Finding Inspiration In an Uncluttered Kitchen

What percent of your kitchen cookware and dishware could you get rid of and not miss? Could you do most of your cooking with a fraction of the stuff you own?

This is a question I'm thinking about while we are neck-deep in the process of moving to a new home. It occurred to me yesterday morning when I opened a cupboard and, for once, didn't see forty coffee mugs of various sizes jammed every which way. Instead, I saw just two. Our two favorite coffee mugs, plus one backup mug just in case. Laura had boxed up everything else the night before.

I'd normally have a series of choices to make at this point (Hmmm, let's see: the Hawai'i mugs? The Somerset Eye Care Mugs? The "You're 40!" mugs?), but on this morning, I didn't have to agonize at all over which mugs to use for our morning coffee. I literally had no choice! It was a relief.

This was tantalizing, so I opened another cabinet. And there, instead of our stash of twenty wine glasses, I saw only two. Our two favorites.

Amazingly, 70-80% of our stuff is gone, yet nearly everything I need is within arm's reach and easy to get to. There's got to be a lesson here, if I could just put my finger on it.

And it can't be just a coincidence that my desire to cook--which has gone AWOL for the past few weeks--instantly reappeared in this now-uncluttered kitchen.

(Permit me a brief tangent: before this move I smugly thought of myself as quite the minimalist. Sadly, that notion was horribly, horribly flattened under an infinity of boxes I personally lugged over to our new townhouse. Moving doesn't just suck, it crushes your illusions too.)

A final point. I've talked before about how there's an 80/20 Rule at work in cooking. Most of us do the majority of our cooking and eating on a small fraction of our equipment and dishes. The rest of our stuff collects dust, takes up space, or just gets in the way.

I guess I never thought how much further I could go to exploit this rule, and how much of a relief it could be to get rid of even more stuff in my previously-thought-to-be-minimalist kitchen. Of course, like any idea, it can be carried too far, but every household is highly likely to have plenty of items that are rarely or never used. Why not give them away to someone who will use them?

Which brings me back to my original question: What percent of the items in your kitchen could you get rid of--and not miss?

Today, when I opened my kitchen cupboards, I discovered that it was a much higher percentage than I thought. How about you?

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Unknown said...

Oh, this is so true. About a year ago, I "uncluttered" my kitchen, and reorganized everything. Anything I hadn't used for about a year I got rid of. Like you, I thought I had done a good job of going minimalist.

But, really, I just got rid of the things I never, ever use, not the things that I didn't really need.

This was brought home when a family member needed to stock their new kitchen...and I was able to give them a pretty good set of pans based on what I still had lying around that was rarely used.

Mike V @ DadCooksDinner

Janet C. said...

lol...I moved too recently, Dan, so I feel your pain. In our case, we significantly downsized: moving from 3000 square ft to 1200. So, yes, we did have to get rid of some things (now I need to have a garage sale for the rest...). I thought I was excessively cutting out the kitchen stuff...but felt that I had no choice...after all, I was losing my pantry that was as big as some bathrooms. Well, of course you're right: I didn't miss the stuff. My commonly used kitchen tools are a cutting board, a knife (I have a favorite), a paring knife, and a spoon. That's about it. The other day my husband bought home a lemon squeezer he bought for a nickel at a garage sale..and my first thought was "What do I need THAT fore?"

I was feeling pretty good about my new minimalist lifestyle until my son came for a final visit before leaving for Japan. Of course his mindset was that he was preparing for life in a 150 sq. ft. Tokyo "apartment" (more like a room...)..but still: the first thing he did was look in my cupboard and exclaim "Mom, you have A LOT of dishes and stuff!"

Of course, none of this means I'm getting rid of any of the martini glasses. That, after all, is a COLLECTION!

Unknown said...

I moved 2 years ago and jettisoned EVERYTHING that wasn't totally neccessary. Such a relief. It also made it much clearer what I did need and did not have. Having extra stuff meant I could half ass things frequently. It has made clean up so much easier as well.

Yay simplicity!

edj3 said...

Well . . .you might recall we were flooded out of our apartment on October 28. We were able to take some things with us here to the furnished temporary quarters, but not a lot. The rest of what survived is packed away until our home is reconstructed. So I know exactly what I’ve needed because I’ve had to go buy those things.

This kitchen came with a few things but it’s pretty clearly geared toward someone who is either mostly eating out or mostly eating high, high second order foods. So we have a wine opener, an ice cream scoop and a cookie sheet, but no spatulas. There’s one stock pot with a lid, one frying pan without a lid (very annoying by the way), and a toaster. But we only have just one 1-cup glass measuring cup. We’ve also got a “set” of horribly dull knives that can’t be resurrected this side of Heaven and one glass cutting board which I dislike intensely.

We’ve purchased additional measuring cups (we cook almost everything from scratch), a spatula and a couple of inexpensive cutting boards from Ikea. I still miss other things a lot (KitchenAid counter top mixer makes bread making a snap) but we aren’t replacing those items because we are pretty sure they were above the water line.

To take your thoughts further—you’d be surprised at how few clothes you need and how little you’d miss most of them. We were able to go to the clothing salvage place to get our winter coats (definitely NEED those in Boston) but we didn’t get much else.

