The Minimalist Kitchen: Declutter Your Kitchen

You can pare your cooking clutter.

egg beaters

Keep your kitchen stocked with the basics.

Photo By Joe Coca

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Sarah Susanka, architect and author of the The Not So Big House books, thinks kitchens are out of control. Oversize appliances and gadgets that do everything we once did by hand now clutter our countertops and eat up storage.
This leads her clients to think they need bigger kitchens; more than three-quarters ask to start their home remodel with that room. “The attitude is, the bigger the better—and that’s absolutely not the best kitchen to be cooking in,” Susanka says. “There’s an appropriate scale, and having more and more cabinets and space between countertops can make it feel unusable.”

The first step to a great kitchen isn’t to remodel, but to clear away the space and energy guzzlers that clutter your counters and eat up storage. Underneath all those gadgets, you might already have the kitchen of your dreams.

Kitchen solutions

Some tasks are better done by hand. Try these low-kilowatt options.


Instead of a…

Try this…

-Grating cheese

-Chopping, slicing or dicing veggies

-Kneading bread

-Food processor

-A handheld cheese grater

-A knife

-Knead by hand

-Scrambling eggs

-Stir-frying or sautéing veggies

-Cooking steak, hamburger or chicken

-Nonstick pan


-Indoor grill

-Cast-iron skillet

-Grilling sandwiches

-Panini maker

-Two cast-iron skillets (the second to weigh the sandwich with)




-Deep fryer

-Electric roaster

-Slow cooker

-Dutch oven

-Citrus juicing

-Electric juicer

-Wooden reamer

What’s in their kitchens?

Sherri Brooks Vinton, former governor of Slow Food USA and director of the Westport, Connecticut, farmer’s market, must have:

1. A high-quality chef’s knife that feels good in the hand

2. A box grater: “the original food processor”

3. Scalloped-edge tongs: “They’re extensions of my fingers, very Edward Scissorhands. I use them to flip food, lift lids, pull pans, serve pasta.”

She could do without:

“Maserati” luxury ovens and ranges. “Fun to drive? Yes. Necessary for a good meal? Not so much.”

Sarah Susanka, architect and author of the The Not So Big House book series, must have:

1.  A recycling center

2. A window over the sink with a beautiful view

3. A well-designed, pull-out pantry to store small food items that would get lost in upper or lower cabinetry

4. A comfortable place for friends and family to sit and talk while the cook prepares food

She could do without:

Specialized gizmos. “They take up space but are seldom used.”

Think before you shop

Curb your enthusiasm: Wait a week or more before you buy anything. If you don’t change your mind or forget about it completely, it’ll still be there.

Reality check: Add up how many hours of work it would take to pay for that thing you want.

Ask yourself: Do I have space for this? Does it require washing, dusting or other things I’d rather not do? How often will I use it? How long will it last?

Shop smart: Check out customer reviews on AmazonConsumer Reports or even from the retailer. (How many times have you wished you’d done that?) 

Do away with disposables and unplug your culinary tasks. A cleaner kitchen is this easy.

1. Cut clutter.

Most people use less than half the stuff they own, Susanka says. So when more storage seems the only solution, she often talks clients down. “People may have lots and lots of cookie sheets, but they really only use two,” she says. Our mothers and grandmothers cleared out clutter (the stuff that hangs around but rarely, if ever, gets used) during annual spring cleaning rituals, Susanka notes. Now, “we keep bringing stuff in, but we forget we’ve got to also take stuff out.”

She recommends spring cleaning—even if it’s not spring. “There’s nothing more valuable than taking everything out and just looking at what you’ve got. Just open a cabinet in the kitchen and honestly ask, ‘How many times have I used that?’ You’ll discover that you don’t need most of it.”

It won’t be easy. “The hardest thing to do is throw something away,” she says.

Instead of throwing anything away, donate items with a little life left to a thrift store or a friend in need. If you’ve overstocked on canned and dried goods, help the food bank. Remember that surplus next time you’re at the store, and buy less.

2. Bring in less.

Finding reusable replacements for disposables is the easiest way to cut kitchen clutter, says Sherri Brooks Vinton, former Slow Food USA governor and director of the Westport, Connecticut, farmer’s market. “Slip a plate over a bowl instead of covering it with plastic wrap, transport lunches in reusable containers, use cloth napkins and towels,” she says. “You’ll save a fortune.”

3. Feel full.

Appreciate what you’ve uncovered: space. Fill it wisely, with wonderful aromas and happy people.

Misty McNally learned to cook at her grandparents’ Iowa restaurant, where cast iron was king.

karen bratcher
11/23/2012 4:58:43 PM

Are you kidding? If you love to cook, and cook a lot, a large, well planned kitchen is to die for. I met a lady who entertained crowds of friends and family often, she had practically an industrial sized kitchen and it was FABULOUS to work in. I do once a year or so go through stuff, offer it first to my three stepdaughters, and if they can't use it I donate it. The electronic gadgets I do have, I use... maybe only a couple times a year, but when I need them, I need them. We do have a fantastic rice cooker (Zojirushi) and a crock pot that we use several times a week since we work long hours and it's awfully nice to come home to hot, ready to eat food. I have carpal tunnel problems so I prefer to have a heavy duty mixer (Bosch) knead my bread dough, thank you very much. And we have family gatherings where we cook a LOT of stuff so sorry, not giving up my extra cookie sheets etc. I do have a room downstairs where I store the lesser-used items, for instance, I had to bring up the large roasting pans and all the pie plates to make the Thanksgiving feast. None of my gadgets except the coffeemaker and electric kettle (we drink mass quantities of coffee and tea daily) is taking up counter space, it's all on shelves and I set it on the counter when I use it, then return to the shelf when done. Which does not alter the fact that I have a "one-butt" kitchen and it would be really nice to have a larger one. Someday I will turn the current dining room into expanded kitchen, and the living room next to it into dinning room, because we never use it as a living room anyway.

11/23/2012 9:47:47 AM

I know this, unfortunately, do not live it. We were at a thrift store and I wanted a used espresso maker. My husband insisted that I have a place for it before I purchased it, so I went home and made room. Guess what, NEVER used it once!! I need to get rid of some things, I think that is what I will do this weekend.

suzie bergstrom
11/22/2012 4:27:52 PM

I agree with this. Once I lived in a house with a huge kitchen. I couldn't stand cooking in there because I got exhausted walking from one end of the kitchen to another. I prefer a U-shaped kitchen or a small one. That's one main thing I like about condo or apartment kitchens. My Grandmother received her BA in home economics in the 30's and taught me how to scientifically organize my kitchen to increase productivity. It really works!! One of them was to have multiple uses for kitchen items.