While I don’t mind living in a tiny apartment (in fact, some time last year I decided that I’m not upgrading anytime soon), the kitchen has always been a conundrum to me in terms of how to utilize it most effectively. Our kitchen is small, with only six square meters to spare, and the upper cabinets are of such height that me myself, with my 157 centimeters above ground, can’t really make much use of them without climbing a stool.
In our minimalist journey so far, we have minimized our living room, our wardrobes, our hallway and our bathroom. Of course, all of these rooms are still works in progress as minimalism is more a tool to curate a simple life rather than a set destination. Our kitchen, on the other hand, we’ve kept reorganizing and reorganizing, struggling to optimize it completely.
Maybe it’s the fact that the kitchen is the room in the house where all the items in it are constantly in use. Three or more times a day, we’re in there to create meals and are constantly opening cabinets and drawers, taking stuff out and moving them around. And new stuff are also constantly appearing, with new produce being bought and stored here weekly or even several times a week. It’s no wonder that the kitchen might use some more thought put into it than other rooms might. The ease to accumulate clutter here is quite prominent.
A couple of months back, we decided to tackle the kitchen again. I don’t remember exactly what prompted it, but Chris and I were both agreeing that the current layout and arrangement of the stuff in our cabinets were not at it’s most efficient. For instance, each time I was prepping a meal in the kitchen, I either had to pull a muscle standing on my tiptoes, going into the bedroom to grab a stool or ask Chris to help me, because I always needed something on a cabinet shelf too high for me to reach. That’s how we realized that it’s wise to:
1. Keep the utensils you need at close proximity
Since I’m the one that uses the kitchen most often and prep the most meals, it doesn’t make sense to keep the utensils I reach for the most at a height where I struggle to reach them. Thus, the primary focus of our latest kitchen reorganization was to identify the items I used daily and arranging our cabinets to allow me to reach them with the least amount of effort. This also means to take into account that most of the items I use are in such close proximity to me standing by the stove that I don’t have to move much in order to reach for them.
Keeping the utensils in your kitchen at close proximity to you thus makes life so much easier: the cooking and cleaning is more efficient, and the risk of straining a muscle is heavily reduced. I’m not sure why it took us nine years of living in this apartment to realize this, to be honest…
Of course, with limited kitchen and cabinet space, it might be a challenge to find easy access space to every piece of equipment. This leads us to the next minimalist kitchen principle:
2. Avoid duplicates
There was a different time many years ago where I also wanted my kitchen to be more efficient. And so, I started buying duplicates of things I used often so that when one was in the dishwasher, I’d have another at hand. Adopting a minimalist mindset, however, I came to understand backlash of this kind of efficiency. Surely, the idea of duplicates seems reasonable at first. Yet, it turns out that the ‘problems’ the duplicates fixed could be taken care of in other, less clutter-prone ways.
If a utensil I need is dirty in the dishwasher and I need it again, I can take it out, wash and reuse it. If the problem is that I need the utensil and the dishwasher is on, I can time the runs of the dishwasher better (for example, now we only run the dishwasher at night). Of course, I could omit the dishwasher altogether and just wash everything immediately after use, but I’m not there yet. I truly find value in my not having to do the dishes by hand.
Th duplicates also creates unnecessary clutter in my drawers and cabinets, and they don’t serve a purpose that can’t be solved in other more mindful ways, such as those I mentioned above.
3. Consider the necessity of convenience equipments
In addition to duplicates, we also tend to exaggerate the necessity of convenience equipments. It’s tempting to have all kinds of fancy kitchen equipments to serve every need, but do you really need a rice cooker, a hot dog maker, and a pancake iron when you have a stovetop, a skillet and a pan? Do you need a fancy veggie cutter when you have a knife?
Ok, I keep my spiralizer for zucchini and root veggie noodles, because they can’t really be made with a knife. I did however throw out the veggie cutter I had so many good reasons to purchase, because honestly, it’s more of a hassle to use the cutter than a regular, good quality kitchen knife. And the amount of storage space saved? So much!
