Growing up in Miami, my friend's mother had a sofa in the living room that was just for looking at. Never for sitting on. It was embalmed in a plastic slipcover to prevent it from being ruined with a spill—something that would have dealt a death blow to its primary utility.
I don't believe a home should work that way. Sofas should be sat upon. And dining room tables, should you be lucky enough to have the space for either a proper one or a not-so-proper one, should be sat at. Every night. And twice on weekends.
The secret to being one of those households who eats meals at their meal table is simple: Be vigilant. Establish a set of rules that prevents those dining room clutter creepers—like paper piles and projects—from taking over.
1. Treat Your Table Like a Conference Room
If you're able to migrate your dining room's non-essential activities to another place, rule number one should be "Not at the table." But sometimes coloring and craft projects do need their space. To better regulate the table time share, mentally and verbally put your dining room on a schedule. Think to yourself, or say out loud to your housemates—"Ok, we'll start the puzzle right after lunch, but it has to be cleaned up by dinner."
2. Employ a Second Surface
For things that can't be picked up between meals, like an especially tough puzzle or a craft project that needs to be left to dry for hours, try this trick: Before diving in and spreading out on the table, get yourself a big sturdy craft mat and lay that down first. When dinnertime rolls around, you can lift and carry the whole project over to the floor or bed for a little while while you enjoy a clutter-free meal.
3. Clear it Nightly with an In-Between Basket
The biggest enemy of a clean dining room is the everyday clutter that tends to collect there. When your table is the heart of your home, everything gravitates there—books, paper piles, purses and gadgets. The best way to battle this beast is simple: Every night before dinner, dump everything into a basket and tuck it away at the edges of the room. Later that night, you can put those things away. Or not. Let the basket be a permanent stand-in for the table top and collect the things you like to keep close by.
How do you keep the table clear for meals?