Simplify the Kitchen

simplify the kitchen
© 2013 Christy King

“If we are to believe the glossies, everyone except for ourselves is working in a thousand square feet of clean granite and aluminum bliss.”

- Anna Brones

For years, our kitchen was a disaster. We had too much stuff in the refrigerator, on the counters and in the cupboards. Things would occasionally fall on us when we opened the freezer or a cabinet.

We believed the myth – nurtured by magazines and TV shows – that a bigger kitchen with more counter and storage space was the only solution. We were jealous of our friends’ roomy kitchens. At 10 x 12 feet, our kitchen is half – or even a third – of the size of kitchens in many homes in our suburban area.

“Fifty thousand dollars’ worth of cabinets isn’t going to make you a better cook; cooking is going to make you a better cook.”

- Tyler Florence

A few years ago, I saw photos of the tiny kitchens of foodies Mark Bittman and Deb Perelman (aka Smitten Kitchen), and realized we have plenty of room. Both have kitchens less than half the size of mine.

They wish they had more space, but I’ll bet both of them would be delighted to have a kitchen as big as mine – and look how much great food they cook in those tiny kitchens.

We just had too much stuff – even for a family who enjoys cooking. Instead of longing for a bigger kitchen, we needed to simplify the kitchen we had.

As I began reading about kitchen design and organization, I learned that those beautiful magazine-style kitchens aren’t even good for cooking. The distances between work areas are too far. Despite what the magazines and home improvement show tell us, smaller kitchens are more efficient and preferred by most people who enjoy cooking.

But I Need All This Stuff!

Nice theory, right, but what about all that stuff we need? Pots, pans, small appliances, gadgets, dishes, silverware, glasses, coffee mugs, storage containers….Not to mention the food.

As the author of a minimalism blog – especially one writing a post on simplifying your kitchen – I probably shouldn’t admit that I have 10 kinds of flour. Yep. Ten. Even after we simplified. In my defense, I bake a lot, and I really do use them all.

Because we cook dishes from many countries, we also have what many people would consider a ridiculous variety of herbs and spices. And we still have a stand mixer, a food processor, a blender, a slow cooker, a pasta machine and a tortilla press.

The reason I’m confessing all this is to show you that you can – and should – keep the items you use and value. It’s not about getting rid of things other people think you don’t need.

Decluttering is a personal process. You can’t just follow someone else’s guidance on what to keep and what to get rid of.

Simplify the Kitchen: Gadgets and Appliances

On the other hand, you can’t keep everything. So how do you decide?

First, do you have gadgets and appliances that do the job something else could do just as well? Do you really need a pancake maker when a skillet will do the job? I never had a pancake maker (other than my husband), but I was awful at cooking them even though I was otherwise a pretty good cook. After a little practice, I’ve learned to make them in the skillet.

I’ve seen a lot of similar small appliances and gadgets advertised. Do you really need that hot dog cooker, banana slicer, burger patty shaper, margarita machine or avocado pit remover?

It’s your choice to make, not mine or anyone else’s, so please don’t take offense at my list. I’m sure I’ve kept plenty of kitchen items other people would think are unnecessary or even silly. If you have a lot of parties and love your margarita maker, keep it. There’s no need to give away your electric egg cooker if you can’t make a good boiled egg to save your life.

The key is to take the time to figure out which items you use and value.

Most of us have either bought or been given a bunch of stuff we never use. And then there are things we use only out of habit that could easily be replaced with something that does multiple jobs.

Go through your cupboards and drawers and see what you never use. Those are easy to declutter. I recently got rid of a doughnut pan and set of cookie stamps we never used.

Then, each time you use a “unitasker,” as Alton Brown calls them, think about whether you really need it, or whether you could substitute something else you have with more uses, like a skillet, blender, or chef’s knife. We rarely slice cheese, so decided we could use a knife instead of the cheese slicer. We learned to peel garlic by smashing it with the flat side of the knife and gave away the garlic peeler.

Don’t automatically dispose of something you use a lot just because it’s a unitasker. If you make a lot of cherry pies with fresh cherries, you probably won’t be happy without a cherry pitter.

Remember that just because you used to use something regularly doesn’t mean you still do. With younger kids, we had acquired way too many cookie cutters. I like a few holiday themed cookie cutters as much as the next person, but the pirate and dinosaur cookie cutters went to Goodwill, along with the Jello molds.

Simplifying Dishes and Glasses

Again, this is a personal decision for you based on what you use and value. We chose to declutter our wine and cocktail glasses. We don’t host fancy dinners or parties, and our guests don’t seem to mind drinking out of glasses we also use for juice, milk, iced tea and water. I’ve noticed a lot of restaurants do this too.

Holiday plates also made the declutter list for us, along with a ton of coffee mugs, which seem to breed in our house.

Take a peek in your cabinets. I bet there’s a lot of stuff you’d never miss if it were gone.