Maybe you could let go of your blender if you have a good hand mixer? Or maybe you don’t need your kitchen aid if you have a quality blender? What you decide to keep is your choice, obviously, but for a functioning and efficient kitchen, at least don’t keep more equipment than you have the need for and at the same time have room to store. Because this might lead to cluttered countertops, which goes against the principle to:
4. Keep your countertops clear
While you could argue that keeping things that you want close at hand on your countertops is a good idea, trust me; it escalates quickly! A minimalist mindset doesn’t have to mean all clean surfaces. I do like a good open shelving system as long as it’s planned properly. In fact, this helps with the principle of keeping frequently used items in close proximity. However, falling into the habit of storing stuff on your countertops, especially in small kitchens, but really in general, elevates the risk of clutter.
Often, we measure the size of a kitchen in terms of how much counter space we have available. By keeping your countertops clear instead of filled with kitchen equipment, you get the benefits of a seemingly bigger kitchen, allowing for elbow space to cook, prep and move around.
The only thing I keep on my countertop is my water heater, my cutting board set and a tray of condiments and paper. I notice that if I start slipping up here and allowing for just one more item to have a place on the countertop, the uncluttered counter is quickly becoming cluttered. As such, this principle in short reads: keep no more items in your kitchen than what you can tuck away in a cabinet, drawer or shelf.
With that being said, cluttered shelves, drawers and cabinets do not a simple life make, thus my next principle goes like this:
5. Don’t fear unused space
If there’s one thing people seem to value more than anything in their kitchen (or let’s be real: in their houses in general), it’s storage. Space to store our items, while a necessity in order to keep an organized home, can quickly become space we think we need to utilize. For some reason, people not only dread not being able to have enough storage space for their stuff, they also seem to dread not having enough stuff to fill their space.
If you don’t have much stuff to begin with, little storage goes a long way. The same goes for the kitchen. If you do like me, and start rearranging your utensils so that they are within reach, and at the same time size down your items so that they’re not so many, you might find yourself with unused cabinet shelves. I want to encourage you to embrace unused space instead of fearing it. You should see unused space as a luxury and not a waste of space. If you end up with a few empty shelves or cabinets, why does it matter?
There’s a good reason why Courtney Carver of Be More with Less says that “If you need to buy more stuff in order to organize your stuff, you might have too much stuff.” Indeed, if you instead have storage space to spare, you might be on to something in terms of living within your means, don’t you think? At least, you’re well on your way to a orderly and clutter-free kitchen, which, as far as this post goes, is what we’re hoping to achieve.
Since minimalism is a tool and not a destination, though, this last principle is something I find important in order to keep a tidy, clutter-free kitchen, namely:
6. Do regular oversights
As I mentioned above, the kitchen is one of the rooms in which clutter easily accumulates. At least it is for us, seeing as we prep most meals at home and thus we use the kitchen in full three or more times a day. To keep on top of the situation in the kitchen, I find that it’s important to do regular oversights. By checking the current status of the kitchen in terms of clutter and mess at weekly or monthly intervalls, I’ll be able to keep a tidy kitchen with less effort.
These check-ins include going through cabinets and see if stuff have fallen out of their place and throw away sneaky clutter that might have accumulated since last time. Ideally, this will be an automatic part of the daily tidying of the kitchen, but still, I find that these oversights function well to help sort out any slip-ups and keeping the mindset fresh.
By incorporating these six principles, I’ve managed to create a well-functioning, practical and clutter-free kitchen space. I’m sure that by applying the same principles you’ll be able to do the same.
To sum up, in order to create a functional, minimalist kitchen: Store things in easy access, avoid duplicates, reconsider the need for certain equipment, keep your countertops clear, do not fear unused storage space, and revisit these principles regularly.