How to “Marie Kondo” Your Kitchen

Kitchen gadgets are similar to children's toys. They are fun to try when they catch our interest, but inevitably there will come a day when they no longer bring us joy. Although it would be ideal if we could continue using everything with care and respect, if an item has completed its role in our life, then it's time to thank it and bid it farewell.
--Marie Kondo, from Spark Joy

The modern kitchen is full of specialized junk that only serves a single function. Avoid this! For example, instead of putting your spoon or ladle on a spoon rest, put it on a plate. Instead of cooking rice and eggs in dedicated rice and egg cookers, use a pot.
Jacob Lund Fisker, from Early Retirement Extreme

One of Marie Kondo's central themes is to respect your possessions: to respect each possession by using it, not derisively putting it in some drawer somewhere and forgetting about it, or letting it sit ignored in some corner of your home, collecting dust.

Now, I don't mean to be a downer on Marie Kondo in any way. She has influenced me substantially and I consider her way of thinking about possessions to be quite beautiful. But in my opinion, her discussion on kitchens and cooking gear was among the weakest portions of her two books.

The problem with a kitchen is you have to populate it with the dishes, pots, pans and utensils you use, not just the items that spark joy. Many of these items are merely functional and little more. It's not like you can decide "hey, my spoons, forks and knives don't spark joy, I thank them and bid them farewell." Then what? Eat with your fingers?

Likewise, while it's an intriguing idea to have a favorite joy-sparking bowl, a favorite joy-sparking glass, a favorite joy-sparking spoon, and so on, does this mean I have to also have a favorite joy-sparking everything in my kitchen? And what about everyone else in my home, since they use these items too? If you have a family and a fully equipped kitchen, you're definitely going to have a lot of "regular" plates, glasses, utensils, etc., that don't spark joy, but rather just... are. This is the equipment that gets used, and used heavily, when you're doing your best to feed your family.

This minor weakness in her otherwise excellent books made a bit more sense when she basically confessed to her readers that she didn't really cook, and that a typical meal for her was something along the lines of ramen in her favorite bowl with her favorite chopsticks. My understanding was she was living a bachelorette life when she wrote her first book, after which she got married, had two kids, and probably hasn't looked at her kitchen in the same way since. I'd be very interested in hearing how she balances the admirable aesthetic ideals of her books with the need for a functional kitchen that can feed four.

But here's where Jacob Lund Fisker and his paradigm-shattering book Early Retirement Extreme comes in to help out. Fisker typically focuses on avoiding the economic waste of purchasing items in the first place. This goes double for overpriced kitchen "unitasker" gadgets whose functions you can already perform with multipurpose items you already own.

Fisker might look askance my rice cooker (technically it's a unitasker), but I use it nearly every day and it's far easier than using a pot. And, further, at times he takes things to a level I don't quite want to go to. For example, he's openly discussed the merits of not owning a fridge, a degree of minimalism I'm just not ready to embrace.

Then again, most ideas can be applied to the level at which they help us, or they can be taken to an extreme. Typically, extreme examples of new ideas appear in our minds (usually in easily mockable form) because our egos are trying desperately to maintain the status quo.

However, what both of these writers illustrate convincingly is how most of us have many, many items we can easily eliminate with no loss of capability in our kitchen, freeing up space, making our kitchens more orderly, and making it easier and more enjoyable to cook meals at home. Most of our kitchen gear obeys a sort of 80/20 Rule (a rule that shows up in many, many life domains): a smallish portion of your kitchen tools and items get the vast majority of the use, while the bulk of your kitchen equipment gets used rarely or not at all.

A textbook example: here at Casual Kitchen, we've got a set of fancy schmancy carbon steel knives that on one level are kind of cool, but on a more pragmatic level they just never seem to get used. Another example: I have two very old, sentimental casserole dishes from my parents' kitchen that I use at most once a year (usually I use my own, newer casserole dishes instead).

If I were to really be honest with myself, I'd admit it: I'm treating these possessions derisively. If I'm not going to use them, it would be far better if I gave them to someone who will.

Back to our 80/20 Rule for a moment, where the bulk of our stuff gets used rarely or not at all. Clearly, we can easily identify the "used not at all" kitchen equipment... and dispense with it. But what about "rarely"? What about something you've used, say, once in the past year? Or once in the past three years?

This is where we go back to Marie Kondo's litmus test to decide: Does it spark joy? If yes, keep it. If no, bid it farewell. Therefore, those two sentimental casserole dishes from my parents' kitchen? They spark joy, and I will keep them forever.


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3 comments:

NoGimmicksNutrition said...

Have you read "Goodbye, Things" by Fumio Sasaki?

He speaks well of disposing of certain sentimental items.


Emily said...

I once lived in an apartment with a fridge/freezer that was about 2/3 the size of a normal one. That sparked the exact opposite of joy on a daily basis!

With certain types of very specific appliances (like your rice cooker), where it's possible, I've tried to 'audition' them. For example, prior to buying a brand new, full sized breadmaker, I bought a 10 year old, used one at a stoop sale and only upgraded when I had created the habit of making bread weekly. I also purchased a small, cheap rice cooker, thinking that I could upgrade if needed. However, since I usually only cook a cup or two at at time, the small size turned out to be fine, and I don't need a nicer one. I use it at least once a week for rice and/or oatmeal (it's especially nice for the steel-cut oatmeal that takes forever to cook).

You won't believe this Seattle SEO info said...

I've seen this book everywhere! It seems like a cute idea and everyone knows that a clean space makes a clean mind!