Laura said...

I really need to take this post to heart when it comes to my kitchen. In every other area of my life, I do pretty well about keeping things uncluttered. But I have this thing for kitchen gadgets. Lucky for us our budget doesn't allow us to go crazy, but still. One here, one there sure adds up after a while. I'd be interested to know what your list of kitchen essentials would be, especially once you've gone through this move.

Anonymous said...

Great post, because it's true. Things are minimal and mandatory for the most part: pans, sheets, food processor, etc. The problem here is the cups and glasses. And the baking instruments: there are far too many baking instruments for a Southwest kitchen to handle. Who bakes much here? A yard sale is clearly in order this spring.

The Diva on a Diet said...

There is nothing like a move to help one re-evaluate the contents of one's life! Culling the unnecessary may well be the only good part of having to pack it all up. I like to cull both while packing and unpacking.

That said, I've been in my current place for 15 years ... which means I'm probably not using much of what's here - not just in my kitchen but everywhere. Your post serves as a great inspiration, Dan, I need to do some serious re-evaluating myself!

Daniel said...

Thanks for the insights and ideas.

@MikeV: That is exactly what I'm talking about--the items that collect dust in your kitchen can be (free) tools to help someone else eat healthy home-cooked food.

@Janet: Amazing that you can get down to so few items! Really impressive. Thanks for sharing.

@Virginia: Interesting how jettisoning your stuff can seem hard at first but ultimately it's a huge relief, isn't it?

@Kx3: Yep, I already am making plans to extend this thinking to my other possessions. I've always been good with clothes, but my real weakness is books.

And I know you've had some terrible times lately with your flood and all of the damage to your things. I'm really glad you are finding some good out of what must be a really difficult situation.

@Laura, I've touched on the subject before with my post on Managing Kitchen Setup Costs, but that was geared for beginner cooks who are just starting out. I think you're right, I should address the subject on behalf of more advanced cooks who are interested in minimalism and simplicity. If I can come up with anything insightful I'll be sure to share it here with readers.

@Anonymous: Couldn't agree more. I think it's inevitable that we all aquires gadgets and unused items in our kitchens over the years. I just think these items can have a lot more value if they are in the hands of someone who will use it, rather than collecting dust and cluttering up our kitchens.

@Diva: I recently heard the expression "two moves equals a house fire" when it comes to possessions. But speaking from the perspective of somebody right now slogging through the process of moving, I hope you can stay in your place for another 15 years! :)


Charmian @Christie's Corner said...

Dan, your post is so timely. I'm about to embark on a kitchen reno and am reviewing every kitchen item. I'm gaining counter space but losing cupboard space and am using this as impetus to cull. Most of the cupboards I'm losing are full of items I haven't used in 3 years -- and I'm not talking about the heirloom china. Bye-bye wooden salad bowls I forgot I had. Bye-bye lidless crockpot.

That said, I'm keeping all my hand-thrown pottery mugs. I use them all on occasion based on my mood. Besides, my guests have come to appreciate the "pick your mug" ritual.

Good luck with your move!

Unknown said...

LOL, Dan! Thanks for sharing! This is definitely something I need to work on. In fact, I posted something on my own blog just a few days ago acknowledging, in the last paragraph, my failings in this area !

This is the e-kick I need to inspire me to clean the drawer-so-full-of-utensils-that-I-can't-find-the-one-I-want!

LC @ Let Them Eat Lentils said...

We had to get rid of a TON of kitchen stuff when we moved across the country. I knew I needed to keep my blender and other good appliances, as well as pans, but we downsized a lot.

Only kept 4 plates, 4 salad plates, 4 bowls, 4 bowl-like serving plates, 3 mugs, 8 pint glasses, 4 tumblers, 8 wine glasses. And you know what? We haven't felt the need to replace ANY of the stuff we threw out. I especially love having less wine glasses to deal with - I only use the ones I love anyway.

Oh except the pasta pot, silverware, and soup pot, but we knew that was coming - just wasn't worth lugging not-high quality stuff.

Daniel said...

Charmian: I guess everybody's got their one or two things that they just won't part with. For me, at least until this move, it was my coffee mugs too. But now I'm beginning to wonder... ;)

PS: While you're doing your renovation, don't forget about the Diderot Effect!

Karl: so happy to hear it! We had a drawer here that was so full of junk we couldn't even get it open. Which of course begs the question.

LC: You hit upon an excellent point. Often it's a far better value (and it can even cost less in overall dollars) to own a few really nice pieces of kitchen gear than it is to have an enormous collection of cheap stuff. Thanks for your insights.


Bethany said...

Ack... guess we need to find another housewarming gift. Just kidding-- thanks for the link!

Crystal Silver said...

A fork, spoon, knife, spreader, pair of chopsticks, pair of scissors, collapsible bowl, and a kleen kanteen.

What more do I need? ;-)

Daniel said...

Bethany, don't worry, we don't really want any more housewarming gifts... after all, that would contradict the basic thrust of this post, wouldn't it? :)

And Crystal, you simply are my idol. Although you might be able to reduce your list by two more items by using a spork for the fork and spoon and using the knife as a spreader too. Now that would be an uncluttered kitchen.