Ahh, the kitchen. If ever there was a place that was a bigger magnet for gimicky gadgets and random things you only ever use for special occasions (I'm looking at you fine china), this is it.
Of all the big rooms in the house, the kitchen is the last one I tackled. And when I say it's the last one I tackled, I mean it took me two full years before I even attempted it.
There is a reason for this. I was living with roommates for all of those two years and we had an intermingled kitchen, which meant, if I wanted to declutter the kitchen, I would have had to go through all of my roommate's stuff just to get through all of my stuff.
I'll be honest, that wasn't exactly appealing. So I kept putting it off until this spring, when my impending transition to Florida caused my roommates and I to part ways.
It'll be a few more months until I have a kitchen of my own again, but I am excited for how much simpler and more streamlined it will be after finally sorting through everything.
START WITH DOCUMENTATION
Going through your kitchen can feel a little overwhelming, especially if you have a family or a penchant for those little gadgets that you can only use for one thing. How do you determine what you actually use on a regular basis, what gets used fairly often, what gets used once in a blue moon, and what things you haven't touched since you bought them?
Document, document, document.
Pick a length of time, be it a week, one month, or a few months, and document everything you use in your kitchen and how often — the pots and pans, the plates and bowls, the mugs and glasses, and even how often you run the dishwasher or wash by hand.
Document as much as you're able to, not just about the physical items you use but about the activities and how often they take place. The reason being is that simplifying your kitchen is not just about getting rid of those gadgets you never use or your excess of mugs and decorative plates. Yes, those things will help, but part of it is also figuring out how you utilize your kitchen as a whole and whether that contributes to a simplified lifestyle or detracts from it.
And it should go without saying — but keep the documentation process simple. Make a note on your phone or keep a notepad on the refrigerator or something similar. Take the two minutes to jot down the things you used to make the day's dinner, how many times this week you've had to hunt down glasses from all over the house, and whatever else might be important.
It doesn't have to be fancy, it just needs to be an accurate reflection of what actually happens in your kitchen.
ASSESS AND ANALYZE
After your period of documentation is complete (for the record, I recommend a period of 2-4 weeks, during which you can focus on simplifying some of the other spaces in your home), take a step back, look at everything you've written down, and do an assessment.
Look for patterns and repetition. Do you use the same mug every single day even though you have 15 on the shelf? Are you regularly making meals that require multiple pots or pans or only one or two? Is there an item you thought you couldn't part with but haven't touched once?
From there, start to really ask yourself what changes could be made to streamline your kitchen.
Maybe it's keeping a few extra mugs on hand for company, but purging most of them since they're just taking up shelf space. Maybe it's getting rid of all the extra pots and pans you never use or finally tossing those gadgets that are good for one thing and one thing only. Or maybe it's deciding that the special occasion plates can be used for more than just those super special occasions.
If you've been careful with your documentation, it will become clear fairly quickly — probably even during the documentation process — what stuff actually gets used in your kitchen and what is just gathering dust.
CLEAR THE CABINETS
I'm sure you can guess what the next step after analysis is and you'd probably be correct. All that stuff you now have documented proof you hardly ever use? Toss it.
Over the last nine years, I've lived in nine different houses or apartments, and I've hardly ever seen one that wasn't either completely lacking in cabinet space or had every cabinet filled almost to overflowing. And here's the reality — unless cooking is a major hobby or part of your job, the chances of you needing all of the stuff you have in there is slim to none.
In addition to documenting my own kitchen usage, the New York Times piece "A No-Frills Kitchen Still Cooks" by Mark Bittman helped me really hone in on the things I needed in a kitchen and would actually use.
I still kept a few more mugs than some might think necessary, but I use them as bowls about 80% of the time anyway, so I think it's okay.
ATTACK THE PANTRY
There's one more area of the kitchen that often gets overlooked because we often don't think of it as containing "stuff," but it's often the most cluttered place in the entire kitchen — the pantry.
Because the pantry is where our non-perishable items go, it's easy for us to go months without cleaning it out or organizing it in a way that allows us to effectively utilize everything in it. As a result, spices go bad, chips and crackers go stale, and we unwittingly contribute to the enormous amount of food wasted around the world every year.
So attack your pantry in full force. Start by pulling everything out and sorting the stuff that's still good from the stuff you probably should've tossed months ago. Then be honest with yourself, just like you were with the kitchen gadgets. Are you ever really going to eat this? Or are you going to put it back on the shelf and still see it staring at you months from now?
Anything that's gone bad should be put in the trash, food that's still good but you won't eat can be boxed up and donated, and everything else goes back in the pantry — preferably in an organized fashion that allows you to keep a good visual on everything that's in there.
Once you've attacked the pantry, commit to not just keeping it organized, but being just as ruthless about what you allow into it as you would allow into your home. Don't be afraid to try new things, but as much as possible try to only pick up items you know you or your family will actually eat. The fantasy self doesn't just apply to belongings, after all.
That's it, friends! I hope these steps bring you that much closer to a simplified kitchen you love! We'll be back next week with the final physical space in the series — the bathroom!