Decluttering a Working Kitchen, Part 2

Cleaning out that spice shelf in one cabinet resulted in so much neatness that I became inspired to keep going. I used the same principles that helped me get the kitchen set up when we first moved here. As I stated in my e-book Secrets of Small-House Living:

I had to eliminate kitchen items I really didn’t need anymore, if I was being honest with myself, especially the duplicate items we all seem to have, such as:

multiple utensils

more serving dishes and platters than we ever use at one time 

damaged items that I thought I would have fixed someday but was surviving without

far too many glasses, mugs, bowls and cups

multiple layer-cake pans (went from five to two)

cutting boards (went from four to one large and one small)

I did keep my two sets of measuring cups, because I often use them both when I’m cooking, rather than take time to wash one out in the middle of a recipe.

I also kept my old bread maker after finding my Zojirushi at the Goodwill for $5; both machines are old, well-made and hard to find, so it’s worth having a backup. But I keep the backup in the basement because there’s no room in the kitchen.

It’s amazing how some things multiply in those cabinets, especially mugs. I also found I had a few too many utensils in one drawer because for a while I was on a search to replace a beloved spatula, so I kept bringing them home, each one better than the last, until I had five!

I had already gotten rid of the excess bread maker a few years ago, because I no longer make bread or rolls as often as I once did. In its place in the basement sits a brand new hand mixer, waiting until the one I use now completely dies (it doesn’t sound too good but it still works).

If you’re having trouble giving up items you don’t really use very often, if at all, consider this:

Now, I’ve never been one to collect small appliances, so I only ever had the basics, and when we got here, I even got rid of the toaster because we didn’t use it. But I’ve known people who had egg cookers, rice makers, tortilla warmers, rotisseries, electric cheese graters, electric can openers, iced tea makers, electric fry pans, baby food makers, electric woks, fondue pots and hot dog cookers, all crammed into every nook and cranny of their kitchens, and most of them collecting dust. People with big kitchens can do that if they wish. But when you downsize to a small kitchen, you don’t have room for a collection of rarely used appliances. You need to prioritize.

If you use something daily or even weekly, that’s one thing. Otherwise, keep only multi-purpose items. You don’t need a hot-dog cooker; just cook your hot dogs on the stove, or microwave them. Unless you have arthritis or other dexterity issues, surely you can survive with a hand-held can opener and give up the counter-hogging electric can opener. As for the rotisserie, if I put one in my kitchen, there’d be no counter space left to do anything.

Even if you have a large kitchen, why keep items that you never use? Give priority to keeping multi-purpose items, like a good-quality, cast-iron frying pan on which you can cook eggs and warm tortillas, or a nice pot in which you can make rice and cook hot dogs, thus replacing four appliances.

And if your kitchen is small, like mine is, and you still have more equipment than storage space, consider converting a nearby closet to kitchen storage, as my husband did:

You can also repurpose storage areas. When we bought our small house, it had a narrow broom closet facing the kitchen. It barely held a broom and a vacuum cleaner. After my husband saw my collection of kitchen appliances and other items that wouldn’t fit in the kitchen, things I used regularly like a crock-pot, food processor, cookie sheets, cooling racks, etc. he told me he thought I needed additional storage more than a broom closet. Despite my initial misgivings, I let him put horizontal shelves in most of the broom closet, with some vertical shelves across the middle. As a result, I can now keep all of my must-have small appliances and supplies in there, plus there’s room for cookbooks on the top shelf and a basket of cleaning supplies on the floor. You can’t imagine how much I use that former broom closet when I’m cooking. He even put a hook on the inside of the door for my apron. The broom is now in the attached garage (just outside the kitchen door) and the vacuum is in the guest room closet. His idea turned out to be just what I needed.

Going forward, there is something else you can do to keep from having overcrowded counters and cabinets:

One more idea for maximizing kitchen space: when an item breaks, try to replace it with something smaller. Recently yet another coffeemaker died on us. Instead of buying the same model with its large water tank and bulky glass carafe, we chose a more diminutive 12-cup percolator. It works great and takes up much less space.

Next time, we’ll look at decluttering the eating area.

The Questionable Value of a Top-of-the-Line Kitchen

I think it’s interesting that so many people will plunk down tens of thousands of dollars to create a top-of-the-line kitchen in their homes, complete with the latest design in cabinets and hip counter surfaces, even though they rarely cook. It’s all about having a kitchen that looks like it belongs in a magazine or on a cooking show, I guess.

Personally, I adore my hip cabinets. Check this out:

Those are genuine 1980s vintage cabinet fronts. Inside you’ll find sturdy plain old wood cabinets and shelves from the 1950s, when the house was built. I suspect that’s also when they installed my very cool counter tops:

That’s right, speckled Formica. We’re talking the height of luxury!

OK, so I’m being sarcastic. The fact is that I love my kitchen. It’s made of very sturdy materials that have lasted for years and still have a lot of life left in them. Since I cook from scratch every day, and we do a lot of dishes because we don’t have a dishwasher, we spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Yet it doesn’t bother me at all that I don’t have the latest cabinets or countertops.

You see, I’m a firm believer that there’s a trade-off between time and money. You have to give up one to get the other. Personally, I value time more than money, and the older I get, the more valuable time is to me. I can live without a $20,000 upgrade to my kitchen, because I don’t want to spend the time it takes to earn that 20 grand just to have a fancier kitchen. The one I have works just fine.

Some of my attitude stems from the fact that we’re debt-free. Most people will put a kitchen upgrade on their credit cards and think nothing of it. But we worked very hard to get debt-free, so we aren’t part of the how-much-a-month crowd. We also like to keep our expenses down so we can work part-time, which gives us more time to pursue other interests. Being able to live this way is much more important to us than having the latest kitchen upgrades in our home.

Besides, five years from now, today’s cabinets and counters are going to look outdated anyways.