linens. Then decide what to do with the items you are decluttering. 

'Try to edit your collection to what you use and what you love. Sometimes we feel guilty letting things go but think of how happy someone else will be to find your pre-loved items!'

With more of a capsule dining room collection, you will be able to give them order, and understand what your dining room space needs to accommodate everything in a stylish and functional way.

'Next, sort and group like items together so they are easy to store and find,' continues Ami. Depending on how much glassware you have to organize, this could mean making champagne glasses a category, or a sub-category, only you will know.

3. Be ruthless with flat surfaces

Modern dining room with round table, black chairs in center of room with wooden hutch visible to the right with indoor plants to the left

(Image credit: Janis Nicolay)

We are looking directly at the dining room table here but also at visible open decorative shelving and cabinets where 'things' naturally gravitate to.

'The most impactful but possibly the hardest place to start decluttering in the dining room is usually the dining room table,' says Angela O'Brian, a professional organizer and founder of Your Space Reclaimed. 'It is a big flat surface that just seems to invite items to land on it, especially if it is only used when company comes or on special occasions.'

Blonde white woman smiling in front of modern kitchen island with two hanging pendants above is Angela O'Brian
Angela O'Brien

Angela is a professional organizer and devoted mom of 2 young adults, one with Down Syndrome. After advocating for her daughter for 18 years, she decided to turn her love of organizing into more than a hobby. She now helps other families of loved ones with intellectual disabilities, autism, medical complexities and/or neurodivergence get more organized in their homes and in their lives so that they can reduce their overwhelm and reclaim what they need.

4. Focus on dining room drop off zones

green wicker chairs in classical designed pink dining room

(Image credit: Birdie Fortescue)

Just like a drop zone in an entryway can help keep it organized, this strategy can work in a dining space, too, preventing unnecessary items from accumulating on the table.

'I find that my clients tend to take advantage of the large flat surface of the dining room table because it is likely only used for company and formal occasions,' continues Angela. 'It becomes a sort of drop zone for items that either don't have a place or can't seem to find their way to their designated spot.' 

This is the moment to bring in solutions that will ease the anxiety that comes with keeping too many things without order. 'Creating a separate drop zone in perhaps the kitchen or a mud room can help alleviate those feelings and bring back the intended importance of the dining room.'

5. Double down on storage

With a drop zone at the ready for more fleeting items, you can turn to housing the residing pieces in a way that will not visually clutter a dining room space.   

'To keep things organized, dining room storage is key,' says Ami. 'Whether you choose to have millwork cupboards designed and installed or find a few beautiful antique or vintage pieces such as a sideboard and/or buffet, it is best to have your dining room items stored away when not in use.' Cabinets, buffets, and styled dining room hutches all make swell options. Explore what might work for your family and dining room collection.

'Once you declutter a dining room, you will know what kind of storage you need to accommodate all the things you need,' adds Julianna.

'If you have a long, narrow dining space, consider a sideboard and wall-mounted built-in storage. The sideboard will also double as an area for serving when using the space. If you have a wider, shorter space, purchase a tall wall unit that goes from floor to ceiling. You can also use decorative baskets or bins to store extra linens, serving ware, or other dining accessories.'

Julianna likes this tall cabinet from Amazon, particularly for shorter, wider spaces. It is similar to the Brookside storage cabinet we've spotted at Target.

Sideboards and built-in wall hang storage are also brilliant choices. Plus, a buffet is easily styled when given thought and employing a little patience. And if you need baskets for linens, Julianna recommends this large rope blanket basket with a lid from Amazon. 

6. Display the 'necessary clutter', beautifully

Dining room ideas with wall mural and wooden table and chairs

(Image credit: Future / Davide Lovatti)

Your favorite dinnerware is likely the most beautiful, and giving it function when it is out of use will make dining room storage work much harder.'Outside of the typical sideboard, buffet table, or hutch, one of the best ways to "conceal" necessary clutter in the dining room is by displaying it,' Angela says. Look to open shelving or mix functional and stylish pieces cleverly.

Tables do not often have storage so you might need to invest in multifunctional, and beautiful pieces. With lots of offer nowadays, rest aussured it is possible. 'A sideboard is a great piece of furniture to invest in to store items you might want in the dining room and there are options available in many sizes and shapes,' adds Lindsey Mahanna of Clutter to Clarity Home Organizing LLC. 'Shelving hung up on the wall is another way to store clutter without taking up floor space that may be needed for chairs and other items. A beautiful platter or vase could also be left out as decoration when not in use.'

White woman with brown hair smiling in kitchen wearing red apron is Lindsey Mahanna
Lindsey Mahanna

Lindsey Mahanna is a professional home organizer based in Morris County, NJ. Working solo, Lindsey is passionate about helping clients achieve their organisation goals quickly and in a way that will not overwhelm.

Where can I put everything in my dining room?

coastal inspired dining room

(Image credit: Neptune)

Whether you have a big or small dining room, making the most of all four walls will free up floor space and essentially make your space feel less cluttered and visually heavy. 'Utilizing the vertical space in the room with open or floating shelves can make for both a functional and beautiful space, especially if you have your grandmother's china or a beloved collection of cups and saucers you just can't part with,' notes Angela. 'Displaying these items on a wall can be a win-win. You free up valuable floor space and get to enjoy them every day.'

How can you declutter a dining room when you have a big family?

'It is all about good habits when you still have many items to keep in place. Establish a post-meal routine for clearing and organizing,' says Janelle Cohen, professional organizer. 'Involve all family members in maintaining order to distribute the responsibility.' 

You want to make sure that storage works very hard too. 'Consider multi-functional furniture, like dining tables with storage, to accommodate the needs of a larger family. Add labels to storage solutions so that there is no miscommunication about where things go, and everyone can feel ownership over the space.'

Once this space is decluttered, styling your out-of-use dining table can be the perfect inspiration to keep it clear. Let this not be an excuse to drop items elsewhere in the surrounding area, where they do not belong, but be wood in the fire to keep an organized dining room going every season.

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Contributing Editor

Camille is the former deputy editor of Real Homes where she covered a broad range of topics, including house tours, small space design, and gardens. She studied English language and Italian at the University of Manchester and during a year abroad studying linguistics and history of art in Bologna, Italy she started documenting her adventures and observations in a blog. Camille is always creating and spends her downtime painting, taking photos, traveling, and writing short stories.