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

― Michael Pollan

One of the changes we made with the biggest impact – both on the amount of stuff in our kitchen and our waistlines – was to eat more “real” food in place of processed foods.

Like multitasking gadgets, real food has many uses. It’s easy to make a bunch of different dishes out of some basic pantry items, whereas a box of Hamburger Helper is good for only one thing.

We didn’t need nearly as many store-bought condiments as we had in our refrigerator either. We still buy things like ketchup and mayonnaise, but it’s not hard or time-consuming to make your own salad dressing and teriyaki sauce. Homemade tastes better too.

Although we’re not vegetarian, we do eat a lot of vegetarian meals. Reducing our consumption of animal products frees up a lot of space in the refrigerator.

Another big space saver is drinking more water from the tap (filtered if you need to). Not having bottles or cans of water and soda around saves a ton of space. Tea bags take up a lot less room, and iced tea was how I transitioned from drinking a lot of Coke to drinking a lot of water.

My Progress

As you may know, I have a hard time letting things go, so I’m gradually minimizing. The kitchen is no exception.

We still have some work to do, but at least we have plenty of counter space and nothing falls on us. We can even find things in the refrigerator (most of the time, anyway).

Our last goal is to get everything out of the two blind corner cabinets. I store only things we use occasionally there (like the cheesecake pan), but I really hate having to crawl into the cabinet to reach something, even if it’s not that often. We’ll need to declutter a bit more to make that work.

What About You?

What you do to simplify the kitchen? Please share your ideas in the comments or contact me.

10 thoughts on “Simplify the Kitchen

  1. its amazing how “stuff” just creeps in. How did I end up with a bread maker, food processor, juicer, hand blender? I love the juicer and use it often enough to justify it. Same with the hand blender and food processor, but maybe it is time to give up the bread maker? I think the last time I used it was last year…. Well, I need to sleep on it:)

    1. If you’re interested, I can send you a recipe for no-knead bread (or you can Google one). Easy way to make bread when you do want to make it, though you have to plan ahead the night before. You just mix stuff up in a bowl and let it rise for a long time on the counter – no kneading at all.

  2. I’ve got lots of cast iron, a set of stainless steel, and two crock pots. People seem to think that’s too much, but the only thing I don’t use is the pasta insert for my stock pot.

    Of course I don’t have a microwave, electric gadgets, or any of the fancy task specific stuff aside from a garlic press. It kinda balances out.

    I will admit to having a whole block of knives that, aside from the use of the steak knives that could easily find their way into the flatware drawer instead, really only ever see two leave their home.

    1. If you use it regularly, don’t worry about it. If you have plenty of room and use something occasionally, then don’t worry about that either.

      If your knife block is in your way or taking up valuable counter space, do consider putting the steak knives with the flatware.

      We now have a magnetic knife holder, but for a good while we used homemade cardboard sheaths to protect the knifes in the drawer. For example, see How to select and care for kitchen knives or Homemade knife sheaths.

  3. Great post! I recently noticed a small drawer next to the sink that I had not opened since I moved in six years ago. I guess I don’t need those things…On the other hand, I can’t do without my dried herbs.

    1. Thanks, Meri. That’s really funny about the drawer you never opened. It’s just like that suggestion to box things up for a year and see if you miss them – only you got to skip the boxing up part!

  4. I struggle with maintaining a simple kitchen mostly because my husband and I keep kosher, which means we need almost two of everything. When we made our move overseas I was determined not to have too much of anything. We went with a Sephardic Jewish tradition and can use anything glass for both dairy and meat, so Pyrex and Corelle have become by best friends. With another move in under two weeks and downsizing with kitchen space in our new apartment I will definitely be taking this post as inspiration! Thank you!!

    1. Thank you, Dana.

      That must be very difficult, having to have duplicates. I know a lot of people with a gluten-intolerant person in the family have to have duplicates of many things as well, since usually not everyone will want to be gluten-free.

      I feel very lucky that we don’t have any restrictions like that to deal with. It’s hard enough as it is.

  5. Excellent post, full of good advice. One gadget I do love is a hand blender. It’s great for blending soups and sauces right in the pan, so you don’t need to drag out or wash a food processor. I seldom use the processor, so I should probably eliminate it. My kitchen has limited space, but it’s really enough, and I do love to cook! I agree that we should go through our kitchen stuff (as well as all our other stuff) on a regular basis. There are items that somehow lose their usefulness over time.

    1. Thanks, Carol. I’ve found that not only do items lose their usefulness, but the first time I go through, I often have the reaction of “Oh, I forgot I had this. I should start using it.” Very rarely does that happen. Usually I go through again later and realize I STILL haven’t used it 6 months later.

      We use our food processor at least a few times a week, but if you rarely use yours, it might be a good candidate for elimination.

      Many of our gadgets aren’t strictly necessary, but their time-saving qualities are the only thing that allow us to make so many things from scratch in a busy household.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.